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Craziness is general rule among dictators
VITAL TRIFLE, BY LAURI GROSS
Craziness is general rule among dictators
Am I the only one who has noticed that real-life dictators closely resemble their cartoon counterparts? The antagonists in many cartoons have a simple mantra: "I want to RUUUULE the world!!!" Because, really, that's what all dictators want.
It's a comical premise: An ill-informed, delusional nut job convinces a bunch of tough guys to eliminate free speech and most other rights Americans take for granted. Then take all money people donate to help your country's poor and keep it for yourself. Build yourself a castle, or several, and declare a state of emergency, which somehow means you have no choice but to continue as dictator for three or four decades until your son -- who has probably attended Harvard on a scholarship -- takes over the family business.
It would be funny -- like in the cartoons or in the new Sacha Baron Cohen movie called "The Dictator" -- if it weren't true.
Maybe we should feel sorry for modern dictators, because it must have been easier to be a dictator before the information age. It was easier to deny groups of people an education and access to the truth without the darned Internet. We all know how social media helped make possible the Arab Spring (and summer and fall).
Back in the day, a kingdom could protect itself against an enemy invasion just by building the castle on top of a hill and keeping a watch out for bad guys coming up. It must have been easy to be a dictator then, although the job title was more likely to be "king." It almost makes you feel sympathy for today's despots, who have to do their job while their people insist on Tweeting.
Am I the only who has noticed that dictators are, generally speaking, insane, or at least delusional? From Libya's late ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to Cuba's now-retired Fidel Castro, these people are out of their minds. They are criminally insane, as far as I can tell, but also just way out of touch with reality in their day-to-day lives.
In her book, "No Higher Honor," about her life as the national security adviser and secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice seems to agree. As the nation's chief diplomat, she really wasn't at liberty to compare the leaders of other countries to cartoon dictators or to call them outright insane, but I know that's what she was thinking when she said to several, "Either you are lying to us or your people are lying to you." This was diplomat-speak she used when she really wanted to say, "We know you engineered that massacre, even though you say you want peace."
Zimbabwe used to be known as the Bread Basket of Africa. Today, in the entire country, there is virtually no food. Mugabe destroyed all Zimbabwe's farms -- and schools and hospitals and anything else useful -- because they represented the country's ties to its colonial past. He actually made it illegal to grow food in Zimbabwe. Instead, he seems determined to torture and kill pretty much everyone in the entire country or at least to direct his thugs to do so.
For more light reading on this delightful subject, check out "The Fear," by Peter Godwin. When the author confronted one of Zimbabwe's top advisers about the torture and killing, the official replied with a smile, "We hear these stories, and we are sure they are exaggerated. Everything will be fine."
Similarly, in James Michener's historical fiction novel, "Chesapeake," plantation owners' opinion of life in the pre-Civil War South was, "Everything was fine. Everyone was happy. And then they had to ruin it all by freeing the slaves." It's amazing what people can convince themselves of.
A state of emergency can be a dictator's best friend. Several dictators toppled in the Arab Spring kept their countries in an official state of emergency for decades, as an excuse for remaining in power. It makes no sense.
As an American, I can't understand or imagine a life in those conditions, and yet we know it is reality for much of the world.
Many science-fiction books and other books with a future view, from the classics "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984" to several lesser-known novels that my kids read in school, share a similar theme of mind control: Burn every book. Keep an official eye on every person. Insert a control device in everybody's head. Then a dictator can get on with his business in peace!
But seriously, it should be obvious that democracy and freedom really are better for everyone. It seems way easier to educate everyone, give everyone rights and the chance to make a good life than it is to try to control an entire population with violence, fear and deprivation.
In Condoleezza Rice's book, a senior official of an unfriendly nation explained the daily flow of television news in his homeland: The lead story showed the leader doing something wonderful for the people. The next story depicted innocent people being killed by the United States.
Even in 2012, propaganda is a pretty powerful mind-control device. But then I consider the 9/11 hijackers. They lived here. They attended college here. And still they hated us and wanted to defend their dictator. For that I have no explanation.
Indeed, it would be funny if it weren't true.
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