Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1921 -1996) is now largely forgotten outside the Central African Republican (CAR). But there used to be a time when he made headlines as the world’s most batty ruler. A military officer, Bokassa launched a coup in 1966 and seized power. He then ruled the CAR as its dictator until 1979. Erratic and prone to delusions of grandeur, Bokassa declared his small landlocked country an empire. He then anointed himself Bokassa I, Emperor of the Central African Empire.
Bokassa lived as a captain in the French colonial army when Central Africa gained its independence from France. The newly-independent country’s president, a distant cousin, appointed Bokassa to head its armed forces. He showed his gratitude by staging a coup, ousting his cousin from power. And, of course, appointed himself president. A huge fan of Napoleon Bonaparte, Bokassa emulated his idol by crowning himself Emperor of Central Africa. He then bankrupted his impoverished country with a lavish coronation event that cost about 80 million dollars. This event featured a diamond-encrusted crown worth 20 million.
4. The Central African Emperor’s Mad and Murderous Rule
Bokassa’s rule created a reign of terror. During his reign, he personally oversaw the judicial beating of suspects. He also ordered that thieves lose an ear for the first two offenses, and a hand for the third. Bokassa also tortured suspected political opponents, then fed their corpses to lions and crocodiles kept in his private zoo. He also practiced cannibalism. In Paris-Match magazine, an expose that ran photos of a deep freezer in Bokassa’s palace, containing the bodies of children. The best known of Bokassa’s atrocities includes the arrest of hundreds of schoolchildren in 1979. The reason? Refusing to buy school uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. Bokassa personally oversaw the murder of more than 100 of the kids by his imperial guard. That caused an uproar, and soon thereafter, French paratroopers deposed Emperor Bokassa I.
A Lavish Exile
However, he spent his exile comfortably in France, financed by millions of dollars embezzled from his impoverished country. Which, of course, he stashed in Swiss bank accounts. But his comfort did not last for long. Within a few years, Bokassa managed to waste his fortune; reduced to poverty. Things got so bad that he made a brief reappearance in international news in the 1980s. One of his hungry children was arrested for shoplifting food. Bokassa returned to Central Africa in 1986, where he was tried and convicted of murder and treason, and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was released in 1993. He lived another three years, before dying in 1996.
Zhu Houzhao (1491 – 1521) became China’s emperor at age 14 in 1505. Perhaps making a teenager supreme ruler was a mistake: Zhu was uninterested in governing, and disregarded state affairs. Instead, he dove headfirst into a profligate lifestyle. Marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices that set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s downfall. The 14-year-old emperor entrusted governance to trusted eunuchs. He devoted himself to pleasure seeking. With governance left entirely in their hands, palace eunuchs became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold. Taxes soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials. In the meantime, Zhu took to learning foreign languages and traveling incognito.
An Alter Ego
He began creating an alter ego for himself, a generalissimo Zhu Zhu. Upon whom, he lavished praise and rewards. He also built a city block within the imperial palace so he could pretend to be a shopkeeper. But he possessed less innocent habits. He took his companions on thrill raids. Bursting into the homes of wealthy citizens, they violently seized and kidnapped their daughters, holding them for ransom. Officials who criticized the emperor’s erratic and irresponsible behavior were arrested, tortured, and executed by the hundreds. He eventually drowned in 1521, when his pleasure barge capsized. This finally brought his reign to a merciful end. Although he left the scene, the damage he left behind proved permanent. During the years of his reign, without oversight from the throne, palace eunuchs went too far. They achieved such power within the government’s structure, subsequent emperors were unable to dislodge them.
Hans Frank (1900-1946): one of history’s most murderous lawyers. As an enthusiastic early Nazi, he took part in the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Armed with a law degree, he boasted the role of Hitler’s personal attorney, as well as general counsel for the Nazi Party. When the Nazis took power in 1933, Hitler rewarded Frank’s loyalty by making him a Reich Minister without portfolio. He also made him President of the Reichstag – Germany’s parliament. Hans’ true career as a monster emerged during WWII, when Hitler made him Governor-General of newly-conquered Poland.
An avid proponent of Nazi racist ideology, Frank set out to stamp out Polish identity. He also wanted to let the conquered Poles know that they existed merely to serve. Mainly, as de facto Helots for the Aryan ‘Master Race’. To that end, Frank ordered the execution of hundreds of thousands of Poles. He also engineered the wholesale confiscation of Polish property. He ordered the rounding up of hundreds of thousands Polish workers. They shipped them to Germany to toil as slave laborers. Even that paled in comparison to his most atrocious actions, all directed at Poland’s Jews.
As ruler of rump Poland, Hans Frank instituted a reign of terror, featuring the segregation of Jews into ghettos. Then their wholesale extermination. It did not matter that he fathered five children. Frank reconciled affection towards his own kids with coldhearted indifference towards the murder of thousands of other people’s children. In December of 1941, he instructed his subordinates.
“Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feelings of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and whenever it is possible”.
Under Frank, the mass murder of Jews morphed from ad hoc massacres to deliberate policy. Of the Holocaust’s six extermination camps, four were located in Frank’s General Government. After the war, he tried to pretend he knew nothing about the millions of Jews killed in his territory. But documentary evidence exposed the lie in that claim. Captured by US troops in the war’s closing days, he faced trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Convicted, sentenced to death, he hanged on October 16, 1946.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading