Dangerous disabled people II

Sinners tend to be more interesting than saints. Wickedness and wrongdoing seem to fascinate more th

In second place is Wilhelm II (1859-1941), Kaiser of Germany from 1888, who played a large role in starting World War I and thus contributed to the deaths of more than 8 million people. Described variously as mentally unstable, immature, narcissistic and a megalomaniac, most historians regard him as being unsuitable for leadership. By pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, Wilhelm II created the conditions that made the outbreak of a major European war almost inevitable.

Wilhelm was born in 1859 into the Prussian royal family, the first son of Crown Prince Frederick and Princess Vicky, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. It was by all accounts a traumatic and complicated birth. According to one of the doctors present, he entered the world "seemingly dead" after his mother had endured many hours of labour. The baby was revived with the far from subtle technique of slapping him hard on the back a few times and for a while everything seemed fine. Vicky wrote enthusiastically to her mother that "my little boy is such a darling, he is so pretty and so fair".

Eventually, though, it became clear that one of the child's arms was not functioning normally. During his birth, the clumsy and forceful actions of the doctors had injured Wilhelm's head and neck, severing some nerves leading to his left arm. As a result of his disability, he was unable to cut up his own food or dress himself.

There followed a series of uncomfortable and humiliating attempts to cure the boy's impairment. These included the use of electric currents, the application of iron arm and body braces, and strapping the healthy arm to the boy's body to force him to use the paralysed one. Most bizarrely, he had to endure regular 'animal baths' which involved wrapping a freshly slaughtered hare around the damaged arm for half an hour.

What was probably even more upsetting for the boy was the attitude of his mother. Princess Vicky had had high aspirations for her first-born son. She hoped he would be just like his grandfather, Prince Albert. When she realised the extent of his disability, she made little effort to hide her disappointment and her son was soon all too aware that he was inadequate in her eyes. It has been said that his strained relationship with his English mother later caused him to develop an equally tense relationship with England itself.

Throughout his life Wilhelm tried to conceal his withered arm. His disability, combined with a typically strict Prussian upbringing and his unhappy relationship with his mother, no doubt left him with a strong feeling of insecurity and a desire to prove himself. Not surprisingly, he grew up to be a disturbed and aggressive man, prone to outbursts of anger and volatile mood swings. He frequently displayed a bitter, resentful and jealous temperament. One courtier complained in 1908: "He is a child and will always remain one". Lord Salisbury called him "not quite normal".

His mental state wouldn't have mattered so much if Prussia had had a constitutional monarchy like Britain. But in fact, at the age of 29, Wilhelm inherited one of the most powerful thrones in Europe.

Not only was he supreme commander of the armed forces, he also had the right to make all important appointments in the civil service and the military. Officers, courtiers and diplomats inevitably became sycophants. Moreover, Wilhelm insisted on being closely involved in affairs of state. One acquaintance of the Kaiser, Walther Rathenau, commented: "He wanted power and influence. Above all he wanted to see and feel his own influence at work." Wilhelm himself declared: "There is only one man in charge of the Reich and I will not tolerate any other".

Embarrassed by his physical weakness, Wilhelm had a powerful desire to prove himself. He sought to compensate for his shortcomings by retreating into his own fantasy world of the army. Obsessed with militarism, Wilhelm was never more content than when he was surrounded by his military friends. Aspiring to be a second Frederick the Great, he relished all the pomp of the Prussian military and vehemently believed in increasing the strength of Germany's armed forces.

While he held his military advisers in the highest esteem, he regarded his civilian ministers as weak and cowardly, sometimes excluding them from the most important meetings. Wilhelm's extensive patronage of military men gave them a strong influence over policy-making in the crucial years leading up to 1914.

Over the years, Wilhelm himself had often advocated war. He dreamed of Germany becoming the dominant world power with him at the helm. "Deep into the most distant jungles of other parts of the world, everyone should know the voice of the German Kaiser," he wrote. "Nothing should occur on this earth without having first heard him."

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, Wilhelm encouraged Austria-Hungary to pursue a hardline stance towards Serbia. When Austria-Hungary eventually attacked Serbia, this triggered a chain reaction, provoking war between Germany and Austria on one side and Russia, France and Britain on the other. Germany could not go to war without the authorisation of the Kaiser and it was Wilhelm who finally took the decision to send German troops into battle.

Eventually, after four years of bitter fighting, the huge scale of German casualties, a severe shortage of resources, the arrival of American troops and the prospect of revolution at home compelled Germany to surrender. Wilhelm was forced to abdicate and seek refuge in the Netherlands where he lived until his death in 1941. Did he express any remorse or regret over his actions? Far from it. Noted for his lifelong anti-Semitism, he blamed his own and Germany's fate on an international conspiracy of Jews. In 1919 he wrote: "Let no German rest until these parasites have been destroyed and eliminated ...I believe the best would be gas." Despite the carnage of World War I and the humiliation of Germany's defeat, Wilhelm continued to dream of Germany becoming a superpower for the rest of his life and in his final years he gave Hitler's regime his full support.

Read Victoria Brignell's take on Goebbels plus tomorrow - Thomas Midgley