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Trauma begets Trauma: The personal life of dictators

July 15, 2018 | Expert Insights


The Holocaust was the murder of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War 2. It took the Germans and their accomplices four and a half years to murder 6,000,000 Jews. The murderers were not content with All jews were meant to suffer and die, with no reprieve, no hope, no possible amnesty, nor chance for alleviation.

Beginning in the morning on March 16, 1988, and continuing all night, the Iraqis rained down volley after volley of bombs filled with a deadly mixture of mustard gas and nerve agents on Halabja. Immediate effects of the chemicals included blindness, vomiting, blisters, convulsions, and asphyxiation. Approximately 5,000 women, men, and children died within days of the attacks. Long-term effects included permanent blindness, cancer, and birth defects. An estimated 10,000 lived, but live daily with the disfigurement and sicknesses from the chemical weapons.

In 1971, General Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and declared himself president of Uganda, launching a ruthless eight-year regime in which an estimated 500,000 civilians were massacred. His expulsion of all Indian and Pakistani citizens in 1972—along with increasing military expenditures—brought about the country’s economic decline, the impact of which lasted decades.         


Somewhat predictably, dictators do not relate in a normal manner to other people in a person-to-person, empathetic way. They may associate themselves with "people" as a whole or "people" in a tribal or abstract pan-world sense (as Hitler may have had with pan-Germanism, or Stalin with pan-Slavic sentiments), however dictators get high on power, an insatiable drive that gets progressively worse, or malignant with time.

Adolf Hitler’s formative years were nothing short of hellish. By age 10, a young Hitler had already witnessed the death of a sibling. His younger brother Edmund died of measles at just 5 years old. His father, Alois, who was a drunk who would savagely beat him, often with the whole family watching

 died, when Adolf was only 13.

On December 21, 1907, his mother, Klara was pronounced dead due to breast cancer, and an 18-year-old Hitler was left without the person who meant everything to him.

With all of the death and tragedy he experienced starting at a young age, it can be seen why such a man may have viewed human life as cheap- a view reflected by the way in which he governed. His destructiveness as a leader was his way of lashing out against a world that had so deeply wounded him.

Saddam Hussein’s struggles began even before he was born. His father either walked out on the family about 6 months prior to his birth. This exacerbated his mother Subha’s already fairly serious depression. 

While she was pregnant with Saddam, she would pull out clumps of her own hair and tried to commit suicide on more than one occasion. She also continuously tried to give herself an abortion by beating on her pregnant stomach. Shortly thereafter, Subha’s eldest son died of cancer at just 12 years of age, plunging her into an ever deeper hole.

Saddam was sent to live with his uncle, Khairallah until the age of 3 and was sent back to live with his mother when she remarried. Her new husband was a man named Ibrahim al-Hassan. He routinely physically and psychologically abused the young Saddam. Al-Hassan would also make Saddam steal for the deeply impoverished family. Saddam became so fed up with his horrible situation that, at only 10 years of age, he ran away from home

One of the defining characteristics of Saddam’s regime was his immense paranoia. He constantly felt as though he was surrounded by enemies and had a suspicion of everyone he came across. It is largely due to this suspicion that he saw it as necessary to have a police state in which everyone was constantly being watched and under surveillance.

Idi Amin was born into the small Kakwa tribe in Koboko, a village in northwestern Uganda. His mother was a self-proclaimed sorceress of the Lugbara tribe and he was in his 30's before he had regular contact with his peasant father. Amin’s childhood was a total wreck because he was abandoned by his mother when he was still a baby. He, however survived the street-wise way, selling snacks and doing casual work to earn a living. Abandoned by his father, raised by his fanatically religious mother, and devastated by the economic depression of the Ugandan protectorate, Idi Amin’s childhood left him lonely, bitter - and ruthless


                Our assessment is that the vast majority of those who experience great hardship during their formative years don’t go on to become murderous tyrants. However, it would be foolish to discount how these experiences contributed to the molding of the ruthless, callous, power-hungry psychological profile that is a common thread amongst these men.