Archive for February, 2014

Hitler Was Not Evil?

February 26, 2014

One of the related articles that was suggested for my previous post was an article titled Hitler Was Not Evil by an anonymous writer. I chose not to include that article in the list of related articles but I think it might be worthwhile to go over it. The writer is not a Nazi, as you might expect, nor did the article make the argument  that Hitler’s actions were, in fact, virtuous. Anonymous’s problem is deeper than that. He does not believe there is such a thing as evil.

Unlike most of the rest of the world, I do not see Adolf Hitler as the “personification of evil” or the most “evil” person that has ever existed.

Hitler was simply a politician like one of the many politicians today. And just like almost all politicians today, his actions were defined by a core belief, greed, ego and a certain love for the country he ruled.

The more sensitive readers would react now with “whoa! whoa! Hitler and love?! Hitler is EVIL! EVIL!”

Evil does not exist, but is a concept of the human intellect. What do we define as evil? We tend to associate unjust things with evil, or things we do not agree with. Essentially, what we feel or think is evil is simply what we do not agree with.

“Who cares about a technical definition? What Hitler did was EVIL! ”

Aiming to wipe out the Jews, that must be evil, right?

No.

As I just said, no one does anything without a reason. And like I just said, any man’s actions are trigger by his own ego, greed, and his core belief.

Hitler believed that the Jews were harming Germany. Hitler believed that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust. Hitler believed that Austria and the Third Reich should become united.

These all came from his belief.

“His beliefs are EVIL!”

No.

Like I just said, we define something as evil when this something does not agree with our moral standards.

Americans defined Communism as evil during the Cold War because they did not agree with it. Everybody being equal and controlled by the State did not agree with the “freedoms” of America. And because it did not agree with these Freedoms, Communism was defined as “bad” and “evil”.

Now in retrospect, can it really be defined as evil? No.

Of course I am not saying that what Hitler did was right. Of course not. I am saying that Hitler was not evil, but simply a man who did what he believed was right for the German people at that time. Of course, just like any politician today, his actions were also motivated by greed, ego and more greed. But it is important to make the distinction that Hitler was not an exception. He was simply a statesman who didn’t get away with it.

For example, Mao Ze Dong got away with it. Stalin (kind of) got away with it. The leaders of Meiji Japan got away with it.

And as a history major allow me to assure you, when comparing what the Japanese Imperial Army did in the 1930s and 1940s in South East Asia, the gas chambers of Auschwitz can be considered merciful.

“But Hitler brought misery to all of Europe! He is Evil!”

This might be what the more persistent readers will be saying/thinking.

Perhaps why the perception of Hitler being evil is so deeply rooted in so many peoples’ minds is that after WWII, the Allies needed to have a focus. The Meiji leaders of Meiji Japan perhaps are not remembered as completely evil because after WWII, the Western powers sought peace in Asia and Japan was a great trading partner. This left Hitler and Mussolini.

And naturally, Hitler got the Spotlight of Evil in history textbooks.

Yet, Hitler is not an exception even by today’s standards.

America’s War on Terror may be justified by the core belief of 9/11 and that the American Way is right without question. It is ironic that it seems that very few people have ever thought about why there is this hate to begin with.

This is moral idiocy and historical ignorance. America’s War on Terror is usually justified by the fact that Islamic terrorist flew planes into the sides of buildings. I would not say that the American Way is right without question, but a society that values freedom of expression and equality is superior to one that values religious persecution and aggression against the infidel. A government that guarantees basic human rights is superior to one that suppresses all freedoms. Our Way is superior to Islam. It is superior to Communism.

While the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army have not gotten the attention that they should have, perhaps because the victims were Asians, there were war crimes trials in Japan after World War II and several offenders were hanged. By the way, the Meiji period refers to the reign of the Emperor Meiji who reigned from 1868-1912, in which Japan moved from feudalism into a modern society. The leaders of Japan during the war were not the Meiji.

It is true that Mao and Stalin got away with their tyranny, while Hitler did not. So what? If I were to commit the perfect crime and never got caught, it would still be a crime. The fact that Mao and Stalin died peacefully and escaped punishment in this world, does not mean their actions were right, nor does it mean that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were statesmen or typical politicians. They were not.

Anonymous claims to believe that good and evil are simply human constructs and that what we regard as good or evil is simply a matter of personal preference. I wonder if he really believes this. If I were to go to his home and start taking his possessions, would he simply allow me, or would be try to stop me? What if I explained that his objection to my actions is simply because it is against his particular moral standards, but not mine, so that what I am doing isn’t wrong? I think he would go ahead and call the police.

I don’t thing anyone, or at least very few, really believe that there is no such thing as a standard of good and evil. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, people in a quarrel invariably appeal to some higher standard of justice when making their case. Even the worst criminals often try to justify their actions. The bank robber robbed banks because they cheat the poor. The rapist’s victim deserved it because of the way she dressed. The conqueror invades and despoils a country to bring the light of civilization, or the true faith to the hapless natives, or to avenge past wrongs. Even the sociopath, who lacks a conscience, is quick to recognize when an injustice is done to him. The fact that people often try to justify bad actions with pleasant reasoning does not mean that there is no standard of good or evil. I think this fact actually strengthens the case for such a standard.

It is true that people do not always agree on what is good or evil. This doesn’t mean that that good and evil do not really exist, only that people that people can be mistaken. Slavery is almost universally regarded as immoral in the modern world, yet no one objected to slavery in ancient times. This does not mean that the question of slavery is simply a matter of social convention. The ancients also believed that the Sun went around the Earth. We have learned that they were mistaken about the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun. In like manner, we have learned that they were mistaken about the acceptance of slavery. Anonymous concludes:

So, do not brainlessly brand Hitler as pure evil. If you strictly judge, he was simply a man who did what he believed was right, along with greed and ego as motivators (just like any person today). Nothing more, nothing less.

Hitler was not pure evil. Like any human being, he was a mixture of good and evil. His actions were unquestionably evil. He may well have believed that he was doing the right thing. Most people do. That doesn’t change that he was mistaken. We need not adopt a stance of idiot moral relativism.

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunis...

Yes, he was evil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Don’t Kill Hitler

February 24, 2014

A couple of days ago, I read an interesting article in The Guardian titled “Time Travelers: Please Don’t Kill Hitler” by Dean Burnett. In this article, Mr. Burnett makes the argument that terrible as Adolf Hitler was, it would be a mistake for someone from the future to go back in time and kill him.

If you find yourself suddenly gaining access to a time machine, what’s the first thing you’d do? If you said “kill Adolf Hitler”, then congratulations; you’re a science-fiction character. Actually, the whole “access to a time machine” thing suggested that already, but the desire to kill Hitler clinches it. Any time-travelling sci-fi character (at least ones created by Western society) seems to want to kill Hitler, so much so that there’s a trope about how it’s impossible.

That attempting to kill Hitler has become such a common sci-fi plot device speaks volumes. What about Stalin? He was arguably worse, killing 20 million of his own people to fuel his ideology. But no, Stalin went about his business unmolested by time travellers, all of whom are busy targeting Hitler.

It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to prevent the holocaust? It’s probably the worst thing in history. And I only say “probably” because I don’t know all of history, and the human capacity to be awful should not be underestimated. But as noble as it seems, killing the Fuhrer via time travel is a terrible idea, for real-world reasons, not just those in fiction. So should you get hold of a time machine and make plans to kill Hitler, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t.

He gives some very good arguments for not killing Hitler and the whole article is worth reading. Personally, I do not think that Hitler was the greatest villain in history. Don’t get me wrong. He was an evil person and the Holocaust was one of the greatest atrocities in human history, but Stalin and Mao killed far more people than Hitler and their regimes were far more cruel. I would not want to live under any dictatorship but I would prefer to live in Nazi Germany over Communist Russia or China. Pol Pot has the record for most people killed in proportion to the population of the the country he ruled. Under his rule the Khmer Rouge may have killed as much as a third of Cambodia’s population. Hitler was eventually defeated. Communism fell in the Soviet Union and has been much modified in China. In North Korea and Cuba, the people have suffered under unreformed Communist tyranny for over fifty years, longer than anywhere else. Castro and the Kim dynasty may not have the death toll of a Hitler or Stalin but the misery they have inflicted on their people must be as great over time.

One argument that Burnett makes is that Hitler was uniquely responsible for the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. This was hardly the case.

Stephen Fry dealt with this superbly in his book Making History. Without spoilers, the problem is that many assume Hitler was the sole cause of the second world war and all the associated horrors. Sadly, this is a gross oversimplification. Germany in the 1930s wasn’t a utopia of basket-weaving peace lovers who were suddenly and severely corrupted by Hitler’s charismatic moustache. The political tensions and strife were all there, results of a previous world war and a great depression; Hitler was just able to capitalise on this. But if he hadn’t, say because he had been eliminated by an errant time traveller, then there’s nothing to say that nobody else would.

The truth is that Hitler invented very little of the ideology of the Nazi Party. Most of the ideas he preached; the Aryan master race, the evil of the Jews, the necessity of struggle to improve the race, etc, were held by many Germans who considered themselves enlightened and progressive. The minds of most educated Germans, (and others throughout the West)  were filled with ideas from Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and others in a sort of mixture that included ideas about inferior and superior races and violence as a method of either improving the race through struggle, or overturning a corrupt order to bring about a new world. In other words, Hitler was far from being the only person who supported ideas that we now associate with the Nazis, nor did he really have much trouble convincing millions of Germans he was right. If Hitler had been killed in childhood by a time traveler, it is likely some one else, with the same sort of ideas would have come to power.

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunis...

The Nazis weren’t the only ones who wanted to overthrow the Weimar Republic. The Communists were the Nazi’s greatest rivals in politics. Without a Hitler, perhaps the Communists would have come to power in the 1930s. That might have been far worse Germany and the world. Hitler was briefly allied with Stalin from 1939 until 1941 when he double crossed Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. This was Hitler’s greatest mistake and it caused him to lose the war. If Germany were controlled by Communist leader who remained allied with Stalin, perhaps even a puppet of Stalin, the resulting Russo-German alliance might have been unbeatable, at least until the invention of the atomic bomb. World War II could have been a whole lot worse and perhaps the good guys, (or at least us) may not have won against a more competent Führer. Something to think about if you ever manage to acquire a time machine.

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No Muslims on Mars

February 20, 2014
Marvin the Martian

Probably not a Muslim

 

 

As humanity spreads out into space and begins to colonize other planets, it is possible that Muslims will not be among the first wave of space explorers, at least not if they obey a fatwa reportedly issued recently. I read the story in the Telegraph.

 

Muslims have been warned in a Fatwa not to go and live on Mars because it would pose “a real risk to life”, according to a Dubai news organisation.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) in the United Arab Emirates said that anyone making such a “hazardous trip” is likely to die for “no righteous reason”.

They would therefore be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”, the Khaleej Times reported.

The Fatwa was apparently issued in response to the proposal from the Dutch company Mars One last year to send four people on a one-way journey to the red planet in 2022.

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

“Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Koran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful,” the committee, chaired by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said.

Over 200,000 people have applied to be civilian-astronauts on the Mars One mission. Experts have questioned both the financial and practical viability of the mission.

The Mars One website states: “It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind.

“Exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together. Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”

 

I wonder what Dr. Farooq Hamada thinks about suicide bombers. I don’t think that risking death to explore space is the same thing as suicide. Space is a dangerous place, but we all have to die sometime and I don’t think I would mind dying while exploring strange new worlds, not that I would ever have that opportunity. I am not sure I would want to live on Mars as part of a four person colony, especially if there were no possibility of returning to Earth. When Mars One first announced their proposal to settle Mars, I thought the first colony would involve hundreds, or at least tens of colonists. I think having just three other people on a whole planet might get old after a time.

It occurs to me that Muslims might have another problem with living on another planet, besides the risk traveling there. Muslims are required to pray five times a day while facing toward the holy city of Mecca. Islamic religious authorities have already determined that a Muslim in orbit should pray facing the Earth, but what direction should a Muslim on Mars face? Perhaps they could face the Earth, but what if the Earth is on the other side of the Sun? I suppose they will work out some solution eventually, or just stay behind on Earth.

Whatever happens, I will be looking forward to seeing the colonization of Mars. It is too bad that I am not going to live long enough to see the development of terraforming techniques to make Mars and Venus livable.

 

 

 

 

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TheElection of 1808

February 17, 2014

Thomas Jefferson’s second term was not nearly as smooth as his first. The war between Britain and France heated up again, and both nations seemed determined to draw the United States into the war. Once again both Britain and France seized American ships who traded with the other nation, ignoring America’s position as a neutral. The British began to impress American seamen into their navy, as they had while Washington and Adams were president. The United States had every right to declare war on one or both of the warring nations, but Jefferson professed to be a man of peace, and the still young nation was hardly capable of fighting one of the superpowers of the time, let alone both. Jefferson, instead, decided on a policy that would be called economic sanctions today. In December 1807, Congress established an embargo on trade with Britain and France, in the hope that their economies would be damaged enough to come to terms.

It didn’t work. It turned out that the still under developed American economy needed the manufactured goods of Europe more than Europe needed American raw materials. The only people the embargo hurt were American farmers who could no longer export grain and New England merchants who were ruined by the lack of trade. The Federalists were quick to attack the Democratic-Republicans on this policy, referring to it as the “Dambargo” and the embargo temporarily stopped the Federalists decline into irrelevance.

Under the circumstances, Thomas Jefferson had no desire to run for a third term. He had intended to follow Washington’s example all along and serve just two terms, and the increasingly tumultuous world situation led him to believe that the time was right for a younger man to take over. Jefferson had just the right younger man in mind, his friend Secretary of State James Madison. In addition to serving Jefferson as Secretary of State, James Madison had had a distinguished career in the Virginia legislature and the United States Congress. He had been one of Virginia’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention and his influence on the proceedings was great enough for Madison to be regarded as the father of the constitution. He along with Thomas Jefferson had founded the Democratic-Republican Party so he was a natural successor to Jefferson. The Democratic-Republican caucus had little trouble selecting James Madison as their nominee for president. For vice president they nominated George Clinton, the sitting vice president.

 

The Federalists went with their candidates from the previous election, Charles C.Pinckney and Rufus King.

The states held the election from November 4 to December 7 1808. In those days only six of the seventeen states selected their electors by a statewide popular vote, as is the way today. Four states were divided into electoral districts and seven states still had their electors appointed by the state legislature. The Federalists did better than they had in the 1804 election, but the Democratic-Republicans still won by a landslide. They won 112 electoral votes, winning every state outside of New England except for Delaware, although six delegates from New York voted for George Clinton for president. The Federalists won all of New England except for Vermont and won Delaware and a few votes elsewhere for a total of 47 electoral votes. The popular vote was 124,732 for Madison against 62,431 for Pinckney, although as I noted, not every state had a popular vote.

 

 

 

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Peace Prize for Edward Snowden

February 17, 2014

The other interesting email I got from Melanie Jones is in support of the proposal that Edward Snowden be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his actions.

 

Dear David Hoffman,

Edward Snowden has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Two Norwegian MPs have put forward the whistleblower’s name for one of the world’s highest honors for “[contributing] to a more stable and peaceful world order” and speaking out against abuses of power.

If President Obama, a man responsible for mass drone killings, can win the Peace Prize, then there’s nothing barring the man who helped expose his unconstitutional overreach and threat to international transparency.

Please, join us in calling on the Norwegian Nobel Committee to listen to these MPs and put Snowden on the shortlist in March, helping him secure asylum in sympathetic nations and showing Obama he deserves to be pardoned.

PETITION TO NORWEGIAN NOBEL COMMITTEE: Put US whistleblower Edward Snowden on your shortlist for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,

— The folks at Watchdog.net

Image representing Edward Snowden as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

 

Since the main criteria for recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize seems to be acting against the interests of the United States and the West, I suppose Snowden is as good a candidate as any, especially since unlike a certain recent Nobel Prize laureate, he has managed to do something before being nominated.

 

To tell the truth though, I am not sure to what extent Snowden should be regarded as a hero. He has indeed helped to expose some of the more egregious abuses of power by the NSA and other agencies. I would fell more comfortable assigning him the role of hero  if he were not currently residing in a country that has been historically known for spying and abusing its citizens. I also can’t help but consider that he has done more to help the bad guys in the world, terrorists and authoritarian nations like China and Russia than he has helped any Americans. It’s good to oppose the misdemeanors committed by the US government, provided you don’t aid and abed felonies committed elsewhere.

 

 

 

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Tunisia’s Constitution

February 16, 2014

 

 

Last week, while my computer was in the shop, I received a couple of interesting emails from Melanie Jones of watchdog.net. Here is the one she sent expressing her enthusiasm for Tunisia’s new constitution.

 

Dear David Hoffman,

This week, Tunisia passed a truly historic constitution widely heralded as a progressive and monumental document.

Here’s just some of what these brave elected representatives agreed upon in the face of strong pressure from the more extreme factions of their parties:

  • Guaranteed equality between men and women
  • A constitutional mandate for environmental protection, only the third country in the world to do so
  • A declaration that health care is a human right, with preventative care and treatment for every citizen
  • A democracywith civil laws that respects freedom of religion
  • An established right to due process and protection from torture

In one stroke, Tunisia’s become more democratic than many Western countries have been for years.

This is a revolution of democracy and a great victory for human rights — and the more we recognize that, the more Tunisia can shine as an example for the Western and the Arab world!

MESSAGE FOR TUNISIAN LEGISLATORS: We , the citizens of the world, applaud your bravery in making a strong commitment to universal human values in your constitution. People deprived of democracy around the world look to you to set the example of human rights and democratic principle — hold true to the promises made in this revolutionary document!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

P.S. If the other links aren’t working for you, please go here to sign: http://act.watchdog.net/petitions/4238?n=55842607.pQX7mf

 

Melanie Jones is more easily impressed than I am. A constitution is only a piece of paper. You can write in any rights or protections you might want, but if the governing class of a country is not willing to abide by the rules in the constitution, that constitution is worthless. The Soviet constitution promised freedom of expression, religion, assembly and others, but no one in the Soviet Union enjoyed such freedoms. The leaders of the Communist Party had no intention of ever allowing themselves to be restrained by the sentiments expressed by their own constitution. It is likely the same might be the case in Tunisia.

I know that Tunisia is one of the more “liberal” countries of the Middle East, but I have to wonder how well a constitutional guarantee of equality between men and women is going to work in a country that is 98% Muslim. Tunisia’s former government was aggressively secular and their law code is more influenced by the French Napoleonic Code than Islamic Sharia law. Unfortunately, enforced secularism by dictators in the Arab world often causes more radical Islamic movements to form, and since they are often the ones who most opposed the oppressive government, they are often the faction of the opposition with the most credibility with the people. This has happened in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is possible something similar will happen in Tunisia, although so far the Islamists have not gained much influence and the leaders of the new government have rejected  any proposal to make Sharia the basis for legislation.

It remains to be seen whether Tunisia will be able to fulfill the promises made regarding environmental protection and health care for its citizens.  Such thing are usually luxuries enjoyed by wealthy countries and Tunisia is not a wealthy country, although the Tunisian economy has been growing at a steady rate. We will have to wait and see.

 

 

 

 

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Computer Down

February 15, 2014

I haven’t been able to write anything for the past week and a half because my computer hasn’t been working. Whenever I turned it on, it would refuse to start windows, instead showing a blue screen and the message, “Please wait”. I waited for over two hours but nothing would happen. I took it to a local computer store to be looked at, but they had along backlog of repair jobs so they were not even able to run any diagnostics on my computer until yesterday. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong and I finally got it back today. Too bad I feel too tired to write anything just now.

It has been more of an inconvenience not being able to blog, than I thought it would and I am glad I will be able to resume.

 

Soylent Green

February 2, 2014

A little while back I made a reference to the movie Soylent Green while writing on a very different subject. I’ve been thinking about that movie ever since so I might as well write about it. It must be around twenty years since I last watched Soylent Green on video so I only remember the general plot. Soylent Green was based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel Make Room!, Make Room!. I’ve read the book more recently. The movie and book share the same setting, an overpopulated, polluted, dystopian world and mostly the same plot, a detective is investigating a murder in the impossible circumstances of a dying New York City. There are a number of differences, though. Make Room! is set in the year 1999 rather than 2022. I guess the producers of Soylent Green thought that adding another 23 years might make the setting more plausible. Soylent green is not made of people in the book, it is plankton. The murder that the Charlton Heston character is investigating had nothing to do with the corporation or with the environment. The victim was a mob boss and the only reason the police want his murderer is because the New York mafia is afraid that a rival organization is moving in and they are putting pressure on corrupt officials to learn if this is the case.

The book is a whole lot more depressing than the movie. Harry Harrison works to make the world of Make Room!a world of poverty and misery, without any hope for improvement. All people have to hope for is the world might end. In fact, one of the characters is a crazy hermit who expects the end to come when the year ends. When 1999 becomes the year 2000 without incident, he can only despair. Water and food are tightly rationed and diseases of malnutrition, such as kwashiorkor are widespread in the United States. Cars, no longer working because there is no more gasoline, sit abandoned in parking lots, to be used as shelter by the large population of homeless people. Freight is transported by wagons pulled by people. Overpopulation is only getting worse, since the masses of permanently unemployed people have baby after baby to qualify for larger welfare benefits. It goes on and on.

There is, of course, a certain amount of preachiness throughout the descriptions of the miserable life of the future. At one point the Edward G. Robinson character discusses how the world came to be in such awful shape. He laments that if only people started to take overpopulation seriously about thirty years before (when the book was published), the world wouldn’t have been ruined.

These sort of sentiments were widespread throughout the sixties and seventies. This was the era of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and The End of Affluence. It was widely accepted that unless major changes were made, the world of the future was going to be nightmarish. We couldn’t afford have the luxury of an affluent lifestyle, or even basic freedoms if we wanted to save the planet. This sort of messaging was always in the background while I was growing up in the seventies and early eighties and I believed it. I worried about global warming, overpopulation, and the depletion of natural resources. I considered myself an environmentalist.

What changed? Well, if you look around, you might happen to observe that the world was not an overpopulated dystopia in the year 1999 nor is it likely to become one by the year 2022. As I grew older, I couldn’t help noticing that none of the horrible scenarios predicted by the environmental alarmed ever seemed to actually occur. We always had just ten years to save the planet. When ten years elapsed, we still had just ten years to save the planet. I also actually read some environmentalist literature and even got a degree in Environmental Studies. I took what I call my environmentalist wacko class. That helped me to learn just how anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-science, anti-American, and anti-human many environmentalists actually are. I have since developed the deepest skepticism about environmentalist claims of doom and gloom. I am on to them.

This is why I am a global warming skeptic. There are some who have suggested that I should defer to the experts. I am told that ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that drastic action is needed right now. I am not impressed. I happen to possess a functioning memory and very little of what these people are saying is any different than what they were saying forty years ago. Their solution to the crises is the same: the masses must live like medieval serfs while an all powerful government of the elite decide what’s best for everyone.

At some point, you realize that the boy cried wolf is a liar, especially when he seems to have an agenda which involves getting the villagers to hand over wealth and power to the only boy who can save them from the wolf only he sees.

 

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