Dictators Are Born on the Fringes

‘I have often noticed that nationalism is at its strongest at the periphery’—Christopher Hitchens

Dictators Are Born on the Fringes Dictators Are Born on the Fringes

Uncategorized April 13, 2014 0

Dictators Are Born on the Fringes ‘I have often noticed that nationalism is at its strongest at the periphery’—Christopher Hitchens Nationalism is a recent... Dictators Are Born on the Fringes

Dictators Are Born on the Fringes

‘I have often noticed that nationalism is at its strongest at the periphery’—Christopher Hitchens

Nationalism is a recent human invention. The dictators it creates are often born on the very edges of the nations they rule.

Nationality is so intrinsic to our identities that it is hard to imagine a world without it. The rules we live by, money we spend and politics we follow are all dictated by the country we’re born in.

Before the Enlightenment, people often tied their loyalty and identity to a king, city, religion or ethnic group. It took the rise of democracy and republics for the idea of nation as a symbol of pride—and an object of loyalty—to take hold.

Now and again, a person comes along who exploits this idea of the nation. These nationalist dictators hurt the people they rule and often lead their countries into ruinous wars.

Many of them also have very loose relationships with the countries they dominate. Sometimes they aren’t even from there.

Hitler is the most famous example. He was born in Austria and didn’t renounce his citizenship until 1925. He spent the next seven years in limbo, with no country to call his own.

During his rise to power in the ’30s, his lack of a country was a political liability. In February 1932, Hitler’s allies in Brunswick granted him citizenship. In March he ran for the presidency of Germany. He won more than 30 percent of the vote.

Hitler had been German for less than a month.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon lead France out of a bloody revolution and onto the fields of battle. Europe feared him. He swept across the continent and built an empire.

Napoleon was born on the island of Corsica in 1769. The island is closer to Italy than France and had belonged to Genoa until a few years before. The treaty that made Corsica a part of France dates to 1768. Napoleon was only technically French.

It was a fact his classmates growing up never let him forget.

As a kid, Napoleon hated France. At the age of his 10 his parents sent him to a boarding school where he was bullied and beaten for his Corsican heritage. He couldn’t speak French and had to learn quickly. He spoke with a Corsican accent for the rest of his life.

He dreamed of liberating Corsica. Of pulling it out of the clutches of the vile French.

A petty man may dream of revenge and never do a damned thing. A clever man bides his time, takes over a country and leads it to war. Perhaps nothing tastes sweeter than leading the people who bullied you into the cold, unforgiving wastes of Russia. Some may call it an over-reaction. We call it commitment.

Joseph Stalin

Russian history is full of larger-than-life leaders. Current president Vladimir Putin is just the most recent in a long tradition of grandiose personalities. Few are more revered and feared than the Man of Steel himself, Joseph Stalin.

Stalin, who stood up to the Nazis and the United States. Who sent his enemies to Siberia. Who casually murdered millions. Who only barely passed as Russian.

Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili in Georgia, on the eastern fringes of the Russian empire. Stalin spoke Georgian and was identified as an ethnic Georgian for most of his life. He didn’t learn to speak Russian until entering the seminary at the age of eight.

Stalin made few public appearances. He was ashamed of his Georgian roots. The thick black hair, bushy mustache and funny accent might betray him at any moment. He chose to avoid the public when he could.

Hard to believe that a man who killed his enemies and erased them from photographs was scared someone might find out where he was born.

Sun Yat-sen

He’s a Chinese national icon. His face graces stamps and money. Statues of him stand everywhere. He’s even the namesake of a university. Sun created the political philosophy “Three Principles of the People.” One principle is—literally—nationalism.

He was instrumental in the student protests of the early 20th century, the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China. Sun is the father of Chinese nationalism. But he spent a lot of time outside of China.

Sun was born in the village of Guandong just outside of Hong Kong, a British colony. Sun marveled at the city’s infrastructure. He spent a few years in Hong Kong schools before leaving at the age of 13 to live with his brother … in Hawaii.

After four years in Hawaii, Sun had picked up English, learned British history and began to embrace Western religions. His brother—afraid Sun would become a Christian—sent him home to China. It didn’t work. Sun was baptized in Hong Kong.

Sun also had a fake Hawaiian birth certificate. As his revolutionary activities escalated, Sun fled mainland China more than once to escape prosecution and raise funds. But America imposed immigration and travel restrictions on Chinese citizens. Sun used the forged birth certificate to move freely between the countries.

He later renounced his U.S. “citizenship” and explained its necessity but his political enemies often pointed to it as proof Sun was not Chinese.