Evil Dictators Before They Were Famous
The historian Edward Gibbon once wrote that ‘history is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind’. Yet there is more to mankind than crime: if only this lot hadn’t had the folly to abandon respectable careers, history would have been more fortunate.
Adolf Hitler: Postcard Painter
Here’s Hitler as just one in a crowd, a position he apparently found unsatisfactory. The world’s most famous jingoist was once a professional, though mediocre, artist who failed to exceed painting postcards. The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna twice rejected him, citing ‘unfitness for painting’, and he was told he was better suited to architecture. Yet though he dreamed of designing great edifices, he lacked the academic preparation. Instead, he became an architect of war.
Benito Mussolini: Author
Mussolini led a colourful and varied career before becoming Italy’s 40th Prime Minister and key founder of fascism. He qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901, and spent periods working as both a stonemason and an editor of socialist publications. He also wrote literary essays, short stories and a novel. The Cardinal’s Mistress is a much-derided bodice ripper about a love affair between a fictional cleric and his mistress. A study in purple prose, it is unintentionally entertaining.
Pol Pot: Teacher
Among the victims of the Khmer Rouge were professionals and intellectuals, or anyone suspected of having an education. Yet the regime’s leader, Pol Pot, was himself a university-educated man, and his hypocrisy went deeper still: although he was apparently a poor student, he was fluent in French, and spent some time teaching French literature and history at a private college.
FranÃ§ois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier: Physician
Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier was a physician and advocate for life before becoming Haiti’s leader and self-declared ‘President for Life’. For ten years he practiced medicine in Port-au-Prince, providing salve to patients ravaged by tropical diseases. It was during this period that he acquired the affectionate nickname ‘Papa Doc’. Yet in 1957, after being voted in as president, saving lives ceased to be his occupation; he opted instead to extinguish anyone expressing opposition to his rule.
Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung): Librarian
Mao, who controlled China between 1949 and 1976, and who is held largely responsible for over 50 million deaths in the country, was a poet and philosopher who nurtured his communist ideals through reading. His bookish tendencies found him working as an assistant librarian at Peking’s University Library. It was there that he was influenced by Li Dazhao, the library’s curator, and co-founder of the Communist Party of China.
Fidel Castro: Lawyer
There is a long-standing rumour that Fidel Castro tried out for, but was rejected by, a Major League baseball team. However, this is apparently merely a fabrication by an American journalist. In fact, the extent of Castro’s involvement with the sport was playing for the University of Havana’s law school. Having studied law and graduated, Castro went on to practice in Havana between 1950 and 1952, before attempting his first coup d’Ã©tat in 1953.