There have been many leaders who have altered the course of history and changed the way the world thinks and lives. These leaders have been men of tremendous influence over masses, though the influence may have been negative in impact. Leadership styles may differ from authoritative to democratic to laissez faire but leaders have in common a penchant for influencing the common people and having their way with the crowds. The world remembers such leaders with awe and their names become subjects of household conversations. Every era has its share of such leaders. This paper studies the lives of some highly influential leaders of the modern times and attempts to understand what made them the men that they were.
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The name Adolf Hitler conjures up that dreaded image of World War II when the world rose as one to fight and conquer the Axis powers comprising of Germany, Japan and Italy. He may have been a villain and a torturer who ordered millions of Jews to be burned alive in gas chambers, who rose from the bottom of the societal ladder to become the dictator of Germany and then a lot of Europe for some time during the World War, and built a regime based on terror and persecution during his reign. It is indeed surprising that with no formal political training, no background for the kind of reign and terror that he established, he went on to become a dictator who had germany and most of Europe at his command during the World War. However, an insight into his childhood shows that his tendency to rule was a result of a difficult and lonely childhood and less than happy adolescence.
Born of poor parents, Hitler was sent to study to an urban school when his father procured enough money through his position as the Austrian customs' officer. An intelligent student at the village school, he lost his footing in the unfamiliar surroundings of the city and his results became poor. He also developed a predisposition for breaking rules and antipathy towards authority. Consorting with the lowest of the crowds and failing to secure a position in architectural schools in Venice, Hitler became a vagabond and a loner. He did not have a permanent job and took up menial positions to secure two square meals a day.
The crowds that he mingled with were his first political training. He learnt to manipulate them for his benefit and exploit them for his own gains. It was during this time that he developed strong feelings of nationalism and also an anti- Marxist. This was the first step towards a becoming a dictator and manipulating huge masses.
During the first world War, Hitler served as a volunteer in the Bavarian regiment, having returned to Germany in 1913. his bravery was rewarded and he was decorated several times but wasn't promoted to a leadership position as his officers felt that he lacked certain qualities. In 1920, he came in contact with the Nazi party and became their main propagandist as he had a natural flair for oration and his speeches attracted people and influenced their thought process. Within a year of joining the party he became its leader.
Thus we see that from a loner who roamed the streets in search of low jobs, he became the leader of a party which revolutionized the political system in Germany. He tried to bring about a change in government forcefully in 1923 but failed and was sent to jail. During his jail time, he wrote his autobiography 'Mein Kamph' in which he outlined his ideals and held the Jews responsible for the problems plaguing Germany.
Once he came out of jail, his leadership prowess became evident. Facing difficulties in reforming his party, he met with each problem and sidestepped it gracefully through sheer thinking and knowing when to strike and whom to strike. His mass movements were targeted towards people he knew he could win over such as the military outcasts who were more than happy to join him. He went from power to power through powerful speeches and knowing whom to speak to. When his votes went down, when he was facing a crisis in his career and when all looked lost, he pulled out a political miracle by maneuvering the Reichstag to give him dictatorial powers and from then began what can only be called history.
Thus even though he was a villain, a demagogue and a manipulator, his influence over people was immense and he altered the course of history with his masterly politics. He terrorized the world, killed off thousands of people and was a prime example of a rotten childhood can influence a man negatively and cause irreparable damage to his personality. With a proper training perhaps, he could have been a leader the world would have looked up to with pride but he turned out to be a synonym for terror and brutality.
Another man inseparable associated with the II World War is Sir Winston Churchill. Born in a royal family with impeccable bloodlines, his political training began almost with his birth as he absorbed and learned from his family affairs and was given the best possible education. He played his role in the World War I by preparing the naval troops and in World War II his achievements and heroics are part of folklore. When all looked lost during the war and when Hitler had Paris down on its knees, he emerged as the leader of the unified commonwealth and Britain and called for the unity of the English speaking people. His speeches, filled with fervor and passion, raised the morale of terrified people and also the wounded armed forces.
After joining the armed forces in 1888, he had a rich and varied experience of army life with his travels taking him to India as well. All through this, he continued to read the best of literature and the effect of his literary knowledge was profound on his personality and intellect. Strong leaders and always well read, even though the kind of literature they read influences their actions and ideals. During his long travels to the North East Frontiers, the South Africa and many more, he was both an active officer and also an avid war correspondent and fulfilled both duties with equal proficiency.
His political career, backed by his firm and stable character and knowledge was illustrious. After spending a period of self imposed exile after losing elections, he was recalled to head the country in the critical times of 1940 when Germany seemed to be able to conquer the whole of Europe. His solidarity, his faith in the armed forces, his morale lifting speeches and the aura of quiet authority that he generated made the Britons and almost the whole of Europe that the Allies were not going to loose the war and Britain was not going down to Germany. Even during the war, he took many decisions that could have been disastrous if they were not backed by his almost prophetic foresight.
Thus, Sir Winston Churchill was a leader the world prefers to remember with fondness and pride and a man the world looks up to with respect and dignity.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was also one of the few fond memories that can be associated with the Second World War Again a man with a strong family backing and a man whose political training was basically done at home with the kind of family he had, FDR was a man whose name America will always speak with pride and remember with affection.
He battled polio, came back stronger and more capable and never allowed his disability to get the better of him. His four terms in office were not peaceful times but he handled all that came to him with poise and grace. When he was first elected in 1932, America was battling the Depression. Within "100 days", he made the country stand back on its feet and during the next few years he made the feet even sturdier and stronger. When attacked by Japan in 1942 at the infamous Pearl Harbor incident, he went for the most courageous action of declaring war on Japan in a time when America was still recovering from the after effects of the first one.
But there was honor to be saved and pride to be salvaged and FDR knew that a country wounded in pride will never be able to stand firmly in its position. America's entry into the war with the Allies changed the course of the war and what seemed to be Germany's certain victory now looked to be a war more on the side of the Allied Powers. With clever marshalling of resources and shrewd politics learned and perfected over the years, FDR steered through the troublesome times and did wonders for America's position as a superpower in the world.
Thus the Second World War brought to fore three very different leaders in the forms of Adolf Hitler, Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Without any political training and with poor literature and poor company, Hitler rose to dictatorship while Churchill and Roosevelt with their strong personalities and proper training, though informal and self imposed, went on to become the kind of leaders that inspire and motivate generations for many years and are remembered fondly and not with terror imposed fright.
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