The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Age Of Exterminations (II) -- How to Exterminate the Young

In 2018, I published a book titled The Shadow Line of Memory." It was the biography of an Italian intellectual, Armando Vacca, who did his best to fight for peace at the beginning of the Great War. He was eventually defeated and punished by being sent to the most dangerous frontline of that time, where he survived for no more than a couple of weeks. That book led me to study the story of how propaganda managed to win the hearts and minds of the Italians in 1914-15, resulting in Italy joining the war. The ensuing disaster is not usually listed as an "extermination," but the Italian losses amounted to close to one-third of the young men of military age at that time. If this was not an extermination, what was it? And I think there were deep reasons for it to occur. I thought I could propose this story to you now. You may find something in it that may help you understand a few apparently unrelated things that are happening nowadays. 

The power of propaganda is immense. It is so strong especially because people don't realize that they are embedded in it and the things that propaganda makes them do look like the most natural and obvious ones.  It was Baudelaire who said, "the devil's best trick is to convince people that he does not exist."

So, here is a story of a triumph of propaganda: how it convinced most Italians in 1914-15 that it was a good idea to go to war against their neighbors, the Austrians in one of the greatest follies of history, what our ancestors called, rightly, "The Great War."  

It all started when, in July 1914, a Serbian madman shot an Austrian Archduke. That caused the Great Powers of the time to attack each other in a sort of large-scale domino game. Austria attacked Serbia, Germany attacked France, Russia attacked Austria, and more. 

And Italy? It is a story poorly known outside Italy, but interesting for many reasons. Italy at that time was a nation of peasants, its economy was weak, and its military power limited. Sometimes, it was called the "proletarian nation," in contrast with the Northern "plutocracies," Britain and others. Italy was poor, but secure inside its borders: protected by the sea and by the Alps. No need to go to war against anyone. 

True, Italy had a grudge with Austria that had to do with some lands at the border that Italians believed were part of Italy. But Austria was already fighting on two fronts, Russia and Serbia. Its government surely would concede something to Italy rather than risk opening a third front. There is evidence that, indeed, Austria offered Italy to return part of these lands in exchange for Italy remaining neutral. 

Yet, less than one year after the start of the Great War, Italy had joined the allied powers and was at war with Austria. It was one of the most impressive examples in history of how propaganda can affect an entire nation. An avalanche of hate that engulfed everyone and everything. 

When in 1914 some people started claiming that Italy should have attacked Austria, their statements looked unreal, silly. What mad idea was that? Italy was not a great power: it had no interests to defend, no empire to create, no threat to fear. It had everything to gain by remaining neutral. The government was against the war. The Socialists were appalled at the idea that the Italian workers would fight their comrades of other countries. The Catholics couldn't accept the idea of a Catholic country, Italy, attacking another Catholic country, Austria. It just made no sense. 

But the war party refused to listen. Slowly, the voices for war increased in volume and in diffusion. It was an asymmetric struggle: on one side there was reason, on the other emotion. And, as usual, emotion beats reason. Italy, it was said, cannot afford to lose this occasion to show the bravery of its citizens. The idea of negotiations with Austria was rejected with an incredible vehemency. Italians, it was said, do not ask for what is theirs, they take it! Blood, yes, there was to be blood. It is a good thing: blood is sacred, it must be spilled for the good of the country!

When I was writing my book on this story, I spent much time reading the Italian newspapers of 1914-1915. It was fascinating and horrifying at the same time: I got the distinct impression of an evil force rising. It seemed to me that I was reading of the return of ancient rituals, rites involving bloody human sacrifices. Especially impressive was the story of a young Catholic intellectual, Giosué Borsi, who became so intoxicated with propaganda that he came to believe that it was God's will that he should kill Austrians. He volunteered, and survived for just a few days in the trenches. Truly, it was as if a malevolent entity was masterminding the whole thing. Maybe evil Chthonic deities do exist? 

Incredibly, this wave of evil grew to engulf the whole Italian media of the time. The Socialists ceased to oppose the war and some of their leaders, such as Benito Mussolini, switched to promote it. The Catholics, too, gradually joined the voices of those who were arguing for war, apparently believing that contributing to the war effort would give them more political power. During the "Radiant May" of 1915, young Italians marched in the streets to request that the government would send them to die. And the government complied, declaring war on Austria on May 24th. 

And the opponents? Those evil pacifists who had tried to argue against war? They were insulted, denigrated, and finally silenced. The war party succeeded in convincing everybody that Italy had not just one enemy, but two. An external enemy, Austria, and an internal enemy, the pacifists. They were the Austria-lovers, the spies, the traitors, the monsters who menaced the Italian people with their dark machinations. They were also smelling bad, they were dirty, and they ate disgusting food. When the war started, it was the time of reckoning for them. No more excuses: if they were of military age, they had to enlist in the army. 

We have no direct proof that there was a specific policy to send pacifists to die in the most dangerous areas of the front. But we know that it was what happened to some of them, including Armando Vacca, the person whose biography I wrote in my book. Instead, those on the other side of the debate were privileged. Mussolini, for instance, was sent to a quiet area of the frontline. From there, he emerged slightly wounded by the malfunctioning of an Italian artillery piece, and with the fame of a war hero.

We know what was the result of this folly: summing up direct casualties, the dispersed, and the wounded, Italy suffered more than two million lossesabout a third of the males of military age at that time (as a bonus, add some 600,000 losses among civilians). Austria suffered similar losses.  You don't want to call it an extermination? If not, what was it?

The power of propaganda is well known, but there are many ways for it to appear. In the case of the United States, we know that in 1917 the government decided to intervene in the Great War to protect its investments in Europe. That implied creating and financing a propaganda campaign to convince the American public. The campaign involved creating the "Committee for Public Information," possibly the first Government propaganda agency of the 20th century. The techniques the committee developed were imitated many times in later history, especially by the German Nazis. 

How about in Italy? We have evidence that Mussolini's campaign for war was financed by some Italian financial lobbies, people who wanted to make a profit out of the war. But, on the whole, there was nothing similar to the Committee for Public Information. So, how could the pro-war propaganda be so successful?

I came to think that there was a reason for the extermination of so many young men. It was because the Italian society wanted to exterminate them.

Of course, it was not planned, it was never mentioned and, most likely, it was not even a thought that was entertained by those who pushed so enthusiastically for war. But the human mind functions in subtle ways and very little of what it does is because of some rational chain of concepts. 

Why do people kill? Most often, they kill what they are afraid of. So, could Italians be afraid of their own young? It could be. I came to think that it was, actually, likely. 

Go see the population curve of Italy before WWI. It is a nearly perfect pyramid. At that time, Italy had about 6 million males of military age, about 15% of the Italian population. What were these young men doing? What were they thinking? What did they want? Those who were in power at that time had good reasons to think that they would want their share of the national wealth.

Indeed, those were times of social and economic tensions, with Socialism and Communism claiming that a popular revolution would bring all the power to the people. And who would revolt against the current order if not those young men? Then, it made sense to get rid of as many of them as possible by sending them to die in great numbers on those remote mountains. 

As a strategy, it could have backfired. It did in Russia, where the result of WWI was that Communism took power. In Italy, the years after the war saw a Communist revolution nearly starting, but it was quelled by the ascent of Fascism. As always, history is not made with "ifs." What had to happen, happened. 

Whatever the cause, the great wheel of history started moving in 1914, and it didn't care who was going to be squashed into a pulp under it. Maybe the ancient Chthonic Gods of war were driving that wheel. Maybe they still exist, even though nowadays they seem to have taken different forms. Propaganda, for sure, can still do its job with the same methods: denigrate, demonize, insult, and scare people. It works. You can see it at work right now. 


A reflection on the long term trends of propaganda

Propaganda in its modern form didn't exist up to a few centuries ago. In a not too remote future, it might cease to exist as well. Even right now, things are changing in the belly of the great beast that we call the memesphere.

Propaganda was so effective during the 20th century because the memesphere was vertically organized. At the time of WWI, for the more than 50% of the Italians who could read and write, there was no other significant source of information other than newspapers, and their number was limited. Then, as now, just a few newspapers had national diffusion and if they all took the same position, they would control the memesphere. 

The information people obtain in a vertical network is like rain falling: you can try to avoid getting wet using an umbrella, but you can't choose the moment when it rains or not. So, the Italian memesphere of a century ago acted like an organism, a giant societal brain that had to choose between war and peace. It could not stand in between: it had to decide on one thing or the other. And it was so tightly integrated that it acted as a whole -- there was no possibility of parts of it opting out. Those who tried to do that, the pacifists, were neutralized or exterminated.

The memesphere of today is not so different. People still rely for their information mostly on the equivalent of the newspapers of one century ago: what we call the "Media" -- entities that mediate between reality and the people. But it is also true that things have been changing and that communication is now much more horizontal than it used to be.

Reality is not what you read in the media. Reality is what you see and what the people you trust tell you they saw. You can use Heinlein's terminology: reality is what you grok yourself, or you are told by an impartial witness. This kind of horizontal communication is a different organization of the memesphere. It is today the galaxy of entities we call "social media" -- a misnomer because they are NOT media. Social media involve direct, horizontal communication among people, it is not "mediated." The "bubbles" that people who think alike create in social media are often criticized and reviled as dens of conspirationists, but they are exactly what the game is about. These bubbles are virtual holobionts embedded in the larger organism of the memesphere. If you create an internet bubble, a network of people who think in the same way, then this group is impermeable to propaganda. It is not a bug, it is a feature of the new memesphere.

You see how things are changing from how desperately the powers that be are trying to take control of the Web using censorship: the devil is not able anymore to convince people that he doesn't exist. Will the pacifists (or their modern equivalent) be exterminated again? Maybe. But maybe not. The great wheel of history keeps moving. It is not following a plan, it is not driven by evil deities: there is nobody driving it and it is creating its path as it follows it. And, as always, it doesn't care about those who are squashed into a pulp under it as it rolls onward. Change is the only thing that never changes. 


  1. My image of the Italian front is of men hauling heavy guns up the sides of near-vertical mountains. Also, the confusing number of battles for Isonzo.

    Regarding the reduction in population, I looked at a chart showing the population of young men in Britain following WWI and the slaughter on the western front. There was a drop in numbers, but it was not all that great.

    Regarding propaganda, I get the impression that it was more effective in WWI (all nations) than it was in the Second World War. By then people had learned to be skeptical about what they were told.

    1. Yes, the drop in population is visible also in Italy, but it is not very large. Which is what you'd expect: 2 million dead out of a total of 35 million people is about 6% of the population. When the loss becomes noticeable is when you compare it to the number of people between 20 and 40 years old, when it grows to some 30%.

    2. That is to say, my estimate for the number of men of military age in Italy in 1914 was about 6 million. Mussolini spoke of "8 million bayonets" at the beginning of WWII, but then the Italian population was larger (42 million in 1939 against 36 million in 1914). And I think Mussolini also included the population of the Italian colonies, e.g. Ethiopians, who could provide additional bayonets.

  2. Since Jevons in the 1860s, at the latest, Population Increase in greater and greater numbers has been what our Western Civilisation needed to illusion itself that it is doing useful work.
    In reality, though, all what it was doing is simply brining more and more people to put hands in extracting and exhausting fossil fuel reserves to total depletion - for nothing.

    Life took the opportunity to expand, finite fossil fuel reserves became the sacrifice

    When Jevons came up with his Coal Question, Britain needed to decide that:

    ...this is it - from now on, no nation should be encouraged to trade its fossil fuels on the basis of other than the fuels are actually finite...

    No fossil fuels for pointless social engineering and wars...

    Instead, our Western Civilisation has stood behind E=mc^2, choreographed WW I, Russian Communist Power grab, the 1914 invasion of Iraq and started the theatrical Arab-Israeli Conflict.

    Fossil fuels don't come from deep in the ground up on a flying carpet - they need seas and seas of humans to emerge to the surface from deep in the underground - from Prime Minsters to prostitutes, from doctors to plumbers, artists, judges, engineers.... - they needs a fully functional eco system of a vast Social Contract.

    Burning fossil fuels to get the humans needed for that task, and then burning fossil fuels to kill those humans next morning - is what has destroyed the reserves.

    British coal is gone, Pennsylvania oil, Texas, Russia and now China and Ghawar - all gone...

    Many German and Russian soldiers have soon realised by the time of Stalingrad that WW II was not a war between two nations but rather a very well choreographed slaughter - where Stalin and Hitler were actually no more than poor actors.

    "In an Energy system, Control is what consumes Energy the most".

    When Control dismisses the Laws of Physics, finite, priceless and one off fossil fuels become a sacrifice.

    Humans are born and killed in billions - for nothing...


    - In Basra, Iraq, probably the 3rd major oil exporter in the world - "Gas stations are closed due to the lack of gasoline"

    - In Britain, "Panic-buying petrol is causing shortages across the UK"

    - In China, "COAL ENERGY CLIFF: Devouring A Massive Amount Of Coal Annually"

    - "Europe faces energy crisis as power shortages lead to soaring prices"

    - "Former fusion scientist on why we won't have fusion power by 2040" - An utter wrong belief-statement that a chunk of coal is holding enough Energy to bring itself all the way from the underground up to the surface

    "No Energy store holds enough Energy to extract, collect and utilise an amount of Energy equal to the total Energy it stores".

  3. now it's the retirees ?
    or rather the poor, or unemployed, no ?

    1. Retirees? Of course, they are the first on the list, so obsolete. They are one of the targets of Covid hysteria, dying more from neglect and loneliness than from virus.

  4. Ugo,

    I think that your explanation is very sound. After reading it I immediately recalled famous text by John Zerzan in which he gave his explanation for the origins of the Great War. In some way it's very similar to your explanation. There, he claims that there was in all countries a threat of social revolutions and that all political elites had strong reasons to divert dissatisfaction from social injustice to foreign countries. One of the most unstable situations was in Russia where Tzar tried to channel the frustration of the young masses to the theme of solidarity with Orthodox brothers in Serbia.

    Highly recommended reading.

    John Zerzan, Telos 49, Origins and Meaning of World War I. New York: Telos Press Ltd., Fall 1981.

  5. Just to mention that there are other authors who explain violent conflicts with an excess of young men (the so-called youth bulge):
    Gaston Bouthoul: "L'infanticide différé" (1970)
    Gunnar Heinsohn: see his Slideshow from 2010:
    In Heinsohns view if the 15-29 years old men reach 30-45 percent of all men this means violence in form of wars, terror, revolutions, ethnic cleansing etc. The historians then deal with the pretexts and rationalisations for these acts, which however biologically speaking are irrelevant epiphenomena. In his speech Heinsohn illustrates this especially with the example of WWI.

    1. It should also be pointed out that WW1 was the last war of the old order in two important ways:

      1) It was the end of monarchy in a lot of these countries, and some of those regimes were ancient. Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Turks all lost their royals in the aftermath. It was said that Americans entering the war were going to "make the world safe for democracy". I'm not sure about that one, but it certainly made it less safe for anti-democratic monarchists, that's for sure.

      2) The introduction of antibiotics, penicillin, and sterile environments to medicine finally reduced the numbers of death-in-child-birth to levels that stopped distorting the male/female ratio. [Previously, it had been so bad, the life expectancy rate was half of what it is now due to that one factor. Which is a lot of women dying in child birth.] For millennia, this had a tremendous impact on society as there were far more young men than women. [This may also help to explain why women were treated like property: because they were far more rare than they are today.] And for many young men, a life in military service was an acceptable outlet for their frustrations. All this began to change in the aftermath of WW1. We had suffrage in many Western countries, and (not so coincidentally) we also began to have large anti-war movements as young men began to object to being butchered.

  6. So it looks like the countries with large gap between rich and poor are also more willing to genocide their own people in order to maintain the status quo.

    Do you see any support for this in WWI or WWII? Or the confounding factors are too large (I am thinking of Russia with the most deaths due to politics).

  7. I do not deny that certain percentage of young men in population cause higher level of aggression in society. I am just saying that political elites can sense the risk for their domination and try to channel the young men aggression in some particular direction to prevent the risk for their political and economic monopolies. But first step are always some kind of reforms. In our time reforms are substitution of economic freedom for some other irrelevant freedoms: women get the rights they don't really need, sexual perversion is normalized, etc. The more people become economic slaves, the more they are given irrelevant freedoms. When this trick fails, there is another trick - manipulation with fear (Covid hysteria). When this trick fails there is always war.

  8. Is it possible that the high prevalence of myocarditis (reportedly 1 in 317) occurring in vaccinated young men in the U.S. is not an accident?

  9. I am writing this while living in Pakistan. At this time, I can't help but feel that the Pakistan of 2021 is same as Italy of 1914. There are constant public speeches for war and glorification of jihad. I feel sad for my society. Allah Taala grant sense to these people and save them from destruction.

    1. Armando Vacca, the man whose biography I wrote, was a deeply religious person. He often used the Christian equivalent of the islamic jihad using the term "bonum certamen", latin for "the good battle." But he understood that God didn't ask him to kill anyne. He concluded the last article on the newspaper he directed with words that a muslim could have written "God knows best." Inshallah.