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 O’Sullivan 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 linked with.

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 O’Sullivan 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 1890’s 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 Leopold’s 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 notice.

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 Hitler’s 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 Hitler’s ilk. Romania’s 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 forgotten.

It is time to broaden History.

Amy Britton