Lords of Lilliput: History’s Greatest Tiny Tyrants

“Short people got no reason to live.” ~ from “Short People” (1977) by Randy Newman

History has proven Randy Newman dead right: short people are the scourge of civilization.

Though many of our most terrible rulers could tower over us, some humanity’s greatest horrors were perpetrated by those whose size gave them a serious chip on their shoulder. One less elf or Oompah-Loompah crack could’ve made the difference between prosperity and despair.

Wars, revolutions, famine, mass genocide, executions, murder, torture, destruction, rape, pillage—its amazing what can be accomplished by someone no bigger than a garden gnome with a serious ax to grind.

We all know the guy who has a complex named after him (more on him later), but here is some other historical tyrants whose small stature belied a fearsome cruelty:

Alexander the Great

Conquer Persia, Egypt, the Near East up to India—what else can a little prince with serious parenting issues do? Alexander had serious problems as a kid: a dad that wouldn’t accept him as an heir, and a mom that could put Gypsy Rose Lee to shame. Little Alex (we know he was short, exactly how short is uncertain) decided to channel his aggression by crushing the Persian army, leading his Macedonians to the Indus River valley, and spreading Greek culture and values along the way. It was a lot to pack in 33 short years.

Genghis Khan

At 5’ 1”, Genghis Khan was lucky he could even get on a horse. Once he got on, though, Genghis laid a path of rape, murder, pillage and destruction almost unparalleled in history. Probably starting with the fellow Mongols who kept with the short jokes, Genghis attacked anyone who got in his way: Chinese, Indians, Turks, Persians, Pashtuns, you name it. He never had trouble getting on the horse again—the pile of dead bodies gave him a boost.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Yep, the guy with the complex. Napoleon (5’ 6”), funny enough, was something of an international celebrity when he took over the French government in a coup in 1799. The honeymoon ended quickly, however, as his megalomanical zeal led him to crown himself Emperor of the French in 1804. It took a continent-wide coalition to finally bring down the pint-sized general—twice. After the first exile in 1814, Napoleon just didn’t understand enough was enough, and created another army only to be crushed at Waterloo in 1815. He would die in exile in 1821, and a psychotic condition was born.

Josef Stalin

Cruel from an early age, Josef Stalin grew (not much, only 5’ 6”) to be responsible for the deaths of at least 50 million people, mostly his own. First came his bloody path to power, isolating and murdering almost all the former cohorts of his predecessor, Vladimir Lenin. Then came a forced collectivization that caused a catastrophic famine, killing millions. The purges would send most perceived opponents either to a merciful death with a bullet or a miserable death in the gulags of Siberia. He treated women like garbage, his children like street dogs, his own cabinet like farm animals (I think Lavrentii Beria actually was one) and was still feared even through his death in 1953.

Fiorello La Guardia

You may have expected another New York City mayor here (don’t worry, he’s coming) but even our greatest leaders sometimes act in a tyrannical fashion. Legendary mini-mayor Fiorello La Guardia (5’ 0”) was no exception. Much of the sweeping reforms under his administration were done largely arbitrarily, and with good reason: the city council and Board of Estimate was still populated by Tammany Hall minions. He had a penchant for a violent temper and a tyrannical rule over his staffers. By the time he stepped down in 1945, many of his policies would lead to the budget crisis of 1975, when the city declared bankruptcy—proving that a little tyrant can do both good or ill.

Francisco Franco

In 1931, Spain kicked out its king and declared itself a republic. Francisco Franco (5’ 4”), an army officer in Spanish Morocco, was not cool with having people overshadow him, literally. Along with senior officers, he led a rebellion in 1936, and took over Spain in 1939 following a bloody civil war. Then Franco went buck wild on his enemies: concentration camps, forced labor, mass executions, persecution of leftists, intellectuals, Freemasons, ethnic minorities. He even had a fully-equipped Masonic temple built in his house just to fire him up! By his death in 1975, the new king, Juan Carlos, knew where the wind was blowing and worked to undo all the damage.

Kim Jong-Il

The current despot dictator of the paranoid police state of North Korea (5’3”) is descended from rather tall stock: the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, who was over 6 feet tall. Despite that height, Kim the elder made up for it in spades with his totalitarian control, lavish lifestyle and fanatical cult of personality. Young Kim had a wonderful example, and he took Daddy’s example to new heights: developing nuclear weapons while his people starved, alleged booze-fests and orgies with multiple women, continued totalitarian control with lots of surveillance, summary executions and a cult that might even rival his Daddy’s. NOTE: I think his official height also counts his hair.

Michael Bloomberg

No discussion of minute dictators can be complete without the current Lord Protector of the Big Apple. (By the way, his official height is 5’ 8”: that’s bullshit. I’m 5’9” and I tower over him.) Michael Bloomberg took over as New York City’s mayor in 2002, promising to continue the reform policies begun by his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani. He then proceeded to cut police patrols and city services (reversing a key part of Giuliani’s agenda), flood the government with consultants at exorbitant prices, neuter the City Council and rule the school system with an iron fist. The results are noticeably mixed, and no one can doubt Bloomberg’s nasty attitude and lust for power—a lust that culminated in changing the City’s charter allowing him to run for a third term in 2009. In his last term, Bloomberg has become even more tyrannical, especially as more accounts of malfeasance and fraud continue to surface. It’s a path of destruction that’s difficult to reverse.

There are many other diminutive terrors I probably neglected to menton…as well as those who can become tomorrow’s Stalin or Franco at any moment.

It just goes to show that a short joke can be a dangerous thing.


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8 responses to “Lords of Lilliput: History’s Greatest Tiny Tyrants

  1. Tiny Tim

    I assume this post was an attempt at humor but I fail to see why this funny. You have taken a sample of tyrants and politicians and picked out one arbitrary physical characteristic (shortness) as a basis for ridicule. Putting aside the obvious problem of judging height by modern standards, the most serious issue with this is that we could just as easily pick out another sample of nasty individuals on the opposite end of the height spectrum:

    Idi Amin (dictator of Uganda): 6’4” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idi_amin)
    Anders Breivik (shooter in Norway massacre): 6’ 0” (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/8657821/Norway-shooting-Anders-Behring-Breiviks-CV-and-biography.html)
    Fidel Castro (dictator of Cuba): 6’ 3” (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/dec/08/usa.cuba)
    Saddam Hussein (dictator of Iraq): 6’ 2” (www.imdb.com/name/nm0404010/bio)
    Edmund Kemper (serial killer): 6’ 9” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Kemper)
    Osama bin Laden (founder of al-Qaeda): 6’4” – 6’6” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osama_bin_Laden)
    Augusto Pinochet (dictator of Chile): Exact height unknown but described as “tall” (www.nytimes.com/2006/12/11/world/americas/11pinochet.html)

    So why is it that you attribute the nastiness in the men on your list to their shortness? Should I therefore similarly jump to the “armchair psychology” conclusion that the nastiness in the men on my list is due to their tallness? Perhaps they are suffering from “Attitudinal Dominance Disorder” (let’s give it a cute name by calling it a “Giraffe Complex”). When looked at in this manner, the absurdity of all this becomes apparent.

    The real issue here is that you began with a conclusion and then searched for evidence to support it. Your conclusion was: “Short men deserve to be ridiculed.” After that, it was simply a process of looking for nasty short men to serve up as examples.

    I see from your bio that you are a former research manager. Surely you must know that starting with the conclusion is not the way to do proper research. I also note that you are a social studies teacher now. I am glad you do not teach science. The reason there are such strict protocols in scientific research is to prevent the biases of the researcher from influencing the results. Sadly, the only thing you have accomplished with your post is to broadcast your own prejudices to the world. I would be ashamed of myself for acting so ignorantly and hatefully in public.

    As a teacher, consider the following scenarios:

    1. A black boy is being beaten up by a group of white boys.
    2. A girl is getting harassed by a gang of teenage boys.
    3. A short boy is being bullied by a taller boy.

    Why do I get the feeling that you would respond quickly to the first two scenarios and turn a blind eye or laugh in the third? The only socially acceptable prejudice now is against the short. Once upon a time, similar attitudes allowed racism and sexism to proceed unchecked. I really hope that you will learn from this and modify your outlook.

    If you will forgive my attempt at armchair psychology, I will close off by saying that at 5’ 9” you are not exactly a strapping physical specimen yourself so perhaps that “explains” why you feel the need to belittle those smaller than you. It is my observation that men who are truly confident never feel the need to make themselves feel better by denigrating others. I hope you find your way to such a place one day and become the role model that teachers ought to be.

    • Tiny tim,

      Sorry if this offended you, but lighten up. It is humor, after all–laced with history, but with humor nonetheless.

      Its humor that’s always a casualty to those that are both thin-skinned and feeble minded.

      • Tiny Tim

        Hello Mr. D,

        Thanks for the reply. I commented in the lengthy manner that I did because you put a lot of time and effort into your post so I felt my reply deserved a similar level of effort. If your post had been something lame along the lines of “Short guys suck!” then that would have not merited a response or even a notice.

        Your dismissive response illustrates my point exactly (and succinctly). There is a socially acceptable double standard that makes it permissible to ridicule people (mainly men) on the basis of height. When a short man stands up to ridicule, he is told to “lighten up” or is accused of having a Napoleon complex. If he does not stand up for himself, then he is perceived as weak and the abuse continues. On the other hand, if a tall man stands up for himself, then he is said to be “assertive” or a “natural-born leader”. Why is the exact same behavior cause for ridicule in one group and cause for praise in another?

        In the context of this post, why is it funny to point out that Josef Stalin was short and not funny to point out that Idi Amin was tall? It’s the same type of homicidal behavior in both. Is it not enough to say they were both miserable human beings?

        Just one last point: I assume that “thin-skinned and feeble-minded” was directed at me. I will have to let the reader decide as to whether or not I am feeble-minded. As for being thin-skinned, I really am not; after all, the name “Tiny Tim” was an attempt at a self-depreciating joke. In reality, I am perfectly comfortable with humor of all kinds (height-related or otherwise) as long as it’s done within an appropriate context: in a comedy club, sitting around drinking a beer with some buddies, etc.

        The problem is that this kind of double standard is so pervasive that it can easily carry forward into places where it is not appropriate: at school, in the workplace, and so forth. Just look at the fact that you are not even slightly embarrassed to be publicly ridiculing men on the basis of height. That should tell you something about societal norms. Would you write up a blog post making fun of “angry black men” or “ugly fat women”? I doubt it.

        The thing I find really scary is that you can dismiss this despite being a teacher. That’s what prompted me to write in the first place. That lackadaisical attitude is precisely what allows bullying to carry on unchecked in schools. I remember when I was in school there was one short kid (not me, I swear!) who was subjected to Abu Ghraib-style abuse from the taller boys. It was so bad that it would not have surprised me if it had prompted him to commit suicide. And the teachers? They turned a blind eye to it.

        As a social studies teacher, I am sure that you are well aware of the evolution of discriminatory attitudes over time. It is only when people speak up that attitudes start to change. So that was my attempt, for what it’s worth…

        Take care.

  2. Joe

    I’m going to have to add my voice here as well. I invite you to my website at http://www.supportfortheshort.org . So you teach social studies in the same city that I live in huh? The Bronx, eh? I wonder what would happen to your teaching career if you had entitled your article something like, Lords of the Jungle – History’s Greatest Black Tyrants, or Queens of Cruelty – History’s Greatest Women Tyrants? Surely someone would spot it and your teaching career would come to a rather abrupt end, wouldn’t it? But that’s a silly question to ask, since you already no doubt know the answer to it. So you consider what you write about short men humor? Strange that when it’s short people who are denigrated it’s always “humor” and we should “lighten up”. When it’s any other group, it’s serious business and must be taken seriously and punished with ridicule, charges of (name your group here ism), and even loss of job and a possible lawsuit. You, my friend, like every other person who denigrates the short-of-stature does so because you get no response on the part of short people. They just suck it up. If they respond angrily, they prove your point. If they don’t do anything, then folks like you continue unchecked and nothing gets done. By the way, what school do you teach at? No comment, huh? I didn’t think so.

  3. Teach Tolerance

    I’m inclined to agree with these folks, the article is quite bigoted. That being said, as a fellow teacher I find you disgraceful, for judging people based on their unchangeable physical characteristics.

    Should I assume you judge your students the same way, with such outrageous bias? A teacher is meant to be a role model and guide the minds of their students, to make them better people, not worse. I would not let any of my children be taught by someone like you anymore than I would like them to be taught by a well known racist or misanthrope.

    I wonder how you would evaluate the short students against the taller ones. However, we must lighten up, because my insults are just humor right? There is always casualties to the thin-minded.

    That is all, have a good day.

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