Favourites Politics World

Great Brutal Dictators

Suppose you woke up one morning and discovered you were a brutal dictator. Never mind how it happened – maybe aliens caused it or it was by magic. One day, you were an obscure but diligent Post Office clerk or something, and the next day you’re the brutal dictator of a medium-sized country. Would you do the job to the best of your ability, the same as you used to when you were stamping TV licences? Leave aside the moral qualms, scruples and other side-issues, and just take it as given that you’re in the job and there’s no getting out of it.

I often wondered about myself doing that kind of work, especially when I saw other brutal dictators and how they ran their businesses. Ceaucescu, for instance. A crowd of people gathered outside his palace, shouting rude things up at him, and what did he do? He ran for it, got caught, got shot and was no more. Milosevic, likewise, was toppled by a crowd of people shouting at him. So was Honecker.

I don’t get it. These guys were supposed to be brutal dictators, so why didn’t they dictate brutally? Why didn’t they just shoot half the protesters? That’s what I’d do. I’d brutally dictate. I’d gas them. Why? Because I’m a brutal dictator and it’s my job.

It’s the same with dissidents. You have all these so-called brutal dictators allowing newspapers and television to criticise them. Not on, lads. You can’t do that and expect to stay in the job as a tyrannical despot. You have to crush all opposition and all dissent. It’s part of the job description, simple as that. Look at a great medium-sized dictator: Assad of Syria. Assad was absolutely ruthless, prepared to wipe out entire cities, imprison opponents, crush political dissent. In Assad’s Syria, you just would not think of marching on the streets because he’d send in the tanks and they’d kill you. You knew he meant it. But Assad was clever enough to stay political. He didn’t bother oppressing religious minorities and as long as you kept your mouth shut, he’d probably let you alone. He even passed the final test for membership of the Institute of Great Brutal Dictators by dying of natural causes.

If you want to see truly great brutal dictators, you really have to look at Stalin and Mao, who completely terrorised friend and foe alike for decades, wiped out millions of people and controlled every tiny detail of their vast empires, while at the same time persuading the majority that they personally knew nothing about the mass murders, torture, disappearances and general terror all around them. They died of natural causes, unopposed to the last, and still convinced they were right. Now that’s world-class brutal dictation for you.

Saddam seemed to have all the qualities necessary to be a great brutal dictator. He killed everyone, and even murdered some of his own supporters to keep the rest of them scared. He eradicated criticism in the press. He tolerated no resistance. He crushed all opposition without mercy and he stole billions from the public purse. But what Saddam didn’t realise was that, unlike Stalin and Mao, he was really a puppet brutal dictator, and could be removed as easily as he had been installed. He failed the test by breaking the First Law of Brutal Dictation: choose your enemies. Pol Pot did the same thing by pissing off Vietnam, and the Vietnamese tank divisions promptly rolled over the Khmer Rouge, squashing them, but Saddam’s mistake was even worse.

Saddam made an enemy of his puppeteer, not realising they only needed to cut the strings and in the end that’s what happened. The puppeteers cut Saddam’s strings.

All except one.