The Dictators: Gamal Abdel Nasser

Nasser was born on January 15th, 1918 in Alexandria, the son of a minor civil servant. He first entered politics by accident in 1929, when he joined a demonstration without knowing what it was for; it turned out to be a militant anti-British event for Egyptian independence, and the 11 year-old Nasser was arrested and spent a night in jail. Converted to the cause of Egyptian independence and the end of British influence in the country, Nasser became a political agitator in university, almost being killed in a 1935 demonstration and vociferously objecting to the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which brought about the withdrawal of all British forces from Egypt except those around the Suez Canal, because one British soldier was one too many in Nasser’s view. Nasser eventually made his way to the Royal Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1938. Nasser stayed in the army quietly as a lieutenant until 1942, when Britain ordered Egypt’s King Farouk to dismiss the pro-Axis Prime Minister; Nasser was enraged, and following his acceptance into the General Staff College, started forming a group of revolutionary army officers, including Anwar Sadat. He continue scheming until 1948, when he fought in the Arab-Israeli War, and fought in the so-called Faluja Pocket. The Arab governments’ failure to relieve the Egyptian forces caught there inspired him to step up his activism, and to start writing his first political book. After the war in 1949, Nasser’s group of would-be revolutionaries adopted the name “Association of Free Officers,” and elected Nasser chairman. After a few years of condemning various other parties and politicians, in early 1952, British forces in the Suez Canal Zone killed 40 Egyptians during a confrontation with the police; this provoked enough public fury that, combined with warnings to Nasser that his organisation had been discovered and he was to be arrested, prompted the Free Officers to launch their coup. The US and British governments were notified in order to forestall foreign intervention, and the Free Officers and their men took over Cairo on July 22nd, and consolidated their national control over the next few days.

Nasser in his university days.

Nasser in his university days.

Nasser with Naguib (left).

Nasser with Naguib (left).

A former Prime Minister, Maher, was brought in, while the coup leaders formed the RCC, or Revolutionary Command Council, creating a dual governments. As students of Lenin or Ataturk know, this kind of arrangement is bad news, and so it turned out in this case as well. Nasser’s radicalism alienated Maher, who resigned in September. Naguib and Nasser assumed the offices of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively. In January 1953, Nasser managed to arrange the banning of all political parties besides his own, the Liberation Rally. The monarchy was abolished in June 1953, after which Nasser began a process within the RCC of marginalising the new President Naguib, who resigned in February 1954. He was immediately put under house arrest, leaving Nasser in complete control. On October 26th, 1954, while delivering a live-broadcast speech in Alexandria, Nasser dramatically escaped an assassination attempt, and his inspired words immediately after brought his popularity to record highs. He used this to pass a decree bringing all press under government censorship, and pursued a nationalist-neutralist foreign policy. While he concluded a massive arms deal with Czechoslovakia, he determined not to be brought within the orbit of either superpower, and was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. In 1956, Nasser had drafted a new constitution, which stipulated a one party state under the National Union, a reconfigured Liberation Rally, but was otherwise progressive. The same year, Nasser solidified his persona as somebody who stood up to the West by nationalising the Suez Canal. The failure of the Anglo-Franco-Israeli invasion of Egypt to defeat this move made Nasser a hero both to his own people and to all those of the third world, who rejoiced to finally see the erstwhile imperial overlords defeated and humbled.

Nasser was also popular among the Arab nations, as he advocated Pan-Arabism and actually took action on it. In 1958, fears that Turkey was going to invade Syria prompted the latter to request union with Egypt, which was duly carried through, creating the United Arab Republic. Nasser was viewed by many as a nationalistic, both Egyptian and Arab, hero. This did not last long. Nasser’s rule was unpopular in Syria, and the army effected secession in 1961. However, Nasser’s influence quickly revived, as a segment of the Saudi Royal Family defected to Egypt, he intervened in the North Yemeni Civil War at the request of the insurgent elements, which turned out to be a Vietnam-esque disaster, and founded the PLO. In 1961 (an eventful year for Nasser), he also launched a massive Socialist nationalisation programme, and introduced a “National Charter,” which called for universal healthcare, and greater women’s rights among other things. He was then re-elected president unopposed in 1965. Two years later, Nasser responded to reports of a coming Israeli attack on Syria by blocking the Straits of Tiran to Israel and moving troops to the border; Israel responded by launching a preemptive attack, which became the Six Day War. Egypt lost Sinai and the Gaza Strip, causing Nasser to resign, although the public outcry for him to stay and his vice-President’s point blank refusal to accept the position led him to withdraw his resignation the next day. Refusing to accept the loss of territory to Israeli, Nasser launched the War of Attrition in 1968, in which Egyptian and Israeli aircraft and artillery attacked each other for two years without escalation or a formal declaration of war by either side. Nasser’s last major initiative was to hold an Arab League Summit to deal with Black September in Jordan, immediately after which he died, on September 28th, 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat.

Nasser addressing Damascus.

Nasser addressing Damascus.

Nasser with the Presidents of Algeria (right) and Iraq (left).

Nasser with the Presidents of Algeria (right) and Iraq (left).

Nasser was much like an Egyptian Ataturk. He was a dictator who did not allow real democracy and brought Egypt into a catastrophic intervention in Yemen, but he also fostered massive development, modernisation, and nationalism. He was a (or even the) leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and united Egypt as nobody else was able to do with his willingness to take an independent path, campaign for social justice and his extremely personal leadership style. He remains a symbol of Arab and Egyptian unity today.

Delivering a speech in 1960 in Egypt.

Delivering a speech in 1960 in Egypt.

The Prime Ministers: Lord North

Note: Because Lord North is the last Prime Minister whom I view as not being too recent, but also as having had a long enough career to write an article on, this will be the last post in The Prime Ministers series. It will be replaced on Mondays by another series.

Frederick North was born on April 13th, 1732 in London. He was educated, unsurprisingly, at Eton and Oxford, then took a grand tour of Europe, during the course of which he studied at the University of Leipzig. In 1754, at age 22, he was elected unopposed to the Commons as Member for Banbury. North became a junior Lord of the Treasury under the Second Newcastle Ministry, and fast became known for being personable and easy to work with, as well as competent, while his politics drifted to the Tory side of the spectrum. North successfully led a motion to expel a radical MP who had made a libelous attack against the government from the Commons, but otherwise stayed out of the public eye through the 1760s, not wishing to join any of the Whig governments of the time until 1766, when he joined William Pitt the Elder’s Ministry; in 1767, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer as Charles Townsend’s (of the Townsend Acts fame) successor, and then Leader of the Commons the following year. Pitt resigned in 1768, leaving the Ministry to Lord Grafton, and when Grafton too resigned in 1770, North became Prime Minister. The first event of his ministry was much like one which occurred 212 years later, when Spain tried to seize the Falklands Islands. North faced Spain down, and the latter desisted on French advice. This incident boosted North’s early popularity, but it gave him the incorrect notions that France would not fight Britain over colonial affairs, and an exaggerated sense of the power of the Royal Navy.

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In 1773, following the Boston Tea Party, North introduced the Coercive Acts, designed to pummel the American colonies into submission. They had the opposite effect, enraging the colonists even more In 1775, the US War of Independence broke out with the Battle of Lexington, and things went quickly downhill for North. Although New York and Philadelphia were taken early in the war, the British military was unable to conclusively defeat the colonists, while France, Spain and Holland all joined the war against Britain between 1778 and 1780. The war was unpopular, and facing manpower shortages, the government tried to end restrictions on Catholics in the military, which caused the Gordon Riots of 1780. Martial law had to be declared to put down these anti-Catholic London riots. After a brief resurgence of popularity following the 1781 capture of Charleston, North was turned out of office in 1782 by a Vote of No Confidence, the first Prime Minister to suffer this fate. In 1783, North returned to government in a coalition with Charles Fox, which was nominally led by the Duke of Portland, and helped sign the peace to the war he had so badly managed. North was elevated to the Lords in 1790, and died two years later.

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The Dictators: Pol Pot

Pol Pot was born as Saloth Sar on May 19th, 1925, in Cambodia, at the time part of French Indochina. He was educated in French colonial schools, and qualified to go to technical school in France. While there, he participated in an international labour brigade in Yugoslavia, and joined a Communist Cambodian student organisation, as the Soviet Union had recognised the Viet Minh as the government as Vietnam, and thereby indicated its support for Indochinese independence. Sar then failed his exams in France, resulting in his return to Cambodia, which gained independence in 1954. He became a teacher and, along with the rest of the Cambodian far left, bided his time. In 1962, the government launched a crackdown on the Communists, during which the General Secretary was killed, leaving the top leadership position vacant, to which Sar was elected in 1963. He and the rest of the party fled to the North Vietnamese border, where they developed what came to be the Khmer Rouge. The ideology of the Khmer Rouge, while calling itself Communist, was the opposite of Marxism, as it declared that rural peasants were the true proletariat. In 1968, riots broke out over food prices, which the Khmer Rouge took advantage of, raiding government arsenals and stealing weapons.

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In 1970, a strange incident paved the way for Sar’s takeover. The King of Cambodia, Sihanouk, ordered anti-Vietnamese demonstrations in the capital, which spilled out of control and destroyed the North and South Vietnamese embassies. The National Assembly then deposed Sihanouk. North Vietnam, also in response to the riots, offered Sar any material assistance he might require to fight the Cambodian government, and itself launched an invasion of Cambodia. While the North Vietnamese army did most of the fighting at first, Sar and his forces served as minor players and reaped propaganda benefits. The Khmer Rouge also raised their membership requirements; only poor peasants would now be accepted, and middling peasants and students would not. The great recruitment possibilities created by the North Vietnamese invasion allowed the Khmer Rouge to begin their social revolution in the countryside, as ethnic minorities were forced to conform to mainstream Cambodian norms, and villages organised into structured cooperatives. By 1973, the Khmer Rouge controlled most of the country behind the advancing North Vietnamese Army, and Sar determined to take the capital, Phnom Penh. it was placed under siege, and the social transformation Sar was set upon effecting stepped up. The party itself was purged, as well as the general populace, where those with educations and former government employees were killed. Dismayed at the resistance of the cities to his party’s ideas, Sar simply ordered their populations to be forcibly deported to the countryside. Ethnic Thais were purged from the party, Sar’s so-called “death list,” which was what it sounds like, was brought into the open, and relations with North Vietnam began to break down. The Khmer Rouge finally took Phnom Penh on April 17th, 1975. Shortly after, Sar adopted the pseudonym Pol Pot.

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Pot, in his new regime, was made head of government as Prime Minister, and swiftly renamed the country to “Democratic Kampuchea.” The campaign of city evacuations was stepped up, which resulted in the infamous Killing Fields, as any and all those judged to be Capitalistic in any way, educated, or hostile to the regime were shot and buried in mass graves. Torture and violence of all kinds became widespread, while agriculture stagnated and foreign aid and trade were both refused. The entire domestic rule of Pot resembles the Great Leap Forward, on a proportionally larger and more costly scale. In International relations, Pot aligned Kampuchea with China, and set about provoking Vietnam, which finally invaded in 1978. Cambodia was defeated, Pot ousted, and a Vietnamese puppet government set up the following year. Pot and his loyalists fled to the Thai border, where they remained until the 1990s. Pot refused to negotiate with the new Cambodian government, even after Vietnamese withdrawal, and directed a Khmer Rouge which became weaker and weaker as the years went on. He finally died on April 15th, 1998.

Pol Pot is among the most senselessly brutal rulers in all of history. His purges and mass murders constituted one of the proportionately most deadly genocides in history, and he absolutely wrecked the country irreparably for generations. The closest possible comparison would be to say that he turned the country into an Auschwitz and executed a Great Leap Forward within it; the depth of the crimes perpetrated by his regime are staggering.

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The Prime Ministers: Lord Liverpool

Robert Jenkins, Lord Liverpool, Prime Minister 1812-1827

Robert Jenkins was born on June 7th, 1770, in Westminster. His father was a prominent member of George III’s court, and he was educated at Oxford. He won election to the House of Commons in 1790 as Member for Rye, but he was actually under the age required to take his seat, so he spent a year touring the continent until, at age 21, he could take his seat in 1791. In his first few years in the Commons, he held a few minor positions and, not at all to his credit, opposed the abolition of slavery. In 1794, he enlisted in the militia, in reaction to the rapidly escalating French Revolutionary Wars, and in 1796 was made Baron Hawkesbury, as his father was made Earl of Liverpool, and ascended to the House of Lords.

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In the Addington Ministry of 1801-1804, Hawkesbury was made Foreign Secretary, and was one of the primary architects of the Treaty of Amiens; Pitt’s Second Ministry took over in 1804, and as the Prime Minister was gravely ill during this time, Hawkesbury served as the real head of the government, in addition to his official position as Home Secretary. Pitt eventually died in 1806, moving Hawkesbury to the opposition in Baron Grenville’s brief Ministry, before he resumed the Home Office in the Duke of Portland’s Second Ministry. He served in this position for two years, before becoming Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in Spencer Percival’s Ministry. Throughout all these years, Hawkesbury, Lord Liverpool after the death of his father in 1808, served competently in his various offices, until in 1812, Percival was assassinated, the only Prime Minister to befall such a fate. Liverpool succeeded him, and found that he had a great deal to cope with. An inconclusive war with the United States began almost immediately after his ascension, and it was under his leadership that the Peninsular War and last campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars were fought. In the Congress of Vienna which followed, Liverpool gave his Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, considerable autonomy in negotiations, and turned to domestic affairs.

In 1815, the later infamous Corn Laws were passed, which prohibited the import of grain until domestic prices reached a certain level. The Commons then voted in 1816 to discontinue the wartime income tax, which left Liverpool no real option to resolve the nations’s finances, which had been totally unbalanced by the war, other than increase in other taxes. This resulted in massive public discontent, which forced a series of emergency measures. In 1817, Habeus Corpus was suspended, and after the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which cavalry attacked a demonstration, killed 15 and wounded several hundred. In response, the government issued the Six Acts. These Acts, collectively, massively increased the authorities of the government and curbed civil liberties, by giving police the right to search private property for weapons without a warrant, outlawing private training in weapon use, reducing bail opportunities, banning non-government-sanctioned meetings of 50 or more, tightening sedition laws, and increasing publication taxes. The Six Acts are one of the most contentious collections of acts in British history, and led directly to the Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820, an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Liverpool and his cabinet. Liverpool’s last seven years in office were comparatively uneventful. In 1824, he supported the repeal of the Combination Acts, which banned labour unions, and spoke against Catholic Emancipation. It was the latter issue which brought his resignation in 1827; faced by the rising tide of pro-Emancipation feeling, Liverpool resigned rather than have to stand against an act which would have allowed Catholics to stand for Parliament. He was succeeded as Prime Minister by George Canning. The Duke of Wellington’s First Ministry passed the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, by which time Liverpool had died, on December 4th, 1828, of a stroke.

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Liverpool is not an especially consistent Prime Minister. His Ministry passed the infamous Six Acts, but he strangely supported the repeal of the Combination Acts, and he was a free trader, yet supported the Corn Laws. Along with his star-studded cabinet, which included such figures as the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, Liverpool was a key part of the age of reaction which followed the Congress of Vienna, both within partisan politics and in the larger affairs of the nation. The Six Acts and suspension of Habeus Corpus were of course reactionary, but he also managed to keep a lid on the coming split of the Tory Party between the old Tories and the new Conservatives, which would come to a head in 1835, with Peel’s issuance of the Tamworth Manifesto. In both cases, Liverpool managed to keep the clock from running too quickly, and it is this which forms his main achievement, if one can consider it an achievement.

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The History of Warfare: The Napoleonic Wars

For the purposes of this article, the French Revolutionary Wars became the Napoleonic Wars with the end of the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1802, the War of the Second Coalition, which pitted France and its puppets against a pan-European coalition, ended in a French victory, as the Treaty of Luneville gave France even greater territory in Italy at Austria’s expense, and Britain grudgingly recognised France’s conquests by the Treaty of Amiens. This uneasy truce was unsound, however. France was angered by Britain’s refusal to actually evacuate Malta, as had been agreed, while Britain was furious about having to turn over all of the territory it had taken from France. This led Napoleon to continue his invasion preparations against Britain, which in turn declared war again on May 18th, 1803. Almost immediately, Napoleon’s expedition to crush the Haitian Revolution failed utterly. This convinced him to give up on North America, which resulted in his decision to sell everything France had there to the nascent United States. A short Phony War persisted from the declaration of war in May 1803 to December, 1804, when Britain concluded an agreement with Sweden to use Swedish Pomerania as a base to attack French-occupied Hanover, the homeland of the British monarchs. Sweden had already cut diplomatic relations with France after Napoleon had had executed a Swedish nobleman on dubious charges of conspiracy to assassinate him. Britain put together the Third Coalition over the course of 1805, with Russia coming on board in April of that year. Austria joined after Napoleon crowned himself King of Italy, a traditionally Austrian sphere of influence. During this time, Napoleon was assembling the invasion army for Britain at Boulogne. This highly disciplined, centralised, well-trained force would grow into the Grande Armee after Trafalgar. Conversely, the Austrian and Russian armies were inefficient and ineffective. The first major campaign of the War of the Third Coalition was the Ulm Campaign. Taking the Austrian army by surprise by marching through neutral Prussian territory, Napoleon surrounded the main body of the Austrian forces and defeated them in a succession of battles, culminating in the Battle of Ulm, in which the entirety of an Austrian field army was defeated, largely by the efforts of Marshal Murat, and its general forced to surrender in October, 1805.

The Battle of Ulm.

The Battle of Ulm.

Napoleon’s fortunes then took a turn for the worse with the Battle of Trafalgar. Hoping to lure the Royal Navy out of the Channel and thereby make possible an invasion of Britain, Admiral Villeneuve broke out of the British blockade and made a run for the West Indies; Admiral Horatio Nelson followed him. Villeneuve eventually tried to return to Europe to relieve the British blockade of Brest, but this was unsuccessful, and he went South to Cadiz, where Nelson caught up with him. The resulting Battle of Trafalgar is one of the most decisive naval battles in history, as Nelson annihilated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet for the loss of not one of his own ships, putting an end to Napoleon’s dreams of invading Britain. This strategic failure came to resemble a setback within a few months though, as Napoleon won his greatest victory at Austerlitz. The retreating remnant of the Austrian Army had met up with its Russian ally and set up camp, intending to give battle. When the French army caught up, it proceeded to inflict an absolutely devastating defeat upon its adversaries. On December 2nd, 1805, Napoleon inflicted 36,000 casualties and totally disintegrated the enemy armies for the cost of only 9,000 of his own men. Vienna was occupied by the French army. At the beginning of 1806, French forces occupied the Kingdom of Naples, before Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, by which Austria had to pay France an indemnity, and cede lands to France’s German puppets.

The Battle of Trafalgar.

The Battle of Trafalgar.

The Battle of Austerlitz.

The Battle of Austerlitz.

Napoleon used his enhanced predominance in Germany to abolish the ancient and moribund Holy Roman Empire, replacing it with the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of French client states. Fearing Napoleon’s inroads into Germany, Prussia stupidly declared war in 1806. Napoleon almost immediately defeated them at Jena-Auerstadt in October, and occupied Berlin. This resulted in the Berlin Decree, creating the Continental System, which prohibited French allies and clients from trading with Britain. France continued to advance Eastward, all the way to the Russian border, where the Russian Army was defeated at Friedland. With Prussia and Russia beaten, Napoleon was free to dictate terms. Russia was largely let off the hook by the Treaty of Tilsit, and merely had to join the Continental System. Prussia, though, was treated badly. It had to give up its Western territories, which were merged with the French-controlled Kingdom of Westphalia, and some lands in the East, which were given to the similarly aligned Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

The next great campaign would last all the way until 1814. In 1807, Spain and France had jointly invaded and defeated Britain’s ally, Portugal, but the Spanish people were dissatisfied with King Charles IV, who was by all accounts an incompetent moron. Unrest ensued in Napoleon’s ally, making him uneasy. His eventual decision was to invade Spain, which would become an ulcer of a campaign which he could never really win. Although he took the major cities and installed his brother on the Spanish throne, guerrilla resistance continued for years, helped by the arrival of British regulars in Portugal and the resultant long campaign by the Duke of Wellington. By that time, however, Napoleon had other problems.

Napoleon's Peninsular War nemesis, the Duke of Wellington.

Napoleon’s Peninsular War nemesis, the Duke of Wellington.

In 1809, Austria attacked France, beginning the War of the Fifth Coalition. Following the disaster at Austerlitz, Austria had reformed its army, and this showed when combat began. Austria put up a much better fight this time around, but it had no real allies. Prussia had intended to join in, but decided not to at the last moment, and Britain was occupied in Portugal, contributing only an ineffectual landing in Holland to no effect. Austria put up much stiffer resistance, but was eventually beaten at Wagram, and was subjected to the Treaty of Schonbrunn, by which it lost one fifth of its population, as France took its Dalmatian provinces, Warsaw the area of Galicia, and Bavaria Tyrol.

Napoleon at Wagram.

Napoleon at Wagram.

Napoleon remained at war with Britain, but neither side could do much more than glare angrily across the channel at each other. Otherwise, France was the master of Europe, but it wasn’t to last, for Russia broke from the Continental System, leading to a French invasion. French forces advanced steadily, until the brutal but indecisive Battle of Borodino, but Russian strategy throughout consisted of retreating while burning anything which might be of use to France. When the Grande Armee reached Moscow, it found nothing to sustain itself, and had to trudge back to Poland in the depths of the Russian winter. The great majority of his men died, and Napoleon’s aura of invincibility was broken. The Prussian General Ludwig York von Wartenburg signed an unauthorised armistice with the advancing Russians and changed sides, bringing the Sixth Coalition into being; Sweden also re-entered the war on the side of the Allies. Napoleon fought the Allies to draws at Lutzen and Bautzen, but at the gigantic Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, he was decisively defeated by the combined forces of the Coalition. Napoleon’s armies were now broken, but the Allies were prepared to offer a generous peace by which he could stay Emperor of France. Convinced that the tide would turn in his favour, Napoleon refused, and the Allies swept Northward through Spain and Westward through Germany to enter France proper. At this point, Napoleon’s marshals mutinied, and he was forced to abdicate. The Allies exiled him to Elba, in the Mediterranean, but he quickly came back to lead the so-called Hundred Days. By this time, all of Europe was against him, and Britain and Prussia decisively defeated him at Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon was re-exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic, and the Bourbon Dynasty restored in France.

Napoleon aboard the ship to exile.

Napoleon aboard the ship to exile.

The Napoleonic Wars had momentous consequences for Europe and the world. Napoleon’s armies had spread the ideals of the French Revolution throughout Europe, and the conflict between these and the forces of the governments would eventually erupt in the Revolutions of 1848. These ideas fundamentally changed Europe, and the Wars resulted in more tangible results as well. The Balance of Power entered as a more concrete concept, which the statesmen of Europe would spend the next several decades trying to maintain until German unification in 1871. Finally, the British Empire became a world hegemon, as it entered the Industrial Revolution sooner than its rivals and was left with unchallenged naval supremacy after Trafalgar. Much as the World Wars made the United States, and the 20th Century, the Napoleonic Wars made the 19th Century and the British Empire.

The Dictators: Idi Amin

Very little is known of Idi Amin’s early life. We know that he was born sometime in the 1920s, and was raised by his mother in Northern Uganda, but apart from this, we have no concrete details. Amin’s records become clearer in 1946 though, as he joined the British Army. The British Empire at the time still controlled Uganda, and Amin signed up as a cook in the King’s African Rifles. He was transferred to the infantry in 1947, and his unit was deployed to Somalia and Kenya to help put down uprisings there. By 1961, he was an officer, and in the vacuum of competent leadership following independence in 1962, rose quickly though the officer corps. In 1965, Prime Minister Milton Obote and Amin staged a coup against the ceremonial President, Kabaka Mutesa. Obote made Amin Commander of the Armed Forces, who promptly began to bring the army more and more under his personal control. Obote eventually demoted Amin to mere Commander of the Army, and when Amin learned that Obote also planned to have him arrested, he staged a coup in 1971.

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At the very beginning of his rule, Amin promised to release Obote’s political prisoners, and to return power to the civilian authorities after the restoration of order. Predictably, this did not happen, as Amin instead suspended the constitution, declared himself President and Head of the Armed Forces, established a secret police and filled his cabinet and staff with military cronies. Obote had fled to Tanzania, and launched a failed attempt to retake his government. This led Amin to order the massacre soldiers of Obote’s ethnic group in their barracks, and the country soon descended into an orgy of slaughter and violence. Amin had anybody who even vaguely appeared disloyal killed; eventually, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, professions and geographic areas were killed for committing no real crime. Not even other members of the government were safe, as several members of Amin’s cabinet fell victim. Amin also ordered the expulsion of all Asians in Uganda; most of them were economically skilled and valuable Indians who had come to Uganda during the British Era. Their exile crippled Uganda’s already struggling economy. It also led to severing of diplomatic relations with India and Britain, and the nationalisation of British businesses in Uganda. In addition to angering the Commonwealth nations, Amin aligned Uganda with the USSR and was especially bellicose towards Israel. This culminated in 1976, when Amin allowed a hijacked Israeli airliner to land in Uganda, prompting an Israeli special forces raid which partially succeeded in freeing some of the hostages. After a brief armed standoff with Kenya, Amin’s vice president fled the now ruined country to Tanzania. The Vice President’s troops mutinied and themselves fled to Tanzania, leading Amin to formally annex an area of Tanzania, and declare war in 1978. Tanzania won, and Amin was forced to flee, at first to Libya and then to Saudi Arabia. He launched an abortive attempt to regain control of Uganda in 1989, but otherwise lived quietly in exile. He died in 2003 of kidney failure. It was revealed after his death that MI6 had had plans to assassinate him while he was President.

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Idi Amin is one of the most erratic and brutal dictators in history. He was not motivated by any ideology, merely a love of power and violence. His forces would kill anybody, including religious figures, for no particular reason, and in addition to officially using the title “Conqueror of the British Empire” and festooning himself with fake British Army medals, he insisted throughout his life that he was in fact also the rightful King of Scotland. Amin’s level of sheer strangeness and eccentricity would be funny if not for the long, sustained, continuous massacre which was his rule.

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The Prime Ministers: The Earl Grey

The Earl Grey, Prime Minister 1830-1834

The Earl Grey, was born Charles Grey on March 13th, 1764, in Northumberland. He was educated, as almost every Prime Minister seems to have been, at either Oxford or Cambridge, in his case the latter. His debating and oratorical skill won him renown, and he entered Parliament as MP for Northumberland in 1786, at the mere age of 22. He became a member of Charles Fox’s Whig group, and therefore spent his early career in opposition to William Pitt the Younger. His famous speaking skills helped him rise to the top of the Whig Party, and he also was an early supporter of Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary electoral reform. The latter would eventually become his main claim to fame as Prime Minister. Grey became First Lord of the Admiralty in Baron Grenville’s Ministry of All the Talents, and when Charles Fox died, also took over as Foreign Secretary. Fox’s death also made him the head of the Whigs. In 1807, Grey’s father died. He succeeded to the title as The Earl Grey, and was elevated to the House of Lords, spending the next 23 years of his life in opposition, the longest single stretch which eventually resulted in a Ministry in history. Grey’s chance finally came in 1830, when the Duke of Wellington’s Tory government resigned over the question of electoral reform. Grey was finally invited to form a government, which became notable for two main achievements. Britain’s electoral system had long been broken, with powerful nobles being able to totally dominate groups of constituencies. These were called  Rotten Boroughs, and aside from this, only the richest men with the most land could vote, to say nothing of the complete lack of non-white and female suffrage. To fix this system, the Earl Grey passed one of the single most important acts in British History: The Great Reform Act 1832. This pivotal act accomplished two things. First, it abolished many of the rotten boroughs, and instead gave seats to the growing cities. Second, it extended the franchise, greatly reducing property qualifications. This democratised British politics considerably, as the small group of the extremely rich lost their stranglehold over Parliament. Grey’s second great achievement was the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. Although the slave trade had been abolished in 1807, the practice itself had remained legal, until the passage of this act, which did as its title suggests and abolished slavery in all British possessions. Grey, who was old and tired after decades of political leadership, retired from public life in 1834, leaving the government to Viscount Melbourne. In his last decade, he privately fulminated against the Irish Nationalist Party and Daniel O’Connor, before dying on July 17th, 1845, at age 79.

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The Earl Grey’s is famous for two things: the Great Reform Act and the abolition of slavery. His ministry accomplished little else of importance, but these two achievements are of obvious immense significance. The Earl Grey has been, in my view, unjustifiably forgotten by history. Most associate his name with a type of tea, but his political accomplishments should afford him far more stature in history than he receives.

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