So Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is Time’s Person of the Year. The choice is controversial, and as a big non-fan of the privacy-invading phenomenon that is Facebook, I certainly wouldn’t have had him on my list.
However, being named Person of the Year by Time doesn’t always mean you’re destined for sainthood. A brief review of some of the previous winners is instructive (note: the awards used to be known as “Man of the Year”).
The inaugural winner was Charles Lindbergh, in 1927. Lindbergh was a great flier, but he was also an anti-Semite who appears to have harboured sympathies towards the Nazis (If you get a chance you should read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, an alternate history story where Lindbergh becomes President in 1940).
The winner in 1931 was Pierre Laval. Followers of 20th century French history will know him best as a Vichy collaborator who was executed in 1945 for treason.
And in 1938 Adolf Hitler himself was Time’s Man of the Year. Then in 1939 it was the turn of that other monster of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin. Way to go, Time. To prove they couldn’t get enough of Uncle Joe they gave it to him again, in 1942.
Mohammed Mossadegh, the winner in 1951, was an Iranian Prime Minister so beloved of the US that they overthrew him in a CIA-organised coup two years later.
In 1965 the winner was William Westmoreland, the US general who commanded in Vietnam and who failed utterly to understand the nature of the war he needed to fight for the US to achieve its objectives. Cue a humiliating defeat and withdrawal.
Richard Nixon of Watergate fame won in 1971 and 1972. But he had to share in 1972 with Henry Kissinger, a man who many have labelled a war criminal.
In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini was the winner. That probably didn’t go down well with the US public when, some months later, he decided to hold 66 US citizens hostage.
In 1983 one of those short-lived Russian leaders of the early ‘80s, Yuri Andropov took the award. For what? Not being Brezhnev? Perhaps being one of the main forces behind the crushing of the Hungarian and Prague uprisings was what swayed the judges.
In the 1990s and early 2000s it was the Bushes (Daddy in 1990 and Dubya in 2000 and 2004).
In 1998 they clearly decided it was time to lighten the mood. The choice of both Bill Clinton and his nemesis Kenneth Star in 1998 must have had people rolling in the aisles.
Authoritarian Vlad Putin got the award in 2007, and last year it was Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve during the Global Financial Crisis. Yes, that’s right, they gave him an award for his efforts. Mind you, the US gave billions to the Wall Street bankers who caused the mess, so I guess it’s consistent with rewarding, rather than horsewhipping, those who messed up the global financial system.
So the fact that Zuckerberg has won may not bode well for him or for the rest of us. If history is any judge it seems he will likely use his billions to enter into politics and become an authoritarian ruler, killing millions of people around the world before dying in a bunker surrounded by his loyal followers.
Still think Facebook is harmless?