How to Become a Tyrant (2021) s01e01 Episode Script

Seize Power

[narrator] Absolute power.
Come on. You know you want it.
You just don't know how to get it.
But I do.
There's a playbook.
A series of tactics
that history's most infamous tyrants used
to achieve unimaginable power.
Each in his own unique way.
[theme music plays]
Now, there is one small catch.
This path does involve
making some unpleasant choices.
But nobody said ruling was easy.
Care to look inside?
-[Hitler] Sieg!
-[crowd] Heil!
[narrator] When I say the word "tyrant,"
what comes to mind?
[margin bell dings]
No. Too simple.
[crowd cheering]
[narrator] Tyranny is government
for people who want results.
When you look at human history,
freedom is not the norm.
We love being ruled.
[crowd cheering]
When you're living in a difficult time,
there's an appeal to someone who comes up,
finds their moment, and says,
"I alone can fix it all."
[narrator] History's most
successful tyrants do just that,
transforming their societies
from top to bottom.
By following their path step by step,
you can too!
There's a playbook for tyranny.
If you want to be a tyrant,
you just have to do those few things.
That's it.
[narrator] But before you can do anything,
you need to break out from the crowd
and grab the reins of power.
That's where our story begins,
with the failed landscape artist
who reinvented himself
into the most powerful man on Earth.
-[Hitler] Sieg!
-[crowd] Heil!
[narrator] Here he is. Adolf Hitler.
Just one month
after becoming Germany's absolute ruler.
[speaking German]
[narrator] So, how exactly
did Adolf Hitler become Adolf Hitler?
[trumpet blaring]
And what lessons can you take from him
on your rise to power?
[man] Hitler in his twenties
was a disenchanted, broke,
friendless, failed artist.
I interviewed someone who had met Hitler,
and she said,
"I found him remarkably unimpressive."
"He seemed very weedy.
He had a clammy handshake."
How is it that this man
ends up having this charismatic hold
all over this incredibly large country
in the middle Europe in the 20th century?
[narrator] It's actually quite simple.
If you want to rule,
you first have to believe that you can.
[man 2] Tyrants do have
a kind of megalomaniacal confidence
in their own abilities.
They have to have that.
They often see themselves as liberators.
They are frequently convinced
that only they can save the world
and make the world a better place.
[narrator] In other words,
they're special.
And as you'll see, Hitler wasn't
the only one who felt that way.
Roll the film.
According to North Korean legend,
at the moment of Kim Jong-Il's birth,
a new glowing star lit up the sky,
a double rainbow appeared,
and winter turned into spring.
Saddam Hussein claimed
that he was anointed by God
to rule Iraq forever
and pointed to the times he escaped death
as proof of his divine favor.
While Haitian dictator
François Duvalier claimed
that he himself was an eternal being
whose voodoo powers
caused the JFK assassination.
Who's to say they didn't?
[ominous music plays]
But where might you find the source
of your otherworldly belief?
[machine gun fires]
Hitler claimed that he found his
in a most unexpected place.
The blood-soaked trenches of World War I.
One day while on duty,
he hears a strange voice with a message.
[man shouting]
[narrator] "Move."
Several of his comrades
are killed immediately,
but Hitler emerges without a scratch.
Later, as the war nears its end,
Hitler and his unit fall victim
to mustard gas at the Battle of Ypres.
[glass shattering]
[narrator] While recovering
at a nearby hospital,
a pastor gives Hitler the bad news.
World War I is over.
Germany has surrendered.
In shock, he completely loses his sight.
A case of hysterical blindness.
Then from the depths of his despair
springs a grand vision
for his nation's future.
From this point forward,
Hitler never doubted his special purpose.
[Waller] Hitler once said famously,
"I walk with the self-assurance
of a sleepwalker toward my destiny."
Once he had his mission for Germany,
he was on autopilot.
Nothing would distract him from that aim.
[narrator] That's the sort of confidence
that any future tyrant needs to get ahead.
Although some might use a different term.
The potential dictator is
usually highly narcissistic.
Believe themselves
to be the center of the universe,
and everything must happen
according to their will.
And this is very different
from ordinary people.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing.
[horse neighing]
But before you can realize your destiny,
you still have
some big challenges to overcome.
For one thing,
you don't have any followers yet.
In order to launch your rise to power,
you'll need a message
that stirs people's souls,
and there's one surefire place to start.
[light music plays]
In a perfect world,
your society wouldn't need to be guided
by the firm hand of a tyrant,
but look around you. People are angry…
[siren wailing]
…and looking for someone to blame.
You're terrorist monsters!
The genius is understanding
the nature of the resentment
that already exists…
and presenting yourself
as the means to overcome that,
as the means to get even
with the people that you resent.
[narrator] You want to get your
people's attention? The playbook is clear.
Show them that
their enemies are your enemies…
…and that you are the one
who will take them down.
Like these guys did.
From an early age,
future Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
gave fiery speeches
against the Western-backed monarchy
he called "corrupt,"
and was received as a hero
when he toppled them in a coup.
The father of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung,
came to prominence reminding his people
of the humiliations they suffered
at the hands
of the occupying Japanese Army.
And as Idi Amin rose to power,
he focused
the Ugandan people's frustrations
on their former colonial master, Britain.
We see that they are deposed in Uganda,
that the British imperialism is over.
[crowd cheering]
[machine gun fires]
After the First World War,
Germany has got hyperinflation,
mass unemployment,
and people are taking bucketloads of money
to buy a loaf of bread.
And among Germany's disillusioned masses
is 30-year-old Adolf Hitler,
who was about to take a fateful step
on his path to power.
Munich 1919.
[ambient sounds]
Adolf Hitler is an unemployed artist
with just a few coins in his pocket
and strong opinions
about where everything went wrong
and who to blame.
[ominous music plays]
Hitler gets a job
as an army intelligence officer.
[ambient music and chatter]
His first assignment: observe a meeting
of an anti-Semitic right-wing group
called the German Workers' Party.
Hitler's bosses expect him to lay low,
take notes,
and report back to headquarters.
But Hitler was never great
at taking orders.
[Hitler speaking German]
[narrator] Years of rage
and frustration pour out.
He rails against the Jewish-led conspiracy
holding the proud German people down.
Now before we go on,
I'm going to let this guy tell you
about the conspiracy theory
Hitler was selling.
Hitler says that basically,
the financiers of Wall Street
and the Communists in Moscow
are all one part of the same Jewish plot.
[cackles maniacally]
And it seems absurd, but that's
what Hitler convinces the German people.
[crowd cheering]
[narrator] Absurd or not,
Hitler's words strike a chord.
Now a party member,
Hitler obsessively
perfects his performance.
The content of his speeches was--
A lot of it was hatefulness.
[Hitler shouting in German]
[Ruth] Of the need
to cleanse Germany of Jews.
It was vendetta
against Germany being humiliated.
It was national pride,
that Germany needed to rise again.
[crowd cheering]
[narrator] Before long,
Hitler is named leader of the party,
which takes on a new name.
The National Socialist
German Workers' Party,
otherwise known as "the Nazis."
Hitler now has
a platform to vent his outrage
and a loyal group of followers
hanging on his every word.
[Ruth] Many Germans found that
he was saying what they thought secretly
but had never been able to express.
[speaking German]
[narrator] Why does this work so well?
It's because you are
giving people permission to be themselves.
Common grievance brings people together,
and it feels very good
because you have solidarity,
and you have a strong leader
leading you against that minority
or that threat from the outside.
[narrator] Hard to believe
people would be so quick
to blame others
for their misfortune, right?
Let's not try and make out
that German people in the '20s
are worse people than we are today.
If you feel genuinely
that there's an enemy within,
then you would want your politicians
to do something about it.
It's very easy for us to sit back
and go, "I would never, you know,
fall for the seductive charms
of a tyrant like Hitler."
I promise you you would.
[narrator] But to achieve absolute power,
you'll need more
than a compelling message.
You also have to sell the messenger.
Let the playbook be your guide.
[upbeat piano and violin music plays]
As a tyrant, yours will become
the face of your nation,
and how you present that face
will be all up to you.
But at this early stage of your journey,
the playbook offers very specific advice
on how to fashion your image.
Show your people you are one of them.
Need some examples?
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
proudly referred to himself
as a "man of the people,"
frequently playing up his humble roots
as the son of a small-town blacksmith.
At the start of his reign,
Idi Amin drove himself
around Uganda in an open Jeep
and was known for showing off
his accordion skills in public events.
While Muammar Gaddafi publicly
stayed in touch with his Bedouin roots
by dressing in tribal robes and demanding
to stay in a tent when he traveled.
[operatic music plays]
Who better to make
a nation's dreams come true
than somebody who feels what they feel,
dreams what they dream?
It's a hallmark of successful tyrants
that they achieve this fusion
between themselves and the masses.
They come forward and say,
"I am you. You are me."
"We're a kind of collective organism."
Hitler often used
to say this in his speeches.
[Hitler on radio] I am only interested
in the German people alone.
I only belong to them alone.
For these German people I give of myself.
[narrator] Now when you're setting
yourself up as a "man of the people,"
it's the little things
that make all the difference.
[woman] Hitler didn't dress up
in a lavish fashion.
He always wore a uniform.
The fact that he came out of the trenches
in the First World War
believing that war makes a man,
you realize it was really important
for wooing the masses
and solidifying his support.
[narrator] So what about that…
-[bell dings]
[Guy] The mustache metamorphosizes
from this very sort of long thing
that you see in the First World War
in earlier images of Hitler.
[narrator] Something compelled him
to change up his look.
One theory is
that he trimmed his deluxe Kaiser Wilhelm
during the war to fit under a gas mask.
Another is that he was using his razor
to copy a contemporary German hero,
Hans Koeppen.
Maybe Hitler wasn't thinking
about shaving his way into immortality.
But sometimes, a future tyrant
just gets lucky.
[Guy] It ends up becoming
the classic toothbrush mustache,
which was used by lower-middle-class men
throughout Europe.
So what Hitler was showing,
"I am from this kind of background."
[narrator] Now that you've cemented
your bond with the common people,
you might be feeling like
your date with destiny is at hand,
but not so fast.
If you wanna make history,
you'll need to grab people
at an even deeper level.
Their subconscious.
[machine gun fires]
[Wendy] Coming out
of these beer halls in the 1920s,
the Nazi party is growing,
but there were dozens
of these right-wing parties
vying for control.
[narrator] Like with any product,
for your budding movement
to break from the pack,
you'll need a great marketing strategy.
[man] 192 thousand bottles
march through here every day.
And Hitler was a natural-born ad man.
[man] It's almost as
if the machine gives them life,
turns them into symbols of ourselves,
queuing up for the future,
moved by forces beyond our control,
getting on board
for a destination that remains vague.
Hitler knew the power of the image.
He recognized the power of branding.
You didn't just have to have the man,
but you also had to have
the iconography to go with it.
[narrator] And when it comes to symbols,
you have to admit
this one is pretty powerful.
[upbeat music plays]
There is almost no more famous brand
than the swastika
in a white circle on a red banner.
It is probably still the most potent icon
that's ever existed on this planet.
[narrator] But as compelling
as the right symbol can be,
your real power is your people,
and they need to be dressed
for your success.
[camera shutter snapping]
Hitler put this page of the playbook
into action with his brown shirt militia.
That very act of obtaining the uniform
and being part of something
greater than yourself,
being part of a movement,
was very significant
in the kind of German psyche.
That uniform that meant sacrifice,
that meant duty,
that meant obedience and loyalty.
[classical music plays]
[narrator] In other words,
when you're wearing a uniform,
it means you're on the team.
-[indistinct announcement]
And who doesn't wanna be on the team?
Conformity is definitely
one of the chief goals
that tyrants strive for.
The reason they sometimes succeed,
shockingly, is that they're able
to convince their followers
that this isn't really conformity,
it's unity.
[narrator] By branding and unifying
your growing movement,
it will soon become impossible to ignore.
[crowd cheering]
[Hitler speaking German]
[Guy] Hitler draws people in
through that political pageantry.
With swastikas,
marching people in uniforms,
torch-lit rallies, powerful speeches,
you're gonna be tempted.
If we're all going to be in it together
and we're all gonna take part
in this play, let's join in.
[narrator] Sounds fun.
But just because you're offering
a good show and a sharp look
doesn't mean
your rise to power is at hand.
You're going to need
to scale up your operation.
And the right staffing decisions
will make all the difference.
[all] Heil!
-[Nazi leader] Heil!
-[all] Heil!
Nobody… nobody governs alone.
Not Idi Amin,
not Louis XIV who said "L'etat c'est moi,"
"I am the state."
Nobody rules alone.
[narrator] When it comes to seizing power,
you'll need a team you can trust
to amplify your message
and watch your back.
To prove my point,
Moammar Gaddafi's inner circle
of fellow army officers
helped him launch his coup
against the Libyan King
and form the government
he would run for over 40 years.
Saddam Hussein relied on
direct family members
or members of his tribe
as his main base of support
throughout his reign.
Joseph Stalin elevated key supporters
inside the Soviet Central Committee,
which allowed him
to eventually purge his rivals
and seize total control.
But when you're building a team
to secure power in the first place,
not just anyone will fit the bill.
Like every leader,
you need people with a diverse skill set
who can bring your vision to life.
An expert organizer to help run
and expand your movement efficiently.
A ruthless military man
who can enlist others
to violently enforce your whims.
A trusty assistant
to maintain your busy schedule
and record your pearls of wisdom
for posterity,
and a decorated hero
to help you impress
the deep-pocketed elites
because revolution isn't cheap.
And, of course, you always have
to keep your eyes open for new talent.
But as your movement grows,
some might be tempted
to challenge your authority.
So never forget
the one requirement that stands above all.
What you want is people
who you can count on to be loyal.
[narrator] And for that,
Hitler could always count on this guy,
who became his most loyal follower of all.
Joseph Goebbels.
Goebbels adored Hitler.
He heard Hitler speak at an event
and became enamored
and just said, "Okay. He is the one."
Goebbels understood
the power of modern media,
of cinema, of controlling the media,
and he understood the power
of just hammering and repetition.
Joseph Goebbels
became his propaganda chief.
[speaking German]
[narrator] Sure, talent is great.
But what really matters is
that your followers always put you first,
even when things get really bad.
Goebbels was such a true believer.
At the end in a bunker in 1945,
he and his wife
poisoned their own six children,
and then he poisoned himself,
because he could not imagine
a world without Hitler.
[narrator] Now, that's loyalty.
If you've been following
the playbook's guide to seizing power,
you've identified your divine mission,
tapped into your people's anger,
crafted an "every man" image,
and branded an unforgettable identity
for your movement.
And now you have
a loyal inner circle rarin' to go.
But to take that final step of power,
you still need
an opening to take your shot.
And when it does arrive,
you better not miss.
[loud crash]
As pressure mounts to seize your moment,
timing is everything.
You have to have
a cobra-like patience before you pounce.
The ability to play a long game, to wait.
[narrator] Trust me.
Your patience will be rewarded.
Let me show you.
When Saddam Hussein was
Iraq's vice president,
he spent a decade building
a secret service loyal to him
before using it
to help seize power from his boss.
Joseph Stalin spent seven long years
cozying up to Lenin
before the father of Russia
finally put him in charge.
Uganda's Idi Amin
patiently stacked the army
with members of his tribe, the Kakwa,
who then helped him topple the president.
Hitler almost blew his shot
by ignoring this lesson
and jumping the gun.
[machine gun fires]
[Guy] The Beer Hall Putsch.
[machine gun fires]
Hitler mounts
this kind of crazy, half-baked coup,
essentially tries to lead the mob of Nazis
down the streets of Munich
and trying to seize
Bavarian political leaders,
hold them hostage,
force them to relinquish power.
There's lots of miscommunication.
They eventually leave the beer hall,
and then they're fired upon by the police.
It's a huge error.
Hitler gets sent to Landsberg Prison.
He's written off
by the press all around the world.
There's this classic cutting
in the New York Times, which says,
"It is expected that Herr Hitler
will shortly retire from public life."
[narrator] And so he does,
never to be heard from again.
[vaudeville music plays]
[narrator] Oh, right.
[Guy] He's there with one
of his most loyal acolytes, Rudolf Hess.
And it's Hess who convinced him
to start getting down
his kind of manifesto.
And this manifesto, of course,
becomes this book Mein Kampf,
"My Struggle."
And yet setting his goals to paper
and getting released from jail
after nine months
did not immediately
turn around Hitler's fortunes.
Things actually got worse.
[upbeat music plays]
[Wendy] The Roaring '20s was a time
of free expression and opportunities.
The way people were dressing
and their lifestyles,
and women were more liberated.
That was exciting!
[narrator] Hardly.
The last thing you want as
an aspiring tyrant is a happy population.
The '20s were quiet years for Hitler.
It was a political struggle.
[narrator] But luckily,
the good times don't last forever.
In October 1929,
the US Stock Exchange crashes,
and markets around the world follow suit.
Shortly after the Depression hit,
that's when the Nazi party took off.
[Wendy] Before the Great Depression,
it was not a foregone conclusion
that they were going to be
the dominant party.
July '32 was the peak moment of popularity
of the Nazi party at 37%,
so Hitler actually is
appointed chancellor.
[machine gun fires]
[crowd cheering]
Hitler's seizure of power
when he comes into office
as chancellor is not absolute.
He's not head of state.
There's still a president above him.
He's got to start taking opportunities
that are gonna strengthen
his grip on power.
[narrator] Nothing says opportunity
like a good crisis.
[thunder rumbling]
The Reichstag fire enabled him to pounce.
[narrator] What could be worse
than seeing the heart
of your government burning to the ground?
Yet when Hitler arrives on the scene,
he seems less shocked than oddly inspired.
"You're now witnessing the beginning
of a new era in German history,"
he tells a reporter.
He speeds to the offices
of the Nazi party's official newspaper
and works until dawn.
The next day, Hitler's headline
blames communists for the Reichstag arson.
Some have
a different theory of what happened.
They believe
that it was actually Nazi operatives
answering to Hitler himself
who set the blaze
in order to increase
sympathies for their cause.
Ignoring the whispers,
Hitler demands the government ministers
sign an emergency decree he's cooked up,
turning Germany into a police state
under Nazi control,
then takes it
to President Paul von Hindenburg.
Von Hindenburg is no match
for Hitler's will
or the swirling national crisis.
The official decree gives Hitler
sweeping power to imprison opponents,
dissolve every political party
but the Nazis, and muzzles the press.
Hitler was looking for an opportunity
to end civil liberties
and crush the opposition,
and he found it.
Potential dictators instinctively know
that when people are threatened,
they look
for strong authoritarian leadership
and support a strong man.
[narrator] The stage is set,
and now it's only a matter of time.
Seventeen months later,
von Hindenburg dies,
and Adolf Hitler becomes
both chancellor and president of Germany,
just 16 years after realizing his destiny
in the trenches of World War I,
and he's just getting started.
To those who have made it this far,
You've built a movement
and seized the reins of power.
But now for the bad news.
You're not the underdog anymore.
You're the man,
and that means
there's a giant target on your back.
So how do you consolidate power
and keep your rivals in check?
As you continue your tyrant's journey,
let Saddam Hussein answer the question
on the minds of every new
and vulnerable tyrant.
How do you keep the wolves at bay?
[theme music plays]
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