Cult of personality
A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and at times, god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Sociologist Max Weber developed a tripartite classification of authority; the cult of personality holds parallels with what Weber defined as "charismatic authority". A cult of personality is similar to hero worship, except that it is established by mass media and propaganda.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Background
- 3 Purpose
- 4 Examples
- 4.1 Afghanistan
- 4.2 Albania
- 4.3 Argentina
- 4.4 Azerbaijan
- 4.5 China
- 4.6 Dominican Republic
- 4.7 French Indochina
- 4.8 Germany
- 4.9 Haiti
- 4.10 Iraq
- 4.11 Italy
- 4.12 Japan
- 4.13 Libya
- 4.14 Malawi
- 4.15 North Korea
- 4.16 Philippines
- 4.17 Poland
- 4.18 Romania
- 4.19 Russia
- 4.20 Syria
- 4.21 Spain
- 4.22 Togo
- 4.23 Turkey
- 4.24 Turkmenistan
- 4.25 Venezuela
- 4.26 Vietnam
- 4.27 Zaire
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The term "cult of personality" probably appeared in English around 1800–1850, along with the French and German usage. At first it had no political connotations but was instead closely related to the Romantic "cult of genius". The political use of the phrase came first in 1877:
Neither of us cares a straw of popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult [orig. Personenkultus] that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves [...] to accord me public honor, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity [...]
The terms "cult of personality" and "personality cult" were popularized by Khrushchev's Secret Speech of 1956. Robert Service notes that a more accurate translation of the Russian "культ личности" ("kul't lichnosti") is the "cult of the individual".
Throughout history, monarchs and other heads of state were almost always held in enormous reverence. Through the principle of the divine right of kings, for example, rulers were said to hold office by the will of God. Ancient Egypt, Japan, the Inca, the Aztecs, Tibet, Siam (now Thailand), and the Roman Empire are especially noted for redefining monarchs as "god-kings".
The spread of democratic and secular ideas in Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries made it increasingly difficult for monarchs to preserve this aura. However, the subsequent development of photography, sound recording, film, and mass production, as well as public education and techniques used in commercial advertising, enabled political leaders to project a positive image like never before. It was from these circumstances in the 20th century that the best-known personality cults arose. Often these cults are a form of political religion.
Personality cults were first described in relation to totalitarian regimes that sought to alter or transform society according to radical ideas. Often, a single leader became associated with this revolutionary transformation, and came to be treated as a benevolent "guide" for the nation without whom the transformation to a better future couldn't occur. This has been generally the justification for personality cults that arose in totalitarian societies of the 20th century, such as those of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin.
Not all dictatorships foster personality cults, not all personality cults are practised in dictatorships (some exist in a few nominally democratic countries), and some leaders may actively seek to minimize their own public adulation. For example, during the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, images of dictator Pol Pot (Saloth Sar) were rarely seen in public, and his identity was under dispute abroad until after his fall from power. The same applied to numerous Eastern European communist regimes following World War II (although not those of Enver Hoxha and Nicolae Ceaușescu, mentioned below).
First communist leader of Afghanistan Nur Muhammad Taraki since the first months after the revolution started to referred in party and government meetings and mass media as "The Great Leader", "The Star of the East" or "The Great Thinker" among other titles. But very soon he lost the Soviet support and was overthrown.
Long time ruler of communist Albania Enver Hoxha had personality cult similar to Stalin's and Mao's precedents. Hoxha was widely portrayed as a genius commenting on virtually all facets of life from culture to economics to military matters. Statues were erected in cities. Each schoolbook required quotations from him on the subjects being studied. The ruling party of the time, the Party of Labour of Albania, honored him with titles such as Supreme Comrade, Sole Force and Great Teacher.
Juan Domingo Perón, elected three times as President of Argentina, and his second wife, Eva Duarte de Perón, were immensely popular among many of the Argentine people, and to this day they are still considered icons by the Justicialist Party. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labor, while their detractors considered them demagogues and dictators. To achieve their political goals, the Peronists had to unite around the head of state. As a result, a personality cult developed around both Perón and his wife.
Heydar Aliyev's cult of personality became a significant part of Azerbaijani politics and society after Heydar Aliyev came to power in 1993 and continuing after his death in 2003, when his son Ilham Aliyev succeeded him. Aliyev, a former Soviet politburo member and the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1987, became the President of Azerbaijan in 1993. He then began to carefully design an autocratic system, with heavy reliance on family and clan members, oil revenues and patronage.
A personality cult in the Republic of China was centered on the Kuomintang party founder Sun Yat-sen, and his successor, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. The personality cult of Chiang Kai-shek went further after the republican government fled to Taiwan. He was usually referred to as "Lord Chiang" (蔣公) in public and a Nuo tai was required in printed materials. Articles in textbooks and songs glorifying him were commonly seen in Taiwan before 1987.
The People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong can also be considered a cult of personality. The culture of the People's Republic of China before 1981 was highly influenced by the personality cult of Mao Zedong which reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution. Mao was referred to as "the great leader Chairman Mao" (伟大领袖毛主席) in public and was entitled "the great leader, the great supreme commander, the great teacher and the great helmsman" (伟大的领袖、伟大的统帅、伟大的导师、伟大的舵手) in Cultural Revolution. Badges and books of his quotations were mass-produced. Most people were required to recite the Quotations of Chairman Mao and printed material at that time usually quoted Mao's words in bold as well as in the preface. The Loyalty dance (忠字舞) was also introduced during the Cultural Revolution which lasted from 1966 to 1976.
The cult of personality continued for a short time after Mao's death. His successor, Hua Guofeng also practiced the cult of personality and was referred to as "the brilliant leader Chairman Hua" (英明领袖华主席). Reforms in 1981 led to a deconstruction of his cult status and the Chinese Communist Party is today averse to a cult of personality style of rule lest it recreates the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
Dominicana dictator Rafael Trujillo, during his 30 years in power known as the Trujillo Era, had a classic personality cult, when monuments to Trujillo were in abundance. His pocket Congress voted overwhelmingly to change the name of the capital from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo. The province of San Cristóbal was changed to "Trujillo", and the nation's highest peak, Pico Duarte, was renamed Pico Trujillo. Statues of "El Jefe" were mass-produced and erected across the Republic, and bridges and public buildings were named in his honor. The nation's newspapers had praise for Trujillo as part of the front page, and license plates included slogans such as "¡Viva Trujillo!" and "Año Del Benefactor De La Patria" (Year of the Benefactor of the Nation.) An electric sign was erected in Ciudad Trujillo so that "Dios y Trujillo" could be seen at night as well as in the day. Eventually, even churches were required to post the slogan "Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra" (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). As time went on, the order of the phrases was reversed (Trujillo on Earth, God in Heaven). From the very beginning, Trujillo considered the Dominican Republic as his private property and, in contrast to other Latin American strongmen and dictators, he had streets, provinces, mountains, schools and bridges named not only in his honor, but in honor of various members of his family as well.
Cambodian schoolchildren in French Indochina at one point in the early 1940s began their school-day with prayers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, opening with the words, "Our father, which art our Leader, glorious be thy name... deliver us from evil".
Führer ("the Leader") of Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler referenced by Nazi propaganda in number of honorary titles (Supreme Judge of the German People, First Soldier of the German Reich, First Worker of the New Germany, Greatest Military Commander of All Time, Military Leader of Europe, High Protector of the Holy Mountain, etc.). Numerous works in popular music and literature featured Adolf Hitler prominently. Hitler was usually depicted as a god-like figure, loved and respected by the German people.
Dictator of Haiti François Duvalier fostered a personality cult around himself, and claimed he was the physical embodiment of the nation. He also started to revive the traditions of vodou, later on using them to consolidate his power as he claimed to be a houngan, or vodou priest himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi. He often donned sunglasses to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The Duvalier regime propaganda named his as father of nation and even stated that "Papa Doc: was one with the loas, Jesus Christ, and God himself". The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with hand on a seated Papa Doc's shoulder with the caption "I have chosen him".
As a sign of his consolidation of power as Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein's personality cult pervaded Iraqi society. He had thousands of portraits, posters, statues and murals erected in his honor all over Iraq. His face could be seen on the sides of office buildings, schools, airports, and shops, as well as on all denominations of the Iraqi currency dinar. Saddam's personality cult reflected his efforts to appeal to the various elements in Iraqi society. This was seen in his variety of apparel: he appeared in the costumes of the Bedouin, the traditional clothes of the Iraqi peasant (which he essentially wore during his childhood), and even Kurdish clothing, but also appeared in Western suits fitted by his favorite tailor, projecting the image of an urbane and modern leader. Sometimes he would also be portrayed as a devout Muslim, wearing full headdress and robe, praying toward Mecca.
An international airport, university, bridge, dam, stadium, art centre, street, urban district (Saddam-city), rocket and other objects were named in his name. Saddam had many well-decorated (by golden flush toilets even) palaces in private use. People brought many gifts to Saddam that were collected in a special palace. According to his order, every tenth brick of reconstructed ancient objects (including Nebuchadnezzar palace) was marked by his name or signature. His biography and his literature works were required to be learned in schools and Baas party functioneers examined about knowing.[clarification needed] Many written songs, novels, scientific and propaganda articles were devoted to him. State TV was broadcast with his image on the background with a mosque at the screen corner and very often showed him, or his hands being kissed by children and other people.
After his fall, all statues of Saddam were destroyed, symbolically starting with the main monument in Baghdad. All other aspects of his cult were dissolved.
The cult of Il Duce of fascist Italy Benito Mussolini was in many respects the unifying force of the fascist regime, acting as a common denominator of various political groups and social classes in the fascist party and the Italian society. A basic slogan proclaimed that Mussolini was always right (Italian: Il Duce ha sempre ragione). Endless publicity revolved about him. He was generally portrayed in a macho manner, although he could also appear as a Renaissance man, or as military, family, or even common. This reflected his presentation as a universal man, capable of all subjects; a light was left on his office long after he was asleep as part of propaganda to present him as an insomniac owing to his driven to work nature. Mussolini himself oversaw which photographs could appear, rejecting some, for instance, because he was not sufficiently prominent in a group. Legends of Mussolini defying death during the First World War and surviving assassination attempts were circulated to give the dictator a mythical, immortal aura. In addition to being depicted as being chosen by God, the regime presented Mussolini himself having omnipotent or godlike superhuman. His image proclaimed that he had improved the Italian people morally, materially, and spiritually. He was the Duce and proclaimed in song even before the seizure of power. The war on Ethiopia was presented as a revival of Roman Empire, with Mussolini as Augustus.
In 2000s with the entry into Italian politics of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, some critics accused that new kind of cult of personality was in place, favored by Berlusconi's three national televisions and newspapers. Moreover the hymn of Berlusconi's movements Forza Italia and People of Freedom was Meno male che Silvio c'è, literally "Thank goodness for Silvio". In addition to that often Berlusconi described himself as the Jesus Christ of the Italian politics. These attitudes were seen by public opinion as clear examples of the new political style that Berlusconi brought in Italy, focused on leader's charisma, cult of personality and media domination. Silvio Berlusconi has been Prime Minister of Italy for four time and governed the country for almost ten years.
Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai's international offshoot Soka Gakkai International, has been the frequent targets of criticism for fostering a cult of personality centered around himself.
A cult of personality devoted to Muammar Gaddafi existed in Libya during his rule. His face appeared on a wide variety of items, including postage stamps, watches, and school satchels. Quotations from The Green Book appeared on a wide variety of places, from street walls to airports and even on pens, and were put to pop music for public release. Gaddafi claimed that he disliked this personality cult, but that he tolerated it because Libya's people adored him. Biographers Blundy and Lycett believed that he was "a populist at heart". Throughout Libya, crowds of supporters would turn up to public events at which he appeared; described as "spontaneous demonstrations" by the government, there are recorded instances of groups being coerced or paid to attend. He was typically late to public events, and would sometimes not show up at all. Although Bianco thought that he had a "gift for oratory", he was considered a poor orator by biographers Blundy and Lycett. Biographer Daniel Kawczynski noted that Gaddafi was famed for his "lengthy, wandering" speeches, which typically involved criticising Israel and the U.S.
Almost 30-year dictator of Malawi Hastings Banda was the subject of a very pervasive cult of personality. Every business building was required to have an official picture of him hanging on the wall, and no poster, clock or picture could be higher than his portrait. Before every movie, a video of Banda waving to the people was shown while the anthem played. When Banda visited a city, a contingent of women were expected to greet him at the airport and dance for him. A special cloth, bearing the president’s picture, was the required attire for these performances. Churches had to be formal government’s (in facts, Banda’s) sanctioned.
Journalist Bradley Martin documented the personality cults of North Korea's father-son leadership, "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung and "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il. While visiting North Korea in 1979 he noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il. Kim Il-sung rejected the notion that he had created a cult around himself and accused those who suggested so of "factionalism". A US religious freedom investigation confirmed Martin's observation that North Korean schoolchildren learn to thank Kim Il-sung for all blessings as part of the cult. Evidence of the cult of Kim Il-sung continues into the 21st century (despite his death in 1994) with the erection of Yeong Saeng ("eternal life") monuments throughout the country, each dedicated to the departed "Great Leader", at which citizens are expected to pay annual tribute on his birthday or on the anniversary of his death. Recently, the personality cult in North Korea has been expanded to include the son of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un.
In the Philippines, many local politicians engage in some sort of cult of personality. They are often branded as "epal politicians" by the media with "epal" meaning attention-grabber in Filipino slang. They put their image and their names on billboards of government projects. They also print taurpalins, usually with their image to establish a sense of connection with their constituents. The Senate Bill No. 1967 or Anti-Signage of Public Works Act, colloquially known as the anti-epal bill, was filed by Senator Miriam Santiago on November 2011, and refiled again in July 2013 in an effort to stop the practice.
A cult of personality in Poland has developed around the figure of Józef Piłsudski, a Polish military commander and politician, starting from the interwar period and continuing after his death in 1935 until the present day. During the interwar period, Piłsudski's cult was propagated by the state media, describing him as a masterful strategist and a political visionary, and associating him with his role in regaining Polish independence in the aftermath of World War I, and his leadership in the ensuing Polish–Soviet War. It has survived decades of repression, particularly during the era of communist Poland.
In modern Poland, Piłsudski is recognized as an important and largely positive figure in Polish history. Polish Independence Day is commemorated on November 11, the date when Piłsudski assumed power in Poland after the First World War.
During the Cold War, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu presided over the most pervasive cult of personality within the Eastern Bloc. Inspired by the personality cult surrounding Kim Il-sung in North Korea, it started with the 1971 July Theses which reversed the liberalization of the 1960s and imposed a strict nationalist ideology. Initially, the cult of personality was only focused on Ceaușescu himself; however, by the early 1980s, his wife Elena was also a focus of the cult even to the extent that she got credit for scientific achievements which she could never have accomplished. It remained in force until the overthrow of the regime in 1989.
A cult of personality in Russia developed around Vladimir Putin. In the course of his career, Putin has an inclusive form of Russian nationalism, become the model Russian man, brought the media to its knees, redeemed Joseph Stalin and reconciled the Soviet past.
Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person.... One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin's self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948.
This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, "the greatest leader", "sublime strategist of all times and nations". Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.
We need not give here examples of the loathsome adulation filling this book. All we need to add is that they all were approved and edited by Stalin personally and some of them were added in his own handwriting to the draft text of the book.
Some authors (e.g., Alexander Zinovyev) have argued that Leonid Brezhnev's rule was also characterized by a cult of personality, though unlike Stalin, Brezhnev did not initiate large-scale persecutions in the country. One of the aspects of Leonid Brezhnev's cult of personality was Brezhnev's obsession with titles, rewards and decorations, leading to his inflated decoration with medals, orders and so on. This was often ridiculed by the ordinary people and led to the creation of many political jokes.
As one of his strategies to maintain power over Syria, Hafez al-Assad developed a state-sponsored cult of personality. Portraits of him, often depicting him engaging in heroic activities, were placed in every public space. He named myriad numbers of places and institutions in Syria after himself, and other members of his family. At school, children were taught to sing songs of adulation about Hafez al-Assad. Teachers would begin each lesson with the song "Our eternal leader, Hafez al-Assad". In some cases, he portrayed himself with apparently divine properties. Sculptures and portraits depicted him alongside the prophet Mohammad, while, following her death, the government produced portraits of Assad's mother surrounded by a halo. Syrian officials were made to refer to him as the 'Sanctified one' (al-Muqaddas). The personality cult that he developed portrayed him as a wise, modest and just leader of the country. This strategy of creating a cult of personality was pursued further by Hafez's son and then-president, Bashar al-Assad.
Francoist Spain, also historically known as Nationalist Spain during the Spanish Civil War, refers to the period of Spanish history between 1936 and 1975 when the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco took control of Spain from the government of the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. Franco was formally recognised as Caudillo for the Spanish patria by the National Defense Committee (Junta de defensa nacional) which governed the territories occupied by the Nationalists on 1 October 1936. It has been estimated that more than 200,000 Spaniards died in the first years of the dictatorship, from 1940–42, as a result of political repression, hunger and disease related to the conflict. He wore the uniform of a captain general (a rank traditionally reserved for the King), resided in the royal Pardo Palace, appropriated the kingly privilege of walking beneath a canopy, and his portrait appeared on most Spanish coins. Indeed, although his formal titles were Jefe del Estado (Head of State) and Generalísimo de los Ejércitos Españoles (Generalissimo of the Spanish Armed Forces), he was referred to as Caudillo de España por la gracia de Dios, (by the Grace of God, the Leader of Spain). Por la Gracia de Dios is a technical, legal formulation which states sovereign dignity in absolute monarchies, and had only been used by monarchs before Franco used it himself. Franco's Spanish nationalism promoted a unitary national identity by repressing Spain's cultural diversity. Bullfighting and flamenco were promoted as national traditions while those traditions not considered "Spanish" were suppressed. Franco's view of Spanish tradition was somewhat artificial and arbitrary: while some regional traditions were suppressed, Flamenco, an Andalusian tradition, was considered part of a larger, national identity. All cultural activities were subject to censorship, and many, such as the Sardana, the national dance of Catalunya, were plainly forbidden (often in an erratic manner). This cultural policy relaxed with time, most notably in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In a 2004 article on personality cults, The Economist identified Togo's Gnassingbé Eyadéma as maintaining an extensive personality cult, to the point of having schoolchildren begin their day by singing his praises.
In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is commemorated by many memorials throughout the country, such as the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn (Haliç), the Atatürk Dam, and Atatürk Stadium. Atatürk statues have been erected in all Turkish cities by Turkish Government, and most towns have their own memorial to him. His face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey; his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in all schools and classrooms, on all school textbooks, on all Turkish lira banknotes, and in the homes of many Turkish families. At the exact time of his death, on every 10 November, at 09:05 am, most vehicles and people in the country's streets pause for one minute in remembrance. In 1951, the Turkish Parliament issued a law (5816) outlawing insults to his reminiscence (Turkish: Hatırası) or destruction of objects representing him, which is still in force. A government website was created to denounce the websites that violate this law, and the Turkish government as of 2011 has filters in place to block websites deemed to contain materials insulting to his memory.
The start of Atatürk's cult of personality is placed in the 1920s when the first statues started being built. The idea of Atatürk as the "father of the Turks" is ingrained in Turkish politics and politicians in that country are evaluated in relation to his cult of personality. The persistence of the phenomenon of Atatürk's personality cult has become an area of deep interest to scholars.
Atatürk impersonators are also seen around Turkey much after Atatürk's death to preserve what is called the "world's longest-running personality cult".
Saparmurat Niyazov, who was President of Turkmenistan from 1985 to 2006, is another oft-cited cultivator of a cult of personality. Niyazov simultaneously cut funding to and partially disassembled the education system in the name of "reform", while injecting ideological indoctrination into it by requiring all schools to take his own book, the Ruhnama, as its primary text, and like Kim Il-sung, there is even a creation myth surrounding him. During Niyazov's presidency there was no freedom of the press nor was there freedom of speech. This further meant that opposition to Niyazov was strictly forbidden and major opposition figures have been imprisoned, institutionalized, deported, or have fled the country, and their family members are routinely harassed by the authorities. Additionally, a silhouette of Niyazov was used as a logo on television broadcasts and statues and pictures of him were "erected everywhere". For these, and other reasons, the US Government said that by the time he died, "Niyazov's personality cult...had reached the dimensions of a state-imposed religion."
Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2012, says there is a cult of personality of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and that it is strengthening. Agence France-Presse reports a developing personality cult. Reporters Without Borders says the president is promoting a cult of personality of himself and that his portraits have taken the place of the ones of the previous president.
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The Vietnamese communist regime has continually maintained a personality cult around Ho Chi Minh since the 1950s in the North, and it was later extended to the South after the reunification, which it sees as a crucial part of its propaganda campaign surrounding Ho and the Party's past. Ho Chi Minh is frequently glorified in schools by schoolchildren. Opinions, publications and broadcasts that are critical of Ho Chi Minh or that identify his flaws are banned in Vietnam, with the commentators arrested or fined for "opposing the people's revolution". Ho Chi Minh is even glorified to a religious status as an "immortal saint" by the Vietnamese Communist Party, and some people "worship the President", according to a BBC report.
Mobutu Sésé Seko used his cult of personality to create a god-like public image of himself in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mobutu created a centralized state, amassed massive wealth for himself and presided over the economic deterioration of his country and human rights abuses.
Mobutu embarked on a campaign of pro-African cultural awareness and in 1972 he formally changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.")
- Charismatic authority
- Supreme leader
- Imperial cult (in the Roman Empire)
- Imperial Presidency
- Narcissistic leadership
- Toxic leader
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- Commanding Syria: Bashar Al-Assad And the First Years in Power (B.Tauris, 2007), By Eyal Zisser, page 50
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- There are multiple translations of the full name, including "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake", "the earthy, the peppery, all-powerful warrior who, by his endurance and will to win, goes from contest to contest leaving fire in his wake" and "the man who flies from victory to victory and leaves nothing behind him"<http://www.plexoft.com/SBF/N04.html#Sese> and "the all-powerful warrior who goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake" (Wrong, p. 4)
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