A white man will start a World War before the year 02051. Why? Because that is the familiar historical pattern since Homer’s Achilles.
History shows patterns and humans love patterns to secure themselves in an uncertain Universe. The Great Man Theory of history is one such pattern. But more, this essay shows that within the Great Man Theory there is a stronger pattern, the Great White Man Theory of history.
In the 5,000 years of written history, the most adventuresome, daring, deadly and fearsome were the whites. These people inhabited the smallest of the continents, Europe. In these millennia on every continent were emperors, kings and tyrants who made their marks locally. For reasons still unexplained, those from European stock seem predisposed in at least two ways. They focused more outward than inward, and they were more restless and dissatisfied than anyone else. Finally, they were ambitious and they favored technology solutions.
Their technology began with their myths: In the Greek pantheon of gods, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to man. This angered Zeus who punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and be eaten. This was all myth.
Homer’s Ilyad was, not so long ago, believed to be mostly myth too. So while Darwin was uncovering evolution, Schliemann was uncovering archaeology—the Troy of Homer. Today there is no doubt that Homer’s story dealt with real events and people around 1200 BCE. The Trojan War was no myth. And Achilles, the terror of that war, set the example and down the millennia what emulators he had!
About 500 years after Homer and nearly 900 years after the Trojan War, Alexander of Macedon read the Ilyad. It was rumored that he kept a copy of it under his pillow, even while he was conquering his way through Mesopotamia, Persia and India.
From his father Phillip, Alexander got a well trained army. Alexander dreamed of becoming Achilles. At age 18 he won his first battle. When Phillip died, Alexander ascended the throne and set out eastward as had Achilles, to conquer the world. Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, perhaps the greatest philosopher of his time. So Alexander was no mere brute. His genius was to be both a strategist and a tactician in one man. He understood both men and machines. What was impossible for others was not for him.
His engineering (technology) skills were shown by the siege of Tyre in 333-2 BCE. Tyre was an island-town almost a kilometer off the coast of present day Lebanon. It had a fortress and naval base. Alexander built a roadway from the shore towards the island, he had siege engines made and rolled forward to attack the town, his navy kept reinforcement from Carthage at bay. After 7 months of hard labor, multitude of skirmishes, the town fell. About 8,000 men were killed, 2,000 crucified and 30,000 sold into slavery.
Achilles’s first emulator, Alexander of Macedon, achieved all he ever wanted – to be remembered for all time. He became the first conqueror to cross from Europe to Asia, expanding outward. The title ‘Great’ was conferred first on him before anyone else.
Almost 300 years after Alexander’s death, Gaius Julius Caesar came to prominence. By then Rome had clearly eclipsed Athens as the center of Mediterranean power. Romans however looked to Athens as the source of intellectual refinement and culture. So what the Greeks admired became also part of the Roman education for their elites. So the exploits of Alexander were as much studied and admired as that of Homer’s Achilles. And so, that which infected Alexander now in turn infected Caesar. Although engineered wars began before Caesar, of history’s early generals, he was the premier exploiter of technology in combat. In some ways, he brought capital-intensity to land warfare. (Sea warfare was already capital-intensive.) What capital-intensity in warfare means is simply that the hardware, equipment used in combat becomes an integral part of how an army lives, trains and fights. No battle exemplifies this more than Alesia, a small town in northeast Gaul (France). In 52 BCE, the dis-united tribes of Gaul, after having been mauled by Caesar for years, finally united under Vercingetorix. He gathered thousands from the tribes at Alesia preparing to attack Caesar. In his fashion, Caesar quickly surrounded Alesia, cutting off Vercingetorix from reinforcement. To insure success, Caesar had his legions build a wall 15 km long around the town. For an army in his time to build such wall in weeks meant one thing – the men were well practiced. They had to have the equipment to cut trees, strip logs, secure the logs to each other, and more. A lot of trees had to cut, dragged to site, some construction foreman had to coordinate who does what, when and how. Sections of the wall were most likely built concurrently around Alesia. Fearing encirclement, Vercingetorix sent a force to break out and some of them succeeded. This forced Caesar to build a 2nd wall, this time facing outward 22 km long. This was to protect his own troops when the Gallic tribes reinforcements would arrive. More trees to cut, more fortifications to build, more preparations for the clash to come. And so when they did come, Caesar’s legions were ready to fight a 2-front battle: against Vercingetorix confined in Alesia by the 1st wall and against his reinforcements coming from the outside against the 2nd wall. This victory assured that Gaul would remain pacified and Roman. Only then did Caesar return to Rome and to his fate. When Rome collapsed over four centuries later, the roads and commerce that knit the empire together was no more. The lost of Rome was not yet the birth of Europe. This Dark or Middle Ages had to simmer. For a spell, the army of Islam attacked from both extremes of the Mediterranean Sea. When that threat abated, it was the Mongols from Central Asia which scared the scattered tribes of Europe. From the Far East, another conqueror Genghis Khan moved west. As nomads, the Mongols lacked landed roots. Even with their fast horses, to hold onto millions of square km, with vastly different peoples and cultures was beyond their imagination. So when the Khan died, dynastic succession problems back home ensured the fragmentation of Khan’s conquest, thus lessening the threat to Europe. The simmering in time turned the Dark Ages into the age of discovery, then the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Revolutions: scientific, commercial, industrial and political. This much ferment in all segments of society must in time produce a Napoleon. A man ready to exploit to the fullest all that these changes offered. He was a Renaissance conqueror – someone with the intuition to understand that ossified institutions of the past were defunct and needed to be replaced. From our perspective, Napoleon’s time was very much like our own: everything was moving and shaking and nothing seems stable. Such uncertainty pushes some people over the edge, others to confusion or resignation and a few to daring action. Napoleon was one of the latter. He was an outsider. Born in Corsica, an island that became French less than a generation before his birth. He spoke French with a Corsican accent – immigrant minorities were disliked then too. He had two other things going for him, his knowledge of mathematics and skills in artillery. Artillery was not new. But knowing how to use artillery, or any technology, effectively was. The idea of mass, a people’s army, changed the dynamics of war. He exploited the historical potential of his time before anyone else. Agility, speed, surprise, and yes, some luck, did it. He did not win all his battles. But he changed how nation-states and societies waged wars. The tides of the scientific, political, commercial and industrial revolutions were already rising. He was ahead of those curves and rode them. He very likely read of Caesar reading about Alexander reading about Achilles. Just a bit more than a century and a quarter separates Napoleon from Hitler. In that time, those tidal changes became a tsunami pushing social and technology changes everywhere. Adapt or die. Hitler almost died in World War 1. His greatest achievement was in fooling the German people that he would be good for them. By achieving leadership of a talented people, he became a threat to the world. When Napoleon exploited his times, the tsunami wasn’t even visible. When Hitler exploited his times, mass communications, mass transportation, mass warfare was made easy. Little did people know how focusing hatred against an out group any out group, can de-rail the trajectory of human history. Hitler understood mathematics and artillery less than Napoleon. But Hitler understood directing mass psychology better than any contemporary. In short, all the talents of a disciplined, hard working and proud people was focused by Hitler for his personal ambition. Hitler was no technologist, but he didn’t have to be when he had so many capable ones already working for the Fatherland. Intended or not Hitler took humanity closer to the abyss than anyone else before. Surprisingly on this list, no name appears from the United Kingdom or the United States. Given that the UK and the US both achieved empires on global scale that no others have, this demands an explanation. Certainly both Britain and America have produced great political and military leaders, all white men, who shaped history. This list can justifiably be lengthened. However, the purpose of this essay – to provoke discussion and thought on human long-term future in brief – these six names are sufficient to begin the process. These five names and the exception that proves the rule: the Great White Man Theory of history continues. For the scary one is who the next one will be.
Challenge Francis Hsu to a bet on this prediction!