'The Dictator's Playbook' looks at history, with an eye on todayHistorians in the News
tags: North Korea, culture, documentary, dictators
"The Dictator's Playbook" might look like history, with much of the imagery in grainy black and white. But this PBS documentary series also provides modern-day resonance -- a guide to tyrants of the past, conveying lessons on how those tactics can be employed in the present.
Consisting of six hour-long installments, the program kicks off with Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean dynasty now ruled by his grandson, Kim Jong Un. Profiles of other infamous leaders -- Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Idi Amin -- follow.
What might strike the strongest chord -- at least, for that part of the audience that has been expressing alarm about the Trump administration -- are point-by-point references to common strategies that appear to echo Trump's actions, particularly toward media and journalists.
Highlighted items include seeking to discredit the independent press, controlling the public's perception of reality through propaganda, establishing a "cult of personality," and using "a culture of fear" to stoke popular support.
The prevailing message serves as a reminder that the methods on display carry a not-so-subtle warning that while America has been shielded from dictatorships, it is not necessarily immune from forces that have shaped and defined them.
Michael Rosenfeld, a co-executive producer on the program, lived for a time as a child in Franco's Spain, where his father was an NBC News correspondent. The idea for the series was born out of PBS' desire to offer a history show focusing on the 20th century.