Saturday, 6 October 2012

Peter Pan was shot through the head in Flanders

Matthew White wrote a book about the one hundred deadliest things done in human history.

 (I was quietly relieved because the British Empire only had two places in the top ten.)

Because he draws a world history with regard only to recorded deadliness the picture you get is truly global. An image of the species at it's worst.

Below are the parts I found myself underlining when I read them, in general chronological order, shorn of context. They make a kind of negative-image palimpset of the ascent of man.

'You would be hard pressed to find a nation less suited to peaceful first contact with an alien culture than Renaissance Spain.'

'A long history of international law prohibiting the murder of civilians hasn't actually prevented the murder of civilians, but has made us quite good at coming up with excuses.'

'He was a devout, cross-dressing Catholic who sometimes showed up at official functions in drag. Henry had an entourage of handsome young men called his Darlings (Mignons). He collected little dogs and hid from thunderstorms in the cellar. Catherine unsuccessfully tried to tempt Henry into heterosexuality by offering him naked serving girls at special parties she arranged for his amusement, but that didn't work.'

'Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, a long time ago, the Chinese wiped out a tribe few people have heard of. Most of history is like this.'

'The one thing everyone should know about the Crimean war is the mind-boggling incompetence displayed by everyone involved.'

'To make matters worse, as their negotiator, the Russians sent a man who absolutely detested the Turks ever since a Turkish cannonball castrated him in an earlier Russo-Turkish War.'

'From here on out, every new war had to figured out from scratch, usually after the first wave sent into battle had been torn apart.'

'...some of the best stories you hear about Lopez's self-destructive insanity were merely propaganda spread by his Brazilian and Argentine enemies. His story gets less interesting the more you look at it. (Damm you, research!)'

'As a purely practical matter, the number of British dead on the first day of the Somme accounted for maybe 1,400 tons of rotting tissue and bone littering the battlefield.'

'Peter Pan was shot through the head in Flanders. That's the war in a nutshell.'

'Faced with a crumbling nation, Lenin's answer to all his problems was to shoot someone.'

'The average Chinese citizen still paid the same taxes, bribes and protection money to the same local officials for the same lack of services, just as he had always done.'

'The army was going to do whatever was necessary to enhance the glory of the emperor, with or without permission.'

'By the time the missing soldier returned from his visit to the local brothel and asked what the fuss was about. Japanese intelligence had spotted nationalist Chinese troops heading for the border.'

''s worth noting that Trotsky's behaviour during the Russian Civil War showed that he wasn't exactly Mr Cuddly either.'

'He was sent to a Jesuit seminary but expelled for reasons that remain something of a mystery. Speculation abounds, but none of it has been proved, so lets just say he was expelled for being Stalin.'

'The land is the place where the prize is kept, not the prize itself.'

'American conservative who have no problem listing Mao as one of history's greatest monsters go strangely silent on the matter of Confederates. Leftists who would never wear a Confederate flag on their cap gladly emblazon quotes from Chairman Mao on their T-Shirts.'

'A friend once wondered aloud how much suffering in history has been caused by religious fanaticism, and I was able to confidentially tell her, ten per cent..'

'If you want philosophy, it's two shelves over that way.'

'In fact, it's hard to blame the First World War on anything in particular because we're still not sure what it was all about.'


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. White makes the same point in the end of the book. He lists three aspects of destruction that surprised him by being more common than expected.

      Sieges - boring and deadly.
      Mistakes - 'history would be a lot more pleasant if people didn't rush into things.'
      Women - not many, but more than, for instance, Hindu's or Homosexuals.

    2. (Your deleted comment actually made sense.)

    3. Ha! Thanks. I was worried it was a little inane. I was reminded of a biographer of Cleopatra who suggested that Cicero's hatred for her stemmed from the fact that she had a bigger library than he did.

      All of this kind of makes me want to play a version of DnD based more on Candide than Cugel's Saga. Classes are like Leibnizian Doctor and Long-Suffering Manichean. Money comes and goes in great quantities, characters sustain and recover from horrific injuries, but the only way to gain experience is to discover the banality of evil.

  2. How is Henry being a fem homosexual on the same level as all the other murder and atrocity?

    1. It's not, I just found it mildly funny. Gays actaully show up in a chapter called 'Off The Hook'

      'None of the major perpetrators on my list have proved to be gay - even when homosexuality is well documented amongst some of their contemporaries.'