4 Times Nepotism Had Deadly Consequences

Nobody likes nepotism. Not even the people who benefit from it. For different reasons, of course. Most people hate it because it’s a slap in the face of the meritocracy we like to pretend modern humans operate on, it locks people into an endless cycle of wealth and takes away opportunities from more qualified applicants. The nepotists themselves hate it because it gets thrown in their face constantly. This threatens to upset the delicate illusion they’ve created that, by the grace of an ordered universe, the best possible CEO for their parents’ company happens to be them.

Most of the time these days, this sort of preferential treatment for mommy and daddy’s sweetest baby bunny just ends in failed businesses or general ire. Sometimes, though, when the role in question is important enough, nepotism can end in lost lives. Losing jobs when poorly managed businesses fail isn’t great, sure, but at least those people are still occupying their musculature and not in the afterlife because of some kid who snorted his way through an Ivy League legacy stint.

Aldrich Ames

Public Domain

Their problem was trusting a guy with that mustache.

Whether it’s spy movies or the allure of redacted documents, we’d like to think the CIA is a well-oiled, intelligence and assassination machine. We want it to be a slick, silent office filled with impeccably dressed agents and a weapon lab with at least one laser. Unfortunately, even an agency tasked with covert intelligence is still susceptible to classic business bullshit. For example, Aldrich Ames, who, thanks to his CIA analyst father, was whisked right out of high school into a summer internship at the CIA.

Now, “CIA intern” sounds patently insane to me, closer to a slapstick comedy pitch than a genuine position. Are you trading Chinese intelligence for college credits? It is real, however, and Ames was not good at it. He received poor evaluations at every step of his career, and yet, he continually failed upward. Instead of topping out in some corner office, left to get day-drunk and collect a check like some failsons would, however, he ended up as the chief of Soviet counterintelligence. During the Cold War.

All this despite the fact that he was a known alcoholic, which isn’t ideal for a “loose lips sink ships” type role. He even reportedly left a briefcase of classified documents on the New York subway. So anyone with a functional capacity for logical thinking might have raised an eyebrow at handing that guy a folder filled with the identities of the United States’ undercover operatives. How did it go? More poorly than you’d even think. Ames ended up as a KGB double agent, and as such, he handed over the identities of multiple foreign agents to the Soviets for money, most of whom promptly “disappeared.” 

George W. Bush

Public Domain

This photo just gerrymandered your voting district.

For a country that loves to talk about how we triumphantly threw off the reins of a monarchy, we sure do love a neat and tidy political bloodline. Heaven knows name recognition is a whole lot easier to work with than maybe the most hated hobby in all of America: research. I’d love to see a GeoCities-style hit counter on the “policies” pages of political candidates. Not that we have particularly much say in who makes it to the highest echelons of government, since at that point, any candidate presented has been groomed like a Westminster show poodle.

And I’m not going to pretend this is a one-party problem, or a new one. You can find it as far back as John Quincy Adams, and neo-libs love them a Kennedy or a Clinton. As far as questionable qualifications and ruinous results go, though, it’s hard to overlook George W. Bush. Should the 2000s have ended up a time of peace, he might have been able to coast by and cut taxes and social services, but instead, we ended up in a horrifically botched war of ego against Iraq that sniffed uncomfortably familiar to the disaster in Vietnam. You can argue all you’d like about the decision to pull troops out, but the fact is that the Bush administration was responsible for a disastrous destabilization in the Middle East that cost an incredible amount of lives both during wartime and thanks to the creation of extremist groups like ISIS

All of which could have been avoided if we’d just said, “Hey, maybe the guy with the DUI and the alleged coke habit might not be our best and brightest.”

Caligula

Richard Mortel

Even his busts look vaguely evil.

If we want to talk about disastrous historical familial rulers, the most well-known reference might be Rome’s Caligula. He was born Gaius Caesar Germanicus to Germanicus and Agrippa the Elder. His particular familial connections get quite bloody and complicated almost immediately, with his mother and sisters being imprisoned by Tiberius after his father’s death. Tiberius was much more benevolent with Caligula’s future, making his nephew his adopted son and an heir to the throne. This would turn out quite poorly.

He would end up succeeding Tiberius as emperor, and began a reign that was equal parts inexplicable and horrific. He has a reputation as one of history’s quintessential “mad kings” and not in any sort of fun way. He murdered senators who dared disagree with him, and citizens for pretty much no reason at all. He spent only four years on the throne before the Praetorian Guard, meant to guard the emperor, instead decided it was high time for a new one, and assassinated him.

Elagabalus

Public Domain

All hail a 14-year-old!

Our last entry here is another ruler of Rome known for their unconventional thought processes. Where he’s unique, however, is in the fact that though he became emperor based on his family ties to the recently assassinated Emperor Caracalla, he wasn’t actually related to him at all. When Macrinus, the same man who’d had Caracalla killed, took the throne, everyone was looking for pretty much anybody else to knock him off. The mother of Elagabalus, then known as Varius Avitus Bassianus, saw an opportunity, and started telling everyone that her son was Caracalla’s bastard son

Eager to get rid of Macrinus, the Romans responded with a “sure, if you say so” and joined them in overthrowing Macrinus and installing Elagabalus, whose official name while emperor was Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. Unfortunately, Elagabalus, who was 14 years old at the time, was also a devout worshipper of a sun god known as Elah-Gabal from his native Syria. He decided that the official religion of Rome was now one and the same, heresy the people didn’t take kindly to. In the end, it wasn’t the discovery of his false claims to the throne that did him in, but just being a terrible emperor that everyone hated. Not only was he assassinated after just four years, they dragged his body through the streets and threw him in the sewers.

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