Godwin’s Law before Hitler

We had an interesting discussion at college the other day, completely unrelated to college… about who epitomised evil before Hitler. Some said Napoleon, still others Genghis Kahn, while some thought Mary Queen of Scots might get the guernsey.

A Slate article on exactly the same issue, from a couple of days before (that may or may not have prompted my question) reckons the answer is Pharaoh, but also suggests that the use of an extreme historical figure as a rhetorical device is probably a relatively recent invention. Possibly correlating to the rise of the internet.

“The Pharoah. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, many Americans and Europeans had a firmer grasp of the bible than of the history of genocidal dictators. Orators in search of a universal symbol for evil typically turned to figures like Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, or, most frequently, the Pharaoh of Exodus, who chose to endure 10 plagues rather than let the Hebrew people go.”

“Generally speaking, hatred was more local and short-lived before World War II. Nineteenth-century polemicists occasionally used Napoleon Bonaparte as shorthand for an evil ruler—they sometimes referred to “the little tyrant” rather than name the diminutive conqueror—but those references were rare. There is little record of oratorical comparisons of political leaders to Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, or Ivan the Terrible.”

So there you go.

The Beginners Guide to Taking Over the World – Historical figures

Some historical figures worth noting

Julius Caesar
Possibly the most successful ruler never to have been immortalised by a major Hollywood blockbuster, Julius Caesar, the man whose surname became synonymous for king, began the ascent of the Roman empire, ending a period of civil war and beginning a process of expansion that would last for centuries.

Genghis Kahn

The East’s answer to Julius Caesar, part of a long dynasty of Kahn rulers. Lead the Mongols on a path of terror and conquest that even Hitler would have been proud of.

Alexander the Great

Took the Greek civilisation to its highest point, famous for his nice curly hair and military prowess.

Attila the Hun

Lead one of the most successful attacks on the Roman Empire, eventually made peace with them and died of a nose hemorrhage (what kind of warrior dies of a nose hemorrhage, seriously, what a soft way to go, imagine him in a post-life meeting with the other famous military leaders, comparing notes over deaths, no poisonous asp, no sword thrust from behind, a nose hemorrhage, how very lame). Attila, or Hunny to his friends – he didn’t have many friends, is also famous for eating a couple of his sons. True story, if you don’t want a family dynasty that may be an option to consider.

The last great leader of the French, some say Napoleon is one of the greatest military minds ever to have lived. I differ, if he was a great military mind he would have chosen a different nation to lead. I mean he wasn’t even born French, he was born Italian, Italians make much better cannon fodder… I mean soldiers. Armies of Frenchmen are only ever going to fail in the long term. Napoleon’s eventual exile to Elba was inevitable the French were always going to fail. Rumour has it that while in transit to Elba he offered up possibly the world’s coolest palindrome “Able was I ere I saw Elba” he’s worth noting just for that.

Josef Stalin

Showed that it was still in vogue for dictators to have cities named after them. Also helped transform Russia from international also-rans into international heavyweights. He was instrumental in creating the Soviet Union, which became one of the big powers of the twentieth century.

Adolf Hitler

Proved that it was possible to be taken seriously even with a stupid moustache. It helped that he had a large and powerful army behind him. Also showed that the fashions of evil tyrants become unpopular very quickly after their failure – you don’t see many “square button” moustaches around these days do you.

George W. Bush
Proved that being an international powerbroker did not, as previously believed, require any intelligence or leadership ability. It does help to have a powerful father and a paranoid populace to work with. But these are obstacles that can be overcome with enough hard work and a little luck. Also demonstrated that preemptive defense is the best form of attack.

Author Profile: Honoré de Balzac

I haven’t actually read anything by de Balzac. But he’s my new favourite author. The man is a legend. A prodigious talent. Not because he’s famous for writing a series of 100 novels and plays about French life post Napoleon. But because he famously drank up to 50 coffees a day. And none of the namby pamby “french press” stuff. He was on the hard stuff. The hardest stuff. Spiscious Turkish Coffee. That’s pretty much coffee sludge.

Here’s a description of his work habits from his wikipedia entry:

“Balzac’s work habits are legendary – he did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee. He would often work for fifteen hours or more at a stretch; he claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest in the middle.”

And here’s some info on his coffee addiction from a Neatorama profile of famous people and their addictions:

“The famous French author would drink up to fifty cups of coffee every single day. And not stuff watered down with milk and sugar and the like – nope, Balzac liked thick, black, Turkish coffee. If it was unavailable in liquid form, or if he didn’t want to wait for it, he simply popped a handful of beans into his mouth and chewed (yuck). It may have kept him up all hours so he could write fantastic and prolific works of literature, but it didn’t do him any favors in the health department: he suffered from stomach cramps, high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. Some reports say it was the coffee that killed him – ulcers ate completely through his stomach and he died from a combination of that and caffeine poisoning.”

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