‘I finally watched All Quiet on the Western Front this past weekend. It was unrelentingly depressing and horrible. Not the quality of the film itself. Just the whole sad story of all those wasted lives. Not recommended for children or anyone under 18 really. Extremely graphic. I’m sure there have been a lot of useless, pointless wars in human history. But I’ve never read about one that was so wasteful of human life as World War One. And absolutely unnecessary in every way.’
‘Over 100 Russian tanks destroyed in Vuhlehar’, says a headline.
‘Russian soldiers dying in large groups, pleading with Putin for help’, says CNN.
And here’s one from Bloomberg: ‘Tycoon Deripaska Warns Russia May Run Out of Money in 2024’.
But wait…who are the bad guys? And why do we care?
Bad guy theory (BGT) was developed, by us, to make fun of those who think people can be so clearly divided, between good and bad. True or False. Us versus Them.
Us versus…the baddies
The ‘bad guys’ phrase became popular during the US’s hapless wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Military spokesmen couldn’t keep up with the pace of shifting sands. Was it ISIS we were fighting, or the Taliban? The Shiites…or the Houthis? Terrorists or freedom fighters? Recognising that the ‘enemy du jour’ menu changed without notice, and that it didn’t really make much difference who we were killing anyway, they resorted to calling the corpses simply ‘the bad guys’.
During the First World War, the Germans became the ‘bad guys’. What had they done? France declared war on Germany…France was allied with Russia. This triggered the Schlieffen Plan, by which Germany hoped to prevent a dreaded ‘two-front war’ by knocking out the French quickly.
It began as a rather typical European war…in which the parties fought to the death for no apparent reason and with nothing much at stake. The US had no business in it.
But ‘war is the health of the State’, as Randolph Bourne put it. And the Wilson Administration was determined to get in shape with a little European exercise. War didn’t do the media any harm either. The press ran lurid stories, claiming that the Huns were spearing Belgian babies on their bayonets…and raping French nuns by the dozens. None of it was true.
Then as now, the press also eagerly supported the fantasies — that the war would ‘make the world safe for democracy’, or that it was a ‘war to end all wars’.
All you had to do was to kill the bad guys.
Mr Wilson’s war
If only it were that simple. But that is the problem with Bad Guy Theory; it is dangerous nonsense that only appeals to simpletons. People are neither always good nor always bad…but always subject to influence. And the greatest progress ever made in Western society was probably the abandonment of BGT.
‘Jesus taught that we should hate sin, but love the sinner’, says our brother-in-law, a Baptist preacher.
Instead of looking at the person, as inherently bad or good, civilised people began to look at his acts. It was not ‘who’ you were that mattered; it was ‘what’ you did. You weren’t automatically guilty because you were a Jew or a Republican. And you weren’t automatically good because you were Black or sleeping with a member of your own sex. The enlightened judge didn’t care. He didn’t ask himself if it was ‘OK to be white’. He just wanted to know where you were on the night the girl was killed.
But Mr Wilson called no witnesses. He convened no court. He presented no evidence to no jury and waited for no verdict. Instead, he sent US troops.
Wilson believed US soldiers would come into the war like exterminating angels, smiting the bad guys in Germany, and thereby saving civilisation. Then, he — the Archangel Woodrow — would put things to right…with freedom, justice, and democracy…and a League of Nations to guarantee that there would be no more war, ever again.
(Historical note: The League of Nations charter — or at least a version of it — was said to be drafted in what is now our office in Baltimore.)
‘Are we the Baddies?’
Poor St Woodrow. He arrived in Le Havre with his 14 Points. The Europeans ignored him. And mocked him.
‘Even God himself only had 10’, remarked Clemenceau, the French president. And after a few state dinners and diplomatic manoeuvring, the Europeans were back to their familiar squabbling and backstabbing.
Wilson’s entry into the war brought fresh meat into the abattoir. It prolonged the killing for another two years…with an additional 10 million dead. This contribution to slaughter won Wilson a Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.
Germany was not only beaten but humiliated and starved. Then, rather than restore a healthy, honest economy with a polite, peaceful government, the Germans sought a re-match.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires both collapsed. The result was chaos, poverty…and an opportunity for world improvers — such as Kamenev, Trotsky, and Lenin — to make an even bigger wreck of civilised society. By 1945 another 80 million had died, and not all of them were bad guys.
Good work, Woodrow! Your legacy is alive and well!
For The Daily Reckoning Australia