The world’s most notorious dictators have been researched and written about extensively. The period during which they rule usually coincides with memorable and terrible historical events, given their oppressive, and even abusive rule. Dictatorships are often characterized by suspension of election and civil liberties, the proclamation of a state of emergency, rule by decree, among other traits.
Many dictators have committed some of the most atrocious and violent human rights abuses. An example is the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who formed the Gulag, the government agency that was responsible for the administration of the Soviet forced-labor camp system during his rule. It’s believed to have garnered a death toll of over 1 million people. Another instance of a brutal dictatorship is in the case of Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia in 1975, who was responsible for the death of 1.7 million people during his four-year-dictatorship.
The crimes perpetrated by oppressive regimes and world leaders are, to a large extent, well-known and documented and it’s fairly easy to get your hands on that information. However, there are some facts about these infamous world leaders that are rather surprising and certainly not what you would call common knowledge. Below we explore interesting facts about eight of the world’s most well-known tyrants.
1. Colonel Gaddafi (Libya): Gaddafi was private to the point of being a recluse and often showed signs of being exceedingly afraid of his own people. After his fall, the true extent of his paranoia was revealed: he had tunnels constructed underground so that he was able to come and go without being seen.
2. Adolf Hitler (Germany): This year, author Norman Ohler wrote ‘Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich.’ It provides a new facet to our understanding of the Third Reich and its all-consuming reliance on drugs. This included cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, being consumed by everyone from factory workers to Hitler himself.
3. Kim Jong-il (North Korea): The former dictator was known to be a film buff and wanted to boost North Korea’s cinematic reputation, so he kidnapped a prominent South Korean director and his actress ex-wife. He gave the couple access to his collection of over 15,000 titles and required that they watch 4/day and review them in the hopes that they can create a masterpiece thereby winning North Korea international acclaim.
4. Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union): Though Lenin certainly helped in Stalin’s rise to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922, he developed doubts about him. Between December 1922 and January 1923, Lenin dictated ‘Lenin’s Testament’, in which he discussed the personal qualities of his comrades – including Stalin. He recommended that Stalin is removed from the position, deeming him ill-suited for the position.
5. Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan): Niyazov is an example of an egomaniacal leader. Not only did he give himself an over-the-top title ‘Turkmenbashi’ (meaning ‘head of the Turkmen), but he also renamed a town after himself. He did the same with schools, airports, the month of January, and even a meteorite.
6. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe): In the 90s, Mugabe set out to regain control of land that was occupied by white farmers since the colonial era. He encouraged white farmers to sell to people who were willing to buy, however, this process proved too slow. Instead, Mugabe gave black Zimbabweans the land even though they didn’t actually have any farm training. The result was that between 1999-2009, food production in the country fell by nearly half, unemployment rose to 80%, and life expectancy plummeted.
7. Uday Hussein (Iraq): Uday wasn’t a dictator himself, however, he exhibited behavior that rivals some of the most brutal rulers in history. He reportedly had a “habit” of dating the prettiest girls he could find and then executing them when we grew tired of the relationship. He also committed murder at a function in Egypt in front of the horrified guests.
8. Leopold II (Belgium): Leopold annexed the Congo as his own personal property. Under his regime, millions of the Congolese people died. The current estimate is between 1 to 15 million people. Leopold was one of the most gruesome and callous despots in history, even while being relatively unknown to most.