12:11 p.m. - January 11, 2007
Yet, despite his demise, it’s still a matter of question whether we needed to go in there and kick him out, forcibly. I, along with many others, still contend that it was unnecessary and unwise, as he was a two-bit tin-horn despot who just happened to rule a piece of ground with a lot of oil on it. Meanwhile, the REAL bad guy was hiding somewhere in the mountains of the Afghanistan / Pakistan border and we couldn’t smoke him out.
A couple of points that some of the uber-hawks made (when their WMD strawman was found to be a fallacy) is that he killed a lot of innocent people in his reign AND he wasn’t freely elected, and by gum everyone has the right to freely elect their leader.
As you know, this whole democracy thing is relatively new fad amongst countries and while it seems to have stuck in some places, in others it looks like it may be a while for it to take root and in other places, due to traditions and culture, may NEVER truly be the way that leaders are decided.
There have been a lot of despots, dictators, president-for-lifes, and other assorted goons and thugs that have led countries, and there are still some of these clowns running around raising heck. Frankly, even some of our allies, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, would be classified as a dictator, since he clamps down on dissent and doesn’t really allow for free elections.
What I wanted to do was to see how bad Saddam really was, in comparison to a sampling of other dictators in the 20th and 21st century and what the lasting legacy of those dictators are today. I didn’t want to go back past the 20th century, because it gets really hairy and the farther back you go, mass slaughter and mayhem were par for the course. Even in ‘civilized’ Europe, you had inquisitions, genocide, and violent revolutions happening. The United States did have that bloody and ghastly Civil War, but for the most part have escaped the treachery that has accompanied regime change throughout the history of humankind.
And yes, this isn’t THAT lighthearted, and sometimes I may write in a light way in this essay, but I mean no disrespect to the dead and those who suffered under these thugs.
Joseph Stalin - USSR (April, 1922 – March 1953). I lead off with Stalin, because while Hitler was heinous, Stalin was even more ruthless. He purged almost everyone that was close to him, and sent millions to their death and more to the gulag. He also was the main cause for the great famine in the Ukraine, which killed millions. Some estimated that 10 to 15 million people lost their life due to Stalin’s actions and policies.
That’s a lot of dead souls on one man’s head. However, he seems to have bucked the trend, and had a ‘natural’ death, instead of one by his own or another’s hand (though some have said he was murdered by a poison of some sorts).
Legacy – Almost immediately after his death, he was a persona non grata. He was denounced and the USSR went through a period of “De-Stalinization”, which struck his image from many items. It’s comical to see the films that portrayed Stalin as a hero of the Revolution clumsily De-Stalinized. It’s true that he forged the USSR into a super power, but at what cost?
Adolf Hitler - Germany (January 1933 – April 1945). I don’t think we need to go over his record.
Legacy – Of all of these dictators, he seems to be the only one that has a cache of ardent followers, to this day. But get this – to everyone who wants a future for the Aryan race (whatever THAT is) as tall, blonde, good looking men and women – have you taken a close look at Hitler? I mean…he’s about the opposite of the ‘ideal’.
Pol Pot - Cambodia (April 1975 – January 1979). Taking advantage of a government weakened by Vietnam’s intervention, Pol Pot and his cadre of Khmer Rouge seized control of this small country little by little – finally ousting the government in 1975 and then went about to do his business.
Everything was collectivized. The nation, renamed “Democratic Kampuchea” (har-de-har-har) was to become agrarian and self-reliant. There was to be no dissent. All enemies of the state were to be purged. Almost everyone was forced out of the cities and into the countryside. No one was to be educated, and all intellectuals (and even folks who just wore glasses) were eliminated.
The population was about 8 million when he took power, and it’s estimated that 2 million of those people lost their lives in four years.
Vietnam had taken great interest to see that Pol Pot took power in Cambodia, but soon he irritated the Vietnamese and that led to his downfall. He was driven from the country, and while the Vietnamese weren’t exactly giving everyone warm fuzzies, at least the people in Cambodia were free from that tyrrany.
Legacy – The Khmer Rouge hung around for a while, mainly because they served the self-interest of some governments to act like a buffer against Vietnam. Finally, they gave up the ghost when the Cambodian government started to make peace with the various leaders of the movement, and he finally was arrested. He died in April, 1998, of heart failure, but there are many that say he committed suicide rather than face an international tribunal.
Idi Amin - Uganda (January 1971 – April 1979). He was a loyal soldier to former Ugandan leader Milton Obode, yet when he was going to be arrested for misappropriating funds, he took power when Obode was out of the country.
At first, many were grateful that Amin had taken control of the small country, but soon, he became power mad. He had his thugs hunt down and eliminate any Obode supporters, threw out any Asians and other ethnic groups, even those who had been there from colonial times, and built his army up to plan invasions of neighboring countries.
He became crazier and crazier, declaring himself “King of Scotland” among other wacky titles, and was finally ousted and exiled. He killed about 500,000 people in all during his reign.
Legacy – When he left Uganda, he found a home in exile, and always claimed Uganda needed him. Uganda thought otherwise.
Mao Zedong - China (October 1945 – September 1976). A longtime revolutionary and thorn in the side of the Chinese government, Mao finally took power and declared a People’s Republic. Of course, the People should bow to their supreme leader, you know. He instigated some of the greatest tragedies of all time in the “Great Leap Forward” which killed approximately 20 to 30 million Chinese peasants due to starvation, and the “Cultural Revolution” which was a reaction to those in the Chinese Communist party that wanted to marginalize Mao.
Imperialists and intellectuals were to be purged in that revolution and Mao’s true cult of personality was born. Up to 750,000 people were persecuted during this time. Finally, the reign of Mao ended with his death and after his death and the death of Zhou En Lai, and the elimination of the “Gang of Four”, Deng Xiaoping took control of China and started it on the road to economic super-powerdom.
Legacy – He still commands a cult of personality, and his Little Red Book is read and studied to this day. I have a copy. And there are some Maoists running around, like the Shining Path in Peru.
Alfredo Stroessner - Paraguay (August 1954 – February 1989). Yes, Pinochet was bad news for many Chileans, and Argentina and Uruguay had more than their fair share of thugs and goons in power, but the prototypical South American dictator was Stroessner.
He kept in power through dealings with the army and business leaders to take a cut of profits in the illicit business deals he negotiated. He was anti-Communist, so he was a friend of the US – a friend who quelled dissent by torture and execution. The prisons in Paraguay had guards that were trained by CIA ‘specialists’ and former Nazis. They were no tea party.
Over 200,000 Germans emigrated to Paraguay in the years of his reign, including Josef Mengele.
He was involved in “Operation Condor” along with other South American dictators, and that operation killed about 80,000 people, and of a population of about 3 million in Paraguay, 1/5 of them were forced to flee the country due to his policies, his purges and his torture and kidnapping campaigns. He was finally forced out of power in a coup by the Army in 1989.
Legacy – It’s still controversial to this day in Paraguay.
Michel Micombero - Burundi (November 1966 – November 1976). This portion of Africa has very sensitive tribal relations. Many of us know of the great Rwandan genocide, where almost 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slain by the Hutu controlled army factions. But the first genocide of this nature occurred in 1972, when the Tutsi minority in Burundi killed 200,000 Hutus in six weeks, led by Micombero’s army.
Legacy – It was the predecessor and a stark reminder of how ancient hatred can affect relations between peoples to this day.
Francisco Macias - Equatorial Guinea (October 1968 – August 1979). He was the first elected leader of his country, a tiny piece of land between Cameroon and Gabon plus an island off the coast, and right away he started a reign of terror.
Equatorial Guinea was called the “Auschwitz of Africa”. About 70,000 people were killed and over 1/3 of the population fled his reign. He was extremely paranoid, and even banned fishing for a while and charged people $22 to use the beach. He deported 20,000 people to work as virtual slaves in a cocoa plantation, and he banned anyone from being named “Monica” in his country after one of his wives left him.
He declared himself “President For Life” in 1972, and it was pretty much true, since he was executed about a month after he was deposed. When he was in power, the country had five holidays, Independence Day, President’s Birthday, Assumption Of Power Of Life President, Popular Declaration of Life President…and Human Rights Day.
Legacy – The country is still trying to find its footing after this disastrous start to independence, but now they have found vast oil reserves, and now people are starting to pay attention to this tiny sliver of land.
Depressingly, I could go on. I listed about 20 dictators or so, but as you can see, while Saddam was a cruel, repressive leader, he in no way was close to the level of these despots. What is sad is that the US ignored, or even tacitly encouraged, some of this heinous butchery and torture.
One always has hope that leaders like these men will fall by the wayside and we will never hear of their kind again. Sadly, though, I’m not holding my breath. The nature of man has lent itself to the ascension of charismatic leaders with evil intentions.