The Last King of Scotland

Last night Emma and I watch The Last King of Scotland. A film about Uganda under Idi Amin during the 1970’s. It’s a remarkable film – tense, beautifully shot, incredibly acted – and it seems sadly relevant in light of the ongoing monster-parade of leaders that plague the developing world.
In the news at the moment we are hearing about the rioting in Kenya, rioting and instability in Pakistan. Countries that have a history of leaders who appear to believe that the good of their countries is best served by their own personal aggrandisement.

Perhaps putting it that way is too simplistic.

The Last King of ScotlandIt cannot be denied that many of those leaders who have become notorious for their brutality, or corruption, or cult of personality, are (or were) people of great charisma and leadership ability. Often they are very urbane and intelligent people. Always, they come to power asserting that they seek the best for their people, things which only a strong leader can achieve.
It’s easy for us to ‘look behind’ this rhetoric and see nothing but irrational evil and self-interest. It may well be that this is the case, but I’m certain it wasn’t the reality that presented itself to the consciousness of the leader any more than the people whom he persuaded. What ever our beliefs about the causes of evil and the human capacity for free will. At a subjective level no one actively pursues evil, there are no Cackling Arch-Villains. That would be such a failure of logical consistency that it would render the person virtually incapable of normal function. Whatever evils people do, we do it because we have told ourselves, in some fashion, that they are good.
It seems to me, as an arm-chair observer, that leaders like Idi Amin, subscribed to a theory that the good of their nation was best served by their own personal good. For Idi Amin, as presented in The Last King of Scotland this was not in a tawdry, greedy sense. Rather, he believed himself the ‘Father’ of the nation. His personal strength was a measure of the nation’s strength, his personal wealth was a measure of the national wealth. Every aspect of national life was related personally to himself as leader. This led him to take every personal slight or threat as a national betrayal, which he would exterminate for the sake of the people.
I wonder if Hitler’s Germany didn’t operate along similar lines.
There is something deeply right about this way of thinking. The life of a people is intimately connected with the life of their leaders. This understanding is central to Christian faith.
What is deeply wrong with Idi Amin, and all the sorry list of criminal leaders who have blighted our world, is a failure to understand the sacrificial nature of leadership displayed by Christ.

This was revolutionary in the 1st Century, and remains so in the 21st. The good of the people will be served by the sacrifice of the leader. For a leader to seek the good of the people is not equivalent to seeking his own good. This Christian understanding of leadership is nicely expressed in our use of the term ‘Minister’ for our political leaders. The word ‘minister’ is a Latin loan-word meaning ‘servant’. Our Prime-Minister is the ‘First Servant’ of the people.

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6 thoughts on “The Last King of Scotland

  1. Tegan and I watched the movie Downfall recently, about the final days of Hitler and the lead up to Germany's surrender in WW2. There was something similar going on there, but it was less about Hitler himself being the measure of the nation (although, with the cult of personality that Hitler had, I guess his followers and the German people might have seen his strength and resolution as emblematic of the nation) but that he and his closest followers saw the future of Germany as intrinsically linked with National Socialism, to the point where Joseph Goebbels and his wife kill their six children and each other, rather than live in a Germany without National Socialism. Anyway, it's a movie definitely worth checking out – one of the best movies I've seen for quite a while.

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  2. Thanks for the tip. I haven't seen Downfall. It's one of those movies that I think I'll need to be in the right mood.
    d

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  3. Your post also reminded me about a movie (or series of) although I'm not sure I'd suggest seeing them if you haven't. Your comment about people doing evil things because we have told ourselves that they are, in some way, good reminded me of the Saw movies. The guy explains his actions as giving other people the opportunity to realise the bad things they are doing, or the opportunities they are wasting, and 'save' themselves.

    But I'm not entirely sure I agree with you that "at a subjective level no one actively pursues evil, there are no Cackling Arch-Villains. That would be such a failure of logical consistency that it would render the person virtually incapable of normal function". I think there are people in this world who simply do evil things because they enjoy hurting people. Just my 2 cents 🙂

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  4. Great post.

    On the following; What is deeply wrong with Idi Amin, and all the sorry list of criminal leaders who have blighted our world, is a failure to understand the sacrificial nature of leadership displayed by Christ.

    Are note some more complex judgments needed here? There are leaders who no less are ignorant of Christ, and yet govern much better than Amin, yes? But in a sense, this is the whole "problem" of the developing world. We (and who are we?) don't know what it takes for these countries to "develop".

    The quotation marks indicate dissatisifaction with those words, though I can't think of another economical way to express the thought.

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  5. Hey Drew,
    thanks for the comment. I feel your frustration. I think you're right about the need for more complex judgements, it's too easy to find cheap explanations though reductionism.
    I wonder though, whether anyone can claim to have any understanding of Christ without encountering him as the One…
    'who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.' (HCSB)

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  6. Hi dan, I especially loved this statement –
    'Whatever evils people do, we do it because we have told ourselves, in some fashion, that they are good.'
    It makes sense of the extra sense of evil and disillusionment we intuitively feel when men do 'atrocities' and are at the same time are blind to these atrocities.. I might quote you on my blog one day.. although the amount of material that Sorry day has given me to blog about will keep me busy for a month!

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