The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Triumph Of The Good

my strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure


A little while back John Michael Greer wrote an article about “stormtrooper syndrome”, the idea that the good always win and the bad always lose. Excellent article, and worth your time.

Greer blamed some of this on Tolkien, a frequent sparring target, and with some reason.

But this is as an old idea, and I place the most modern wellspring firmly in the mythos of World War II.

The Germans were Nazis, and the Nazis implemented the Holocaust. The Holocaust was Evil, not just evil. At first they seemed unbeatable, but the forces of good did eventually win.

Every western war of my lifetime has had its propaganda wellspring firmly in World War II, as the constant Hitler and Munich analogies suggest. “We must stop him now” (whoever he is), “or he will keep going, just like Hitler did.”

Saddam wasn’t going to conquer much beyond tiny and completely artificial oil-states. He tried with Iran and failed. Putin isn’t going to conquer Europe. China has some territorial disputes but it isn’t going to go on a Japan style rampage and conquer multiple neighbours.

But every time I deal with Ukraine supporters they fail to account for fundamental realities. Russia has more resources and the backing on China. It has air superiority and artillery superiority, and it is producing more artillery shells than the West, whose shelves are bare and and who has not ramped up war production significantly.

WWII wasn’t won because we were the good guys. It was won because more of the world’s resources wound up on the other side and Hitler made huge mistakes, over and over again. One example is that Germany was winning the Battle of Britain with its initial strategy of attacking airfields and factories: it was killing RAF planes and pilots faster than they could be replaced. Then Hitler freaked out after the British raid on Berlin and ordered the Luftwaffe to attack population centers, which allowed the RAF to recover.

If the initial strategy had been stuck to, the RAF would have been defeated, and the Royal Navy, without air support, would have been unable to stop the German from crossing the Channel and conquering Britain. Imagine trying to do DDay without holding Britain?

Germany lost because more resources were on the other side, and because Hitler screwed up multiple times, not because they were evil, though they were that.

And while the Allies were less evil, Dresden and the Tokyo firebombing and so on show that we were not “good”.

Ukraine cannot make up for material short-fallings and bad strategy by being the “good guys” (we’ll leave aside whether they are the good guys.)

America, having given its industrial base to China will not defeat China in the game of Great Powers because America is the good guy either (and Americans aren’t, though for some reason they think they are.)

There are some advantages to genuinely being the good guys, even military advantages, but they aren’t large enough to determine most wars, especially since it’s very rare that either side is good, the best we usually see is “less evil.”

It doesn’t matter if Ukraine is the “good” side. What matters is who has the best strategy, tactics and resources. And in a war of attrition, well, that ain’t Ukraine.

I would love to live in a world where the good always vanquishes the evil, but that ain’t our world and it never has been.

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Political v.s Physical Tipping Points


Open Thread


  1. Feral Finster

    “If the initial strategy had been stuck to, the RAF would have been defeated, and the Royal Navy, without air support, would have been unable to stop the German from crossing the Channel and conquering Britain. Imagine trying to do DDay without holding Britain?”

    Axtually, pretty much every attempt to game out Operation Seeloewe ends in German catastrophe, regardless whether or to what extent German does or doesn’t win the Battle Of Britain.

    But that goes to your larger point about resources, although in no universe would I consider Ukraine or its nazis the “good guys”.

  2. Feral Finster is fairly comprehensive on the subject.

  3. NR

    And while the Allies were less evil, Dresden and the Tokyo firebombing and so on show that we were not “good”.

    Not to mention the Soviet occupation of Berlin, which so often goes unremarked on the list of Allied war crimes (not that Allied war crimes are talked about much in general anyway).

    Come to think, perhaps that’s illustrative of the fact that the victors write the history and get to decide what is “good.”

  4. Soredemos

    I see someone already covered it, but Germany never stood any real chance of invading Britain. The Kriegsmarine was essentially a joke, at least in terms of surface combatants. They had virtually no sea assault ability. Even if they destroyed the RAF (which they wouldn’t have. At worst the RAF would have retreated to bases in Scotland and had less loiter time over England), the Royal Navy outclassed the Germans to a ludicrous degree. Germany had little ability to ever achieve a beachhead, much less supply and expand it.

  5. Soredemos

    The war of attrition thing is really starting to grate on me. Because it implies the war in Ukraine is a mutual meatgrinder; a modern Verdun where both sides are throwing equal amounts of men and equipment in to be destroyed and whoever has/can make the most will win.

    But the reality is only the Ukrainian side is taking insane human losses, while being already down to essentially nothing in terms of most heavy equipment. Meanwhile Russia has gotten its daily casualties down to about where the US was in the worst part of the 2003 Iraq war and occupation.

    You can dismiss these numbers, fine, of course the Russians would say that. But double, triple, quadruple the Russian numbers if you want. They’d still be much lower than the kinds if losses Ukrainians are themselves increasingly admitting to.

    It looks like Russia is starting its own offensive operations in a big way, so maybe their losses will go up significantly. But so will the Ukrainian ones.

  6. Willy

    I dunno man. Isn’t the primary reason for wars, is that both sides think the other side are the bad guys and that they’re the good guys? I mean, for every guy who thinks the innocent Ukrainians were invaded by power hungry Putin z-zombies, we’ve got a Putin supporter who thinks NATO pushed desperate Russia into a corner and had it coming.

    I think NATO is sucking of late because they’ve gotten rid of most of their own good guys. Ya know, stocked all the brain positions with cronies, buddies, sycophants and Cousin Eddies who pushed out the good guys.

    For his part, yeah Putin does whack his disloyal from time to time. But those Russians can still play a mean game of chess. Plus they’ve got allies who might still respect competency as much as loyalty, not being as far down the anacyclosis cycle of dysfunction as seems NATO.

  7. KT Chong

    Chinese people have never believed that the good triumphed and the evil was punished in the World War II.

    Emperor Hirohito was the Asian counterpart of Hitler. Yet, after the war, America shielded him — along with most of his wartime Prime Ministers, high-ranking commanders, generals and officials — from trials, judgements and retributions.

    The Japanese who had been responsible for World War II and its atrocities… have continued to stay in power after World War II. The permanent ruling party in Japan since World War II is the Liberal Democratic Party. You can directly trace the LDP through the Liberal and Democratic Parties (which merged) all the way back to Seiyukai and other power players during the Imperial and wartime Japan. So, basically, the same people who had been responsible for World War II… a lot of them and their descendants have continued to stay in power after the war via LDP, (which has always been a Japanese NATIONALIST party.)

    So, in the minds of most Chinese, Japanese has never really paid a price for World War II, it was a blood debt unpaid. So Chinese do not have the delusion that good always triumphs. In fact, more often than not, the evil triumphs because the evil is stronger and ruthless; and, the victor gets to create the narrative and history.

  8. Soredemos

    Every time I’ve forgotten Greer exists, someone links a piece of his and I’m reminded of his long-winded, pretentious drivel.

    (I’m undecided if he’s better or worse than Louis Proyect was)

    ‘Our side good, while the enemy are evil pigfuckers’ has been invoked in every conflict since forever. It doesn’t go back to Tolkien, or to WWII, or to anything else specific. At most ‘everything is Hitler’ is the rhetorical flourish of the age, but before that it was Kaiser Wilhelm, and before that Napleon, and before that, and indeed used with Napoleon himself, everyone was the Antichrist.

    It’s just not an interesting observation. It’s also frankly simply incorrect for a huge amount of population fiction these days. ‘Everyone has their reasons and everything is shades of grey’ has been everywhere in fiction writing for a decade or three at this stage, to the point that it is itself at times a tiresome cliche. Game of Thrones was a TV phenomenon in large part because of that formula.

  9. Joan

    My in-laws are retired Boomers that watch six hours of TV every day. They turn it on at 4pm for Jeopardy and then it stays on till bedtime at 10pm. They eat dinner in front of it. I lived with them for six months when my husband and I were unemployed and low on savings.

    It’s crazy how often a WW2 documentary was on the History channel or somewhere else. Almost as often as Star Trek which was at least multiple times a week. What I saw of them lacked nuance and painted it as the Good War.

    I have a pet theory that Americans hearken back to it so much because Vietnam and other military interventions after WW2 were such disasters and made us look like fools. So WW2 is painted as good and true, something we can be proud of.

    These documentaries move so slowly, they don’t cover much information. In that same amount of time I could read a solid chunk of a history book. I don’t know, I think it’s unwise to paint an entire war so generally.

  10. Jan Wiklund

    The real problem, I think, is that so many of us resign ourselves to the Hollywood view of the world divided into Good and Bad Guys. “We”, of course, Good, and “them” Bad.

    In reality we are all greyshades. As a Norwegian analyst, Minda Holm, wrote about the Ukraine war, both parties completely lack introspection, or in Biblical language, sees the mote in his neighbour’s eye but not the beam in his own.

    Oh, well, when a war has broken out one can’t afford seeing it in another way. But before?

  11. Jan Wiklund

    Perhaps I should back this up with some theory.

    Here is an article by a friend of mine: Moral Positioning, a formal theory,

    And Minda Holm’s essay Mutual Lack of Introspection and the ‘Russia Factor’ in the Liberal West can be downloaded at

  12. bruce wilder

    On the playground, teachers and other adults, weary of the demands of arbitrating children’s disputes justly, will declare, “it takes two to fight.”

    And, at the water cooler, later in life, adults imbued with some identity and accompanying ideological grievances, will impatiently explain the long intricate history of some conflict, a narrative that proves the justice of something.

    Narrative is what we have to delve into the “meaning” of conflict. But, conflict is inevitable, built into the very nature of Man as a Social Animal. It is the shadow of social cooperation. To love is to breed jealousy.

    In an age of information overload, I understand the demand for moral simplicity and unexamined self-esteem as a need for quiet and repose. There is so much more to learn about any political context than any one can be confident of absorbing and understanding and so much more to unlearn than anyone can be confident of disentangling, why would anyone hope to understand WWII or, say, the Arab-Israeli conflict, any better than one could understand how an iPhone works. Or find satisfaction in the effort.

    I follow my college’s football team in a desultory fashion. My enthusiasm is roughly proportional to their winning percentage, which is very high. I am conscious that some of my fellow fans know vastly more detail than I do: people who know the name of the QB’s girlfriend or the name and career prospects of the offensive coordinator or the high school game performance of a sophomore linebacker. There are people who know detail like that and more about American Civil War battles and armies. There are people who wish they knew that much about some ancient battles and armies and will happily fabricate or dispute details they simply cannot know on the available evidence.

    In the beginning and at the end, people like their own opinions. Whether those opinions have a depth of mythical or factual detail is incidental really to the motivating satisfaction of having an opinion they enjoy.

    Tastes vary. Some people like stories where good triumphs just like some people enjoy simple, sugary sweets. In some super hero movies – and good almost always triumphs in them – the villain is more interesting and gets better lines.

    An important difference between a movie or a football rivalry or a history of the French Revolution on the one hand and a contemporary political struggle is that who and what emerges from politics are the rules and material conditions of daily life.

    Getting sucked into narrative and cheerleading and having a good opinion (of yourself?) is to lose the thread.

    I see people all the time, without any embarrassment showing, confidently declare something like, “Putin is a thug” or “Putin is KGB”. I don’t know Putin. I am not sure there is enough reliable public information available even if I were interested enough to want to “know him” even at the level of reading a biography.

  13. Willy

    Speaking of doing time with in-laws, I might have to spend time with the MAGA in-law I occasionally bitch about. He’s the guy who was a Doctors Doctor (doctor of O that is, and maybe a Duke of Nepotism living large solely because of church connections).

    He’s the kind of guy who whenever there’s a toddlers birthday party going on will unexpectedly and angrily blurt out conservative drivel like a purple minion’s BLAAAP!
    You know, the kind that stops everything and garners stares until he can be calmed down so that the usual toddler party goings on can resume. I’ve never figured out what triggers him. Could it be a party favor horn noise? Something about the wrapping paper?

    I do know that whenever we’ve had to ride with him (he’s always had the latest new luxury vehicle which he loves showing off), every time he starts up the car conservative radio blasts forth prompting everybody riding along to quietly moan: “music please”. Maybe this painful tragedy has gotten him to think of us as “commies”, insanely jealous and out to ruin all that is good and decent about the wealthy in this Once Great Land Of Ours.

    He has no way of knowing that he would’ve been one of Bonhoeffers Stupids had he been living in Germany during the Wehrmacht.

    Sometimes I wish he was a Trekkie. I could then remind him of Captain Kirk’s legendary speech to the Yangs about freedom for even the Kohms after Cloud William butchered the Pledge of Allegiance. He might just be that simple.

    The Nazis were a bad thing which had to be defeated after their power was unleashed. They were definitely the baddies.

    But I disagree that Dresden and Tokyo had to be torched and Berlin gang-raped. There are certain lines which the not-baddies should never cross.

    But the point about nuance, considering all the causes and effects, is well taken. There’s a war in Palestine now, again, which can easily be seen as yet another episode of Good vs. Evil by either side. Today I’m probably gonna have to listen about how Brandon caused it all. Sigh. Music please.

    And so finally, and in closing, for those short on time, here’s a couple very brief videos which explains the animosity between the Japanese and Chinese:

  14. Feral Finster

    @ KT Chong:

    Damn straight. And you didn’t even need to mention “731”.

    @ Bruce Wilder:

    Notice how the US propaganda machine demonizes every enemy do jour? For a while there, there was a whole cottage industry of experts and purported experts to crank out psychoanalyses of Saddam Hussein.

    Lord Posonby’s Ten Commandments of Wartime Propaganda are most instructive:

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