“Et tu, Brute?”
Not every instance of political backstabbery comes with a tagline (or literal backstabbing).
But the intrigue and chaos prevalent in Rome in 44 B.C. still resonate with humanity today, and not just via the works of William Shakespeare.
The TV series “House of Cards” has highlighted a fascination with the day-to-day business of the powers that be.
Is the life of a government hack as treacherous as Shakespeare and Kevin Spacey would have us believe? It appears so.
As former Deputy White House counsel Vince Foster said in a torn up resignation letter (considered to be a suicide note) found in his briefcase after his death in 1993, Washington is a place where “ruining people is considered a sport.”
In recognition of the Ides of March, a look back at famous instances of political skullduggery:
44 B.C.: Julius Caesar assassinated
On March 15, the “dictator for life” of the Roman Empire was murdered by his senators on his way to the Senate. The conspirators, including those who stabbed him to death, were said to be as many as 60 noblemen.
Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome near the end of March and appointed members of his army to rule the Empire in his absence.
The Republican senators balked at having to take orders. Cassius Longinus started the plot, and recruited his brother-in-law Marcus Brutus, a protégé of Caesar’s.
Caesar has been quoted as saying something to the effect of, “You too, Brutus?”
William Shakespeare’s play, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” immortalized the line with “Et tu, Brute?”
1953: Joseph Stalin assassinated?
Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death.
After a long dinner and a movie on March 1, Stalin went to bed, and didn’t wake up at his normal time the next day.
Under strict orders, he wasn’t disturbed, and wasn’t discovered until the following night. He was said to have been found on the floor beside his bed, soaked in urine and unable to speak clearly.
After doctors arrived, he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage caused by high blood pressure, and also a stomach hemorrhage.
Surprisingly, specific details of his health were released in the announcement of his illness and death. He was said to have had a stroke March 2.
It is widely believed that he was poisoned with warfarin. A stomach hemorrhage is not usually consistent with high blood pressure, though is associated with an overdose of warfarin.
The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov claimed that Lavretiy Beria, present the night of March 1 and considered a political threat to Stalin, boasted of poisoning Stalin, saying “I took him out.” Stalin also had a declared enemy in Josip Broz Tito.
A letter was found in Stalin's office from Tito that read: "Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle ... If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second."
November 1990: Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe, Michael Hestletine and 10 Downing
Geoffrey Howe is a British former Conservative politician and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet minister.
Howe’s resignation from the cabinet on Nov. 1, 1990, along with a letter criticizing Thatcher’s relations with the European community, is considered to have ignited Thatcher’s downfall.
After attempts by the Prime Minister’s office to claim that there were differences only of style in Howe's disagreement with Thatcher on Europe, Howe dissented again in a famous speech in the Commons on Nov. 13.
He attacked Thatcher for running risks for the country’s future and criticized her for undermining policies proposed by her Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England.
His speech is considered the catalyst for the leadership challenge of former Defense and Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine a few days later, and Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister and party leader on Nov. 22. It marked the end of her 11-year premiership.
1997: Republicans gather to overthrow Newt Gingrich
In the summer of 1997, 20 Republicans gathered to plot House Speaker Gingrich’s overthrow and force a vote on vacating the speaker’s chair, replacing him with Bill Paxon.
Whip Tom DeLay, majority leader Dick Armey, John Boehner and Paxon were involved. The next morning, they were supposed to meet with Newt and tell him he was out.
Instead, Armey tipped off Gingrich, and the plot fell apart, leading to a shakeup in the leadership of the GOP.
2013: Kim Jong Un sends uncle to the dogs
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ordered the arrest and execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, on December 12.
Song Thaek held several positions of power in North Korea and was charged with contemplating a military coup to overthrow Jong Un, North Korea’s “dear leader.”
Though it was rumored that Song Thaek was fed to a pack of 120 starving dogs, a North Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom in January told Sky News that he was shot to death.