Journalist Sara Pentz won’t let go of North Korean barbarism. She reminds us:
“Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside notorious labor camp No. 14 for dissidents in North Korea about 25 years ago. Shin entered this world as a political prisoner. He knew nothing but that poisonous world of control and terror, torture and starvation – the attributes of a dictatorship.
“He soon learned that no one escapes that life; and that he would be shot if he did not report any attempt. When he was 14 years old he discovered that his mother and brother were planning to escape, and understood there was no choice but to report them. So he did.
“He watched – without any emotion – as his mother was hanged and his brother was executed by a firing squad. He felt nothing but relief that he was not the one to die. All he understood was that his mother and brother had broken the camp rules. Shin was hung by his arms and feet over an open fire as his reward.”
Funny. We’ve declared war on the polluting class, the smoking class, the apathetic class, the non-recycling class, the excess-fossil-fuel-burning class and even the overeating class; but the dictators of the world are each treated like a separate little human-interest story after they die, fall from power, flee or get torn apart by mobs. Let’s increase the lighting and the magnification on these imperious, despotic, brutal people.
You’ve heard them “prove” that Stalin was worse than Hitler and Mao was worse than Stalin because of the body-count history attached to each as he left the stage. Wrong. And wretched. All dictators kill as many as they must to achieve their aims. Body-counts prove little. It’s the little touches that tell the tale.
In the August 1937 Reader’s Digest, journalist Leonard Lyons reported that Nazi Germany had ordered all nurses in German hospitals to listen at the bedsides of dementia patients and report any anti-Nazi gibberish uttered. Crazy, you say? The Nazis later learned that their hero-general Erwin Rommel knew of the anti-Hitler bomb plot, which failed in 1944. One of the drugged-up plotters kept muttering Rommel’s name. Rommel was allowed to kiss his wife and son goodbye and commit suicide, followed by a hero’s funeral.
I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The rich are not like you and me.” The rich are a whole lot more like you and me than the dictators are. Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, realized that Italy needed more soldiers to expand his fantasy-empire. To encourage procreation, he decreed that all newly married couples be given free bedsheets!
You can’t believe everything bad you hear about dictators. I could never nail down the truth of Napoleon ordering the slaying of a thousand prisoners when his aides heard him utter, “Ma sacree toux!,” which means “My damned cough!” but has the identical sound in French as “Massacrez tout!,” meaning, “Kill everybody!” But we do know for sure that Enver Hoxha, Communist dictator of Albania after World War II, closed every single house of worship in Albania and executed the clergy! We also know that “King” Henri Christophe, first dictator of post-colonial Haiti, maddened with syphilis, ordered an entire regiment of his troops to march off the roof of his fabled Citadel, to their doom.
We don’t know if it’s true, or 1940-style publicity, that Adolf Hitler told Roosevelt he would jail any four German journalists Roosevelt didn’t like if Roosevelt would only jail Walter Winchell, a super-powerful pre-TV radio and newspaper columnist who hated Naziism and Communism. But we know that Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia left a political will in which he recommended he be replaced by a committee of 35!
We know that Stalin wielded such power that nobody in his audience of Soviet apparatchiks dared appear to be the first to quit applauding after Stalin spoke. The subsequent applause-marathons became ridiculous. The Soviet authorities had to rig up a bell to let the crowd know it was safe to cease applauding without fear of imprisonment.
Sukarno, the first “president” of post-Dutch-colonial Indonesia should probably head the cavalcade if we were talking only about the use of total political power to further the dictator’s womanizing. I personally interviewed a Swedish flight attendant who’d been assigned to a Sukarno charter flight. I said “Swedish,” not “prudish,” but she had barely regained her ability to speak after what she’d seen on that flight. Sukarno had a trick of plying foreign women with the gift of an automobile, which, however, was confiscated by the Indonesian customs authorities as the woman attempted to leave Indonesia.
The winner by my scoring is Josef Stalin. The Soviets held a nationwide contest to select the best design for a statue honoring Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. Entries poured in from all over the Soviet Union; Pushkin standing, Pushkin sitting, Pushkin writing, Pushkin thinking, Pushkin on horseback.
The winning entry: a statue of Stalin – reading a book by Pushkin!