The top ten: Unsung villains
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 18 August 2013
Tom Doran started this one with his suggestion for historical figures who don't get as bad a press as they should. One of my correspondents suggested each one ought to have 'profited from their sociopathology and have at least one Cassandra in their story'. I'm not sure I've kept to that rule, but here is what we came up with…
1. Guy Fawkes "Terrorist and ally of continental absolutism. Now a cuddly folk hero," says Matthew Forrest.
2. Augustine of Hippo For the corrosive guilt, self-doubt and shame he embedded, by elaborating the doctrine of original sin so firmly in the Western mind. Thanks to Matthew Tomalin.
3. Winston Churchill Nominated by Pete Deveson: "His successes are well known, but many people don't know about the Bengal famine, or setting troops on miners in the General Strike."
4. Hugo Chavez In a similar vein to Guevara: "Absolutely horrific man and pretend-democrat, who many on the Left still idolise." Rob Marchant.
5. Che Guevara "A megalomaniac who agitated from ideology for a nuclear war that would have killed millions of his own people," says Robert Kaye. "Mass murderer," adds Dan Fox.
6. Henry VIII "Remembered for his wives but his tyrannical self-obsessed rule leading to more than a century of religious strife is often overlooked." Will Cooling.
7. John F Kennedy "An appalling, sleazy, dangerous bastard held up as some kind of hero," suggests Chris Mochan.
8. Erich Ludendorff Lost the First World War almost single-handed; blamed Jews and Marxists, originating the "stab in the back" myth; undermined Weimar; ended up an obscure lunatic too deranged even for Hitler. Nominated by Tom Doran.
9. Richard I "Useless king who spent zero time in England during his reign, and bankrupted the country fighting in the Holy Land," opines Neil Powell.
10. Eamon De Valera "A terrible human being who is somehow remembered as an Irish hero. And he signed the book of condolence for Hitler's death purely to annoy Britain." Kevin Feeney.
Next week: Stupid car names
Coming soon: Headlines in the form of questions to which the answer is no. Send your suggestions (by Tuesday 27 August), and ideas for future Top 10s, to firstname.lastname@example.org
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