- File Size: 8310 KB
- Print Length: 282 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books; Reprint edition (January 10, 2017)
- Publication Date: January 10, 2017
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01N3R5HP3
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #918,613 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Digital List Price:||$16.99|
|Print List Price:||$16.99|
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Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators Kindle Edition
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I highly recommend this book not just for the fascinating stories and histories but also as a teachable book on the corruption of political systems like Communism and Fascism. It really hits home to the importance of individual liberties and constitutional rights.
Nordlinger begins by writing that this is not a book about the original monsters, the dictators themselves. While they must be mentioned, they are dead. The offspring are important for a few reasons. Where are they now? What are they doing? Do their current activities serve as a possible springboard for the resurgence of policies of the original dictators? Have the children decided to live in as much as obscurity as possible? Are the children defensive about their parents lingering reputation? Are they trying to make amends or apologies for their parents?
All of these questions are addressed by Nordlinger. Not necessarily answered, but addressed with researched information from primary and secondary sources. The 20 chapter titles are each the name of a dictator. The index with hyperlinked page numbers allows the reader to explore the overlaps in the lives of several of the dictators such as Hitler-Mussolini, Hitler-Franco, and Hitler-Stalin.
A thoroughly fast-paced and enjoyable (despite the topic) read, I found that after finishing it, I had abandoned my usual practice of highlighting what I considered important points. That is why I liked the inclusion of an index.
Too few have had the courage to face their fathers’ actions. Most have either denied reality, dismissing it as politically-motivated disinformation, or chose to hide from the world and from themselves. Unsurprisingly, virtually all displayed paradoxical, inconsistent, even schizophrenic behavior.
These men and women have been dealt an unusual hand—and played it in their various ways. We learn a little more about tyranny, freedom, fate, choice, and people.
The children of the following dictators are described by Nordlinger. The dictators are Hitler (a Frenchman claimed his mother was impregnanted by Hitler during World War I); Mussolini; Franco; Stalin; Tojo; Mao; Kim; Hohxa; Ceausecu; Duvalier; Castro;Qaddfafi;; Assad; Saddam; Khomeni; Mobutu; Bokassa; Amin; Mengistui and Pol Pot. The author believes that Mao was cold and cruel not caring for any of his children. Stalin was a cruel and cold man who did not treat his three children with respect and love. His daughter defected to the West. The book's concept is intriguing and Nordlinger has done his research.
Jay Nordlinger examines the offspring of 20 20th century dictators. They cover over a century of history, and span the globe.
The stories are quite diverse, but also have much commonality. What struck me was how much these people might (or might not) have in common with the children of notorious criminals, the children of Hollywood celebrities, and the children of political families.
Top international reviews
Telling the stories of their children in one book is justified by the surprising resemblances, even though the dictators included are a mix of capitalist and communist; mad and sane; European, African, Asian and Caribbean (but none from mainland South or Central America).
It considers questions like:
What is it like to grow up the son or daughter of a feared dictator like Pol Pot, Gaddafi, or ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier?
Do dictators’ children tend to turn out like little dictators, or more like normal people?
Does a feared dictator, after a hard day at work organising the murder of opponents, go home and watch television with his children or discuss their schoolwork, like an ordinary parent?
What is it like to be known as the child of a notorious former dictator? What do the children feel in retrospect about their father’s crimes: shame, approval, denial?
Both Stalin and Castro told their children to stop bringing him letters from their classmates at school begging him to release their arrested relatives.
Most, but not all, of the dictators covered shockingly neglected their children, sometimes not seeing them for years and sometimes not even aware of grandchildren’s existence. The type of people most likely to become dictators seem able to inspire affection and loyalty from those around them but to care mainly about themselves. As exceptions, the most attentive and affectionate fathers among the dictators considered here were Franco in Spain, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and (surprisingly, given how cruel he could be) Idi Amin in Uganda.
Mao, on the other hand, was probably the most callous father of all, as devoid of feeling for his families as he was for human beings generally. Pity Li Na, daughter of his last marriage, calling at Mao’s residence for years in the hope of being allowed to see her father, who she venerated from afar, but always turned away.
Pity even more children of his first two marriages, abandoned as babies in the countryside to an unknown fate, so that their distraught mothers could dutifully follow Mao and his Communist guerrillas during his early campaigns. The wives who made this awful sacrifice for Mao, he eventually discarded too.
Mussolini, effective founder of fascism and one of the first ‘modern’ dictators, while he may not have spent much time with them, showed genuine fondness for his legitimate children. However, when the mother of his illegitimate son made embarrassing scenes, Mussolini had them both shut away for the rest of their lives mental hospitals on trumped up grounds, where he ignored them.
His relationship with his favourite daughter Edda was badly strained when Mussolini had Edda’s husband Count Ciano executed for disloyalty in 1943. One of Edda’s children later published a book whose title translates as ‘When Grandpa had Dad Shot’.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in Cambodia was so terrible that some considered him the most evil man of the Twentieth Century. Yet his daughter, sired when Pol Pot was aged 60, remembered him fondly as a kind man. She was reportedly such a pleasant girl that her teachers and classmates did not like to upset her illusions by telling her the truth of what they or their families suffered under the rule of her late father. She went on to work as an accountant in a sawmill business.
A few of the children e.g. ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier in Haiti and Kim Jong-Il in North Korea, went on to be equally cruel dictators themselves.
Whatever you may say about the American-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew the terrible Saddam Hussein in 2003, it at least ensured that his even more terrifying son Uday, who died in a shoot-out with American troops, would not succeed his father.
Uday took advantage of his untouchable status as eldest son of the dictator to commit a horrifying series of crimes. He once killed a servant in front of the visiting wife of President Mubarak of Egypt and assembled guests. On another occasion Uday lost his temper at a party and machine gunned his own uncle, who had to have his leg amputated, also killing several gypsy dancers. Saddam stepped in to ensure reconciliation between Uday and his uncle. He is not recorded to have cared about the gypsy dancers.
Uday had women from all levels of Iraqi society snatched so he could rape them, including even brides in one case seized at her wedding reception (causing the bridegroom to commit suicide on the spot) and in another case while on honeymoon (the bride killed herself afterwards by jumping from a balcony).
Fortunately the author does not dwell in detail on the above kinds of horror but says just enough that we can understand how bad these people, and the regimes that let them behave like this, must have been.
Nicu Ceausescu, son of the Communist dictator of Romania could be almost as bad as Uday Hussein, making even the drunken, useless thug Vasily Stalin, younger son of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, seem almost benevolent by comparison. (Vasily’s half-brother Yakov was more good-natured, but his father thought little of him. When Yakov unsuccessfully attempted suicide, Stalin said scathingly “You can’t even shoot yourself properly”. However, Joe Stalin later acknowledged that Yakov died bravely, 'like a real man', in World War II )
A few children and grandchildren of dictators, including, surprisingly, more than one descendant of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, have used their status to criticise the excesses of the regimes, when ordinary citizens might not dare.
However, and this must say something about human psychology, the vast majority of children and grandchildren of dictators in this book, even if the dictator neglected or maltreated them and their mothers, now venerate and defend the dictator’s memory and deny or excuse his crimes, however great.
Honourable exceptions include Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana and Fidel Castro’s illegitimate daughter Alina Fernandez, both of whom escaped to the United States and wrote memoirs that the author Jay Nordlinger recommends. This led me to read ‘Castro’s Daughter’ by Alina Fernandez and Svetlana Stalin’s ‘Twenty Letters to a Friend’ and I am glad I did.
Covering the children and sometimes grandchildren of 20 different dictators in one not very long book means that some are dealt with quite briefly. However, many dictators are so secretive about their personal lives that little information is available anyway.
The Cuban news media, for example, were forbidden to discuss whether Fidel Castro was married or how many children he had, although he once claimed to have “a tribe”. The Chapter on Castro therefore relies quite a lot on Alina Fernandez’s memoir of growing up as Castro’s daughter, partly because she and her book are interesting but also because of the sparsity of other information.
However, the identities of some of his other children are known. Some of his sons have had government jobs; some have engaged in business, “the kinds of shady business”, as the author puts it, “available to dictators’ sons”, who can get away with breaking laws to which ordinary Cubans are subject. A recurring point in this book is that children of Communist dictators, even if they pay lip service to socialism, rarely have any scruples about using their privileged birth and connections to get rich in business.
Two of the most important and notorious twentieth century dictators, Lenin and Hitler, had no children and so do not really belong in a book like this. However, while there is consequently no chapter on Lenin, perhaps because readers will expect a book about twentieth century dictators to include Adolf Hitler, the first chapter, not as good as the rest of the book, is about a Frenchman who claims to be Hitler's illegitimate son from an affair while Adolf was serving in the German army in France in World War 1. However, the author and most historians are sceptical. (If I was really Hitler’s son, I would keep quiet about it!) Later chapters have more substance.
There are extreme restrictions on information available through official channels about North Korea, but a large literature based on reports from visitors and defectors containing often unverifiable information . It is therefore perhaps unavoidable that the chapter on the founder of North Korea’s ‘dynasty’ Kim Il-sung and his children does not deal with some potentially very important points alleged by other writers. E.g. it does not discuss the claim in ‘Dear Leader’ by Jan Jing-Sung, a defector with some inside knowledge, that Kim Il-Sung was almost powerless in the latter part of his ‘rule’ as his son Kim Jong-Il's secret Organisation and Guidance Department effectively ran the country . Also not dealt with is the evidence in President Bush’s former special adviser Victor Cha’s book ‘The Impossible State’ that Kim Jong-Il arranged his own father’s death under the guise of medical treatment. If those suggestions sound far-fetched, you do not have to read much about North Korea to realise that just about anything is possible in that strange, secretive country.
If Amazon star ratings allowed I would give this between 4 and 5 stars. Overall, ‘Children of Monsters’ is a good, interesting and thought-provoking book that will lead even those already widely read in modern history into areas new to them.
I also recommend especially the author Jay Nordlinger’s history of the Nobel Peace Prize ‘Peace they Say’. I also liked his collected articles in ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, although the latter often deal with events and people in his native USA that may not be familiar to British readers.
Mr Nordlinger’s conservative views are apparent from all his books, but they are all written with such charm that even people who do not share his opinions may be glad to read them.