Who were, or are, the best military dictators? Do you need to have been a member of the military to qualify? Or will a ridiculous title and a wardrobe full of fancy uniforms do?
Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya.
Gaddafi trained as a military officer. In true Middle East style, he staged a coup in 1969 while the incumbent leader was out of the country. While it was a ‘bloodless’ coup, the familiar despot path soon emerged, as enemies both real and imagined were hunted down and executed. Gaddafi was the longest serving Arab leader, and state sponsored terrorism was one of his favourite pastimes. A British plot to assassinate him in 1969 was called off after the CIA argued he was an acceptable leader. He was said to suffer from megalomania – do you think? Bashed and shot dead by his fellow countrymen, he won’t be missed.
Born in Austria, Adolf joined the German Army less than 3 weeks after the start of World War One. He participated in several large battles and was a corporal by war’s end. Decorated 3 times for bravery and wounded twice, Hitler’s superiors regarded him as a dutiful soldier, but not leadership material. Anecdotal evidence shows he was described by senior officers as both “incompetent to command people” and “dangerously psychotic”. How right they were. In 1945, after spending the last few months of his life underground, directing non-existent troops into already overrun positions, he committed suicide.
His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism and Founder of the Empire.
Mussolini was expelled from school for stabbing a fellow pupil, but enrolled in another school and eventually became a schoolteacher. He took off to Switzerland in 1902 to avoid military service but returned and fought in the Italian army during World War One. He was wounded during grenade practice in 1917. Corporal Mussolini was not awarded any decorations and his military service was unremarkable. During World War Two, his bumbling command of Italian forces enormously helped the Allied cause. As with Hitler, the Allies actually stopped any serious attempts to assassinate Mussolini, as his incompetence was materially aiding the defeat of the Axis powers. He was eventually beaten, shot and hung upside down by his fellow Italians.
General Secretary of the Communist Party / Father of Nations, Brilliant Genius of Humanity, Great Architect of Communism, Gardener of Human Happiness.
Expelled for missing final exams from the seminary where he was training to become a priest, Stalin soon came across Lenin and spent several years as a bank robber, kidnapper and extortionist. The priests must have been so proud. A childhood accident that damaged his left arm exempted him from military service in World War One. Despite no military qualifications, he became Supreme Commander of Soviet forces in World War Two, and the Red army suffered 4.3 million casualties in the first 6 months of the 1941 German invasion. Eventually, it’s estimated 28 million Soviets died. Stalin was also responsible for death from starvation, execution, disease and deportation of reportedly up to 20 million of his fellow countrymen. Stalin can be summed up by an incident during World War II: The Germans, having captured his son, offered a prisoner exchange for one of their own high-ranking officers. Stalin declined, and actually told them to keep him. “Uncle Joe” died from a stroke in 1953, found in a pool of his own urine.
Nguyen Van Thieu,
President of the Republic of Vietnam.
No, not from the communist North Vietnam, Thieu was actually the president of South Vietnam. Yep, the one the USA and Australia, amongst others, were defending. Thanks LBJ. A Military dictator in democracy clothes, he ruled from Saigon till literally, the wolves were at the door. Despite being a qualified General, his mind boggling incompetent handling of South Vietnamese forces, enabled the North Vietnamese Army to quickly drive south, after the Americans opted out of the war in 1973. Corruption and cronyism were the hallmarks of his rule. At the end, after making a speech that included “I resign, but I do not desert.” He deserted. Fifteen tons of luggage and US$15 million in gold went with him to London, and he eventually settled in the United States.
His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.
In a group of deranged narcissists, the illiterate Idi Amin had by far the best title. His business cards must have been a foot and a half long. Idi began his military service in the British Colonial Army. Initially, he was an assistant cook, but rose slowly through the ranks, eventually becoming deputy commander of the Ugandan Army. He took power in a 1971 coup. Idi’s acumen is best described by a note in his service record from his early days in the British Army: “Idi Amin is virtually bone from the neck up and needs things explained in words of one letter.” He died an exile in Saudi Arabia, in 2003
Maximum Leader of National Liberation.
Manuel was a 30-year friend of the CIA, until he turned into a baddie when he stopped co-operating with the United States. Noriega was a career soldier and received some training from the US army. He was implicated in two coup attempts in Panama in the late 1960’s, finally taking power in 1983. He attained the rank of General – by promoting himself. The 1989 US invasion of Panama ended his position of military strong man. Two years before his ousting, France awarded him the Legion of Honor, their highest decoration. Noriega spent 2010 in a French prison having been convicted of laundering drug money. He got to keep the award.
President of Republic of Iraq / Chairman of Revolutionary Command Council.
Saddam kicked off his rise to power with a failed assassination attempt on the then Iraqi dictator, in 1953. A later, CIA sponsored, assassination that did go according to plan allowed Saddam to come back from exile. He quickly rose through the Ba’ath party ranks, eventually becoming head of the security services. Public hangings and the liberal use of firing squads eventually eliminated his rivals and enemies, and he came to absolute power in 1979. Despite no formal military training, he was, however, very capable of unleashing terror on whomever got in his way. Millions suffered and died under his regime. His own people hanged him.
Supreme leader of North Korea / Dear Leader.
Officially, Kim Jong-il was born in Korea after a swallow foretold of his birth. He was actually born in Russia in 1941. Despite Mr. Kim’s apparent magical ability to control the weather, North Korea suffered devastating floods and droughts during his tenure. That, plus his gross mismanagement, left the country in economic ruin. To solve this, Mr. Kim spent most of the country’s money supporting the military. Despite no apparent military training, he was appointed commander of North Korea’s Military in 1993. They should have backed the talking swallow. The current leader, his son Kim Jong-un, was sadly born without Dr. Doolittle’s help, although he did earn a degree in Physics at the Kim Il-Sun University, named after his grandfather. Is anyone in North Korea not named Kim?
President of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s pro-independence stand landed him an 11-year stint in prison in 1964. After being released he spent the time before majority rule as a leader of the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe. This group waged a guerilla war with the white minority government, giving Mugabe plenty of practice at torture and pillaging. After being popularly elected in 1980, he set about using his skills on his own people. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II made Mugabe an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath. It was revoked in 2008 as Zimbabwe took a bath. By the start of 2000, Mugabe had decided elections were too risky to be left to voters and held onto power with fraud, intimidation and vote rigging.