by Rick Bretz
Not having power for some people is too much to bare. So they go after it even if it means they have to take it away forcefully. There are not many bloodless coups. Power is too much of a drug for people to stand by without a fight. Even if taken peacefully, the people who had the power will pay some kind of price, either with their lives or with humiliation by the conquerors. No one can forget the sight of Mikhail Gorbachev being ordered around by Boris Yeltsin at the podium after he was forced to step down in the early 90s.
With the arrival of March, a couple of events come to mind. One is St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of St. Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The other being the Ides of March, March 15th. Besides being an old world celebration day it also known as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated at the base of the Statue of Pompey in 44 BC. This thought brought up the idea of other overthrows that have occurred in history and how important they were to the rest of world order.
The United States federal government has been stable since George Washington took office (arguably since the Articles of Confederation) because we have a somewhat organized election that begins a disciplined series of events culminating in the inauguration of the next President of the United States. Some countries never achieve this process resulting in violence and destruction.
Here are eight coups that have, in my view, significantly reverberated across the globe.
1. 1959: Fidel Castro overthrows Batista.
This one is number one on the list because it almost caused two countries to launch missiles at each other a couple of years later. The Cuban Missile Crisis might be one cause that began the whole 1960s free love, live and let live, drugs are fantastic thing in the sixties. They probably figured, “Well, if the governments are going to send missiles at one another at any second, and we don’t have a say in it, we’ll have fun while we can.” In addition, the United States is still dealing with the consequences of Fidel Castro ruling Cuba more than 50 years later with the trade embargo, travel restrictions and a Cuban constituency in Florida that can influence elections. Besides that, there’s the Cuban cigar thing.
2. 1804: Napoleon Bonaparte becomes Emperor of France by a coup d’état.
Once Bonaparte came to power, he waged war all across Europe and with Britain. This is high up on the list due to Bonaparte inflicting war and destruction across Europe until the Russian winter stopped him along with his own ego. Russian winters taught Bonaparte a lesson that Hitler forgot or refused to take into account more than a century later.
3. 1917–March: abdication of Nicholas II of Russia in favor of the Russian Provisional Government.
Call it an abdication, but Nicholas II didn’t give up the Czar title willingly and would have kept it if he had had an avenue to remain on the throne. Arguably his track record as a ruler wasn’t the best. He oversaw the economic and military collapse of his country as well as executed his political opponents. He persecuted the Jewish people inside Russia and generally made poor decisions domestically and on foreign policy. So, Vladimir Lenin had his chance but didn’t survive long enough to keep Josef Stalin out of the dictator seat. Instead, the over throw eventually led to a corrupted, paranoid communist government, Josef Stalin, bad decisions during World War II, an arms race, an Iron Curtain, a Berlin Wall, missile launch sites in Cuba, the edge of total annihilation from nuclear weapons, and several billions and trillions of dollars on both sides used to develop weapons of mass destruction.
4. 1792- by the National Convention against King Louis XVI of France, the French Revolution.
The difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that those in power after the US revolution didn’t go around with a guillotine lopping the heads off the aristocracy, creating domestic terror throughout the land.
5. 1969–Sep 1st: Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrows King Idris I of Libya.
A country gets the wrong guy in; it could take more than 40 years to get rid of him. This dictator is on here due to his sanctioning, supporting, and harboring terrorists who executed one horrible event, the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. This Libyan dictator was a thorn in many government’s sides, including several Middle Eastern countries.
6. 1936- by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña.
Generalissimo Franco was the picture of opportunism. He helped put down an earlier coup when it didn’t benefit him. Became a leader for the 1936 coup that led to a civil war. He assumed power and remained there for almost 40 years. As I stated earlier, once you get some of these guys in, it is difficult to get them out. He died in 1975. He had economic successes, but it doesn’t make up for the torture and human rights abuses. He kept power through censorship, imprisonment, forced labor camps, death sentences, and other political means. When it was beneficial to him, he moved his foreign policy towards the Italian and German fascist leaders prior to, and during, World War II. After the war, he maneuvered his political diplomacy toward the United States and NATO because he knew NATO wanted to stop the spread of communism.
7. 1909-The Young Turk Revolution breaks out in the Ottoman Empire against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
This is one coup that actually meant a great leap forward for a country. This coup led to an eventual Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turks. The father of modern Turkey is revered in his country. If it is possible to take a country and drag it into the modern world, that is what Ataturk did. He pushed through economic, social, and cultural reforms while creating a secular government. He was instrumental in separating Islamic Law from government. He mandated that Islamic Law be limited to the practice of religion while the government would use secular law.
8. 1971-Military in Uganda led by Idi Amin overthrows government.
This dictator’s regime was characterized by ethnic killings, corruption, nepotism, and according to most human rights groups, between 100 and 500 thousand people killed. Besides being arrogant and astonishingly brutal to his enemies, he started a war with Tanzania in 1978, the Uganda-Tanzania War. This war led to his fleeing the country and eventually landing in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.