The Top Five…Coup D’Etat-ers

By far and away the funniest story of last week was the failed coup d’etat in the Phillippines.

So, you’re in court, standing trial for plotting to overthrow the government. Things aren’t going well. What do you do?

The only sane response is to storm out of the courtroom, barricade yourself in the plush hotel down the road, and demand that the government stand down.

(First time round, the group, led by Senator Antonio Trillanes, occupied a luxury apartment complex. Like those other great slapstick artists, the US government, they clearly like to conduct their farces in style).


I was going to compile a list of the top five worst ever coup attempts to honour these jokers – any opportunity to relive (Sir!) Mark Thatcher’s moment of madness in Equatorial Guinea.

But I felt that wasn’t really appropriate. They needed something better than that.

So here, in reverse order, are my top five coup d’etat-ers. No, there is no particular rationale:

5. Hugo Chavez (1954-). Led an abortive coup attempt in 1992, which ended with him in prison. Now, as we all know, loud-mouthed President of Venezuela, and himself a coup-resistor.

4. Simon de Montfort (1208-65). Medieval baron and loose cannon. Failed to become King of France, so came over here to try his luck. Came within a whisker of deposing Henry III, until he was defeated at the battle of Evesham. The only failure on this list, but deserves his place for cross-border efforts.

3. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Munich “beer hall putsch” of 1923 ended with the little man in prison. Come-back tour more of a success, for him if not for humanity.

2. Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82). Serial insurrectionist. Successful Italian coup of 1860 highlight of a career in the revolutionary business. A European great, only kept off the top spot by the popular nature of his attempts – true coups are engineered by small groups for their own selfish benefit.

1. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-73). Napoleon’s nephew tried to overthrow the French government twice, in 1836 and 1840. Bizarrely elected President in 1849, but didn’t stop there, and 1851 coup saw him appointed Emperor of the French, where he insisted on being called Napoleon III. Only in the most humble way, of course.

Louis-Napoleon’s 1851 escapade prompted Marx to coin his famous epigram: “history repeats itself – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”.

One thing to say for history, though: like mums everywhere, she loves a trier. Keep trying Senator Trillane – I know you’ll find a way.


UPDATE: just realised my mistake; I left off the CIA! It’s because they’re so shadowy – no-one ever knows when they’re behind a coup


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