Despot of the Week #8 – Baron Ungern von Sternberg

October 27, 2009


“He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops.”

General Corman on Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now.

Back in the bad old days of Imperial Europe, before the two Great Wars of the 20th century finally reined in the long history of bloody conquest plaguing the continent, violent psychopaths did not become serial killers. They ruled nations. By the time the 1900’s rolled around, Europe’s aristocracy were the scions of a dozen centuries’ worth of treachery and inbreeding: sociopaths, perverts and lunatics all. Perhaps no other Empire had a crazier nobility than the Russians, and the Russians produced no more demented an individual than Baron Ungern von Sternberg, a fanatic nationalist who came to believe that he was the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. He pursued a bloody adventure of rampant lunacy through Siberia and the Asian Steppes, torturing, plundering and exterminating Jews along the way. He even managed (briefly) to conquer Mongolia. This is the story of a man so unhinged he was convinced that by shooting people, he was doing them a good turn.

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Despot of the Week #7 – Benito Mussolini

September 23, 2009

Big Brother is watching you: Fascism is born in Italy

In the first half of the 20th century, Europe was one seriously messed up place. It was a time that constituted the last bastion of the old, crumbling Empire building European states. Every tribe on the continent feared and loathed every other tribe.  They’d all been fighting each other for pretty much most of the last one and a half thousand years or so – ever since the collapse of the Roman Empire in fact. The only good foreigner was a dead foreigner as far as most Europeans were concerned. Preferably with knitting needles sticking out of his eyeballs. The increasingly unhinged paranoia and encroaching senility of the old European elite led the continent blindly into the First World War – the most destructive war in history up until that time and just about the most pointless, so far as what anybody actually got out of it.

Economic stagnation followed, and then the Great Depression. Europe might as well have been back in the Dark Ages. The stench of revolution was in the air. People were pissed. They were prepared to get behind any ideology that appeared to offer something more glamorous and interesting than what they had at present. Just about anything, in other words. It was like Judaea at the turn of the millenium. People would listen to any deluded nutjob willing to get up on a soapbox in the market square and claim to be the son of God. Turmoil, upheaval and disillusion will do that to a people. That was Italy in the 1920’s. Into that great big desire for any alternative stepped Mussolini and his ideas about fascism – the most oppressive (and the most camp) form of government to come out of the 20th century. Fascism had a bit of everything: dressing up in uniform, wearing medals, putting on silly hats, marching around, saluting the flag and admiring gigantic propaganda posters featuring homoerotic imagery of muscular, Spartan supermen who would be the fascist worshipping utopians of the future. The people found it all very exciting. This is the story of how Mussolini pranced into power and captured the peoples’ imagination, only to be savagely hacked to pieces for his comic level of incompetence during World War II.

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Despot of the Week #6 – Idi Amin

September 11, 2009


Throughout the impoverished continent of Africa, rapaciously plundered by various European powers, plagued by disease and racked by an almost unceasing state of warfare, the rule of brutal strongmen has generally been the order of the day. Perhaps the most infamous of the barbaric Despots to torment the continent in recent decades was Idi Amin, the former stooge of Imperial Britain who rose through the ranks to become military dictator of Uganda, initially with the approval and support of the US, UK and Israel, but later at odds with all of them. “Big Daddy” Amin became the killer clown of Africa, butchering hundreds of thousands of his people while proclaiming himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire” and sending notes to Queen Elizabeth II, inviting her to come to Uganda to experience “a real man”.

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Despot of the Week #5 – Kim Jong II

August 26, 2009

Kim Jong II

In a world that has become increasingly uniform along the lines of democracy and free market economics (or at least the pretence of those ideals) it’s somehow comforting to know that there’s one little country out there that just refuses to toe the line. A country that adopts a policy of utter defiance towards the outside world as its number one guiding ideology. A country ruled by a gang of paranoid crazoids who’d sooner let their own people starve to death than accept any kind of assistance from foreign powers. North Korea, which uses the threat of nuclear weapons like Tony Soprano uses the threat of physical violence – to extort cash and resources from terrified foreign states.

Remember those old Asterix books that always started off with a picture of a magnifying glass highlighting a little Gaulish village, surrounded by fortified Roman camps? Y’know, the story about that one village of  indomitable Gauls that still holds out against the Roman invaders? Well that little Gaulish village is North Korea, the last outpost holding out against the evil forces of foreign capitalist imperialism. At least, that’s how the North Koreans see things. Pretty much everybody else just hates North Korea. And the reason they hate North Korea, is because it’s one of the few countries left on the planet that is genuinely scary, Freddy Krueger style. Forget the phony dangers Saddam Hussein or the Taliban were supposed to pose to Western civilisation. These guys are the real deal. Welcome to the bizarrely insular world of North Korea, where school children are taught that the Dear Leader, Kim Jong II, came down from a magic mountain to bring paradise to the people.

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Despot of the Week #4 – Genghis Khan

August 18, 2009

Genghis Khan

“The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.”

   – Genghis Khan

Some 750 odd years later, those same words would be paraphrased by Hollywood scriptwriter John Milius and recited by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian. Only in Schwarzenegger’s heavily mangled Austrian accent it comes out something like this: “Crush yoah enemies, see dem driven befoah you, and hear de lammentation of de vimmin!” Still, if Conan is lifting your lines, you know you must have been one seriously hard bastard. Through sheer force of bloody minded will, Genghis Khan united a rag tag bunch of savage, perpetually feuding tribes under the Mongol banner and turned them into the fiercest fighting machine the world has ever seen. The Mongols swept out of the Asian Steppes and across the length and breadth of the continent, vanquishing everything in their path with a ruthless abandon. Through the devices of pillage, rape and wholesale slaughter, Genghis Khan subjugated most of the known world. For their unfortunate victims, the coming of the Mongols was if the apocalypse itself was visited upon them.

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Despot of the Week #3 – Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

August 12, 2009


In this edition of the Despot of the Week, The Grand Inquisitor examines one of the favourite foreign policy tactics of powerful Western democratic states: conspiring to establish vicious dictatorships in third world nations for fun and profit. The Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was on the point of being ousted by Mohammed Moseddeq’s emerging parliamentarian government, before the CIA, in collusion with British Intelligence, acted to incite a military coup, restoring Pahlavi to power. Once he was back in the driving seat, Pahlavi established the sinister SAVAK agency of secret police as his instrument of control, terrorising the Iranian population with brutal methods of repression for the next quarter of a century. The lion’s share of Iran’s rich oil reserves were divided among British and US corporations, while Pahlavi propped up his regime with a steady flow of Western support, effectively becoming a puppet ruler for his imperial masters.

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Despot of the Week #2 – Nero

August 3, 2009


In the second edition of the Despot of the Week, The Grand Inquisitor takes a trip back through the ages to the Roman Empire in the First Century AD, a time when despicable cruelty and unspeakably foul sexual deviancy were rampant among some elements of the ruling class. Nero was perhaps the worst of a particularly unsavoury bunch of Roman Emperors, although admittedly, he is up against some pretty stiff competition. Nero was especially infamous for his persecution of the then fledgling Christian religion, and was declared the first incarnation of the Anti-Christ by the early Christian Church. He also had a habit of bumping off political rivals, wives, family members and anybody he took a mild disliking to with a reckless abandon. Nero even had his own mother murdered, allegedly after pursuing an incestuous relationship with her.

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Despot of the Week #1 – Saparmurat Niyazov

July 28, 2009


In a new weekly series, The Grand Inquisitor will profile world history’s most brutal, repugnant and in some cases, downright ridiculous Despots. Emperors, Kings, Military Dictators, Presidents-for-Life – whatever their titles may have been, these were all men who combined severe autocratic rule, wholesale villainy and in most cases, immense physical repulsiveness. Welcome to The Grand Inquisitor’s new regular column, Despot of the Week. First to come under the microscope is Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov, a man so ruthless he banned lip syncing at public concerts and renamed the month of April after his mother.

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