Abuse of power is often seen as a result of absolute power. Tyrants throughout history have been responsible for some of the most shocking acts of cruelty towards their own people and to those they perceive to be enemies. Here is a list of some of the most shocking and in some cases bizarre acts of power abuse.
1. Cromwell’s Commonwealth
Every year the right wing media of the UK comes up with more incendiary rhetoric for how Christmas will be banned ‘ usually by the politically correct lobby. Christmas was successfully banned in England at one point ‘ and it was by a Christian. Having deposed and beheaded a king and imposed a Puritan regime, Cromwell set about purging everything he didn’t like. It was too papist or not Christian enough: Easter with its pagan rites, Christmas with its frivolity, mince pies with their sheer indulgence (and with no Christian basis)
2. Joseph Stalin
Certainly the brutal Communist dictator was responsible for many atrocities but none more so than Holodomor. In the 1930s, Ukraine sought to assert its own sovereignty within the USSR. Suffering a natural famine, Stalin took the opportunity to assert his dominance. Not only did Moscow not send help, there is now clear acceptance that food aid was confiscated as a deliberate attempt to punish ethnic Ukrainians. In 2006, the Holodomor was officially recognised as an act of genocide. Between 2.5 and 5 million people died in Ukraine with as many as 7.5 million across the entire USSR
3. North Korea’s Demigods
Despite claims that North Korea is an atheist state, even the most cursory look at the system of government shows that it bans religion because it is a religion. Not content with granting himself a world record number of hole-in-ones at golf or having a new star appear to foretell his birth, it is said that Kim Jong Il’s mood could affect North Korean weather. Most of this sounds benign compared to real atrocities going on in the country but it is all part of building the fear at a leader’s magical powers ‘ and the application of fear is undoubtedly the worst abuse of power. North Korea is a state built on systematic fear
Proving that totalitarian dictatorships are not the exclusive realm of the abuse of power, stirring up fear and hatred for polar opposites in the USA came to experience its worst period in the 1950s. Accusations of disloyalty, treason, subversion and Communism were all made against various public figures with little regard for evidence. Largely directed at government employees, entertainers and even in some cases ‘ long dead thinkers were in danger of being banned for ‘Communist’ influence (Euripides and Christopher Marlowe being cases in point).
5. Religious Tests
To some, a religious belief is something personal. Many fear when church (or mosque or temple) unites with government to give privilege to one group and to oppress another. Regimes the world over have used tests of religious identity to work out how pious a person is, to test their devotion to the religion. The Test Acts in England prevented Catholics from holding office for many years. The Taliban in its final days sought to test non-Muslims and made them wear distinct pieces of fabric to set them apart. Early Christian martyrs were executed for failing to pledge fealty to the Roman Emperor.
Whims are sometimes taken as a quirk of the ruling tyrant but this famous 1st century Roman Emperor took it to another level. Not content with making his horse a senator, it seems that attending the games could be a bad decision for a Roman citizen. It is said that Caligula once condemned a hundred people to death in the arena, choosing a random section of the crowd because ‘the games were not interesting enough’. What’s more, he had their tongues cut out so he didn’t have to hear their cries
7. Joseph Mengele
Given free reign at Auschwitz to perform whatever ‘medical’ experiments took his fancy, Doctor Death devised all manner of human experiments ‘ mostly into sterilisation and removal of vital organs. Most of his experiments were performed without anaesthetic in order to test pain thresholds. It is largely agreed that unlike other Nazi scientists, nothing of value was gained from his research. Many sought to emulate him throughout the camps. He died a free man in Brazil in 1979
8. Kim Jong Il Sporting Prowess
Having already discussed the systematic control within the country, the now deceased North Korean President must have considered football (soccer) tactics amongst his many skills. For the 2010 World Cup in which his country would face giants Portugal, Brazil and Africa’s finest in Ivory Coast’¦ Kim Jong Il personally picked the entire squad to fly to South Africa to take on the world. It was ‘ unsurprisingly ‘ a disaster as North Korea lost 2-1 to Brazil, 7-0 to Portugal and 3-0 to Ivory Coast.
9. Saddam Hussein
Though not the Islamist some elements of the media portrayed him to be, he was responsible for some of the most heinous acts of terror against his own people. Declaring war against a lifestyle that had existed in the country for thousands of years, Hussein ordered the drainage of the marshes of southern Iraq and ordered execution of something in the region of 500,000 Marsh Arabs. Mostly, this was in retaliation for their support of the UN forces in 1991 after the first Gulf War. Many more were displaced. Conservation work is now restoring the marshes
10. Mary I
England’s history is full of tyrannical monarchs and for one of them, the tyranny and abuse of power was so great that she earned herself the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’. The eldest daughter of Henry VIII, England was fast becoming a Protestant nation when her brother Edward died leaving Mary (a Catholic) to take the throne. She married a Catholic and set about forcibly restoring the church. 300 Protestants were killed under her new Heresy Acts – including Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer.
Abuse of power needn’t always feature violence (though sometimes it does) often it can be about abusing power simply because somebody can. Despite having little to no knowledge of football tactics, Kim Jong Il picked the entire North Korean squad. Some of the tyrant figures above were not above making strange demands purely because they could