A Stroll Down Dictator Lane

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Stroll Down Dictator Lane

I just finished reading Riccardo Orizzio's book Talk of the Devil, which profiles seven former dictators and finds them engaging in historical revisionism. The book (now in paperwork) is a candid and often surreal portrait of these ego-maniacal, often brutal individuals.

There's the revelation, for example, that the central African dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa felt compelled to announce to his countrymen that he was awarding himself the title of Grand Master of the International Brotherhood of Knights Collectors of Postage Stamps.

Try engraving all of those words on a silver cup.

In his chapter on Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish ruler who was defeated by time and Solidarnosc, Orizzio asked Jaruzelski if he ever met Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito. This was the bizarre reply he got:
"I met him three times. Twice during his lifetime and once at his funeral."
I suspect Tito was speechless the last time they met.

But my favorite snippet was a brief letter reportedly sent in February 1975 by former Ugandan ruler Idi Amin to Queen Elizabeth:
My dear Queen,

I intend to arrive in London for an official visit on August 4th this year, but I am writing now to give you time to make all the necessary preparations for my stay so that nothing important is ommitted. I am particularly concerned about food, because I know that you are in the middle of a fearsome economic crisis. ....
It's safe to say that by "food," Amin was not simply asking the royal family to have a box of corn flakes waiting for him at Windsor Palace.

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