10 executions that defined the 1980s

The Me decade marks the end of the “short century” and the transition out of the postwar period or the Cold War into … well, into whatever it is that’s come since.

While Communism and apartheid went out with hair bands, it was Back to the Future with the rise of terrorism, nationalism, and religious extremists. And if the warmest memories of the decade are of divided peoples breaching the walls that separated them, our world today is shaped just as surely by the violent ends meted out to many others.

10. Many Tiananmen Square protestors

China’s abortive liberal moment in 1989 was notoriously crushed by tanks. Although the fate of the famous anonymous man who wasn’t crushed is not known, executions for some “rioters” began within weeks of the June 4 crackdown.

9. Ted Bundy

The creepy-charismatic sex slayer whose diabolical crime spree from Seattle, Wash., to Gainesville, Fla., made his name synonymous with human brutality, Bundy left his still-unknown body count in the Seventies but his front-page persona while he scrambled to avoid Old Sparky was quintessential Eighties: oleaginous salesmanship, celebrity narcissism, cannibalistic hyperconsumption, and lethal sexuality. He even made time in his very last hours to horn in on the era’s trendy anti-porn racket.

Rivaled by few before or since for the volume, ferocity, and notoriety of his crimes, Bundy arguably remains the name in serial killing — as attested by the 5,000-plus comment thread he’s generated on this site and the new true-crime titles he continues to underwrite.

8. Satwat Singh and Kehar Singh

Shaheedi to their own minds and not a few of their admirers, these unapologetic assassins of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi retaliated for one notorious anti-Sikh rampage … and triggered a second.

7. Benjamin Moloise

“I am proud to give my life / My one solitary life” wrote the poet, condemned as a terrorist (and not the only one) to worldwide outrage by South Africa’s increasingly desperate white government during the mid-1980s crisis that eventually collapsed apartheid.

6. Khalid Islambouli

The militant Islamic officer turned the page on an epoch of Middle East history by assassinating Nasserite Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after the latter made peace with Israel at Camp David.

5. Mehdi Hashemi

This Iranian revolutionary exposed the shocking Iran-contra scandal to a Lebanese magazine, and shook clandestine national security apparatuses all around the globe.

Ultimately, those who had dirtied their hands in this nefarious scheme, from the Nicaraguan bush to the White House to Hezbollah to Tel Aviv to Tehran, walked away with punishments ranging from a slap on the wrist to their name on an airport … but the whistleblower himself was tortured into a televised self-denunciation and his liberal political faction destroyed in Iran.

4. Maqbool Bhat

Patron martyr of the armed conflict for Kashmiri independence that’s been running for decades since his 1984 hanging. The return of Maqbool Bhat’s remains by the India government is still a going demand of Kashmiri separatists.

3. Kim Jaegyu

Had you composed the “10.26 incident” as fiction, no reader would have believed that the head of South Korea’s intelligence agency would have personally shot the country’s dictatorial president at a debaucherous wingding for (in Kim’s words) “democracy of this country.” Even more bizarrely, it kind of worked.

Our top two executions eerily bookend the decade with trends whose symbolic beginning and end were among that era’s defining events.

2. Militants who seized the Grand Mosque

On January 9, 1980, the Saudi Arabia had over 60 Islamic militants beheaded in several cities around the kingdom.

These men had shockingly seized the sacred Grand Mosque the previous year … and the political price for the Saudi state for profaning that holy place with soldiers to arrest them was an arrangement that immensely strengthened the hand of Wahhabi clerics and directly inspired a young Osama bin Laden.

1. Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu

1989’s stunning collapse of Communist authority across Eastern Europe culminated with the fall of venerable Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. Their drumhead Christmas Day, 1989 trial (and resultant bloodied corpses) were captured on video for the ages, and symbolically tied up the decade with just days to spare.

Honorable Mentions

A few other executions to remember the Eighties by…

On this day..

1804: Georges Cadoudal, Chouan

On this date in 1804, royalist counterrevolutionary Georges Cadoudal was guillotined in Paris with eleven of his chouan brothers-in-arms.

Cadoudal (English Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed French) was the French Revolution’s ultimate antagonist, a Breton notary (and commoner, obviously) who obstinately resisted the bloody progress of those years to the last of his strength.

His decade of royalist adventures (French) reads* like an adventure novel, a mind-bogglingly perilous series of revolts, captures, escapes, rappelling, martial exploits, diplomatic intrigue, terrorist plotting, high principles, low politics … a desperately heroic (or anti-heroic) struggle using every resource of a changing world to claw back the lost age of Bourbons.

After that dynasty’s last (up until then) king was guillotined in 1793, the intrepid Cadoudal staked his life to the 1793 Vendee rising, mounted an insurrection at Brest, and became one of the principal leaders of the anti-revolutionary Chouannerie fighting les bleus around northwest France through the 1790s.

Beaten but not bowed, Cadoudal took refuge in England when those campaigns came to grief following the royalist debacle at Quiberon, but he was never one to retire to the exile social circuit. Cadoudal remained an active schemer against the France of a rising Napoleon Bonaparte, and he was backed now by Britain’s statecraft … and her gold.

Spurning a proffered arrangement with the Corsican — who, say what one will, could recognize ability when he saw it — Cadoudal instead oversaw a dramatic 1800 assassination attempt on Napoleon that didn’t get the dictator but blew a bunch of Parisian bystanders to smithereens.

This effort having failed, our persistent intriguer slipped back into France to attempt an even bolder venture to kidnap Napoleon and elevate the Duke of Enghien — the going Bourbon candidate, who lurked on the French frontier to rush into the power vacuum.

This didn’t work either. As outlandish as the idea seems with benefit of hindsight, it was hardly a crackpot plan — as attested by the credentials of its participants.

“All Europe laughs at the conspiracy in Paris; it was, however, a well-built machine. Men, money, everything was ready. Bonaparte was to be taken alive and carried out like lightning from one post to the sea and the English fleet … I am inconsolable that it missed its mark. Those who criticize the French princes that they do not risk themselves while others fight for them, they will be the first to cry: What madness! How childish! [that d’Enghien risked himself] That is how men are made.”

Joseph de Maistre (Source)

Which is a long way of saying that it still comes down to wins and losses.

Having lost, the Bourbon pretender (he’s a pretender because he lost, of course) d’Enghien was arrested and immediately shot for his trouble; Cadoudal, taken on the streets of Paris,** was around long enough to see the hated Bonaparte take sufficient warning from the conspiracies against him to vest his governance in the imperial dignity. That was proclaimed on May 18. (The famous coronation wasn’t until December.)

Happy now, Georges? Napoleon on his Imperial throne, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

“We have done better than we hoped,” the doomed Cadoudal remarked caustically from his dungeon. “We intended to give France a king, and we have given her an emperor.”

He was rock-ribbed in his royalism to the very last.

He’d met Napoleon face to face years before in an abortive parley — when Cadoudal was offered, and rejected, the bribe of a lucrative Republican military commission — and now Cadoudal’s proposed victim let it be known to him that mercy was his for the asking. The indignant Breton scorned as dishonorable the very idea of supplicating Napoleon, even when the invitation was refreshed as he underwent the fatal toilette on his final day. His dozen-strong party went to their deaths this date taking heart from following the very footsteps of their martyred king.

The Execution of Georges Cadoudal, by Armand de Polignac … who portrayed several scenes of the conspirators.

A very lovely mausoleum in his native village of Kerleano preserves Cadoudal’s remains (reburied honorably there after his Bourbon Restoration finally came to pass), and his memory.

* A descendant wrote this now-public-domain book about our man.

** Reproached for orphaning a policeman’s family as he resisted capture, Cadoudal sneered, “then you should have sent a bachelor.”

On this day..