What do you think is the most insane, collective human event in history?

I’m talking about events on a society-level scale, involving the beliefs and actions of a mass of people. The decision making that led to the event could be logical, but the consequences (whether contemplated beforehand or not) must be insane.

My vote goes to the Battle of Verdun. The Somme and Stalingrad were bloodier, but they were fought in pursuit of rational, logical military goals. WWI itself is rather insane in hindsight, but the motivations of the combatants in starting the conflict made sense in light of the history of Europe and the Great Power mindset that existed at the time. Verdun was simply nuts. Given the inability to fight a war of movement, the battle essentially amounted to an agreement between France and Germany to meet at a battlefield and bombard the crap out of each other for several months, with the hope that the other side would suffer more. Germany had no hope of forcing a decisive advance, and France wouldn’t think of surrendering the position, so they just stayed there and slaughtered each other. The rationale was basically “We will manufacture weapons and supplies, equip men with them, then send them off to Verdun to die. We will continue this for as long as necessary.” It reminds me of the tale of Shaka Zulu ordering one of his Impis to march off a cliff to showcase their discipline.

I would go so far as to claim that the Holocaust and the aerial bombardment of civilian populations during WW2 made more sense than Verdun.

I disagree that the Holocaust ‘made more sense’ in any way, shape or form. That’s what gets my vote. The battle of Verdun, as many of the battles of WWI made a lot more sense, given the internal logic of mass attack and the inability of the generals or command staffs or planners to adapt their basic thinking and assumptions to the changing realities of more modern weapons, especially machine guns and artillery. The Holocaust, however, was an evil madness that gripped the German people. That it had it’s roots in historical events that lead up to it doesn’t mean it wasn’t completely insane. That Europeans had been persecuting the Jews for centuries before that, just not on an industrial scale, doesn’t excuse the insanity either. And the scale of it dwarfs even the bloody slugfests that the Europeans did to one another during the Great War.

JMHO there.


Genocide is a well established behavior of human societies. The Holocaust was genocide on a horrific scale, but I think it shares the same internal logic of other genocides. The idea of slaughtering entire peoples was not a new one.

The Battle of Verdun was Wargames - the only winning move was not to play.

Certainly, though rarely on that scale. But most of the really epic genocide happened earlier in human history, and even things like what happened in Turkey simply weren’t on such a premeditated and industrial scale. Basically, there isn’t a lot of really nasty, dark things that haven’t happened in human history, so if that’s the bench mark then nothing is really ‘insane’ by that definition.

In hindsight, sure. Most of the battles of WWI were the same…in hindsight and with the ability to look deeper into the situation, it’s all obviously not going to work or not going to be worth the cost compared to the gains. Hell, the entire war was that. But as you noted with your earlier comment, there was a pretty well established history of such behavior in the past…and even recent historical data in the same war available to the generals, general staffs and the planners that they could have looked at to see what the results would be. They weren’t able to do that, to ‘think outside the box’ of their own preconceptions, notions, training and experience to SEE what should have been right in front of them. Again, this isn’t something exactly unique with respect to the human animal, historically speaking.


I disagree. While massacres of people of a certain ethnicity have been common, attempting to track down and kill every person of a specific ethncity is pretty rare. Especially since the Holocaust was aimed not against a nationality the Germans were at war against and was the brainchild of a handful of madmen in an otherwise fairly civilized and moderate society and culture.

Verdun was a battle of attrition. The idea was that the other side would sustain an unsupportable loss of men and equipment and would collapse. A ruthless strategy but not an irrational one. The problem was both sides underestimated the other side’s ability to endure losses.

If you want an example of a society acting irrationally, check out the Xhosa in 1856 (in what’s now South Africa). A disease swept through the area in 1854 and killed many cattle. Two girls had a vision that their gods were testing the Xhosa and to prove their faith they had to kill all their remaining cattle and destroy their crop fields. Once all the food was destroyed, the gods would send them an abundance of new food from Heaven and, as a bonus, bring all the dead Xhosa back to life.

The Xhosa believed this and went ahead and destroyed all their food. But the new food and risen dead didn’t show up as expected. Instead the Xhosa society collapsed into starvation and cannibalism.

I’d say the Germans had foresight that the battle would be a meatgrinder. A battle of attrition was the goal, which necessarily entailed treating the human beings involved as statistical figures.

An entire WAR I can understand being viewed in statistical terms. It enhances your understanding as to whether you can afford to fight the war to begin with. But the battles and operations that make up the war should have some higher purpose in mind besides death.

In that case Zhang Xianzhong probably ranks first place: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Xianzhong

Basically somebody with the mentality of Charles Manson in control of a whole province…

I’d cut the Xhosa some slack by assuming they were ignorant of the causes of disease. If it had happened in 1956 I might be more inclined to agree.

Post that on Shabbes. :rolleyes:

I gotta vote for the Khymer Rougein Cambodia.

The thing about other genocides is that they had some sort of strategic goal. An enemy won’t stop fighting him, so you destroy him completely. You want land, so you kill off its inhabitants. A city rebels, so you raze it to the ground as an example to others. An enemy is about to launch his nukes, so you launch yours first. Objectively speaking, all of these actions may be terrible, but they’re also on some level logical.

The Holocaust, one the other hand, made no fucking sense whatsoever. The only other thing I can think of that came close was Cambodia.

Taking the land and property of Jews and Slavs was a main goal. I’d say the insane part was the belief among the Nazis that it was a worthwhile societal goal, that extermination would be beneficial to Nazi German society, even without the land and property. Perhaps “Jews and Slavs” could be viewed as shorthand for “Russia, Poland, and Bolshevism”, rival states and belief systems whose existence Germany perceived to be standing in the way of their desire to be a world power.

Taking all of the Jews’ property made sense; after all, it’s not like they were the first to do it. Slave labor also made sense. The death camps did not make sense.

And no, it wasn’t “Russia, Poland and Bolshevism”. It was the Jews. They didn’t hate Jews because they thought they were Bolsheviks - they hated Bolsheviks because they thought they were Jews. Antisemitism was the alpha and omega of Nazi belief; everything else was secondary.

I vote for Woodstock.

Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the GoE. 100% of Humanity at that time ruined if forever for the rest of us!

The Xhosa were what I came into the thread to mention. And I wouldn’t cut them slack; they didn’t just act on a false idea on how diseases work, they did so on the assumption that the gods would act in a way that never happens even if they existed. It was as crazy as some modern true believing Christian jumping out a ten story window under the firm belief that God will catch him, except on a much larger scale.

The irrationality of Verdun and WWI is much less than this in my view because the people making the decisions had a reasonable expectation that their personal risk was essentially zero. The Holocaust approaches it, because the Nazis were willing to keep on with it even when it was draining vital resources in a losing war for survival.

Your suggestion that there might be some legitimacy to genocide is sickening,
and it is depraved.

Your premise is mistaken in assigning equal blame to France because:

(1) France could not stand the loss of the Verdun fortress complex without jeopardizing
the stability of the entire Western Front.

(2)The battle took place at German initiative. Germany strategy was to force France
into a battle of attrition. The strategy was unsuccessful because although France
in fact suffered greater losses than Germany, German losses were not so much less
as to confer advantage.

Also, your earlier Your remarks about Stalingrad are mistaken: the city where the battle
took place had no strategic significance per se, and the German forces commited to urban
warfare there would have been better employed in defence deployment along the north
and east sectors of the area front.

MOIDALIZE said “internal logic”, not “legitimacy”; they aren’t the same thing. Plenty of unethical behaviors are perfectly logical; if I want something someone has and take it at gunpoint, that’s perfectly logical behavior on my part, it just isn’t ethical. He has something –> I want it –> I use a gun to get it –> now I have what I wanted; the logic is straightforward.

Stop it. Peoples have killed and conquered their neighbors since time immemorial. The legitimacy of such an act is in the eye of the beholder. I never said it wasn’t evil.

Not true. The Stalingrad area needed to be secured to guard the northern flank of the advance into the Caucuses, and the city itself was an industrial center. There was a definite military purpose for advancing into the area, though the way the operation was conducted represented a crucial strategic blunder by the Germans.

That is half of what he said, and that half does not accurately apply.

Deductive and inductive consistency are not sufficient to provide sound logic:
the premises and observations upon which the ensuing steps are based must
be valid. No genocide that I know of rests on any valid premise or observation.
Please tell me if you know of something I have missed on that score.

The other half of what he said was that “the consequences must be insane”.
but that the holocaust “(made) some sense”. I do not really need to say more
about that, do I?