At age thirteen in 1981, I made plans to take over the world. I would form a military organization with a network of secret bases, to destabilize the nations of the globe so I could seize power. The Reagan administration had me scared of nuclear annihilation — a civilization gone mad. The only moral response was to end war by taking over the world. So I wrote a manifesto, detailed my plans, and designed superweapons. I kept these in folders in a three-ring binder in my top dresser drawer. Today, four decades later, one of those folders survives. It is titled “SULTAN: Bases, Robots, Missiles.” It contains my megalomaniacal manifesto, my plan’s diabolical steps, and some blueprints. The other folders are missing. I have a good idea what happened to them, or should I say, who happened to them.
The opening page reads: “This is a highly-classified, top secret notebook, full of my plans for world conquest, and absolute domination of the planet. Anyone (without whom I have first given specific directions) reading this book shall be dealt with accordingly. – Jim Richardson, Future Earth Emperor.”
Kid Mad Scientist
I worked on my chemistry set in a small-town enclave — a Maryland boarding school campus, where the faculty brats had a kid-mad-scientist scene. From grades four through six, I tried replicating the anti-gravity formula a friend claimed he stumbled upon. Supposedly an acidic fluid had escaped a test tube and flowed uphill. Another boy, PJ — two years older — was into robotics. I witnessed firsthand the wheeled robot he made in his room featuring a remote-control flamethrower — I kid you not. PJ beat me up in the snow after I nailed him with a snowball as he talked to campus girls. There were rumors he’d built a robot that could walk. I imagined synthesizing skin with my chemistry set to create an android army defending a Kid Nation. Once we put a tape-recorder in a robot made of cardboard boxes, and my little sister believed it was talking to her — a successful Turing test.
But now my family had moved to Rising Sun, a slightly larger town more rough-and-tumble. To cope with my insecurity, I retreated into my imagination where I remain to this day. The effect was twofold. First, I got to ignore the outside world. Second, by being 100 percent weirdo, I attracted attention. Whoever’s drawn to misfits doesn’t care how well they fit in. I met a group of five Dungeons & Dragons geeks, and we spent a great deal of time in a fantasy world. I remember more about those old friends’ D&D characters than I do about the actual people. I feel bad about that. It was Andy, Mike, Tim, Jeremy, and Ted — and sometimes Ted’s twin sister Terry. Ted who I barely recall, but I have many memories of adventuring with his 14th-level Fighter. And wasn’t Ted’s Fighter an avatar of Ted’s own superego, and therefore Ted himself?
From this base of imagination I branched out. I claimed – out loud, to my 7th-grade class – that I was a UFO contactee possessing the secrets of alien races and the stars. This caper involved a lot of raw creativity. I designed alien alphabets, languages, cultures, biology, and maps of alien continents, to which I devoted many hours of writing and drawing — manufacturing evidence proving my lies were true. All that ended when I kissed my first girl — Terry, who I remember well, but about whose D&D character I remember nothing.
Project SULTAN lingered past my 14th birthday. I devilishly stole the name from an evil organization in Captain America #265, January 1982.:”S.U.L.T.A.N.” stands for Systematic Ultimate Logical Takeover of All Nations.
I was failing most of my classes. My educator parents were mortified. I never did my homework and I never studied. But I was anything but lazy. I conceived all this content and churned it out, it just had nothing to do with school. My fascist plan to achieve world peace through autocratic control took a lot of work.
My model was a comic-book archetype of supervillainy, with a good dose of Bond villain. Like many of these childhood manias, the extent to which I believed it myself remains open to interpretation. Charitably we might chalk it up to an adolescent confusion between fantasy and reality. Or one might say, at the very least, that I was engaged in a self-directed creative writing project. In another way it was sheer performance art, requiring me to convince myself it was real with a kind of method-acting. I weaponized my incipient narcissism toward an artistic purpose: a performance of myself at the center of an earth-shattering drama.
I recall fury at my maternal grandmother who dismissed my plan. She had asked what I wanted to do in life, and I told her, “I’m going to take over the world.” I was livid at her reply, “I think you’ll decide to do something more practical”. How dare she not take me seriously? I seethed. Did she not see the pressing problems of the world that would benefit from one-world government? It was so obvious. Someone had to do it. So, I was dead serious, in that way of impractical dreamers.
I was not so serious that I kept it all to myself, despite my claims that it was “highly-classified top secret.” Most Bond villains probably never told their grandmothers what they were up to. I also shared my writing and blueprints with my D&D friend Mike, who contributed some artistic improvements. But like with U.S. Presidents, declassification was at my discretion.
The plan was methodical, and I believed it could work. There were holes in it however. It began:
“Phase #1: Acquire a great amount of money. This may be by bank robbery, writing a best-selling novel, a movie, etc. If money is acquired by bank robbery, hire experienced specialists, and a pre-thought-out fool-proof plan should be used to avoid capture.”
You can see a lot of hand-waving already. The plan was to come up with a fool-proof plan, and get bank robbers to give me money so I could pay them some of it.
Phase #2 began with hiring mercenaries. A critical part of Phase #2 was to blow up the Panama Canal by shipping a nuke in a cargo ship and detonating it halfway through. This would redirect the world’s freight ships around South America, where my army would pirate them for supplies and materials, then sell the rest on the black market. I suppose I could have done all the pirating without blowing up the canal, but you have to admit it’s pretty fiendish. I would use my gains to construct far-flung aircraft and naval bases hidden in mountain tops and desert islands. My main base, the “Advanced Security Complex,” would be in the Sahara Desert. It was designed to be an underground nuke-proof base with defenses against all attacks. Deep inside, the hallway to my office was boobytrapped, constructed of mirrored material that lasers could zig-zag around in, dicing any intruders. My office itself had numerous fail-safe security features, including my desk which could disappear into the floor and deliver me to an escape rocket. I designed myself a suit of techno-armor based on Doctor Doom, and my troops would have armor based on the Star Wars Stormtroopers. Why mess with a good thing?
Phase #3 was to continue destabilizing governments – from weakest to strongest – by sabotaging crops and so forth. I had a super-weapon in mind for this: the Nitrogen Missile, with a warhead of liquid nitrogen capable of turning a ten-mile radius into Siberia. I was also going to invent a way to beam solar power from satellites to armored vehicles and tanks, obviating the need for fuel or batteries. One by one the nations of the earth would fall.
My manifesto is every bit as precious and overweening as you might expect from a 13-year-old Future Earth Emperor. It emphasizes the dream of power, while barely mentioning my Utopian goals. I imagined reciting this to my armies in grandiose tones:
It has been the cause of wars, death, and destruction.
This planet’s history has been filled with men who lusted for the supreme power.
Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Hitler.
All have failed.
But I shall not fail, for I crave the supreme power, also.
Supreme power, is, of course, nothing less than control of an entire planet.
When I rule Earth, when I am in complete control, there will be no wars, for who shall we fight?
No inflation, or poverty. Essentially, Earth, Gaia, Terra, Midgard, whatever your preference, will be a Utopia, a perfect world. Through SULTAN, I will achieve this goal.
There was only one problem: my eleven-year-old little brother. Allen snuck into my room while I was at camp and found my plans. He read them with a sense of dawning horror, even though the first page explicitly mentioned I would “deal with him accordingly” for doing so. Right then and there he dedicated his life to stopping me. He started making plans for a counter-organization called SULTAR, the meaning of which has been lost to time. But perhaps it stood for Supreme Ultimate Lawful Thwarting by Allen Richardson. When I got back home from camp, I discovered he had been through my stuff. I unleashed my terrible sanction:
I told on him.
I took an additional measure of revenge. At that time Allen had another covert op besides SULTAR. He was running a scam on our gullible eight-year-old sister Joan, the sister who believed a robot made of cardboard boxes could be artificially intelligent. Allen had assumed the secret identity of an action hero who he called “The Masked Bandito.” Poor Joan believed the Masked Bandito was real. Allen strung her along with a facemask-and-cape routine, pulling up to her on his bike and feeding her these tales about his life as a man of mystery. Then Joan would come tell me all about it with wide eyes. It never seemed to occur to her to question why the Masked Bandito rode Allen’s bicycle. She believed it like she believed in the Easter Bunny. I wasn’t having it. One day through my bedroom window, I saw the Masked Bandito on the lawn with Joan, and I stormed down the stairs and out of the house. I stomped up to him and he was like, “Hey, wait, what are you do…” As Joan watched in disbelief, I grabbed the mask off his head and threw it to the ground. I walked away scornfully, the mask lying on the grass. Read my secret plans for world domination, will you? He got what he deserved. I had unmasked the Masked Bandito. It was perhaps the only real power I ever achieved.
An index of Jim Richardson’s essays may be found here.
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