WHY DOES HISTORY TOLERATE SOME DICTATORS MORE THAN
Can anybody in the modern world seriously imagine not knowing who Adolf
Hitler was? The History Channel screens back to back documentaries as
if there was no other event in history; he is also the main historical
fall back of many a mainstream television station. Not quite on the
same level but treated in a similar manner is Josef Stalin perhaps
he could be described as the runner up in the statistics
of how much coverage various dictators get?
For that is the case; that there is almost a kind of hierarchy in terms
of dictators general places in history. Scott Hayden even wrote an article
called The Worst Dictators: Stalin, Hitler and Mao, whilst
the figures suggest Hitler was responsible for 34 million deaths, Stalin
twenty million and Mao ten million.
It has been pointed out by the critical historian OSullivan that
Hitler aside -history appears to tolerate right-wing dictators
more than left-wing dictators. He uses the examples of Franco and Pinochet.
Perhaps the reason that history tolerates the far right more stems from
the Western fear of Communism still perpertrated by the United States,
still the most influential nation when it comes to influencing the thought
of other nations. Franco, let us not forget, signed a ten year military
assistance pact with the United States and his leadership was seen as
a safe bet against Communism perhaps the West wishes to keep
itself favourable by denying notoriety to a man it has been so closely
As for Pinochet, his regime killed between 1,200 and 3,200 with
80,000 interned and up to 30,000 tortured including women and children.
But Pinochets leadership did not end until 1990, and he did not die
until 2006, which means he is perhaps not the best example for OSullivan
to use, depending on when things stop being politics and
start becoming history. Only time will tell if Pinochet
becomes a Hitler or a... yes, who has faded into obscurity,
had their crimes tolerated? Leopold II? General Antonescu? How familiar
are these names to the non-historian?
I conducted a brief survey which revealed that these names are completely
unfamiliar to most people. Does this mean that as leaders they committed
nothing to offensive, nothing worth documentation in the history? No.
Quite the opposite is true.
One of the definitions of a bad leader is a complete ignorance of what
is required of you, or a ready willingness to ignore it.
Leopold II regime is probably ignored as he was a monarch rather than
a political leader per se, but his regime still heralded
many deaths and brutality. He was the founder and sole owner of the
Congo Free State the powers at Berlin Conference agreed to set
up the Free State in 1885 on condition that the inhabitants were enabled
a view to the modern world and that all nations be allowed to trade
freely. This is were the above definition comes into play right
from the beginning he ignored these conditions and ran the Congo brutally,
through a mercenary force, for his own gain, initially by the collection
of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s
by forcing the native population to collect sap from rubber plants.
The brutality of this extended to children working in the rubber industry
having their hands hacked off if they did not produce the required amount,
before the hands being smoked, sent off and counted in metric tonnes.His
regime caused the death of millions of people (accuarate records were
not kept, but the death toll is estimated at standing in between ten
and fifteen million) and the scandal arising from this meant that Leopold
was forced to relinquish control of Belgium maybe this is a factor
in Leopolds fading from history. The nation that he exerted his
brutality over was not his own. Perhaps the death caused by a regime
have to be those of your own people for the history books to fully take
Other factors could be the size of the nation in question; and its relations
and proximity to us (even though there are so many exceptions to this
that it seems unlikely.) This may explain histories forgetting of the
aforementioned Ion Victor Antonescu, the Prime Minister of Romania over
two success wartime dictatorships, who was famously anti-Semitic and
sympathised with the fascist Iron Guard movement - he would go onto
establish the National Legionary State with their leader Horia Sima.
After entering Romania into an alliance with Nazi Germany and the Axis
thus ensuring Adolf Hitlers confidence he eliminated
the Guard during the Legionary Rebellion of 1941. In order to completely
cover all grounds, he also assumed the offices of Foreign Affairs and
Defence Minister. Soon after Romania joined the Axis in Operation Barbarossa.
Antonescu had an enduring relationship with Hitler in between
June 1941 and August 1944 the pair of them met on eight occasions, with
Hitler seeing Antonescu as the only foreigner to consult on military
matters. Hitler would go onto invade Yugoslavia and the Kingdom of Greece
using Romania as a base.
Antonescu was very much of Hitlers ilk. Romanias campaign
on the Eastern Front led to a large scale pogrom carried out in Iasi
in which thousands of Jews were killed. And yet this is not particularly
well known by the masses.
Perhaps, concluding these statistics, we should not say why does
history tolerate some dictators more than others?. The issue requires
a statement, not a question. Even I have obviously been guilty of this
there are many more people I could include in this piece. But
to forget is to tolerate. Whilst the regimes of Hitler, Stalin etc must
always be remembered, there are many more whose victims must not be
It is time to broaden History.