Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kaiser Wilhelm's personality, Enver Pasha and World War One

Elsewhere, I wrote an article about psychopathy, its common characteristics, and its effect on society as a whole. In a previous post I also used the example of Stalin here to describe the nightmare of what happens when a psychopath gains power.

World War One has often been described as "a family affair" between the monarchies of Germany, Britain and Russia, whose monarchs were all cousins. The rivalry between Britain and Germany during the run-up to the war is also of the contributing factors, but the direct personality politics of the monarchs themselves has in the past been under-investigated.

British propaganda often demonised Kaiser Wilhelm II as some kind of monster intent on devouring the world. The irony is that, to some extent, these exaggerations were surprisingly close to the truth. To understand how this is possible, and why the First World War came to happen, you only need to look more closely at Wilhelm's personality. As described here:

" superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success,—as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers’ mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions, and yet aimless, pathological in his hatred against his English mother" 

Looking at Wilhelm's personality (and the above description is averagely representative of the various analyses undertaken by biographers), it bears an unnerving correspondence to the common characteristics found in extreme narcissists and psychopaths. While it is unfair to call him a "monster" in the same breath as Hitler or Stalin, his many character flaws played a large part in leading Germany into a self-destructive path to war.

Wilhelm was born into a doting family,  but grew a huge complex about competing with his cousins in Russia and Britain, and was determined to make "his Germany" into a power to compete and supersede other European powers. With a tortured relationship with his English mother's heritage and family, this resulted in him using his German-Prussian half of his identity as a crutch for his own fragile and unstable ego. In other words, he used nationalism as a vehicle for his own bloated sense of self-esteem. To make matters worse, he was born with a stunted and deformed left arm, which gave him a huge inferiority complex on top of the unceasing praise he got from his elders. His personality was therefore a ticking time-bomb unlike any of his European contemporaries, waiting for the time when it would inherit the reins of supreme power.

By the time his grandfather, Wilhelm I died in 1888, Wilhelm junior was determined to make his mark, as well as being arrogantly sure of his own capabilities.

The German Empire had grown out of the Prussian Empire, the largest part of a German-speaking  Confederation (itself a successor to the former Holy Roman Empire, separate from the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire). In that sense, Germany was very much the "new kid on the block" compared to its rivals, forming into the German Empire after Wilhelm I (a sane and sensible ruler, compared to his grand-son) defeated France in 1871. But by the time of Wilhelm II's succession, the German Empire was still a largely agricultural society; an industrial pipsqueak compared to Britain. Germany's status had nevertheless grown significantly under Bismark, Wilhelm I's chancellor and architect of foreign policy. A natural diplomat, Bismark had tended Germany's initial relative weakness into a position of carefully-worked stability in a few short years. Wilhelm II, cocksure and keen to make his mark, was determined to see Germany rise yet further .

With two years, Bismark had been sacked by Wilhelm II, and quickly attracted the attentions of like-minded amoral extremists, opportunists, sycophants, and misfits. 

Surrounded by such a gathering of dangerous personalities, the degradation of Wilhelm's court became well-known, including elements of fetishism, sado-masochism and other perversions. His court, the longer he was in power, became more and more dysfunctional, combining collective insanity with moral depravity. Wilhelm himself was eventually to face a scandal of his own, with rumours swirling about his own sexuality.
Eager to make a colonial empire to rival the other European powers, he decided to build on Bismark's meagre gains in Africa and the Pacific (who had never taken colonies very seriously). Assured of his own capabilities, he often took personal control of diplomacy, and made German foreign policy a see-sawing hostage to his fickle whims; initially he courted the favour of the British Empire, seeing them as natural allies against France. However, when this backfired he turned instead to the autocratic Russian tsar as a natural ally (and personal role model to Wilhelm's singular style of leadership). Again, when this similarly backfired, leaving Germany increasingly short on allies, Wilhelm looked elsewhere.

Wilhelm II began to court the Ottomans, who had lost the respect of Britain by the end of the 19th century due to their persecution of the Armenians. Wilhelm had no such scruples, whose grand idea was an empire to rival Britain's in India; more exactly, to build links with the Turks, Persians and Afghans, and instigate an Indian revolt against the British, with Wilhelm as their overlord. This was the purpose of the "Drang Nach Osten", or "drive to the east". Wilhelm's fantasies of being a master of the East while ruling from Berlin was just one symptom of his gross narcissism and unstable character.

To rational eyes, this kind of plot looks mad and completely unrealistic, not to mention ruthless. To achieve this, Wilhelm orchestrated the German-financed "Berlin-Baghdad Railway" with the Ottomans, took advantage of Persia's distrust of the Russians and the British (who had effectively made spheres of influence out of parts of the Persian Empire), and organised a vast conspiracy with Indian nationalists. Wilhelm wanted to sow chaos in the British Empire's jewel in order to destroy it as a world power. Although Wilhelm did not want war, it seemed impossible to sane eyes that these aims could be achieved without it. Nonetheless, Wilhelm and his clique did what they could to undermine the British and Russians through a network of conspiracies and spies.

In 1908, Wilhelm received a further boost when the Ottoman Sultan was overthrown in a coup by German-backed militarists, headed by Enver Pasha (a former envoy to Berlin) replacing the old Sultan with his puppet-like brother as the successor. Enver, like Wilhelm, showed signs of mental instability/psychopathy, as he had a dream of a greater Turkish Empire that took in everything between Constantinople and Ulan Bator - equally as mad and unrealistic as Wilhelm's plan, not to mention contradictory to his erstwhile ally's. This conflict of interests, though, would not reveal itself until later.

When the First World War started, Enver was initially cautious about getting involved, but Wilhelm encouraged a "holy war" (Jihad) by the Muslims against the Christians, which was then supported by Enver.
 The purpose of this extraordinary step was to invoke those Muslims living under British and Russian rule (in India and Central Asia/ Caucasus respectively) to rise up against their Christian masters, thus knocking them out of the war and putting Wilhelm and Enver in a position of authority. What was the first "Jihad" of the modern age was not fully thought-through in its consequences by Wilhelm, as he somehow imagined himself to be a future Caliph of the Muslims, spreading rumours he had converted to Islam.

Meanwhile, Enver Pasha's regime was becoming pathologically amoral in its war aims and "Jihad", as Enver orchestrated the mass killing and forced marches of the minority Christian Armenian population in the empire. Fearing that they would side with the Russians (some, indeed, had already done so), and taking the message of "holy war" to its logical conclusion, the Armenians became the first (and primary) victims to the the "Drang Nach Osten" policy of Wilhelm, as implemented through Enver's "Jihad". The legacy that these two men sown was the defeat of the Russian Empire in the war, bringing about the conditions that brought the Bolsheviks to power. 

Indeed, we can see that not only was World War Two the child of the First World War, but the Second World War's leading dictators, Hitler especially, seemed to share the same psychopathic personalities as Kaiser Wilhelm and Enver Pasha. Hitler's talk of "Lebenstraum" or living space for the Germans, echoes much of the earlier dreams of Wilhelm's "Second Reich" and Enver's dreams of a pan-Turkic empire.

In the end, in the short term at least, both Wilhelm and Enver got off relatively lightly at the end of the war. Wilhelm was accepted exile in Holland, and died there of natural causes; Enver and his cohorts escaped Turkey before they could be hung by the new, pro-Western Sultan in 1918 - to be eventually killed by Armenian nationalists a few years later.

In that sense, we can see that Germany and Turkey's involvement in the First World War (as well as its build-up) was by and large due to the personalities of two men: Wilhelm and Enver.

Both mentally unstable and psychopathic, the blame for the horrors of the First World War can be primarily attributed to them. As we know now that the longer-term effects of that war led to the rise of Nazi Germany and (indirectly) to Bolshevik Russia/ The Soviet Union, these two men have a long, dark legacy. 

The tensions that led up to the First World War, and the chaos that ensued, are primarily the result of these two men's personalities: Wilhelm for ruling the German Empire with a cohort of like-minded amoral megalomaniacs; Enver for hijacking the Ottoman Empire to satisfy his personal vanity and reckless thirst for conquest, taking his country, like Wilhelm, to its self-destruction.

These two deeply-flawed individuals were therefore shared much of the blame for four years of chaos; along with two other psychopaths, Hitler and Stalin, these four were primarily to blame for the majority of human misery caused in the twentieth century.


  1. ‘It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion,” Hitler complained to his pet architect Albert Speer. “Why did it have to be Christianity, with its meekness and flabbiness?” Islam was a Männerreligion—a “religion of men”—and hygienic too. The “soldiers of Islam” received a warrior’s heaven, “a real earthly paradise” with “houris” and “wine flowing.” This, Hitler argued, was much more suited to the “Germanic temperament” than the “Jewish filth and priestly twaddle” of Christianity.

  2. ‘It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion,” Hitler complained to his pet architect Albert Speer. “Why did it have to be Christianity, with its meekness and flabbiness?” Islam was a Männerreligion—a “religion of men”—and hygienic too. The “soldiers of Islam” received a warrior’s heaven, “a real earthly paradise” with “houris” and “wine flowing.” This, Hitler argued, was much more suited to the “Germanic temperament” than the “Jewish filth and priestly twaddle” of Christianity.