The age-old adage: “power corrupts”. Everyone seems to know this. And when we think of this, we think of the more obvious ways in which it corrupts, like a desire for more power first of all, followed by a desire for material gain and dominance over others etc.
But what about the lesser known side-effects? Does power also corrupt the smaller, apparently innocuous parts that make up a person’s character and behavior? In other words, does power make the mighty lose their marbles (or their sleep) over little or mundane things?
We’ll never know for sure, unless we perform a rigorous scientific study of the side effects of power on those who wield it, with an adequate population of individuals studied under proper scientific controls that analyse the causal chain.
Anyone up for rounding up a few dictators (of the benevolent kind or not), some royalty, presidents, tribal chiefs, religious leaders and other?
Ooooooor we could just dispense with the pedantic pretense at science and draw our own wildly speculative conclusions based on the limited and inadequate information we have. Glad you’re on-board! Read about the quirky manifestations of 5 rulers and their obsessions, below.
1. Fidel Castro – Milk and its derivatives
You probably know Castro as “El Lider Maximo”, the Revolutionary with a capital R, good to his people(?) fond of alternatively provoking, condescending or snubbing the USA and a host of other neat stuff that any respectable “autocrat” would do.
But I betcha didn’t know he’s also very intense… about milk. And … stuff that’s made from milk, like: cheese, ice-cream, you name it.
Point in case? He built one of the largest ice-cream parlors in the world in Havana, Cuba. It was called Coppelia’s. And it could serve 35 000 patrons about 16 000 liters of ice-cream every day, operating from 10:45 AM to 1:45 AM.
He’s also said to have been able to recognize by sight all the cows he owned… Yup. Some of us have difficulties with acquaintances we meet rarely…
But one good thing came out of his obsession. His attempt to breed a hybrid cow between a local variety that deals well with heat (zebu) and one that produces lots of milk (Holstein) was a success.
Then again, when that first breed, prototypical success died young, he did order a full military funeral and songs and poems composed in her name.
2. Adolf Hitler – Karl May
I’m sure you’re familiar with this particular dictator, so there probably won’t be much of a surprise regarding the steep logical chasms and the ideological contradictions that are about to follow.
Adolf Hitler, the White Supremacist’s ideal and Ubermensch Incarnate, promoter of the Master Race theory and author of one of history’s most chilling and meticulously organized genocides, ardent adversary of European powers, the USSR and the USA, was massively into Karl May. To the point of a pretty clear (to us) obsession.
He discovered the author of Westerns (yes, WESTERNS!) as a child and fell in love with the stories, neglecting his school duties and staying’ up late at night to read under the covers with a flashlight and a magnifier. It gets better.
Out of all the characters, he particularly admired Winnetou (yes, THE NON-ARYAN AMERICAN-INDIAN SAVAGE!), whom he found very brave and worthy to be emulated by German soldiers, a fact he made clear many times and underlined when he insisted that all German officers should carry copies of the books in the series, so that they may learn nobility.
And then he actually ordered the printing of 300,000 of Karl May’s books (incidentally in 1944, when Germany was in a paper crisis), to be distributed among his soldiers, based on the logic that the guerrilla warfare used by the Indians in the books was similar to the Russian tactics, so by reading, the German soldiers would defeat them.
3. Idi Amin – Scotland
Not quite a in-the-millions mark Genocider like the last entry on the list, Idi Amin could still boast a “respectable” 300,000 deaths (of his own citizens!) by the end of his regime and tales of brutality fit for the most savage of places and the most ancient of times.
And he would probably boast a fondness for Haggis, bagpipes and kilts as well. Surprised? In his pre-dictator years, while serving in the King’s African Rifles (a multi-battalion British colonial regiment), he was commanded by Scottish officers.
Because when he came to absolute power in his country, which was in the Commonwealth and under British influence, that was perceived as a bit of a boo-boo, he wanted to still maintain a link with the greatness and grandeur of the Empire. But he couldn’t very well do that with the Brits, whom he had just irritated. Solution? Focus on and admire the Scots (and their potential Independence), while demonizing the British.
Up to the point in which in 1974 he offered to be the King of Scotland. And in 1977 threatened to enter the UK by force.
Doesn’t the movie “The Last King of Scotland”, starring Forest Whitaker, make even more sense now?
4. Joseph Stalin – Nude Male Drawings Annotations
Nothing odd about annotations. Some people leave personal comments or notes on the things they read, be it a scientific journal or a fantasy novel that peaked their interest.
Joseph Stalin’s interest seemed to be peaked by reproductions of 19 century male nudes sketched by Russian painters, which he left comments on of a rather curious nature. Stuff like a one-sided, we hope, dialogue with a former political adversary (Karl Radek) which he had executed, or prompts for self-improvement, like drawing an inverted triangle on the penis of a sketched bearded man and commenting: “Why are you so thin? Study Marxism!”
If you’re thinking that these little pensées in blue or red ink left by Stalin suggest that he might have been a repressed closet-dweller and/or possibly a homophobe, you wouldn’t be alone, as that has been proposed by historical analysts.
Or hey, maybe that was just his way of trolling his snoopy minions… Right.
5. Muammar Gaddafi – Condoleezza Rice
Aaaah, love. “That moves the sun and the other stars”, as Dante put it in his “Divine Comedy – Paradise”. He was probably referring to God’s love, but the human version can be pretty strong too, as most of us can attest. Especially if you’ve found The One, he or she who gives meaning to your world, making you think of nothing but him/her.
Like, for example, if you’re an African dictator, let’s say Libya for the sake of argument, and you develop a mega-crush on … let’s say the Secretary of State of the USA, possibly the country with which your country has the worst foreign relations and is considered a main geopolitical enemy of yours.
Now let’s say that it wasn’t for the sake of argument and that it actually did happen. Because it did. Talk about Romeo and Juliet… Except, only Muammar seemed to be infatuated, declaring for Al Jazeera in 2007: “I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. [ . . . ] Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza . . . I love her very much.”
And then, when she visited the country on state business, playing her a videotape he’d made with a photo collage of herself set on music that he had written especially for her by a Libyan composer. Her reaction: “It was weird, but at least it wasn’t raunchy.” Tough luck, bro.