“The great man has no seed,” an old Japanese proverb maintains. The aphorism mostly holds in Jay Nordlinger’s Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators.
Breitbart News caught up with the author earlier this month. The dictator’s son commanding his attention also commands the world’s. The headlines call Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad a “butcher” and a “mass murderer.” Nordlinger calls him, or at least an earlier version of him, “shy” and “nerdy.”
“It’s a strange fact that Bashar Assad has killed many more than the old man Hafez Assad killed or probably dreamed of killing,” Nordlinger told Breitbart News after at a speaking event in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Hafez was a terrible and ruthless dictator. Bashar was, before he became a dictator, a relatively shy, nerdy gawky ophthalmologist. He was practicing eye surgery at the Western Eye Hospital in London.”
Nordlinger notes, “Bashar has kept the family business going, so to speak. He has killed as many as necessary to remain on the throne, to keep that family business going. I suppose his father would be proud.”
Along with North Korea’s Kims and Haiti’s Baby Doc, Assad belongs to that club of dictators’ children who grew up to become dictators. Most avoided that fate. Few broke free of the tribal bonds to denounce the bloodshed committed by their flesh and blood. Svetlana Stalin proved one such exception.
In 1967, she walked into an American embassy in India and announced her defection. “So you say your father was Stalin,” a bewildered embassy worker responded. “The Stalin?”
Stalin’s daughter wrote several truth-telling memoirs, converted to Catholicism, read National Review, and registered Republican. If that didn’t disturb her forebear resting near the Kremlin Wall, then certainly Svetlana’s daughter’s emergence as a Pacific Northwest hipster sporting various tattoos and piercings and peddling wearable wares at a boutique did.
Nordlinger concludes of Svetlana, “Her conscience rose in rebellion against her father and his state. This makes her exceedingly rare among sons and daughters of dictators.”
One disturbing mark of totalitarian societies remains the absolute loyalty to the state that compels kids to rat out parents. Ironically, the experience of totalitarianism moves the progeny of several totalitarians to denounce their bad dads.
In a book that vexes readers in search of patterns and takeaways, Children of Monsters provides evidence to suggest that rather than the treatment of subjects a dictator’s treatment of his own family—unsurprisingly neglectful and cruel in the case of Mao and Stalin, surprisingly warm in the instance of Tojo, and hot and cold for Mussolini—largely dictated the offsprings’ responses to their peculiar patresfamilias.