Will we ever see the end of dictators? Is tyranny our destiny?
I wondered this when I heard that Charles Taylor had finally been arrested last month, nabbed on the Nigerian border in a chauffeur driven Range Rover. He was dapperly dressed in a safari suit, and packing bags of American money.
Now indicted for war crimes, Taylor is the former Liberian dictator whose revolutionary faction was famed for trading in blood diamonds, child soldiers, and chopping off thousands of people’s limbs and lips and ears.
He took over from the previous, equally vile dictator, Samuel Doe, good friend of American President Ronald Reagan, who referred to him as Chairman Moe.
Doe’s brutal execution was videotaped and can still be found on the internet, I’m told.
Taylor was a little league dictator — compared to Mao Zedong of China, who is accused of being responsible for the deaths of 70 million human beings.
After China’s Great Leap Backwards, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution putting local government in the hands of teenaged Red Guards who informed on their parents and attacked educated people, artists, skilled tradesmen, and anyone else who loved culture and learning.
Meanwhile, Mao, The Great Helmsman, was cavorting in the swimming pools of his 50 estates with armloads of underage girls.
Pol Pot of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge emulated Mao’s concept of destroying the entire social infrastructure.
Instead of using teenagers, he gave AK-47s to children who hadn’t yet been corrupted by capitalism, and then sent several million of his countrymen off to the killing fields to plant rice and die.
Historically, hunter-gatherer societies sometimes flew out of control during tribal warfare, but it’s evident the ability of our species to slaughter ourselves increases in direct relation to our population and the ‘progress’ of the human race, which is why the 20th century was the deadliest in history.
Africa has long been a hotbed of cuckoo dictators.
Idi Amin was one of the most famous. Known to his friends as Big Daddy, and his enemies as the Butcher of Africa, he enjoyed referring to himself as Conqueror of the British Empire, and Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea.
He’s said to have eaten more than one of his enemies, fed dissidents to pet crocodiles, and preserved a few human heads in his freezer so he could ‘talk’ to them when he was in the mood.
Literary critics claim that Idi Amin and the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Leonidas Trujillo were the joint inspiration for Columbian novelist Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, The Autumn of The Patriarch, in which a South American dictator served up his enemy on a platter with an apple in his mouth, sold the local sea to the Americans to cover the national debt, and when a nightmare woke him in the night, insisted it was daytime — so all the clocks in the country had to be changed.
In reality, South American dictatorships were more chillingly efficient than Marquez’s inspired creation — whether slaughtering thousands in Chile’s infamous soccer stadium, or in the torture schools of Argentina, where the Junta mastered the art of electrodes to the testicles, tossing dissenters and pregnant women out of airplanes, and other techniques for making people ‘disappear.’
Europe’s dictators have had a tendency to be the efficient variety as well.
Their two leading candidates, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler slaughtered millions — the Nazis modeling their killing technique on the assembly lines of big business.
So what is it with the human species that makes us so talented at slaughtering ourselves?
You’d think after three million years we’d smarten up. Instead, the pace of terror has increased.
And the strangest part is that many of our worst tyrants took power either by election or with enormous popular support.
Look at the outpouring of love for the returning corpse of the Serbian tyrant, Slobodan Milosevic, the war criminal responsible for at least three genocidal campaigns.
A democratic government is merely the people working together to govern themselves.
Yet North America’s two shining bastions of democracy have both elected governments that don’t believe in government.
Instead, these neo-conservatives prefer societies based on the unhealthy principle that personal greed is the highest source of human culture.
In the US, the current president has declared he can ignore acts of Congress regulating his office, the military and spy agencies.
He insists it’s his legal right to ignore laws because he is the Commander-in-Chief.
For example, he has claimed the power to disregard a torture ban, oversight provisions in the Patriot Act, limits on domestic wiretapping, and regulation of the military.
In fact, his government is the only one in the world that asserts it has the right to torture.
Even the ugliest regimes have the good grace to deny they use torture, or that their law enforcement practices are nobody else’s business.
Fortunately, Bush is no dictator. Not yet, anyways. But when we consider the ability of the corporate media to manipulate public opinion (freedom of the press is limited to those who own one, according to H.L. Mencken), we can recognize how easy it is to slide into tyranny.
One thing history has shown us — every great state is always just a hair away from state terror.
Despite 200 years of turmoil, a civil war, support for too many dictators, its bombing of more than 50 nations, and misguided foreign aid and environmental policies, the United States still remains the great citadel of freedom in the world.
If it goes down the road to tyranny, what will be left?
For a nation facing such a frightful turning point against its own constitution, democracy, civil liberties, and freedoms there is shockingly little public dissent – unlike in the ‘60s.
In fact, the largest group behaving like old-fashioned Americans are the illegal immigrants.
What strange creatures we are. Maybe we deserve our dictators.
Perhaps Henry de Jovenal was right: “A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.”