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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The Man Who Stopped the Doomsday Clock

August 28, 2009

Nuclear Explosion

Over here at The Grand Inquisitor towers we tend to have a rather sardonic take on world affairs. Human history is essentially the history of manipulation, exploitation and violence. Amid the cast of murderers, bandits, despots and slaves who have thus far constituted much of the human race, there hasn’t been a hell of a lot of people who’ve really been worth celebrating. If you had to divide humanity into two, broad categories, the only honest labels you could apply would be “evil” or “mediocre”. Or bullies and their victims, if you prefer. Genuine heroes are about as commonplace as Methodist Christians in South Waziristan. Every now and then, however, you stumble across a figure who really is quite commendable. The handful who actually wrote a decent book or produced some worthwhile music, maybe. Or take the subject of today’s article, Vasiliy Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who pretty much saved the entire planet from apocalyptic destruction, Superman style. Normally, world saving scenarios just don’t take place outside of comic books. But back in October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis,  with the doomsday clock just seconds to midnight, something like a comic book scenario actually did take place. The funny thing is, very few people appreciate just how close us human beings came to wiping ourselves out, or that a guy called Vasiliy Andropov saved the world.

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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 #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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Desert Storm Detritus: Part 3 / 3

July 13, 2009

Desert Storm Horror

With the commitment to go to war established, the US began the protracted process of obtaining the necessary UN resolutions, as well as rounding up international support. On November 29, 1990, the UN passed Resolution 678, effectively legalising US military action against Iraq, providing Hussein failed to withdraw his troops from Kuwait by a January 15, 1991 deadline. In much of the international community, however, there was an attitude of sceptical reluctance over the issue of US military intervention. It was felt that Iraq’s issues with Kuwait were a Middle Eastern affair, best left to the jurisdiction of the region’s own powers. Why did the US feel compelled to interfere?

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Desert Storm Detritus: Part 2 / 3

July 11, 2009


Hussein’s sudden decisiveness in taking military action against Kuwait clearly took the US Administration by surprise. In fact, most of the top White House officials, including George Bush himself, were absent on other business on the day the invasion was launched. The decision to respond perhaps came with the realisation that control over Kuwait placed Hussein’s armies within direct striking distance of Saudi Arabia’s rich north-eastern oil fields. If Hussein decided to expand his invasion into Saudi territory, it would place him in direct control of a majority of the world’s oil reserves. Such an upset in the balance of power in the Middle East was not to be countenanced. Within a matter of days, US President George Bush announced US intent to launch a “wholly defensive” mission in the Middle East. On August 7, 1990, US troops began deploying in Saudi Arabia. The first phase of US involvement in the Second Gulf War – “Operation Desert Shield” – with a mandate to deter Iraqi incursions into Saudi Arabia, had begun.

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Desert Storm Detritus: Revisiting the 2nd Gulf War

July 10, 2009

SaddamGeorge Bush Snr.








Six years on from the launch of the Coalition invasion of Iraq – a brutal war of attrition that has left at least half a million dead and rendered much of the nation a smoking ruin – it’s all too easy to forget about the last time the US locked horns in the Persian Gulf. But the Second Gulf war – ostensibly fought to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation – prepared the ground for the next two decades worth of US led military intervention in world affairs. It taught us valuable lessons about manufacturing a case for war – largely ignored by the US public; and the blueprint for a successful military strategy in Iraq – largely forgotten by US war planners. It left behind an unresolved crisis situation that, one way or another, led directly to Iraq’s present state of disastrous civil war. Let’s rewind back to the year 1990, a time when George Bush I was the most powerful man in the world, and Saddam Hussein was considered a trusted lieutenant of the White House administration.

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