While most of us enjoy a good dictator joke (tee hee, Mao Zedong), we're way more likely to do so over a foamy latte than right in the dictator's face, surrounded by armed members of his stormtroopers. Not because we're cowards or anything, we swear -- we just don't run into too many dictators in our day-to-day lives. Besides, we still need to talk to our downstairs neighbor about how loud he plays his music, and we're waiting for the right time.
And then there are these folks, who stared right into the eyes of heavily armed evil and slowly, purposefully, without ever breaking eye contact, raised both middle fingers.
#5. The 73-Year-Old Man Who Played Chicken With the Entire Soviet Union
In 1968, Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Soviet Union (the highest position in the land -- basically the king of Russia) was in his office minding his own business when Ludvik Svoboda, the president of Czechoslovakia (a symbolic position lacking real power, like "employee of the month" or "Joe Biden"), burst in and demanded that Brezhnev release the 26 Czechoslovakian political prisoners he was holding. Brezhnev said no, because Svoboda was 73 years old and had no authority -- what could he possibly do?
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He could invade with the entire Czech population, but the Soviet army wouldn't even notice.
The Badass Moment:
Svoboda pulled out a pistol, held it to his own head, and said, "If I kill myself, my blood will be on your hands, and no one in the world will believe you did not murder me."
Everyone in the room knew he was right: Czechoslovakia had recently established some progressive reforms to see if they could reboot communism into something less oppressive and murder-y. In response, Brezhnev launched some significantly more oppressive murder blitzes, invading with 500,000 troops, capturing the 26 politicians, and forcing them to sign the Moscow Protocol -- a commitment that would undo all of their work. The world didn't know all the fine details yet, but they understood that things were fairly tense between the two countries, so if a highly respected veteran of both world wars had shown up with a cannon blast in his forehead, it wouldn't have been great for the USSR's image.
Czech roulette uses every chamber.
The prisoners were released only hours later, and then immediately given vodka "so they could become human beings again." (That's not a joke, just an accurate description of how things happen in Russia.)
#4. The Journalist Who Openly Defied Ayatollah Khomeini
Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini was not a hit with the ladies. Shortly after coming to power, he declared women too stupid for authority positions, lowered their legal marriage age to 13, and curtailed their human rights wherever he could. For example, in 1979 he demanded that Western female journalist Oriana Fallaci wear a chador (a Muslim garb similar to a burqa) during the interview, and although she put it on, she wasn't shy about sharing her opinion -- namely, that forcing her to wear it was barbaric. About halfway through the interview, Khomeini got fed up with her insolence and snapped: "If you do not like Islamic dress, you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women."
The Badass Moment:
Fallaci saw an opening: "That's very kind of you, Imam," she shot back. "And since you said so, I'm going to take off this stupid, medieval rag." Then she ripped off the chador right in front of him. (Our sources don't specify whether she was wearing a bitchin' 1980s-Madonna-esque rocket bra underneath, so we are forced to assume she was.) Khomeini was furious. He left the interview and didn't return for 48 hours.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
He spent all 48 of them fanning himself and saying "Oh, my lawd!"
He shouldn't have been so surprised: Fallaci was pretty accustomed to fuckin' up dictators' Christmases. She had spent her childhood smuggling bombs and weapons for the anti-fascist resistance in Nazi-occupied Italy, and as an adult she had already made a name for herself as a journalist by getting in the faces of everyone from Henry Kissinger to Moammar Gadhafi. But like we said, Khomeini did return, and his son made Fallaci promise not to bring up the chador thing. So, of course, she immediately did. And that's when the world stopped making sense, because at that moment Khomeini's normally stern and cruel visage cracked open and emitted a terrible raspy sound that onlookers would later come to realize was laughter.
According to his son, it was the first time he'd ever done so.
#3. The Prime Minister Who Sent Mussolini Crying to Hitler
During World War II, dictator Benito Mussolini finally took the training wheels off of his regime and set his invadin' eyes on Greece -- a country with an army one-tenth the size of his own, because hey, you gotta learn to walk before you can run. Mussolini was so confident in his plan that he didn't even bother telling Hitler about it. He just sent an ambassador to the Greek prime minister to deliver an ultimatum: Let Italy move in, or get a beatdown, Italian style (that's like a normal beatdown, but with a side of red sauce and unlimited breadsticks).
Igor Stevanovic/iStock/Getty Images, MikeyGen73/Photos.com
So, death, basically.
The Badass Moment:
The Italian ambassador delivered his message at 3 a.m., and Prime Minister Ioannas Metaxas immediately replied with "It's war, then." Yes, immediately -- he either didn't bother to get out of bed to make the statement or, more likely, was still up nurturing a hard ouzo-drunk. Italy invaded an hour and a half later, but if you know your history, you know exactly how things go when Greeks get all laconic. Within three weeks, the Greek soldiers had not only pushed the invaders out, but launched a counterattack into the Italian-held Albania.
In the end, Mussolini got a comeuppance worthy of a family sitcom: He had to go beg Daddy Hitler to bail him out of an invasion that was never approved in the first place. The German reinforcements did eventually occupy Greece, but Metaxas' insane decision to send his armies up against a force that should have steamrolled them ended up playing a key role in the Allied victory: Sending troops into Greece forced Hitler to delay his invasion of Russia until later that winter, and we all know how that went.
German Federal Archives
Suddenly, hot bread and marinara don't sound so bad.
Now, we can't really gloss over the fact that Metaxas is a pretty controversial figure in Greek history. Necessary to his victory were suspending parliament, curb-stomping human rights, and installing himself as a temporary dictator of Greece -- but hey, even if you think a guy's kind of a dick, that doesn't mean you can't admire his balls.
Welp, that's as good a sentence as any to end the Greece entry on.