Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Are All Dictators Ruthless Despots?

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Genghis Khan, Saddam Hussein, and Idi Amin – we all know these names of dictators.

They come to mind immediately as examples of megalomaniac and brutal despots or dictators. Are all dictators ruthless despots?

How to Measure the Evil of Dictators?

Dictator Gallery in Thailand Museum

Stalin once said "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." 

This is the dictator’s moral benchmark. Measuring evil is not only a gruesome affair, but it is also very difficult. If you are honest enough, it might get very uncomfortable for you if you start registering all your pernicious, vicious and evil thoughts. So, deeds only qualify. Conquering the largest territory is not a reliable measure of evil as this list shows. 

Francisco Pizarro (1470-1541) and Hernando Cortez (1485-1547) inflicted much more suffering and caused more damage, by wiping out entire civilizations, than Cyrus the Great (600-529 BC) or Alexander the Great, who conquered vast areas.

One way to measure the ruthlessness of dictators is body count – how many people they have killed.

The top place in recorded history goes to Mao Zedong of China with 70 million killed.

Photo source:

Then Stalin and Hitler follow. Saddam Hussein killed about a million in a country of 22 million. 

Considering the death toll against a backdrop of population is another method. 

  • Pol Pot of Cambodia would probably be the most dangerous dictator to his own people as he killed off 25% of Cambodia’s population. 
But, in this game of percentages, one woman puts all men dictators to shame. 

  • She is Queen Ranavalona 1 of Madagascar. During her reign from 1828-1861 she terminated 50% of the population of Madagascar (from 5 to 2,5 million) through her atrocities. Tough bird!
Photo source:

Are There Good Dictators too?

Yes, at least one in ancient Rome.

Photo source:   Cincinnatus returning the Fasces, the symbol of power to the Roman senate after accomplishing his mission and returning back to live as a farmer on his own farm.

Dictator was a title with a good sound in the ancient Roman Republic (509 BC-27BC) until Julius Caesar (49-44 BC). Roman consuls or generals like Cincinnatus (529-430 BC) were given the title Dictator with limitless powers only for a certain period. They usually returned the power after the mission was accomplished.

A “benevolent dictator” is a ruler (a man, mostly), who exercises supreme power for the good of his people and country rather than strictly for himself. At least this is how most of his supporters see things. 

  • Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia
  • Deng Xiaoping of China
  • Józef Piłsudski of Poland
  • Napoleon Bonaparte of France
  • Park Chung-Hee of South Korea are such dictators.
There is another term in Spanish, “Dictablanda” where the word blanda implies soft dictatorship. “Dictadura” or hard dictatorship is the opposite.

Sometimes dictators are validated by the Supreme Court of the country as Pervez Musharaf of Pakistan (from 1999-2004) was or highly controversial plebiscites validate them like Pinochet did in 1980 in Chile.

Photo source:

Dictators Have Crazy and Fantastic Titles

Some dictators have short titles like Der Fuehrer (German for Leader) for Hitler or Il Duce (Leader) for Mussolini. Some examples of unusual titles below.
  • Vodca (Leader) – Jozef Tiso (1939-45) dictator of Nazi supported Slovakia.
  • Vozhd (Russian for "Chief". Stalin as the Chief or the guide for the working class)
  • Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriy, Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution - Muammar Al Gaddafi of Libya.
  • Maximillien Robbespierre’s supporters called him “The Incorruptible”. The rest of France called him “Dictateur Sanguinaire” (French for Bloodthirsty dictator).
  • The craziest title for a dictator goes to Idi Amin of Uganda – “President for Life, Field Marshall, Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” - Wow! Nothing less.

Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), France

Many Hereditary Dictatorships Currently

Dictators rule almost thirty countries nowadays. You’d be more surprised by how many of them, like Burma, are good friends of Western democracies.
  • Raúl Castro succeeded his brother Fidel Castro in Cuba
  • Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father in Azerbaijan in 2003
  • Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti succeeded his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon in 1999
  • Egypt’s Hosni Mubarrak plans to shift power to his son Gamal Mubarrak upon his death.
  • Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has only two daughters and his (former) hairdresser wife is a mega shopaholic so son-in-law Sakher al-Materi will probably inherit power unless the whole circus is ousted pretty soon in popular uprising.
Photo source:

How Dictators Want To Be Seen

Dictators love to be seen as friendly, charming and lovely persons whom children adore. Just the sort of person everyone should dream of inviting for dinner at their homes!

Dictators also need to show that they are tough and merciless so that anyone planning to topple them should better watch out. 

This gruesome Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge gesture is a typical dictator message to enemies.

Dictators usually argue that there is nothing uniquely bad about their methods and they don’t differ from those used by Western democracies such as Britain in India earlier

or by the current trigger-happy men with expensive guns in Iraq in the so-called Haditha Massacre. 

War is senseless everywhere and as Steve Biko, the South-African anti-apartheid activist said
“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

If you want to know more about your favourite dictator, here is a good site and a blog.

If you want to get rid of a dictator, there is advice on Different Ways to Get Rid of Dictators.

Due to demands by readers, we really have to include the Chilean Augusto Pinochet among the dictators. Two of his most famous sayings sum up typical dictator thoughts:

  1.  I regret and suffer those losses, but it's God's will. He will pardon me if I committed excesses, but I don't think I did.
  2.  I'm not a dictator. It's just that I have a grumpy face.
Photo source:

Post a Comment