5 Famous Historical Bad Guys (And Their Side Of The Story)
If you've seen a superhero movie in the last 20 years, you know how fascinated we are with origin stories. As a culture, we've spent more time filming Batman's parents die than we have researching cancer. If everyone went rock climbing ten times a month for the rest of their lives, it would still be a less popular hobby than watching Spider-Man's uncle die. The following origin stories may not be as well-documented as Krypton exploding, but they all actually happened in reality. And they kind of explain everything ...
The Koch Brothers Were Born From A Crucible Filled With Nazi Feces! No, Really!
The Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been manipulating the world of politics for a very, very long time. Their last name is actually pronounced "Coke," but don't let that dissuade you from thinking that the pair are a couple of dicks. There's a lot of money in being evil, and so, so much of that money comes from the Koch brothers.
Chuck and Davie, who have almost certainly never gone by those names, made their fortune the old-fashioned way: through oil, chemicals, and dead parents. And, like any self-respecting corporate antagonist, they now pour their considerable worth into fighting against science and rational thought. They fund studies and politicians that deny the existence of global warming, and they give generously to the cause of keeping people from giving generously to the poor. The point is, they're villains from a Captain Planet cartoon made flesh. But what made them like this?
It all started with the grittiest possible reboot of Mary Poppins. Now, whenever you discuss politics, the word "Nazi" gets thrown around a lot. It's usually unfair, but in this case it's unavoidable -- because David and Charles Koch were raised by a literal Nazi nanny. She had emigrated from Germany, where she was very pro-Hitler, and loved to tell fairy tales about naughty children getting tortured. Have you ever seen a congressman on TV arguing to destroy environmental protection and minimum wage and thought, "Jesus, who is funding this madman? Were they raised by Nazis? Were they psychologically tortured every day as a child?"
Yes. Strangely enough, exactly that.
The Koch children were subjected to some truly draconian toilet training: They were expected to poop at the exact same time each morning, or they would suffer castor oil and enema treatments. So yes, it's easy to be upset at the billionaires trying to burn the world down around them right now, but try to be understanding. They had Nazis forcing poop out of them when they were children.
Their nanny returned to Germany in 1940, almost certainly with bags of their feces to give to Hitler's scientists in order to create some kind of money golem. This seems like it would be good news for the children she terrorized, but it meant spending more time with their father. Fred Koch was a big believer in social Darwinism, which meant encouraging the boys to beat the shit out of each other to toughen them up. No matter what boys did in the Koch house, shit was expected to come out of them.
As the second-youngest brother, David took the worst of the "social Darwinism." Once, he was stabbed with a ceremonial sword. Another time he was bashed in the head with a polo mallet -- only the most bourgeoisie child murder attempts in this household. In the end, three of the boys joined forces to ostracize the gay one, then two of them joined forces to buy out the third one, and today Charles and David enjoy a life of funding evil and disinformation from a shadowy lair!
Thanks for the modern world, Nazi toilet training!
A Pitchfork Accident Caused Wayne Wheeler To Kickstart Prohibition
History is rife with huge reactions to much smaller offenses. Nixon got embroiled in Watergate because he was worried that Democrats were saying mean things about him, Genghis Khan razed a city of nearly two million people to the ground over the death of his son-in-law (sure, it's a death -- but two million to one is a pretty skewed ratio), and President Donald Trump brought up his apparently problem-free penis in a Presidential debate because someone commented on his tiny, useless hands. And yet few of these overreactions are as petty or impactful as the one from Wayne Wheeler.
Wayne Wheeler may have a name built for Rock and Roll, but he had all the bitchy insecurity of Adult Contemporary. Not a lot of people have heard of him, but the results of his actions are known nation-wide. He was a Republican lobbyist who rose up the ranks in the Anti-Saloon League, which is somewhere between Chess Club and The Trying To Suck Our Own Dicks Society in terms of sadness and respectability.
The ASL, as you might have guessed, was one of the more influential powers behind prohibition. They constantly lobbied to make liquor illegal, and Wayne Wheeler was more personally responsible for prohibition than perhaps any single person involved. And he wasn't fighting to criminalize booze out of the dullness of his heart. It turns out he had a very stupid reason.
As with many origin stories, Wheeler's began in his early childhood. He worked on his family's farm in the 1870s, and the Wheelers had several hired hands working alongside them. But they weren't great at vetting their employees, even by 1870s farmer standards. One day, a farmhand got so intoxicated before work that he ended up spearing young Wayne in the leg with a pitchfork. The leg wound was a superficial one that quickly healed, but the hole it tore in Wayne's heart was not so easily mended. He vowed from that day forward that intoxication would scrape no more legs! He swore to all the barnyard gods that this devil known as alcohol had tasted its last blood!
It sounds like Batman's origin story, only with every single detail made infinitely more trivial and pathetic, but Wayne Wheeler kind of won. Whereas Batman is still fighting crime eight hours a night, Wheeler made prohibition happen. It only led to a rise in organized crime and a decline in happiness, but he did it!
Kaiser Wilhelm's Crippled Arm And Terrible Mother Made Him A Total Jerk
Kaiser Wilhelm II was head of state in Germany during World War I, and you probably would know him as Germany's greatest asshole if not for Hitler, the undefeated champion of German assholery. The Trump of his era, Wilhelm would make wild, bullshit-filled pronouncements. He was terrible at most things, including tactics, and led his country into war, and to a humiliating defeat against Britain, France, and the Russians. In many ways, this humiliation led to the xenophobia and fascism that made the Nazis possible, meaning Kaiser Wilhelm II is a big part of Hitler's origin story. But what led to the cruel insanity of Wilhelm himself? Why, asymmetrical arms, of course.
Wilhelm was a breech birth, meaning he came out of his mother ass-first. Today, that means a flaw in the mother's bikini body. In 1888, it meant Wilhelm was born with a withered left arm -- a relatively minor disability, especially for someone of noble birth. Still, his mother (Princess Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria of England) was not okay with it. She became obsessed with fixing Wilhelm's stupid, but totally non-fixable arm. Over the years, she had a series of doctors and madmen come up with ridiculous schemes to de-palsy her son.
First, Medical Team Britain tried tying Wilhelm's right arm behind his back and forcing him to use his left. It was a plan that was pedestrian both in its imagination and its effectiveness. His disability was not a case of him "just not trying arm stuff hard enough." When this (obviously) didn't work, they moved on to more creative methods. And when we say creative, we mean "mostly crazy but with a little witchcraft as well."
They tried giving his lame arm an "animal bath," which clearly needs no explanation. Oh, it does? Okay then, it's when you take your withered arm and jam it into a freshly slaughtered animal for 30 full minutes. This lets you absorb the dead creature's "vigor." This didn't fix anything, probably because carcass vigor preservatives were still so primitive in the early 1900s. In our world of technological marvels, animal viscera stays filled with vigor for hours. Hell, you probably have two or three of your body parts up a sheep corpse as you're reading this!
His mother also tried electroshock therapy. Because why force your crippled child to fist dead animals all day, when you can just electrocute him? She also went on to try what can only be described as an "arm-stretching machine." None of these things cured his incurable arm. To make matters worse, his mother didn't even bother to hide her disgust. Wilhelm tried and tried over the years to win his mother's approval -- wrote her countless letters, sometimes with erotic undertones -- but she wouldn't write back. As you maybe didn't see coming, she instead corrected all his grammar mistakes, and returned his letters.
This, along with all of the other physical and emotional torture, led Kaiser Wilhelm II to be just ... a total fuck. And in a strange way, his story also proves that Grammar Nazis not only predated, but led directly to Regular Nazis.
A Political Loss Made George Wallace Into a Racist; A Shot To The Spine Made Him Not
George Wallace is well known for his remarkably long career as Governor of Alabama (four terms!) and the remarkable story about the time he hid his wife's cancer diagnosis from her so she could run as his surrogate Governor (seriously!). Despite the Republican Party being the classic choice of racists, Wallace ran as a Democrat, and started out fairly in line with the party's beliefs. He had a reputation as a fair and liberal judge before entering politics, but later made a hard pivot into open racism. So what happened?
Well, losing happened. George Wallace first ran for governor in 1958, and espoused radically progressive views, like how the Ku Klux Klan might be "bad." He earned an endorsement from the NAACP and said the memorable words, "If I didn't have what it took to treat a man fair, regardless of color then I don't have what it takes to be the governor of your great state ... I advocate hatred of no man, hate will only compound the problems facing the South." Surely being a respected man with honorable ideals would have led to an easy win, right? Not in 1950s Alabama. The KKK, angry at being judged so harshly, endorsed his opponent -- who crushed Wallace in the Democratic primary, before cruising to the governorship.
Wallace was pissed. Like pissed enough he became instantly and profoundly racist. He was quoted as saying, "I was out-n****red, and I will not be out-n****red again." That's a hardcore lyric for an NWA album, and it was from an NAACP-endorsed democrat!
Wallace's next race for governor had him shouting "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" He held a stand-in at the University of Alabama to protest black students being allowed in. He called Martin Luther King Jr. a communist, and supported suppression of civil rights protests. Maybe he turned evil because of his loss, or maybe he was pretending to hate black people so that evil people would vote for him, or -- and this is going out on a limb here -- maybe he was a shithead racist the whole time and just lying about it. Any way you cut it, the results were the same: He made the world a much worse place for a lot of people.
George's story has a bit of a happy ending, though, if you consider a racist shithead failing in several Presidential runs and then getting shot in the spine, "happy." This led to him renouncing his racist ways and, while running as a pro-equality candidate, he became governor again. And he won with, get this: huge support from black voters. And then America learned its lesson and never voted for a racist ever again. So long as you don't check any election results from that point on until the end of time.
Joseph Stalin Killed Millions of People Over a Girl
When it comes to body counts, few people match Joseph Stalin. He killed so many people it's hard to contemplate the depth of his dreadfulness. We'll try by saying he's like the Star Wars prequels, only if disappointment was murdering political prisoners. The world will never forget your crimes, George Lucas and Joseph Stalin. And speaking of, we need to come clean: This whole entry is a Star Wars analogy.
Just like how Darth Vader once went by Annie Skywalker, Joseph Stalin was also born with a much lamer name. He was called Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, a violent clash of letters he shortened to "Koba." Both he and Anakin had their hearts set on joining a holy order -- Annie the Jedi Academy, and Koba the Orthodox seminary. They were both rebellious youths, and they both clashed with authority. Young Koba was such a rebel, in fact, that the priests kicked him out of the seminary when he was 21.
It was around that time he met Ekaterina Svanidze, and fell in love. Koba called her "Kato," because nothing in Russia makes sense, and it never has. Again just like Anakin Skywalker, lovestruck Stalin spouted the most cringeworthy romantic words. Stalin said of Kato, "This creature softened my heart of stone." Good move, calling her a "creature," buddy! Stalin's sweet talk sounds like lyrics written by the bass player of an all-dad rock band. He killed more people than almost anyone who ever walked the Earth, but Joseph Stalin's dick game was the real atrocity.
Back to the Star Wars analogy: Remember how the death of Anakin's girlfriend made him evil, but it was all mindless, overdone drama? That's what happened to Stalin. A year into their marriage, Kato died in his arms. Some described her as "having lost the will to live," and that's possible, since Joseph Stalin truly, truly sucked -- but "typhus" would be a more accurate cause of death. At her funeral, Stalin basically declared war against all of mankind in a very George Lucas-like monologue, wherein he said, "She died, and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity!"
It was a line so stilted it should have led to history's first eulogy boos, but instead Koba made good on his promise! That nobody wanted! He changed his name to Joseph Stalin, and caused unspeakable devastation from that point onward. And perhaps most tragic of all, George Lucas, during his inadvertent adaptation of this story seven decades later, would invent Jar Jar Binks. So there you go: Three degrees of separation from Stalin to Jar Jar. That's a surefire win in our new drinking game, "Connect All The Worst Things Together, And Then Just Drink."
Stephan infrequently tweets over at @StephanRoget, where he's mostly chuffed he didn't need to use an underscore or anything. You can read his latest articles here.
For more ways reality outdoes superhero movies, check out 5 Real-Life Versions of Marvel's Avengers and 5 Real-World Criminals Who Were Certified Supervillains.
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