Dictators don’t burn out, they burn up. They isolate themselves. They make the media say only good things about them. They surround themselves with yes men, toadies, and sycophants and then eventually believe the hype they have built up around themselves. They see themselves as political geniuses because they have made an entire nation bend to their will. The world treats them with respect because they are scary, and they know how to strike terror in human hearts. They rattle their sabers, let loose their nuke delivery systems to show how they can reach us anywhere, they own their countries’ military forces and there are no checks on their behavior. Sometimes they are all talk, sometimes they hold real power. Dictators can be benevolent but are often stealing from the people they are supposed to be leading, from the society they all live in, and benevolence does not always last.
What combination of nature and nurture produces a man (except for rumors of Amazonian queens it is always a man) who sets out to conquer first his own people and then the known world? Genghis Khan (Mongol, born to an Imperial Family, Nomadic), Kublai Khan (Grandson of Genghis), Attila the Hun (brutal and harsh, ruled people by fear), the Caesar’s (born to an aristocratic family, but not rich), Alexander the Great (born to Phillip II ruler of Macedon). Autocrats do not always rise from wealthy families; in fact, strong men seem to rise from all types of backgrounds. Was Hitler’s family rich and prominent (poor)? How about Mussolini (from a poor family)? Bolsonaro (middle class)? Orban (middle class)? Putin (Father in Navy and then a soldier, Mother factory worker)?
How is it that some people control power, they use it judiciously, and can set it aside when the opportunity arises to pass the power on? How is it those other strong men become gripped by power, it becomes a sign of weakness to let it go, and it drives them mad? On another day in another discussion someone argued that all traits of humans can be put down to neurological pathways and biochemical processes. What do the neurologic pathways of a dictator look like? Do dictators’ brains have common pathways? Unless we learn a lot more about brain chemistry, we may never know the answer to that. Our DNA is more concrete than the paths our experiences trace through our neurons and store in our gray matter.
ABC News - From a Google Image Search
Saddam Hussein held the world stage for some moments as he ranted and raved and flirted with big-power nations and kept his people living the traditional Iraqi lifestyle out of national pride, or disdain for modernity, or for religious reasons. Although he rarely spoke of religion, the various sects represented the hierarchy of power and privilege in Iraq. Sunnis and Shias and Kurds and Christians lived together in a careful balance of hostilities. Hussein bullied them all together into a nation that he controlled with fear and threats and heightened nationalism. He was an odd collection of exuberance, curiosity, cruelty, and criticism.
You can buy tapes of his speeches and his rants. Macleans reviews Saddam like this:
“The portrait that emerges of Saddam is of an intelligent, crafty, but also deluded, cruel, and bigoted man. He urged officials to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, apparently unaware that it is a fraudulent anti-Semitic text. He advocated distributing heroin to Kuwaiti youth during Iraq’s 1990 occupation of that country and used murderous counterinsurgency tactics there. “This issue between the Arabs and Israel will never be resolved. It is either Israel or the Arabs,” he fumed. Saddam’s greatest enemy, though, was the United States. He sought to understand it but never really did. “America, comrades, America is not an easy country,” he said. But then neither was Iraq during Saddam’s rule. “We will never lower our heads as long as we are alive,” he once vowed, “even if we have to destroy everybody.”
He had no checks on his behavior, either internal or external it sometimes seemed.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein and his cousin “Chemical Ali” discussed killing thousands with chemical weapons before unleashing them on Kurds in 1988, according to tapes played on Monday in a trial of former Iraqi officials.
Is the world better off without Saddam Hussein? Is it up to the humans who like their government mixed with a little less terror to make sure men with these personality traits do not gain and keep power? Obviously, it is at the very least uncomfortable and at most deadly to let dictators turn into cruelly obsessed, power-hungry predators. We have several of these mega-demons loose in our world now. And we have far too many petit dictators letting their delusions of grandeur infect the order of our societies. Men like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas are riding high on the coattails of our ‘dictator in temporary exile’, but they are just narrow-minded hacks who pretend to channel the Bible, with which they have only a passing acquaintance. While they are busy saving us from ourselves who will save us from them?
And then there is Putin, making his move to be the most feared dictator on the globe. Tremble when he looks out of those dead eyes, the eyes of a creature from mythology. He pretends to purify Ukraine to cover up his overweening ambition and pride. He wields his nuclear stockpiles to turn himself into a super villain. He suits our era of resurrecting the superheroes from the last time a dictator stalked the land. Will Batman save us? How about the Justice League? Black Panther? We wish someone without any personal agenda would sweep in.
Calling ridding the world of someone like Putin ‘regime change’ is understatement. He is an existential threat. Letting him run rampant gives permission for other autocrats to follow in his footsteps. There must be a way to rid ourselves of a single terrorist. Perhaps we can’t do it in the same way as with a terrorist group, but there must be ways to isolate men, ways to keep them away from power when they are this dangerous. Pulverizing once-viable nations and annihilating a nation’s people should not happen in this century. No one knew Attila the Hun was coming in the 4th century BC. Although there were probably rumors there was no media coverage. Now we watch what is happening and mourn and worry about how far our modern monster will go but we seem just as helpless as those unwary folks in long ago ages.