Just because they were bloodthirsty doesnt mean they couldnt find room for a little hooch. MDM explores the drinking habits of the cruel, powerful, and often times very loaded.
When asked by Party Deputy Ivan Kharkov why he was sending former comrade Leon Trotsky into Siberian exile, Stalin confided that he had irrefutable proof Trotsky was working hand in hand with foreign counter-revolutionaries. When the deputy pressed Stalin to produce some evidence, Stalin fired back, Trotsky drinks the wrong kind of whiskey!
Stalin was referring to former teetotaler Trotsky's newfound taste for foreign whiskey. (As you will see, Stalin excluded himself from this damning judgment, or perhaps felt there not enough good whiskey in Moscow for the two of them.) Like most working alcoholics, Stalin was a man of many masks. In public life he would always pose with a pipe and claim to drink humble Russian red wine poured from clay jugs, while in private he chained smoked cigarettes and preferred vintage capitalist wines, Napoleonic brandies and single-malt scotches. It was only after he slid into hell in 1953 that the true story surfaced. When apparchiks invaded his dacha outside Moscow, they did not find a few honest earthen jugs, but rather thousands of bottles of foreign hooch, guarded by terrified servants who had strange and savage tales to tell.
Seems their master had the nasty habit of sitting up until the wee hours of morning with only his revolver, stacks of ledgers and a bottle of scotch for company. He took it neat in his old tin Red Army cup and wouldn't tolerate any temperance talk from the staff. The fiery amber fluid helped him work, he told them, it put things in perspective and made difficult decisions easier to make. It was during these dark and lonely hours that Stalin assembled the liquidation orders that sent millions of Soviets to their graves for reasons only the dictator claimed to understand.
At dawn, obeying standing orders dictated by a sober Stalin, his terrified servants would attempt to coax the sodden tyrant to bed. As often as not he would mercilessly cane them with his walking stick while accusing them of trying to steal his liquor. As any bartender knows, scotch can bring out the best and worse in a man, and one wonders if the purges would have been any less severe if Stalin had switched to a mellower libation. Pink Ladies, say.
But before we start blaming hooch for the horrors of genocide, it is important to remember Stalin's contemporary to the west, Adolph Hitler, was essentially a teetotaler. Though he held his first putsch in a beer hall and occasionally had a little Rhine wine with dinner, the only juice der führer was crazy about was squeezed from an orange fruit rather than a stingy bartender. It is also instructive to note Hitler followed a strict vegan dietary regime that might lead even the most innocent drunk into bizarre behavior. A typical meal consisted of zwieback toast, mushrooms, yogurt, honey, laxatives and capsules derived from Bulgarian peasants feces.
Despite Hitler's shoddy drinking habits (which, incidentally, conform to guidelines developed by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), the rest of Reich wasn't so priggish. During the occupation of Western Europe, they looted wine cellars at same efficient rate as they seized other valuable works of art. Legend has it much of this bottled art found its way to the wine and liquor list of the Palace Hotel in Berlin where, before the fall of communism, they were knocked back by high-ranking East German Stasi officials dry from a rough day of working over subversives caught in possession of Hemingway's latest propagandist novel.
The other Axis luminaries' hooch habits ranged from Emperor Hirohito's strong taste for sake to Mussolini's preference for milk and mineral water. Ghengis Kahn, incidentally, was also a fan of White Russians minus the liquor flavorings. The only sensible drinker on the other side seemed to be the war's less famous fascist, Spains Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Like Stalin, the generalissimo had a hankering for vino rojo. But there the similarity ends, the disciplined Catholic drank in moderation, having a glass or two with lunch and dinner, which perhaps explains why it took Franco so long to die, finally keeling over at the ripe old age of 82.
Facing the axis' weird brew of light boozers was a hard corps of hard
drinkers, which perhaps explains why we won the war. Keeping pace with
Stalin, Churchill drank gin like water and didn't care who knew about
it. A recent biography claimed the boozy Bulldog of Britain was rarely
without alcohol in his system. After one rousing speech, most of which
he gave while loaded, he was confronted by a ranking member of England's
ruling class. You, sir, are drunk! she accused. He came
back with, And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the
morning. (At least for a little while.)
Across the Atlantic, America's liquored-up leader also preferred martinis, though with a tad more vermouth. President Franklin Roosevelt's personal recipe consisted of two parts gin to one part vermouth, with a teaspoon of olive brine. He added one olive and rubbed the glass's rim with lemon peel. They eased his back pain, he explained to his teetotaling wife, and sometimes they eased his pain so much three of his aides had to carry him to bed while he sang old college fight songs, a somewhat kinder version of Stalin's system. After signing the act repealing Prohibition, FDR personally mixed America's first legal Martini in the White House.
France's Charles DeGaulle followed Napoleon's fine example and stuck to the red wine and brandy. When he fled France in Hitler's wake, he took several cases of vintage brandy with him, lest the powerful liquor fall into the wrong hands. He returned to his country with a newfound and highly confidential taste for English gin, but to his dying day he would deny being under England's influence.
The tastes of modern day dictators are as mixed as their methods. Papa Doc Duvalier, the voodoo strongman of Haiti, went for rum and red wine. His neighbor in Nicaragua, General Somoza preferred a good gin and tonic. The longest lasting dictator of all, Fidel Castro, likes the pirate juice, as evidenced by a quote in his recent autobiography: It would be liberating to be free to do what I want to do, to sit on a terrace overlooking the sea, enjoying a drink of aged rum, and smoking a Cohiba.
Huh. Maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.