The stone cold fact about being a dictator is that you get to be obsessed with whatever you want. Many strongmen have applied this to personal wealth, stockpiling vast hordes of cash, luxury goods, and homes. But sometimes dictators become fixated on things that are more unique. Often it's extremely unusual, but sometimes, it's as mundane as some food they like.
Fidel Castro was obsessed with ice cream and milk. Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin had a fixation with Scotland that bordered on demented. And Joseph Stalin spent the last years of his life doodling cryptic comments and jokes on classical nude drawings. Kim Jong Un reportedly has gorged himself on Swiss cheese to the point of crippling physical illness. Why did any of these dictators do these things? Because they could, of course.
Here are some of the most bizarre obsessions of dictators of the last century.
- Photo: Public Domain
Hitler had numerous obsessions, throwing himself into everything from Disney films (Snow White was a favorite, while Mickey Mouse was derided as degenerate) to lusting after young girls. But the obsession that did more to shape the Fuhrer's childhood was the western novels of hugely-popular 19th Century German writer Karl May.
May wrote adventure stories set all over the world, from Asia to the Middle East. But he was best known for his hugely popular tales set in the American Old West, featuring the brave heroes Winnetou, a fictional Apache chief, and Old Shatterhand, Winnetou's German blood brother (who May claimed was based on himself).
If an Austrian kid obsessing about a German's depiction of an Apache warrior's adventures in America sounds unbelievable, just listen to Hitler's own words in Mein Kampf: "The first Karl May that I read was The Ride Across the Desert. I was overwhelmed! I threw myself into him immediately which resulted in a noticeable decline in my grades."
While May was more or less a fraud, whose purported alter ego of Old Shatterhand was a fiction (indeed, May never went west of Buffalo in America), Hitler's May obsession continued into World War II. He ordered German children to read the books, and army officers to study them in preparation to fight the Russians. He extolled Winnetou's bravery and Old Shatterhand's cunning. And even as Allied bombing made paper scarce, Hitler ordered hundreds of thousands of May books printed, even as late as 1945. Even when May's fraud was revealed, Hitler praised him, saying his imagination was boundless.Shockingly, May's books are STILL popular in Germany, and even had a film series made from them in the 1960s.
- Photo: Public Domain
The Romanian strongman was typical of Cold War era Eastern Bloc dictators. He plundered his nation while ruthlessly repressing both his people and his enemies, who were usually the same. But Ceausescu was unique in the sheer level of his paranoia. He jealously protected his food supply, and the care he took in protecting his clothing bordered on total insanity.He feared that his enemies were trying to kill him by poisoning his clothing, which led him to wear a different suit each day. The once-worn suit would then be burned, and a new one picked out from his stockpile of suits, which was kept in a locked repository. His staff were assigned to protect his clothing from radiation and bacteria, and his family employed its own engineer just to scan clothes and food for chemical, biological, or radiological hazards. Eventually the dictator and his equally clothing-obsessed wife were brought to heel by the Romanian people and shot by a firing squad.
- Photo: flickr / CC0
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's obsession with Scotland went way beyond haggis and Irvine Welsh novels. Amin first learned of the country when he had Scottish commanding officers while serving in the UK's King’s African Rifles. He was said to enjoy both Scottish dancing and whiskey, and after taking absolute power over, he still sought to link Uganda and Scotland through both colonial power and derision of England. “If you go to Scotland, you will talk to the people," Amin said in recently unveiled footage. "They will welcome you to their house. With the English, if they see a Black man they see [sic] he is monkey or dog.”
In 1974, he kindly offered to be the new king of Scotland. Then he created a "Save Britain Fund" to take food from starving Ugandans and give it to Scotland (who didn't really need it), and in1976, hired an African-American band to march in the streets of Uganda wearing full kilt regalia and playing drums and bagpipes. However, Amin's crush wasn't returned, and in 1977, he was banned from a Commonwealth event. He threatened to invade the UK, and soldiers were stationed at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports in case the deranged dictator appeared with “at least 250 of his very formidable bodyguard.” Two years later, Amin invaded Tanzania, was deposed, and fled to Saudi Arabia.
- Photo: Great Brightstar / Creative Commons/SA4.0
China's history of excellence in calligraphy was taken to new heights by Chairman Mao, who was completely obsessed with the flowery script of the nation's past. An avid poet and writer, Mao often had political documents produced by ink and brush rather than by typewriter, even in the early days of the Revolution. Propaganda images of Mao often show him holding a calligrapher's pen in his hand.
As leaser of China, Mao’s personal writing was considered beautiful. His distinctive style was used everywhere from the masthead of the People’s Daily newspaper and the signage of the Beijing Railway Station to mosquito nets. It even gained a name - "Mao-style."Not content with his own excellence, he ordered his elite Red Guards to destroy traditional works of calligraphy, and had his own script used on the armbands of the Red Guards doing the destruction. Even after his fall from grace, Mao-style calligraphy is still given respect in modern China, and his distinctive style still appears on cigarettes, cars, in museums, and on word processor fonts.