Last year, the government of Burma moved. It just picked up all its personnel and left Rangoon for a fortified hideout city in the hills. It was, however, kind enough to leave a note for the press, explaining that it was moving, and leaving a fax number at which it could now be reached.
It was a strange decision, and one made for a very strange reason -- even among the odd reasons of totalitarian governments. Burma is, of course, a very bad sort of place, run by a military junta which tortures and imprisons those who call for democracy, and which has been, shall we say, less than energetic in its efforts to suppress the country's rampant drug traffic. Burma's government may have some sound political reasons for making that move. But experts also note that they also get policy advice from fortune tellers, which is where this bizarre idea of relocating the nation's capital may have come from. General Ne Win, a past dictator, is "said to have is once said to have decided to change the direction of traffic overnight [as a result of a fortune teller]," according to Burma expert Joseph Silverstein.
While getting national policy advice from the occult sounds weird, it is, sad to say, not exactly unusual. And the dabblings of a couple of American first ladies notwithstanding, it is usually the province of the most evil and repressive dictatorships in the world.
Liberia's former president Charles Taylor was recently captured and will face trials for his war crimes, which are too many and too horrendous to detail. But the history of Liberia's brutal civil war showed that Taylor and his rivals committed many atrocities out of a voodoo-like belief that they could extract "power" from the enemies they killed.
While these chiefs were certainly aware of the political power this fearsome reputation gave them, there is evidence that they really believed in it. When one of Taylor's rivals was murdered and partially eaten, he was found to be wearing several charms to ward off evil spirits -- one, reportedly, inside his rectum. Apparently, they were not effective. According to some reports (and make of these what you will) Saddam Hussein, whose mother was a fortune teller and who is said to be obsessed with the occult, also carries a magic charm with him for similar reasons.
A little closer to home, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega also waged a spiritual warfare against his enemies. When American journalist Frederick Kempe was asking questions around Panama City to write an incriminating book about Noriega, he received a visit from Noriega's personal magician, who tried to buy him off. When Kempe refused the offer, he received a ghastly voodoogram: a dead bloody animal placed under his hotel room's pillow.
Once again, if Noriega exploited this reputation for his affinity with dark powers for political ends, there is evidence that he really believed in it. When Panama was overtaken in 1990, and a manhunt for Noriega ensued, American troops discovered one of his hideouts featured a bloody voodoo altar.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that even Hitler really did seek out occult advice during his rise to power. The degree to which he did so has been exaggerated by some accounts, but it is undeniable that Hitler's rise to power was marked by a willingness to consult with the occult. In particular, his reliance on a (Jewish) medium named Erik Hanussen showed Hitler's capacity for self-deception:
...if the average Berliner thought Hanussen's prognostication absurd, Hitler certainly didn't. When Hanussen came to him that cold day in January, the Nazi leader was filled with dread anticipation, and kept the meeting secret should the results be negative. Hanussen placed Hitler on a seat in the middle of the room, examined his hands, counted the bumps on his head and sank into a mystical trance. The words he spoke filled the Fuhrer with elation, says Gordon.
"I see victory for you," Hanussen said. "It cannot be stopped."
What does all this mean? As a layman, it is out of my bailiwick to speak with any authority about whatever spiritual battles might rage behind these incidents. But as a student of politics, I feel a bit more confident in diagnosing a worldly root to them. Hitler, Charles Taylor, Noriega, the Burmese Warlords -- all of them were, or are, obsessed with power, control, and information. The states they ran (or run) employed spies, violence, and intrigue to gather information and subjugate their rivals. But for their paranoid minds, these earthly evils were not enough. They sought out knowledge and control elsewhere.
Not just ambition, but pride led them into the strange ways they walked. Their desire for power was so great that it led these ruthless, calculating men to delude themselves into believing an illusion -- that they were entitled to a special, secret knowledge. Unsatisfied with the power they seized in this world, they reached also for the illusory power of the next.
Evil runs to meet people like that. I doubt they had trouble finding spiritualist con-men who told them what they wanted to hear, perhaps leavening their parlor tricks with just enough palace gossip and guesswork to make their services seem valuable. One of these charlatans, I have heard, showed up in the Garden of Eden, whispering to Eve that God had lied to her about the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden, and that "in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods..."
These rulers who defied their created nature brought nothing but war and destruction into the world, and with the exception of the unresolved issue of Burma, they have come to violent or ignominious ends. Now the free world finds itself at war with another such violent and unnatural creed: fundamentalist, radical Islam, the bizarre death-cult which fetishizes suicide bombings and films grisly ritualized murder videos to sustain its acolytes. Let us hope it we have the resolve to send al Qaeda's nightmarish mesmerists back to the hell from which they came.
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