If you think 2016 was a crap year, try 1933 on for size! What made the 1930s so miserable? Dictators!
Not enough people know about dictators, but Dictator Minute aims to fix that. Take a minute every day to learn something new about dictators. You’ll be glad you did!
8. Dictators Find a Way to Make it Work
Stalin wanted to undertake a massive infrastructure project called the “Byelomorkanal,” a canal that connected the White and Baltic Seas.
Everyone was like, “Yeah, right, Stalin. How’re you going to pay for it? That’ll never happen.”
Stalin outsmarted everyone by arresting everyone, and putting them to work building the Byelomorkanal.
Want to be a hit at parties? Learn more about Stalin’s convict labor.
7. Dictators Love Tall Buildings
Stalin had a nasty shock in 1946 when he realized that “foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there are no skyscrapers.” His reaction was typical of dictators, who find the absence of tall buildings named after themselves intolerable.
In 1947 Stalin marshaled his vast prison labor force and built the seven gothic skyscrapers that would be his architectural legacy. Stalin’s cabinet of serial killers, toadies, and pedophiles lived in some of them, as did the celebrities the dictator favored.
A while back, city boosters tried to get Muscovites to call the buildings “The Seven Sisters.” They were mindful of the crime and corruption associated with Stalin’s name. It didn’t work. These were Stalin’s buildings, not Moscow’s, and the people knew it. Stalinkas is what they are called. They are and always will be Stalin’s buildings.
6. Dictators Don’t Respect People with Disabilities
Hitler believed that people were a lot like racehorses. If two fast, strong racehorses got together, the result would be a really strong, fast, baby racehorse. But pair a racehorse with a slow, stupid donkey? The result of that union would be a less-superior-than-possible animal, and that just would not do.
This is why, years before Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews got underway, the program to murder mentally and physically disabled people was already in full swing. Hitler sent teams of “consultants” to hospitals around Germany to identify the disabled and mark them for death in the gas chamber. These unlucky people — around 200,000 of them — were the first of Hitler’s victims. The methods he used to kill them would be the same ones he’d use a few years later on people who, although not disabled, were still not genetically fit enough to keep around.
Hitler did not like disabled people, but it was nothing personal. It was just eugenics.
5. Dictators Have Support
Hitler’d been talking about his plans for Jews since way before he became Chancellor. But many German people weren’t too worried. The Jews are a problem, they said. Nobody knows what they’re up to; they can go anywhere and do anything. How do you tell a good one from a bad one? It’s not safe.
Some people hoped the restrictions on the Jews would at least calm the situation down a little. The constant chatter from Jews and their friends about Hitler’s plans for Jews was riling folks up. People were constantly arguing, and anti-Semitic activities were increasing.
Other people said it was a special situation. An emergency. The Jews are attacking us, but our rights are safe. The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, they said, right there in Article 136.
4. Dictators Are Underestimated
Germany’s leaders didn’t take Hitler seriously until it was too late. Establishment politicians thought they could appease him. They believed that if they named him Chancellor of Germany, he’d have no choice but to fall in line with business as usual. They told themselves that others in the government would influence Hitler and mitigate his power.
Instead, wily Hitler gave himself absolute power through the Enabling Act of 1933! Germany’s institutions failed to protect it from a dictator, as many had hoped. Hitler simply passed laws dismantling those institutions.
3. Dictators Fool the Journalists
Journalist Dorothy Thompson initially thought that Hitler wasn’t a threat. She believed he wanted to be a dictator, but, c’mon. Him? In power? She called him “Little Man”; wrote that he was insignificant. She was convinced the public would see right through him.
“Imagine a would-be dictator setting out to persuade a sovereign people to vote away their rights,” she wrote in 1932.
When Hitler became Chancellor a year later, she changed her tune and tried to warn people. She documented the brutality and terror she saw as the Nazis consolidated their power. But it was too late.
Like most dictators, Hitler did not like to be criticized. In 1934 he revoked Thompson’s credentials and threw her out of Germany.
Want to be a hit at parties? Read more about Dorothy Thompson.
2. Dictators Don’t Like Treaties
After WWI, the Germans had this treaty they had to live with, the Treaty of Versailles?
Lots of Germans hated it. It crushed them economically and made Germany dependent on hostile foreign powers for its survival. It was humiliating and unfair, said many. They called the establishment leaders who signed the treaty criminals and backstabbers.
Hitler also did not like the Treaty of Versailles. He called it “the greatest villainy of the century” in Mein Kampf.
“The millions of German unemployed are the final result of this development,” he said in a speech in 1933. Hitler wanted to get rid of the Treaty of Versailles and, a year after he became Chancellor, he did!
1. Dictators Hold Grudges
“To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed — there is nothing sweeter in the world.”
This was Stalin, talking about his hobbies. The “victims” he’s referring to are the ministers and generals he chose to run the Soviet Union.
The turn-over on Stalin’s staff was high, thanks to regular purges. Stalin’s focus on petty grievances and imagined plots in his administration distracted him from the real threat massing on his border: the Nazis.
Stalin’s disorganized, depleted staff was no match for Hitler when he invaded in 1939.