Carnett: As the worst lay dying, what are they thinking?

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the "war to end all wars," World War I.

Alas, mankind's record since 1914 hasn't been stellar.

Did Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, have any idea that his assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo would be the tripwire for the Great War — a war that would kill 16 million people?

Was Princip's conscience stricken as he lay dying of tuberculosis near the end of that horrific conflict?

I sometimes wonder what must go through the minds of despots as they prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil. Apprehension? Remorse? What are they more inclined to be concerned about, the future or the past?

Do you suppose Herr Hitler in his Berlin bunker in 1945 gave thought to his own complicity in 60 million World War II fatalities? Did he bother to rehearse responses to questions he was certain to face moments after pulling the trigger on his Walther?

Was not the dictator almost single-handedly responsible for the war? Do actions — such as destroying innocents in cities and obliterating whole populations — have consequences beyond the grave? Most of the 7 billion souls alive on Earth today would probably respond in the affirmative to that question.

Though a powerful public orator, Der Fuehrer must have been at a loss for words postmortem. What, truly, could one say? He was known to rehearse even his gestures before delivering a speech. Imagine preparing to gesticulate before an audience of one: God.

Did Hitler have the hubris to think he could fool the creator with the same Teutonic twaddle he'd successfully unleashed on Neville Chamberlain and the German people?

What might Cambodian revolutionary Pol Pot have pondered as he lay dying, allegedly from poisoning, while under house arrest? Or Soviet dictator and atheist Joseph Stalin as he succumbed to a massive heart attack (or, more probably, poisoning)? Or founding father of the People's Republic of China, Chairman Mao, as he slid inexorably into oblivion following an illness?

Each of the aforementioned was responsible for millions of deaths.

North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Un, is a piker by comparison. He's simply not in the same universe. Upon further reflection, their "universe" is likely some decrepit and blistering hofbrau in hell.

But he's still young — just 30 — and presumably has the time and means to catch up. At this moment, he's busily establishing street cred.

The new leader recently had his ex-girlfriend killed, and, a few days afterward offed a favorite uncle, Jang Song Thaek. All of this, mind you, to establish he's no wimp.

Kim Jong Un's killing of his uncle is not unprecedented in the annals of authoritarian barbarity. In fact, parricide, or murdering one's relatives, has occurred often in recorded history. Remember Herod the Great in the first century? He killed his father-in-law, several of his 10 wives and two of his sons. All to preserve a crown not worth preserving.

At least a poseur and provocateur like Moammar Kadafi, Libya's former president, saw the error of his ways before kicking the bucket. But, kick the bucket he did.

For much of the 1980s Kadafi was known as an "international pariah" and the "mad dog of the Middle East," until President Ronald Reagan silenced him by stuffing a cherry bomb in his tailpipe.

Known by many as arrogant, vain and stupid — a lethal combination — Kadafi was killed by his own people in 2011. He died harassed, bloody and cowering.

Kadafi, unlike Hitler, may not have been accorded the luxury of preparing for lights out. Following a gunshot to the head, he doubtless entered the eternal realm desperately in need of a coherent strategy.

One day we, too, shall stand before the heavenly bench. Where, I'm told, excuses don't fly.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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