6 Enlightened Ideas Brought to You by Evil Empires
If history teaches us anything, it's that it's way harder to pick out the good guys from the bad guys than the movies would lead us to believe.
In fact, some of history's most face-blastingly savage regimes came up with some shockingly progressive innovations in health, human rights and, well, everything else.
The Nazis Get the Anti-Tobacco Ball Rolling
We put this on the list at great risk to our future political careers. You really can't say anything good about the Nazis without it getting taken out of context in a campaign ad, and obviously pointing out that, say, Hitler's soldiers were well-groomed doesn't excuse their many, many, many atrocities.
So nothing we're about to say about the Nazis makes us feel even the slightest bit bad about slaughtering them in one video game after another.
Your dapper Mechsuit won't save you this time, Hitler.
They were the first to point out that, hey, tobacco kills people.
Although Adolf Hitler had a 25-cigarettes-a-day habit early in life, he eventually came to find the addiction disgusting. Especially once German scientists discovered the link between tobacco and lung cancer, at which point the Fuhrer initiated the first anti-smoking campaign in modern history, and the most successful one throughout WWII.
And yeah, of course the motivation for the campaign was bizarrely linked to racial purity, because they were, after all, the Nazis. But what really mattered was that they were the first to link smoking during pregnancy with stillbirths and miscarriages, and went so far as to ban tobacco ration cards for pregnant women and Nazi ladies under the age of 25, just in case they got knocked up with Aryan spawn.
The Nazis were also the ones who coined the phrase "passive smoking" and outlawed smoking in Nazi offices, schools, buses and trains. And they actually restricted tobacco advertisements in 1941, almost 30 whole years before America bothered to do the same.
Score one for the Nazis.
The Aztecs: Eaters and Educators of Children
Before Cortes and his poxified Spanish troops infested the Americas, the Aztecs were the reigning lords of central Mexico. With an empire spanning the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and a capital city supporting at least 200,000 inhabitants, no can argue that the Aztecs didn't have their business together.
Unfortunately, a big part of their "business" involved their religion, which had a few snags in it for junior Aztecs. Snags like worshiping gods who drank baby blood like water, and required ritualistic child sacrifices for every little heavenly favor, like rain, successful harvests or their continuing existence. So, yeah, the Aztecs rolled like that.
The Aztecs' non-sacrificed kids were beneficiaries of the world's first mandatory education.
The same guys who ate their babies in exchange for rain also went to great lengths to educate the undigested kids. And unlike most civilizations of the time, they weren't just interested in smartening up the rich boys. In fact, the Aztecs were arguably the first in the world to require all of their living children to go to school.
Aztec High graduation ceremony, Class of 1440 . GOOOOO JAGUARS!
Aztec kids were homeschooled until their teens under the close supervision of their local Principal Skinner. While at home they were required to memorize nuggets of Aztec wisdom, presumably little proverbs that didn't apologize for the slaying of childhood playmates. From there, they could either attend a school to study the liberal arts and agriculture, or another to study government, medicine and the fine arts.
Also, just to be on the safe side, they were taught how to kill people. And probably how to eat their still beating hearts.
The Mongol Hordes Were Big on Feminism
The Mongolian empire was so hardcore that the entire 13th and 14th centuries are actually referred to as "The Age of the Mongols." Yes, TWO WHOLE CENTURIES claimed by the mofos who took over Eurasia like a swarm of people-killing locusts.
Experts estimate that the Mongols were singularly responsible for the deaths of between 30,000,000 and 100,000,000 people across Asia, Europe and the Middle East, a feat that is only rivaled by the deaths resulting from the entire second World War.
And if Ghengis' alcoholic son hadn't died an early gin-soaked death, the entire continent of Europe might have gotten the "Mongol Special" as well.
Women were the ones pulling the strings at home.
You know the idea that if women ruled the world, there would be no wars? Bullshit. One of the most violent civilizations in the history of the universe gave extraordinary privileges to its women, and look at where it got them.
Ghengis Khan's mother was one of his main advisers, and he let his wives help him choose his successor. And the only reason why the Mongolian army was so ferocious in the first place was that women were allowed to run the show back home so the men could make fighting their full time jobs.
Mongolettes could own property, divorce and even remarry. And while their female Persian neighbors were wrapped up in burqas and their Chinese subjects were deforming their feet as signs of subjugation, Mongol women were free to train for the military if so inclined. Which means that there were probably Lady Mongols out there killing men, children and the unborn as well.
I will kill your younglings.
Speaking of which...
Soviet Russia Allowed Women in Combat
The 20th century is going to be remembered for some bad stuff. Somewhere up there with the really horrible, the unthinkably horrible and the so awful that there are no jokes to be made, like the mass rape of Berlin by Allied Soviet soldiers at the end of World War II.
In the end, experts estimated that between tens of thousands to millions of women and girls all over Germany and Poland were raped by occupying Russian forces. And thousands more committed suicide or were executed before Soviet authorities finally separated troops from civilians.
Fuck. Here's a bunny to lighten the mood a bit.
So, while they did as much or more to defeat the Nazis as anybody, there's a reason the Russians were the bad guys after World War II was over.
The Soviets were among the first to let women fight in combat.
Not just the occasional warrior lady with good fighting chops either. Entire female battalions were recruited and allowed to enter combat during World War II. In fact, as many as 800,000 women served in the Red Army's combat forces.
Here we see a proud Russian woman and her noble steed.
Out of these 800,000 lady fighters, 200,000 received commendations, and 89 were named Heroes of the Soviet Union, the USSR's highest honor. Women were trained as snipers, tank operators and pilots, and one whole unspeakably hot regiment known as the Night Witches dropped 3,000-tons of bombs on their enemies.
These women have bigger balls than you ever will.
So at the same time that the Soviet Army was rivaling every evil regime ever in woman-hating horibbleness, they were also bestowing unprecedented rights to their own women.
To compare, American women didn't get to go into combat until 2001, and even now a lot of people are still pretty pissy about it.
The World's First Evil Empire Was Also the First Melting Pot
Of all the evil empires on this list, the Akkadian Empire is probably the one you're least likely to have heard about, since they haven't turned up as the bad guys in any historical blockbusters.
But damn, they should. Way back in the 26th century BC, people were just getting the hang of living in cities. Akkad was one of the many city-states in what is now Iraq, and all was well until this guy named Sargon came to power and decided to invent the concept of expansion by invasion. Seriously, the guy invented the concept of an evil empire. He used the world's first standing army to implement his new invention by taking over most of the Fertile Crescent, as brutally as possible.
So every single subjugated nation in history can lift their crushed and conquered voices and sarcastically thank this guy:
And thank his fusilli beard while they're at it.
The Akkadians also practically invented cultural sensitivity.
It wasn't like everyone was only three generations from Noah at this point. Racial, tribal and ethnic conflicts separated the people of the Middle East back then just as they do now.
So in order for Sargon to control the world's first centrally governed empire, he had to dispatch his government officials all over the damn place to learn about other cultures and shit. And he governed each region according to what he learned. Some places got a heavy hand, others didn't.
"Keepeth thy pimp hand strong." - Sargon
Even more surprising is that he often assimilated local rulers into the government itself, and as a result, Sargon gets the gold star for inventing the world's first multiethnic government. And in the Middle East, no less.
There's a first and a last time for everything, we guess.
The Bad Guys From 300 Helped Invent Modern Government
Damn, was there anybody worse than the Achaemenid Empire (aka, Persia in 300)? What with their savage king Xerxes going around invading the civilized world while riding on a huge golden throne carried by slaves?
"To Burger King. I need a Whopper!"
And all of their, uh, monsters...
OK, so maybe 300 isn't the most accurate source for historical information. Still, the Achaemenid Empire was the largest empire the world had ever seen (in fact, it was quite a bit larger than even the Roman Empire would be). So that means a huge chunk of the world was living under brutal, unrelenting horror, right? Under the thumb of huge, egomaniacal jackasses wearing gold chains?
First of all, the Persians got where they were by being organized in a way that all of the empires since would try to copy, from a state-of-the art system of roads to a postal service. But that stuff is all par for the course, right? After all, if the Empire in Star Wars had a postal system, you can bet that shit got delivered on time.
Though, Luke's hut had no mailbox.
But then came Darius the Great (that is, the father of 300's Xerxes) who insisted that his gigantic government not simply consist of huge men in loincloths smacking slaves with clubs across three continents. He established a wave of government reforms to combat corruption on a scale that half of the governments today don't bother with. With all the various regions of the empire under the control of local governors, Darius started a system of royal inspectors/hall-monitors so that no one guy could let his own douchebaggery run wild.
See, honesty was kind of a big thing with the Persians. They threw around the word "truth" the way Americans talk about "freedom" (and in fact lying could get you the death penalty in some cases). Their religion demanded it. Yes, that included 300's walking golden dildo, Xerxes.
That might be why the people conquered by the Persians seemed to do pretty well. In fact, they were so progressive we question their label as an "evil" empire at all, and wonder if that dude Leonidas kicked down the well wasn't carrying a fruit basket (note: He wasn't).
Allow Cracked to be your history book a little longer, with The Insane Histories of the World's 6 Tiniest Nations and 6 People Who Secretly Ruled The World.
And to further expand your noggin, check out Cracked's De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew.