It’s not the easiest question to answer, really…what with all the possible contenders. But I asked it anyway – on the usual social media suspects. A couple of interesting things happened. For one, I learned that a dickhead is a special kind of historical actor. Sure, many a human abomination occupy the pages of our historical literature. But you can be a dickhead without being utterly despicable, though it doesn’t hurt. Many candidates were both total dickheads and complete assholes to be sure. Also, most nominees were Civil War soldiers. This may be because many of my social media connections are somehow involved in the study of Civil War history. But it also might be because desperate times call for a lot of dickheads.
So, who topped the list? George Custer. Not only his arrogance, hyper-inflated ego, and sense of self-importance – but his unparalleled hubris during the Indian wars earned him the title of biggest dickhead. Congratulations, general.
George McClellan – another nineteenth-century military figure – ranked highly as well. Also an megalomaniacal and insufferable twit, he built one of the greatest armies the western hemisphere had ever seen – and then sat on it. What’s worse, he referred to his commander-in-chief (Abraham Lincoln if you’re following along) as the original gorilla…in public. What a dickhead. Other Civil war era historical dickheads include Oliver Otis Howard – who showed disdain for his own soldiers in battle, and JEB Stuart – another ego maniac who seemed more inclined to get his name in the papers than do his job. As an honorable mention, Andrew Johnson earned the title of Reconstruction dickhead. And to round out the nineteenth century, Andrew Jackson got a few nods. His Indian policy alone could have done the trick but it helped that he was a sociopath who would shoot a man over even the slightest provocation.
I’m a little surprised that the twentieth century didn’t get more play. My vote was for George Wallace. Standing in a schoolhouse door to symbolically defy federally mandated integration? It’s a school, you dickhead. George Patton was surely a dickhead of the highest caliber. I mean…who humiliates a wounded soldier by slapping him around in front of his fellow wounded comrades? And he did this TWICE! Dick. Head. And Bull Connor? Fire-hoses? On kids? Come on. Finally, I am not sure precisely why, but I have always thought Nelson Rockefeller was at least half a dickhead.
At any rate, there you go. What I have learned from this experiment is that there are a lot of historical dickheads out there. And a lot of them were named George.