4The Man Behind Genghis Khan: Yelu Chucai
Besides being the world's greatest conqueror, Genghis Khan is the common ancestor of about one percent of the entire human population, thanks to the sheer amount of boning he did. Genghis organized the Mongol clans into the kind of brutal force that later inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's orcish horde.
Yet for all his seemingly mindless razing and pillaging, Khan was a man with a plan: show no mercy, run a strict rule of law and annihilate your enemies. It wasn't a terribly nuanced plan, but goddamn did it work.
The Man Behind The Scenes:
Among Genghis's circle of advisers was Yelu Chucai, a clever outsider who found himself in the unique position of an intellectual among rapists (tell us about it!).
Nicknamed "Long Beard" by Genghis for his... long beard, Yelu was a tempering voice during Mongol rule. For instance, Genghis saw nothing in China but a place that lacked pasturing for his horses and had said that "It would be better to exterminate the Chinese and let the grass grow." Yelu, himself a foreigner, appealed to Genghis's self-interest to save many Chinese cities.
Given that Genghis had just three motivations--pasture for ponies, women for raping and gold for pillaging--and given that two of those would be most easily attained by utterly destroying every Chinese city he came upon, Yelu's job wasn't easy. But he convinced Genghis that a whole lot more gold could be had from China by merely taxing them.
Mongolopoly. Quite possibly the simplest game ever invented.
Time and again, Yelu used this strategy to convince Genghis to show mercy (a concept previously unknown to the Mongols) to many Chinese cities--the capital city of Kaifeng among them--to the spitting rage of his bloodthirsty generals.
The Final Bitchslap:
Yelu's system of taxation and governance proved too profitable to ignore. So much so that even Genghis's successor, Ogedei, kept him on staff to run the bureaucracy of Northern China. This from a man who once openly mocked Yelu's insistence to tax cities rather than raze them, saying, "Are you going to weep for the people again?" Yelu's response to Ogedei was that empires could sure be conquered on horseback, but not ruled from them. He's been proven right for about eight consecutive centuries now.
3The Man Behind Tsar Nicholas II: Grigori Rasputin
Tsar Nicholas II was the last emperor of Russia before it descended into a capitalist-hating, sexy-accented, spy-making communist giant. As emperor, Nicholas oversaw Russia's entry into two failed wars, including its disastrous incursion in World War I, and was so piss-poor at his job that he was given a pink slip in the form of a bullet to the head.
This led to Stalin's reign of terror, the building of the Berlin Wall and the formation of the band t.A.T.u.
Make of that what you will.
The Man Behind the Throne:
Which is not to say there wasn't enough blame to go around to Disney villain and present-day Russian boogeyman, Grigori Rasputin.
An up-and-comer mystic healer of the Russian plebes, Rasputin was called upon in 1905 to heal Alexei, the hemophiliac son of Tsar Nicholas. Although a spoiled brat who was fond of face-punching people who bowed before him, Alexei was Nicholas's only heir and thus deemed worth salvaging, even if it meant inviting this man to their home:
"Hi, I'm Rasputin, and I'd like to tell your underage daughters some exciting things about my penis!"
After some moderate success nursing Alexei back to health, Rasputin took the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the royal family, becoming spiritual adviser to the Tsar's wife. Given his humble origins and the foreign roots of Alexandra, this bond quickly aroused the distrust of the Russian elite, who circulated rumors that the two were having a romantic affair.
A caricature of Rasputin and the Tsaritsa, upholding Russia's rich tradition of boob-holding portraits.
Rumors notwithstanding, Rasputin held the ear of the royal family for nigh a decade, and in one of his most ill-fated pieces of advice, he told the Tsar that victory in World War I would only be achieved once Nicholas personally led the army forward. Nicholas had no actual military experience, but was a great fan of prophecies which said that important things hinged on his mustachioed presence, so he went forth into the battlefield to better directly manage the utter failure of the Russian war machine.
The hardest thing about being me? Mustache.
In his absence, Rasputin made even bolder moves, convincing Tsaritsa Alexandra to fill cabinet posts with men of his choosing and serving as a de facto leader through her. With the war going poorly against Germany, and a German Tsaritsa ruling them from under the thumb of an unpopular mystic, an attempt on Grigori Rasputin's life was clearly forthcoming.
On December 16, 1916, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov and the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, stepped up to the plate, poisoning, and shooting, and strangling, and beating, and drowning Rasputin.
The Final Bitchslap:
In a prophetic letter written shortly before his death, Grigori wrote some absurdly creepy words:
"I feel that I shall leave life before January 1 [check] ...If I am murdered by boyars, nobles, [check] ...Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no nobles in the country. [check, check, check] ...If it was your [Tsar Nicholas'] relations who have wrought my death, then...none of your children or relations, will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people. [Jesus Christ, check]"
This goes beyond a mere last laugh, and well into the territory of a last cackle from beyond the grave.