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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

From Nero to Nixon, it’s Not a Long Way

Thursday 31 May 2007, by T J S George


It’s scary to realise that decisions affecting the lives of multitudes are often in the hands of crazy men, drunkards and egomaniacs. A passing fancy, a momentary whim—and wars break out, massacres are launched.

We dismiss Caligula as history’s greatest debauchee, but he reigned as Roman Emperor for four tyrannical years. When not in the thick of mass orgies, he was busy arranging lavish dinner parties for his horse.

Nero killed his wife and also his mother. The dictator Sulla invented the concept of patriotic murder. He would simply issue a public notice branding someone as an enemy. Any citizen was then free to kill that person and receive a state reward.

Actually, Rome’s “mad emperors” are the subject of books and research studies. What of their modern counterparts? The West has taught us to believe that today’s “mad emperors” are the likes of Hitler and Idi Amin. Of course, they were men of unspeakable cruelty. But does cruelty become less cruel when it is perpetrated by leaders of democracy? Was the mass killing of Vietnamese and Iraqis by America any less blood-curdling than the mass killing of Jews by the Nazis? They see to it that the Nazi crime is kept fresh in our memory, while the American crime is not even recorded as such.

The fact is that Western democracy also has its share of “mad emperors”. Lebanon’s famous Druze leader Walid Jumblatt once actually described George Bush as a “mad emperor”. The number of books by Americans themselves calling Bush names is astonishing. He is clearly the most hated President in American history.

A new book throws much light on a predecessor and his Rasputin. This is “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power” by Robert Dallek. There were many who believed that Nixon’s presidential excesses pointed to a serious case of mental disorder. The new book shows he was indeed paranoic, hungry for power and cherishing his control over others.

Henry Kissinger, with exactly the same character traits, formed a lethal team with his President. They had no qualms about ordering assassinations, supporting killer regimes, cheating the American Congress and carpet bombing a neutral country like Cambodia and pushing it into the communist camp. Dallek notes that both men had traumatic childhoods that left them insecure and prone to delusions of grandeur. In chasing their goals, they wouldn’t stop to distinguish between honesty and crookedness.

Evidently, both men were sick. According to Dallek, Nixon wanted Kissinger to go for therapy to relieve his psychological disorders. Kissinger, who referred to Nixon as “that madman” and “our drunken friend”, would refuse to call the President if a crisis developed at night because Nixon “drank exceptionally at night”. In an earlier book (The Price of Power, 1983), Seymour Hersh had reported that there was a Nixon aide who “often wondered what would happen if the Soviet Union attacked at night”.

For five years, the world was at the mercy of this drunken “mad man” and a therapy-needing, double-dealing manipulator. Were Nero and Caligula any worse? n

(Courtesy : The New Indian Express)

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