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 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 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 Dictators: Ataturk

Ataturk was born as Mustafa Kemal, and became known as Ataturk after the Surname Law. For the sake of uniformity, I’ll refer to him throughout as Ataturk.

Ataturk was born sometime in the Winter or Spring of 1881 in Salonica, in what is now Greece. His father was a middling civil servant, and Ataturk entered military education. He was educated at the Ottoman Military Academy in Constantinople (he was to officially rename it to Istanbul in his rule), and shortly after graduation, arrested for planning rebellion against the Sultan. He was sent off to Syria, but arranged to be transferred to Monastir, to participate in the Young Turks Revolution. He played a major role in the suppression of the 1909 counter-coup, and commanded well in the Italo-Turkish War and the First Balkan War. When the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Ataturk was placed in command of the 19th division, in Gallipoli. His command was extremely competent, and he greatly contributed to the defeat of the British, before being transferred to the Eastern Front, where he displayed similar skill against Russia. When an armistice was proclaimed between the Ottomans and the Allies in October 1918, Ataturk became Inspector of the 9th Army, a role in which he was meant to maintain some degree of organisation within the army, and order in the general area. However, he used his forces to establish a Turkish Nationalist Movement, and issued the Amasya Circular, which declared the nation in danger. He resigned from the Ottoman army, and was condemned to death by the Ottoman government in absentia. In 1919, Ataturk convened a Nationalist Congress at Sivas, of which he appointed executive. While the Ottoman government in Istanbul was placed under Allied occupation, Ataturk established a Grand National Assembly in Ankara, creating a second government of Turkey. The Istanbul government signed the Treaty of Sevres with the Allies, which would have partitioned Turkey, but Ataturk and his government refused to accept the treaty and began to fight the Turkish War of Independence, chiefly against Armenia and Greece. Funded and armed by the Russian Bolsheviks, Ataturk inflicted a series of defeats upon his adversaries, culminating in the victory at Sakarya over Greece and the re-capture of Smyrna. Recognising that the situation was now fundamentally changed, the Allies convened negotiations for a new treaty at Lausanne, Switzerland. The Treaty of Lausanne was duly signed on July 24th, 1923, and the modern Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in October, with Ataturk as President.

Ataturk at Gallipoli.

Ataturk at Gallipoli.

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Immediately upon assuming power, Ataturk embarked upon a programme of urgent modernisation. The ancient and moribund institutions of the Sultanate and Caliphate were abolished, secularisation enforced in education, law and every other aspect of public life, a new, Western-inspired educational system set up, and women given far greater rights, including suffrage. Ataturk was determined to turn Turkey from an ossified empire to a modern, European nation-state. Turkish traditional dress was discouraged, and the wearing of the fez banned. Naturally, these attacks roused opposition from conservatives and the religious community, and an assassination plot was uncovered in 1926. This led to a minor purge, and many of Ataturk’s opponents in the Nationalist movement were removed. This allowed a second round of more radical reforms, including the creation of an entirely new civil law code modeled on that of Switzerland and the introduction of a law requiring western-style last names. The Turkish language then used Arabic script; in 1928, Ataturk abolished the use of Arabic, and brought forth a new, official Turkish alphabet, based on the Latin alphabet with a few accented characters. Modern Turkish culture and science were encouraged, such as sculpture, which had hitherto been forbidden under the tenets of Islam, and translation of the Qur’an into Turkish. In the area of economy, Ataturk pursued a policy of wide state intervention, in keeping with his idea of the strong national government, which would tie together and aid all Turks. The  tobacco and railway industries were nationalised, and a fairly active policy pursued, but after the Great Depression, a more Liberal approach was followed. Although his economic achievements were not as great as his social ones, Ataturk managed to stop the nation from sliding into destitution after a long period of war, and socially, he brought the Turkish nation into the 20th century.

Ataturk with a newly legally mandated Western-style hat.

Ataturk with a newly legally-mandated Western-style hat.

Whilst all this was going on, Ataturk had to deal with establishing foreign relations of the new state. A dispute over Mosul in British Iraq went on for many years, until the League of Nations ruled that the region should remain with Iraq. Ataturk was dependent in the War of Independence upon Soviet aid, but soon after the war’s end began to sever ties with Moscow and instead try to reconcile with the West and with Greece, which, amazingly resulted in an alliance with the latter. However, this string of domestic and foreign successes was not to last. Ataturk had throughout his life been a very heavy drinker, and in 1938 was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.He died of it on November 10th of that year.

Ataturk is the most important figure in Turkish history, and the closest thing history has to a good dictator. His reforms were in many cases unpopular, but they unquestionably modernised the nation and laid the foundations for the prosperous nation-state of Turkey. Turkey’s mere existence, its secularity and its enlightened for the time social policies all came directly from Ataturk. In some cases, force did have to be used, but Ataturk’s good far outweighs his bad.

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The Dictators: Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769 to a family of minor Corsican nobility. Corsica had just been transferred to French rule by Genoa, and Napoleon’s father was the representative of Corsica at the court of Louis XVI. He was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Chateau, before studying at France’s elite war academy, the Ecole Militaire, in Paris. After graduation in 1785, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in an artillery regiment. When the revolution broke out, he fought in Corsica and Toulon, eventually being promoted to Brigadier General at age 24, and after Thermidorean Reaction toppled Robespierre, he was briefly arrested, but released soon after and reinstated in his command. After brief expeditions in Sardinia and the Vendee, Napoleon was placed in charge of putting down a royalist rebellion against the National Convention in 1795, which he did famously with “a whiff of grapeshot.” This made him famous, and he was given command of the Army of Italy, as well as being made Commander of the Interior.

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Soon after assuming his new command, he comprehensively defeated Austrian forces in Italy, earning France control of Northern Italy and the Low Countries, and ending 1,000 years of Venetian independence. Napoleon then convinced the government to approve an expedition to Egypt, to dislodge British influence in the region and to foment discontent in India. This resulted in the Battle of the Pyramids, which Napoleon won, but the British victory in the naval Battle of the Nile frustrated the strategic aims of the campaign, and after a short rampage in Syria, he returned to France. The France he returned to was in a bad state; it was bankrupt and the directory was quickly losing the support of the people. His triumph at the Battle of the Pyramids had made him more popular than ever, and he and his allies organised a coup on November 9th, 1799, by which Napoleon became First Consul. In practice, this made him a Republican Dictator. Almost immediately, he opened another campaign against Austria in Italy, where he defeated Austria at the Battles of Marengo and Hohenlinden. Austria sued for peace, which gave France even more of Italy, and Britain too made peace, with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Napoleon then organised a plebiscite which appointed him First Consul for Life. Only two years later, he crowned himself emperor on December 2nd, 1804.

By this time, Europe was at war again, as Britain broke the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 and attacked France. Russia, Sweden and Austria all joined the new anti-French coalition, which was swiftly dismembered by Napoleon. At the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz, he blew away the Austrian and Russian armies, and forced another treaty on Austria which gave France even more territory in Italy and Germany. Although he was now master of the continent, Napoleon could not destroy Britain, as the Royal Navy defeated a combined French-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar for the loss of not a single ship, ruining Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain. With the defeat of the Third Coalition, Napoleon the abolished the Holy Roman Empire and established the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of French client states, in its place. At the height of French power, Prussia foolishly declared war on France in 1806, and was quickly annihilated at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt. Russia re-joined the war again, was again crushed at the Battle of Friedland, and was given a lenient peace treaty, whereby it only had to join the continental system (which prohibited French allies and clients from trading with Britain); Prussia, in contrast was stripped of its Western territories, which were made into the French puppet state of Westphalia. The peace didn’t last long. Portugal defied the Continental System, which resulted in a French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. Spain was turned into another French client state, but the struggle turned into a guerrilla war which dragged on for years, helped by Portugal and the British regulars operating alongside them. Austria decided yet again in 1809 to fight France, was yet again defeated, and this time had a draconian treaty imposed, which stripped it of much of its territory and about one fifth of its population.

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For the next few years, France was again at peace, the master of Europe except Britain, until Russia broke away from the Continental System. Napoleon launched an invasion, which, although it captured Moscow, took catastrophic casualties from Russian scorched earth tactics. By the time the French army limped back to Poland, a great majority of the army had been captured or died by enemy action or frostbite. Heartened by the defeat of the hitherto seemingly invincible Napoleon, virtually all of the major continental nations joined together and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig, and captured Paris. The French Senate declared Napoleon to be deposed, and he abdicated and was exiled to Elba. France received a fairly lenient peace treaty. But Napoleon had no intention of going quietly, and escaped Elba in 1815. He reunited with the army, and briefly ruled France for a period known as the Hundred Days before he was defeated by Britain and Prussia at the Battle of Waterloo. He was again exiled, to St Helena in the South Atlantic, and rapidly fell into ill-health. He died on May 5th, 1821, from unknown causes; theories range from deliberate poisoning to medical malpractice to cancer.

The retreat from Russia.

The retreat from Russia.

In addition to all of his wars, Napoleon left behind an enormously legacy for France and for Europe. He created the Napoleonic Code, from which most of Europe’s civil codes are descended and reformed the French educational system. He revolutionised military tactics, giving rise to corps warfare, in which multiple mobile, independent corps move together and support each other rather than having the army together as one mass, and increasing the importance of artillery in modern warfare. He also introduced the principles of the French Revolution and the forces of popular nationalism to much of Europe. His wars created the 19th century, much like the World Wars created the 20th, leading to the domination of the British Empire and the rise of the Prussian military, for after their defeat in 1806, Prussia had launched a major military reform campaign which created what would become the crack Prussian and eventually German military of the wars of later years. In light of this, Napoleon, in my view, can be considered, with Bismarck, to be the most important political figure of the 19th century.

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The Dictators: Vidkun Quisling

Vidkun Quisling was born on July 18th, 1887 in the Norwegian County of Telemark. His father was a pastor, but the son proved more interested in a military career. He enrolled in the Norwegian Military Academy, and then the Norwegian Military College. He proved an extremely successful student, earning the highest graduating score in the history of the academy, before joining the General Staff. In 1918, he was appointed Military Attache to Russia for a few months, before the military withdrew its delegation because of the raging Russian Civil War. He was re-deployed to the Norwegian delegation to Finland, and then did League of Nations work in Ukraine in the early 1920s.

Quisling with his wife.

Quisling with his wife.

While in Ukraine, he met his wife, and left the army, instead beginning to write on philosophy, history and morality.When he returned to Norway, he became associated with the Norwegian extreme left, but after several years, underwent a strange reversal to become a fascist. He became interested in Nazi-esque racial “science” and openly called for war against the Soviet Union, eventually founding a party named the “Nordic Popular Rising in Norway” with himself as “Fører,” or Führer. Within a year of founding this party, he left it in order to serve as Defence Minsiter in 1931, to national astonishment. He spent much of his time and energy cracking down on the labour movement, which he viewed as Communist and subversive, by creating McCarthy-like lists of Communist union figures, many of whom were arrested on spurious charges, and breaking strikes with military force. After Quisling was attacked by an unidentified knife-wielding assailant in his office, he used his testimony of the incident to instead launch attacks on the parties of the left, earning him massive support among rightist voters. Using this new popularity, Quisling renamed his old party “National Unity,” and began to prepare to contest elections in his own right, with a new raft of far-right policies. The new party managed to do better than the Communists in vote percentage, but Quisling was so uncharismatic that his party failed to gain even one seat in Parliament.

This caused Quisling’s ideas to harden, and he became more and more associated with the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, and antisemitic, which caused the party to split, losing several of its most prominent members. Through the late 1930s, Quisling and his gang of fascists operated on the Norwegian political periphery, until 1939, when he publicly gave his support to Germany in the newly declared Second World War. He traveled to Germany and met personally with Hitler, where he proposed to mount a coup with German aid, and allow Germany to use Norwegian naval bases against Britain. Hitler found this plan unrealistic, but ominously stated that Germany would respond preemptively to any British operations in or against Norway. At this time, Quisling was taken off the scene by a case of double-nephritis, which he for some reason refused treatment for, but after the Altmark Incident, in which a Royal Navy vessel boarded a Kriegsmarine transport ship in Norwegian waters, liberating 300 British prisoners, Quisling was summoned to Berlin, to give the German general staff intelligence about Norwegian defence and military strength.

Quisling with Himmler.

Quisling with Himmler.

On April 8th, Britain began to mine Norwegian waters, triggering a German combined arms invasion of the country the next day. Norway proved a tougher nut to crack than the German military had anticipated, as the government managed to escape Oslo, and the transport ship carrying the administrators Germany intended to use to run the occupation was sunk in Oslo harbour by Norwegian anti-ship guns. The Norwegian armed forces fought bravely, but could not stand against the Wehrmacht for long. Quisling proclaimed himself Prime Minister, but Hitler preferred to try to bend the King of Norway to his will. Only when this failed, and Haakon VII fled to Britain, did Quisling become Prime Minister. From the beginning of his rule, Quisling was little more than a puppet of the Nazis. He outlawed pluralism, enacted Nazi-style racial policies and censored the press. Political terror against the Communist Party and labour unions began, with many of their members and leaders being rounded up and executed.

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In 1942, he was finally proclaimed Head of State as Minister-President of the Government, under the German occupation authorities. All of his previous policies were stepped up; Jews were forbidden from entering Norway, had their property confiscated and were turned over to the SS to be sent to Germany and eventually the death camps, and Norway formed an SS Unit to fight alongside their German counterparts. The Norwegian people resisted Quisling as best they could, by isolating National Unity members and taking part in civil disobedience campaigns. By 1944, even Quisling could see that Germany was going to lose the war, and began to undertake negotiations for Norway’s independence, and, surprisingly for a puppet ruler, refused to sign the execution orders for partisans arrested by the German military in 1944. In the last few months of the war, Quisling tried to save himself by ordering the Norwegian military not to attack allied forces, and committed his government to not offer armed resistance against the allies. When he was arrested after the end of the war, he was put on trial for murder, theft, embezzlement, illegally altering the constitution, and treason by conspiring with Hitler over the 1940 invasion. Quisling was condemned to death, and executed by firing squad on October 24th, 1945 at Akershus Fortress.

Quisling is one of the most pathetic figures in Norwegian and European history. A wannabe Hitler, he was only able to achieve power with German aid and by actively conspiring to bring about the invasion by a hostile country of his own nation. He did not even have to be ordered to take over government; unlike all of the many Poles the Nazis tried to have head a puppet government in Poland, who all refused and were consequently shot, Quisling took power on his own initiative. It is clearly just that his name has entered a host of languages as a synonym for traitor.

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The Dictators: Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was born in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in central Italy, on July 29th, 1883. His parents were working class, and Benito’s father, Alessandro, was a devout Socialist. He was highly influenced by his father’s views in his early life, and became a Socialist himself. In 1902, he emigrated to Switzerland to dodge military service, and became active in the Swiss revolutionary Socialist movement. He was expelled from Switzerland several times for various minor crimes, and each time returned until 1904, when he went back to Italy to take advantage of a general amnesty for military deserters. Five years later, he left Italy again, to the Italian speaking city of Trento, in Austria-Hungary. There, he became secretary of the Labour Party, and edited the local Socialist newspaper. Mussolini quickly came more and more into the public eye, and eventually received the editorship of the main Italian Socialist paper, Avanti (Forward).

However, when the First World War came, he was expelled from the Party for supporting the war. Once in the army, he began to develop his own revolutionary ideology: Fascism. Fascism, as Mussolini imagined it, kept the Socialist emphasis on revolution, but altered it to make it far more nationalistic, more focused on the state and turning the vanguard from being composed of Proletariat to any social class. He became a model soldier, was promoted and wounded in 1917, which removed him from the front. When he returned home, he took a job from the British government to publish pro-war propaganda, in order to keep Italy more in the war. When the war ended, Mussolini created the Italian Combat Squad. His ideology was similar to what Hitler’s would be. It involved an appreciation of aggressive, expansionist war, racial hierarchy (with the Italians at the top) and opposition to class warfare, in favour of strong national unity. The Combat Squad grew incredibly rapidly, and eventually transformed itself into the National Fascist party in 1921, the same year Mussolini himself was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies. By 1922, the Fascist Party was a large and very aggressive force. It had thousands of uniformed goons, the Black-Shirts, who beat opposition members, and in October of that year, marched on Rome, after which King Victor Emmanuel III made Mussolini Prime Minister out of fear that refusing might cause a civil war.

Mussolini during the March on Rome.

Mussolini during the March on Rome.

Mussolini’s coalition government was a motley collection of various right-wing parties, which in June 1923 passed the Acerbo Law, stipulating that any party in the next elections which received over 25% of the national vote would take two thirds of the Parliamentary seats. Mussolini garnered far more than 25%, leading Giacomo Matteotti, a Socialist Deputy, to protest against the legality of the elections. In response, he was assassinated by Mussolini’s thugs. This, in turn, caused the Socialist Party to boycott the Parliament, leading Mussolini to outlaw the Party. Now totally in control of the government, Mussolini passed various laws making his power concrete. He was explicitly immunised from Parliamentary accountability, all other parties were banned, and the Grand Council of Fascism, previously a Party body, became constitutionally the highest body in the country.

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Firmly in control, Mussolini worked to revive the Italian economy, and to create a more unified Fascist state. The government invested heavily in infrastructure and agriculture, which increased his popularity among farmers and the working classes, as the economy did pick up under Mussolini’s rule. At the same time, he worked to create national unity under his personal control. A Cult of Personality was encouraged, by which Mussolini was referred to as Il Duce (The Leader), and ascribed all the great qualities which Cults of Personalities always do. Potentially dissident groups like the trade unions and the press were brought under government control. The Catholic Church was brought to support the regime with the 1929 Lateran Treaty, whereby Italy recognised the sovereignty of the Pope over a tiny area of Rome. Many Church figures came to admire and support the regime, which in turn increased Mussolini’s popularity among Catholics, who were of course Italy’s largest religious group.

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By the early to mid 1930s, Mussolini had brought enough social groups under the government’s wing, and increased his popularity, to feel secure enough to embark on war, which was of course the ultimate Fascist foreign policy aim. He avoided aligning with any of the European power-blocs, until in 1934 he stopped Hitler’s first attempt to annex Austria, creating the so-called Stresa Front between Italy, France and Britain. This was reversed almost immediately the following year however, when Mussolini ordered the invasion of Abyssinia, today Ethiopia. This was in keeping with Mussolini’s grand design of a new Roman Empire, as Abyssinia lay between Italian Libya and Italian Somaliland. Italy behaved atrociously, even using chemical weapons. The League of Nations gave a response which was too weak to totally deter Italy, but strong enough to anger it and provoke its realignment with Nazi Germany, the other aggressor state of Europe. Mussolini made clear that his opposition to German takeover of Austria was withdrawn to the German ambassador, and together with Germany sent massive forces to aid the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Italy stood aside when Germany finally annexed Austria in 1938, and signed a full military alliance, the Pact of Steel, in May 1939.

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When this alliance was put the test in September, when Germany attacked Poland, Mussolini proclaimed neutrality, as Germany had been the aggressor. To Berlin’s great irritation, Italy stayed this way until the very end of the Fall of France, when it intervened to secure a place at the victors’ side of the conference table. Mussolini’s fortunes plummeted with the Second World War, and he was reduced to little more than Germany’s lackey. When Italy invaded Greece, it failed to defeat it, and had to be rescued by Germany. The same occurred in North Africa when Mussolini attacked British Egypt, although in that case not even the Afrikakorps was enough to save Italy. British and American troops landed in Italy in 1943, prompting the hitherto rubber-stamping Grand Council to pass a Vote of No Confidence in Mussolini. The following day, the king summoned Mussolini, dismissed him and had him arrested. He was taken away and imprisoned, before being rescued by German paratroopers. Italy had changed sides, so Germany set up a puppet state in the parts of the country they still controlled and appointed Mussolini the head of this shambles. Eventually, in 1945, he attempted to escape to Switzerland, but he was caught by Communist partisans and shot. His body was strung up upside down from a fuel station in Milan for the people to see.

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Mussolini’s main fault, aside from being the founder of Fascism, was that his strength was illusory. He boasted of having “8 Million Bayonets,” but it didn’t matter how many bayonets one had if they were rusty, and the hands which held them untrained. Italy’s senior partner, Germany, had one of the most effective fighting forces ever seen, and so was able to act effectively on its aggression. Italy’s armed forces were simply not up to the tasks which Fascism demanded of them, and so the movement was doomed to fail. Mussolini in effect created a self-destroying ideology, as by demanding war, it led to its own destruction in Italy. I can therefore honestly say that I have no idea what direction Mussolini would have gone if he had not involved himself in the Second World War, but his overall legacy is of a bumbler who vastly overestimated his own strength.

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