We'd love to say that being in a position of power brings out the best in people, that taking on responsibility prompts thoughtfulness, dignity, and responsibility. But it seems that the political stage attracts fewer mighty lions than its does mentally unstable clowns with more quirks than a manic pixie dream girl. Here are a few prominent world leaders who didn't let their positions interfere with their strange obsessions and eccentricities.
No weird dictator list is ever complete without an entry on Adolf Hitler. Since we've already talked about his strange obsession with Disney characters and his crazy Holocaust board game, we figure it's time to go full Vanity Fair and ask the question: What did Hitler like to read while he wasn't busy genociding?
While most non-Germans may not have heard of him, with over 200 million copies sold, Karl May is the most popular German writer to have ever lived. Surprisingly, his works weren't Germanic in the slightest, as the 19th-century novelist wrote pulpy Wild West stories about a noble Native American chief called Winnetou. Not only popular with the dime novel crowd, May also had so very distinguished fans, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, Albert Einstein, and Franz Kafka. But his most infamous fanboy must've been Hitler, who kept an entire shelf of May's Wild West stories at his bedside, where we like to imagine he read them under the covers with a big flashlight.
German Federal Archives
Like any obnoxious fan, Hitler wanted everyone to love May as much as he did, so he started distributing copies of the books to his soldiers, making him the first-ever military commander to give his troops homework. But the author's wartime influence did not end there. Inspired by the dime novel heroism of Winnetou, Hitler also started hating the "lack of imagination" with which his generals were fighting a world war. To correct this, he instructed these military geniuses to take ideas from these pulpy novels so they could put a creative spin on their usual raping and pillaging. Which is deeply ironic, seeing as both May and his fabled protagonist were outspoken pacifists, hating both violence and oppression. Hitler had the reading comprehension of a particularly witless kindergartner.
While lots of tyrants have their quaint little hobbies they obsess over, most of them prefer to obsess about the same thing: themselves. The current narcissist world champ is beyond doubt the former "president" of Gambia, whose official title was "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh," or as we like to call him, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, Esquire.
Jammeh ruled the tiny African country from 1994 to January 2017, when he was removed from power and exiled for -- among other things -- skimming some $50 million from the government. During his time in power, Jammeh was known for his hatred of homosexuals, randomly executing prisoners, and insisting he could cure AIDS and infertility in women. He also vowed to rule for a billion years or until Allah removed him -- the latter coming a lot quicker than he expected. But what really set him apart from your boilerplate mad tyrant was his Daenerys-like tendencies to give himself the most long-winded bullshit accolades known to man.
In addition to giving carpal tunnel syndrome to anyone having to type his full name, Jammeh bestowed upon himself quite a few made-up accolades. In September 2010, the state newspaper announced that President Jammeh had "bagged four awards." President "Barrack" Obama allegedly gave him the "President's Volunteer Call to Service Award" and a "Platinum Award," which, surprisingly, don't exist. Further diversifying his imaginary award portfolio, Jammeh also claimed the Printers and Publishers Guild of Northern Germany gave him an "Honorary Vocational Bachelor's' Degree." Last but not least, he became an Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska -- a title that, despite Nebraska not having a coast, does indeed exist. But unfortunately, the award is only given to Nebraskans who have demonstrated "outstanding citizenship." In other words, not to Jammeh. Then again, those are the kind of problems for people who don't arrest journalists for trying to figure out the truth.
We've already told you how Saddam Hussein wrote a sappy romance novel, and we've talked about his supervillain-lair-style bunker that survived 20 cruise missiles and seven bunker-busters (but not Iraqi looters). But you can't truly know a person until you find out what their favorite snack is. Luckily for us, Hussein was very vocal about his raging hard-on for a bag of Doritos.
Darko Bandic-Pool/Getty Images
According to the soldiers who guarded Hussein during his three-year captivity, he was initially a Cheetos man, and would "get grumpy" if they ever ran out. During one such Cheeto outage, the soldiers gave him Doritos instead, and Saddam never looked back, happily coating the metaphorical blood on his hands with the actual orange residue of Doritos Nacho Cheese. In fact, much like how he used to do with dissident families, the incarcerated Hussein could make an entire family-sized bag of Doritos disappear in a mere ten minutes. "That's all he talked about, that's all he wanted to eat after that," his former guard said.
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
Ironically for a man who inhaled enough Doritos dust that he probably had miner's lung, Hussein was also a total germaphobe, cleaning his table, metal trays, and eating utensils with baby wipes before using them. In December 2006, the chips were finally down for Hussein, who was found guilty of a whole bunch of stuff and executed by hanging. We wonder what his final meal was ...
During his reign, Muammar Gaddafi had so many quirks that he could've been the poster child for Obsessive Dictator Disorder. He was obsessed with Condoleezza Rice, had a cadre of female virgin bodyguards, collected celebrities like Pokemon, and kept trying to convert models to Islam. And while the people of Libya will forever have to pinch the bridges of their noses when remembering his legacy, there is another group of people on whom Gaddafi left his mark -- because his name was on their chests.
Back in 1987, the German hockey team ECD Iserlohn was bankrupt and in dire need of a sponsor. How bad off were they? So bad that they hit up Gaddafi for funds. Even more surprisingly, the desert dictator was immediately onboard to fund an ice hockey team.
Of course, like any good tyrant worth his salt, Gaddafi wasn't about to hand over $900,000 out of the goodness of his heart. In exchange for the funds, the team had to market Gaddafi's book -- on their jerseys. Even worse, the book wasn't some kooky autobiography, but The Green Book, a haphazard collection of his theories, political opinions, philosophies, and whatever else rolls around in the brain of an egomaniacal tyrant.
Germany not being, say, the U.S., it didn't allow a sports team to advertise the ramblings of some dangerous dickhead. Onlookers quickly made way for protesters, and the team was sure they'd get banned by the hockey federation. But before anyone had to step in, the team itself voted that they'd rather not play as skating billboards for a deranged colonel and his dumb book. The team disbanded and their jerseys became the most sought-after memorabilia for the few people who are both really into sports and Middle Eastern politics.
For the uninitiated, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov might be the maddest world leader who didn't suffer from syphilis. A millionaire businessman, he was picked by Vladimir Putin to run the Russian Republic of Kalmykia for the better part of two decades, while simultaneously being the long-serving president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE). And while calling Kirsan Ilyumzhinov a "dictator" might not be technically correct, he is seen as a wildly corrupt leader who is on the U.S. sanctions list and has a chapter in his autobiography titled "It only takes two weeks to have a man killed." But gauging his validity as a political leader is a tricky sociopolitical subject that would require a lengthy debate.
Besides politics and taking hella bribes, Ilyumzhinov's true passion has always been chess.
During his time in power, he made chess lessons mandatory for all children living in the Kalmykia region. He also wrote to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and offered him a cool $10 million to stick a "World Chess Center" on Ground Zero, which would be "built in the form of a chess figure, the king, of glass and concrete." He also insists there is "some kind of code" in chess. It's not, he claims, a coincidence that there are 64 squares on a chessboard and 64 codons in human DNA. Of course, there are also 64 positions in the Kama Sutra ...
John Gichigi/Getty Images Sport
And while this would already be enough to realize he's a few bishops shy of a chess set, Ilymzhinov went one knightly leap further when he admitted that he believed "chess was brought to Earth by aliens." The former president knows this because in 1997, he was abducted by aliens. After being given the grand tour of their UFO, he had a nice long chat with said aliens, who not only informed him that they were the ones who gave mankind chess (and sweetcorn), but also that "if not enough people take up the game, the aliens might destroy our planet." Then again, is a world in which we have to listen to a crazed millionaire telling us to love chess or die really a world still worth saving?
We're not going to not suggest you pick up a copy of Chess For Dummies, just in case.
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