THE FACULTIES of the history and political science departments at Catholic University recently announced their choices of the 10 great villains of history. Perhaps you saw the list. It was pitiful: I can't imagine why they bothered.
Listen to it: Cligula, Nero, Attila the Hun, Catherine de Medicis, Ivan the Terrible, Abdul-Hamid II, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Idi Amin. Dull. What's the sense of making a list that any bright 9-year-old can duplicte?
The roster wasn't even altogether successful on its own terms including, as it did, Mao Tse-tung (who some would say was a great improvement over his predecessor) while ignoring Torquemada, the Spanish monk who burned thousands of Jews and assorted heretics to death during the Spanish Inquisition. I guess they figured that Torquemada, while authoritarian, was not totalitarian, but Mao was.
In any case, there are more interesting and instructive lists to be made. The basic error made by the people at Catholic U. was, I think, in giving weight to whether the candidates committed their villainies of history (and particularly modern history) have been committed by accident, in the name of God or progress of both. It is the well meaning villain who fills the mind.
Mark Twain once expressed the belief that one of history's greatest villains was Benjamin Franklin. Citing the unfortunate example Franklin set for youngsters, Twain wrote:
"With a malevolence which is without parallel in history he would work all day and then sit up nights and let on to be studying algebra by the light of the smoldering fire so that all other boys might have to do that also or else have Benjamin Franklin thrown up to them."
And a friend once had a professor who thought that the two greatest villains of history were Winston Churchill and Dale Carnegie. "Churchill made war noble and Carnegie, the handshake false," he said.
Those are interesting villains. In that spirit I would like to offer my own list, limiting it for the sake of brevity to the 20th century. To the Villain's Hall of Fame, then, I propose:
Ivy Lee: The man who, early in the century, persuaded John D. Rockefeller to give away dimes to children, thus inventing public relations.
Joyce Kilmer: In writing "Trees," he ruined poetry for generations of Americans. No wonder Americans don't like poetry; they think "Trees" is a poem.
Henry Ford: He made it possible for virtually everyone to own a car, thereby paving the way.
Billy Graham: He made an emotional, Bible-thumping style of evangelism respectable, setting the stage for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the other electronic religionists.
Henry Luce: He founded Time magazine, starting the publishing empire that culminated in People magazine, perhaps the only national publication that can lay claim to being more vacuous than television.
Dwight Eisenhower: For failing to kick Richard Nixon off the Republican ticket in 1952 after the Checkers speech, which not only gave us 25 years of Nixon, but dealt a blow to intelligent political oratory from which it has yet to recover.
Vince Lombardi: As coach of the Green Bay Packers, he popularized a cruel code of honor which emphasized stoicism above sportsmanship. While this was more or less appropriate to the crass and brutal game he coached, it was picked up by countless, brainless coaches and applied to generations of suffering schoolboys.
J. Edgar Hoover: He single-handedly gave law enforcement a bad name.
Alexander Graham Bell: The inventor of the telephone, an instrument of torture which has made communication between people virtually impossible.
Levi Strauss: For his invention of designer jeans.
Phyllis Schlafly: Who has been able to strike damaging blows to the concept of the equality of women that no man could have managed. She is the Quisling of the women's movement, the president of Vichy feminism.
William Paley: As the guiding force behind CBS, he was the first one to figure out that people will watch anything if it's free, even commercials.
Ray Grebey: In his role as the chief negotiator for the owners in the current baseball strike, he has been berry, berry bad for baseball.
John Wayne: For a lifetime of promoting a bogus image of America that now seems to have become the basis of our foreign policy.
That's my list. If you have a better one, send it to the good people at Catholic U. They need the help.