Posted in History & Literature

Judging History

When we look back on history, there are countless stories where we wonder: “what were people thinking?”. Time after time, people have banded together to inflict unspeakable horrors on other groups of people. Consider the burning of “witches” in Salem, the mass guillotine executions following the French revolution, the transatlantic slave trade, the Rwandan genocide, the infamous Unit 731 of Imperial Japan that performed inhumane experiments on countless innocent people…

Even now, there is no shortage of examples of how a governing entity chosen by its people punishes a subset of its own population. We see homosexual people imprisoned and tortured in Russia. We see refugee children being torn apart from their parents at border control in the USA. We see brutal state policing of ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs in China.

It is very easy for us to examine these stories with a judgemental microscope. How can these governments be so evil? How can the people be so foolish to elect this government? Why are people not rising up against these powers to restore justice? The problem is that it is far easier to judge people for their actions rather than their intentions, or the context and setting that triggered them. Let us take an infamous historical atrocity as an example: the Holocaust.

Although Nazi Germany was initially formed from a coup d’état, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party maintained overwhelming support from the German people throughout its brutal regime. We may wonder how such a large group of well-educated, culturally sophisticated and civilised people could be swayed to support the inhumane actions committed by the Nazi government, but if you look at the historical context, we can find some explanations.

After World War 1, Germany was in economic ruin due to the “total war” nature of WW1 using up resources, followed by the staggering reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles, with the final kick of the Great Depression. Inflation and unemployment ran rampant, leaving the populace hopeless and in despair.

But when Hitler rose to power, promising food, land and order, along with hopes of making Germany “great” again, those who had been sick and tired of their depressing situation rallied under the Nazi cause. The Nazi party capitalised on this desperation and vulnerability, using Jewish people and other minority groups as a scapegoat, blaming them as the cause of Germany’s downfall after the Weimar Republic. This allowed them to commit atrocities such as the internment and execution of millions of people, along with unprovoked war against the rest of Europe, by promising the people that it would provide more jobs, more goods and a better world for the Germans.

We can see from this case that a large part of how such a terrible situation arose was due to the desperation that people felt due to the context of global economic depression and the outcome of the Great War. If we simply judged the people for being “sheeple”, blindly following Hitler’s charismatic leadership and propaganda, then we would learn nothing out of this case study.

However, if we examine the underlying reasons for how this situation arose, we can see that the same horrors could happen again in our lifetime under similar contexts. This approach allows us to see current affairs from more objective stances and hopefully explore solutions, rather than just putting the blame on the people affected by their political, economic and historical environment. Furthermore, this frame of thinking helps us be less swayed by forces that are out of our control, as it lets us use our rational and logical thinking to make decisions, rather than our emotional reactions and survival instincts.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Godwin’s Law

In 1990 when the internet was still in its infancy, Mike Godwin observed something while browsing through internet forums. From his observations, he humorously coined the following adage: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”. This essentially means that no matter what the topic of the online discussion may be, given enough time, someone will eventually make a comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.

For example, during a discussion about animal rights, someone may decide to post: “You know who else loved animals? Hitler.” No matter how unrelated the topic may be, someone will inevitably make a hyperbolic comparison to Hitler. It is also widely accepted that the moment this happens to a discussion, it is considered dead and the one who made the comparison loses the discussion. It should be noted that this law only applies to discussions not originally related to Hitler, the Nazis or totalitarian regimes and ideologies where the comparison to Hitler may be appropriate.

This law is closely related to a logical fallacy known as reductio ad Hitlerum, where someone tries to refute an opponent’s argument by comparing it to something Hitler would think or say. It is a crude, classless form of the ad hominem fallacy, where someone attacks the opponent personally rather than the argument itself. The reductio ad Hitlerum is extremely ineffective as in an intelligent discussion, such an effort would simply be considered childish and moronic.

Posted in History & Literature


There are millions of units for various things. Some are simple and standard like the metre and gram, while others are quirky and humorous like the Helen unit and the Banana Equivalent Dose. As long as you can justify it with logic and objective quantification, you can virtually create any unit. Using this logic, some historical knowledge and a cruel sense of humour, one can come up with an extremely disturbing unit called the Hitler unit.

As most people know, Adolf Hitler is one of the most notorious criminals against humanity in the history of mankind. He was responsible for the death of at least 17 million people, including the 6 million Jews and 5 million other ethnicities killed during the Holocaust, and victims of World War II. For simplicity’s sake, let us only consider the victims of the Holocaust as direct victims of Hitler’s ambitions.

Using this statistic, we can now create a new unit called the hitler – equivalent to 11 million human deaths. Ergo, killing a single human amounts to a crime of 91 nanohitlers. The “hitler level” of some of history’s worst notorious dictators are as follows:

  • Kim Il Sung: 1.6 million deaths = 145 millihitler
  • Pol Pot: 1.7 million deaths = 154 millihitler
  • Hideki Tojo: 5 million deaths = 455 millihitler
  • Adolf Hitler: 11 million deaths = 1 hitler
  • Jozef Stalin: 23 million deaths = 2.09 hitler
  • Mao Zedong: 78 million deaths = 7.09 hitler

The hitler unit gives us a clear picture of “how much worse” someone’s crimes are compared to those committed by Adolf Hitler. For example, Jozef Stalin could be considered twice more evil than Hitler.

The true utility of the hitler unit is that like other units, it allows for useful conversions to other units. For example, the EPA currently values a human life at $6.9 million (USD). A simple unit conversion thus tells us that 1 hitler is equivalent to the loss of $75,900,000,000,000 (-$75.9 teradollars). In 2008 when the US Congress failed to pass a stimulus bill following the subprime mortgage crisis, the market lost $1.2 trillion over one day – the equivalence to 15.8 millihitlers. Conversely, if a mugger took $200 from you, they have technically committed a crime of 2.64 picohitlers.

Although the crimes of Adolf Hitler were beyond tragic, this imaginary unit teaches us that almost anything can be quantified in the field of science and mathematics.

Posted in History & Literature

The Great Dictator

The following is the final speech given by Charlie Chaplin in the movie The Great Dictator (1940). To this day, it is considered one of the most inspirational speeches in modern history. (NB: video excerpt at the end)

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another.

In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think or what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work that will give youth the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfil their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now, let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers! In the name of democracy, let us all unite!“