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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Dictators

by Ed Strosser and Michael Prince

Big news—North Korea, one of the most successful and long-standing dictatorships, has finally anointed its leader in waiting. The mysterious and youthful Kim Jung-un has been officially promoted to four-star general and stands ready to take control when his father gives the order, probably on his deathbed. But during his apprenticeship he has the rare opportunity to learn the family business.

There are a number of key traits that he needs to master. These habits, especially the seven we have identified as the most important, are essential for the success of any dictator. So, Mr. Apprentice, your lessons:

1. Shave the moustache. The United States rarely invades clean-shaven dictators. Your own father, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, has pulled more dastardly deeds and thumbed his nose at the American superpower more times than we can bear to count. Dangerously bewhiskered dictators like Saddam Hussein merely hint at the attempt to attain nukes or biological weapons and we sweep in to clean house. Shave the ‘stash if you’re hiding nukes.  

2. Become friends with France. All dictators need to cozy up to one of the big boys, and few countries offer a more alluring friendship package than France. Enjoy the French comforts of non-extradition treaty with anyone, combined with a long tradition of sheltering deposed dictators and kings should you become temporarily deprived of dictatorial power. France makes it easy to kick back after your long, illegal rule to spend lavishly on undeserving golddiggers and illegitimate children, all while subleasing empty palaces. Bonus: your pal is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Don’t forget the buttery croissants!

3. Embrace the long-winded speech. Regular exercise of the vocal cords for hours on end in front of a single, stationary camera works wonders in maintaining order by spotlighting the emergence of energetic self-starters unwilling to sit still for seven hours. Your enemies will be jumping out of their seats! To develop the proper vocal endurance and air chopping skills begin with one or two hour starter speeches.

4. Project an image of determination. The future should always, always look rosy. When sitting for official portraits, dress in a western-style suit, preferably of French or Italian design, paired with a tie of outstandingly bad taste. Chin up, eyes slightly squinty, jaw locked. That’s it. Preferred photo backgrounds should be off palace grounds and include mountain ranges, faceless underlings cheerily working along roadsides and other happy images of never-ending toil—do be sure to crop out heavily armed guards. Avoid: actual malnourished workers, cowering underlings, close family members so as to forestall succession issues and positive identification by Interpol.  

5. Never admit to being wrong about anything, ever. Admitting mistakes is for suckers. Nothing destroys a good dictatorship more than caring about public opinion.

6.  Shoot off your weapon of choice in public. Nothing says strongman better than squeezing off a volley of lead into the air from the palace balcony. Celebrate important national successes—such as winning a soccer match—in this fashion. It also provides incentive for the players: if they lose the next match the gun might be pointed at them.

7.  Enjoy frequent tantrums over minor issues and arbitrary decisions. For example, if you order rye bread on your sandwich and receive it on pumpernickel somebody deserves to die.  It keeps everyone focused on job, which is, of course, keeping you happy. Other advanced tactics include taking all credit for everything good that happens, delegating blame to others for any bad stuff that may occur and changing names of places on a whim. Renaming your country should be limited to once or twice if possible. 

Your mission, Mr. Apprentice, is now clear. Go forth, study hard and make your fellow dictators proud. Just don’t forget to shave.

Ed Strosser has a typical writer's career from book publishing to contracting to the restaurant business. He lives in Washington DC. Michael Prince is a lawyer and writer based in New York City.  You can read his tweets at @infosnack. Ed and Michael are the authors of Stupid Wars: A Citizen’s Guide to Botched Putsches, Failed Coups, Inane Invasions and Ridiculous Revolutions.  They are currently working on a screenplay based on the book.  

Image via Flickr, user Pan-African Newswire

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