When you are alone, maybe with a glass of red in your hand, what is it that you ponder? World affairs? Politics? How can you make a difference? Yeh, whatever. I ponder things like this:
How tall (or short) do you need to be, to get a gig as a famous / inspirational / despotic world leader?
I have a small large obsession with military history. So in the course of reading a book about something extremely boring for 99% of the population, it struck me that Joseph Stalin – you know him – the guy that is estimated to have ordered the killing by execution, work-to-death, famine and general repression of approximately 20 million of his fellow countrymen – was very, very short. Interestingly, if you look at Soviet era statues and paintings He was depicted as, give or take, a 6-footer. But in the cold glare of reality, Uncle Joe was actually a petit 5 feet 5 inches tall (or short).
I know what your thinking, “short man syndrome”, but maybe not. Saddam Hussein, for example – a textbook despot – was a commanding 6’2”, in a country where the average height for a male is 5’5”.
So is there a height trend for individual countries and their elected (or otherwise) leaders? I needed to know. And so abandoning my obsessional search for the perfect meatball, I started to investigate post WW2 world leaders:
In the good ole US of A, the average male stands at 5’10”. Yet 75% of Presidents since 1945 have been 6 feet tall or above – it has been over 30 years since anyone has looked ‘south’ at a US president. “How is the weather down there, Pres. Carter?” (Bad pun alert!)
But is it a Cold War coincidence that the Soviet Union had the opposite statistics? In the last 90 odd years, only one Russian Premier has bothered the 6’ mark – and that was Boris Yeltsin – a man once found drunk, in his underwear, trying to hail a taxi out the front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. The Secret Service had to lock the White House liquor cabinet on that trip I can assure you. Apart from “belt ‘em down” Boris, the rest of the USSR/Russian leaders were all below average height; Khrushchev was reportedly too short to be allowed on the Kremlin pony rides. He topped out at 5’3” (5’6” with his fury hat on.)
The French started off great guns, making 6’5” Chuck DeGaulle the top Croissant. He just pipped a couple of 6’4” leaders, including Lyndon “thank you, grassy knoll” Johnston, as the tallest leader I could find. (Disclaimer: my research was neither… ahem… scientific nor exhaustive). Sadly, the Cheese-Eaters have let the side down in recent times, with the last two French Presidents resorting to platform shoes so they could sidle confidently up to people like Angela Merkel, the 5’5” German Chancellor. They both must have been so relieved they didn’t ever have to stand tippy-toe on a couple of phone books to get a decent photo opportunity with the old sausage loving 1980’s Chancellor, 6’4” Helmut Kohl.
So is there a pattern? Sadly it seems to be inconclusive. Hitler was a shorty, (5’8”) but took over from Von Hindenburg, who was a most Germanic 6’5”. Churchill (5’6”) was set amongst a string of mostly 6’+ bowler hatted Blighty lovers, until a magnificently coiffured Maggie Thatcher stepped down to the plate at 5’5”. Sometimes history also distorts the facts – Napoleon probably wasn’t as short as you may think, he was ~ 5’7”. (His height is often miss-quoted as 5’2”.)
So actually, the only conclusion we can make is I have just wasted 10 minutes of your time. Sorry about that. But for me, it’s back to my quest for the perfect meatball. Adieu!