Everyone knows the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. But Hitler isn’t the only leader in history with millions of deaths to his name, and surprisingly enough some of these tyrants were just as brutal and heartless, if not more so, than the man who orchestrated the murder of millions of Jews. Take, for example, Ivan the Terrible, who killed his own son, and the Pasha brothers, who orchestrated a movement so cruel that the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge its existence. Or Robespierre, who sent thousands of Frenchmen to the guillotine for the most ironic reason. One thing is for sure: power can corrupt, and in these ten instances it corrupted in some of the most horrifying ways imaginable.
10. Maximilien Robespierre
Ironically, Maximilien Robespierre didn’t even believe in the death penalty at first. He was one of the foremost leaders and thinkers of the French Revolution, siding with the poor even though he himself was of a higher class. Known as “The Incorruptible” because of his honest politics, he said in 1794 that the goal of the Revolution was “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality.” But as the bloodlust of the Revolution spiraled out of control, so did Robespierre. Thousands of people were lost to the guillotine under flimsy and subjective claims, and when some of Robespierre’s friends called for an end to the killings, he sent them to their deaths, too. The Terror only ended when Robespierre himself was guillotined, and by that time the man had almost 17,000 deaths to his name.
9. Pol Pot
When Pol Pot used a guerrilla army to take over Cambodia in the mid-1970s, his goal was to “purge” society. Essentially, he removed all Western influences and transformed Cambodia into a brutal farming society. City workers were forced to relocate to the countryside and work in fields, where most died from overwork and starvation. His soldiers, the Khmer Rouge, killed wealthy and educated people because they served as a reminder of the “old society”. Ethnic minorities, such as Chinese and Vietnamese, were persecuted and almost wholly destroyed. The crimes of Pol Pot are referred to as the “Cambodian genocide”, in which over 2 million people were killed.
8. Idi Amin
In 1971, Idi Amin took control of the Ugandan government while the standing president was in Singapore. Immediately he began to order mass executions of several Christian tribes whom he suspected to be loyal to his predecessor, which began eight brutal years of rule. Amin forced the Asian population out of Uganda, and because these numbers were in the tens of thousands this caused the country’s economy to collapse. When a group of Palestinian terrorists hijacked an airplane and landed in Uganda, Amin supplied them with weapons and other aid. However, Israeli commandos launched a surprise raid and rescued the hostages. After this humiliation, Amin ordered the execution of hundreds of airport workers and of an old British hostage who was in the hospital. Amin was eventually forced into exile, but only after his murder count reached about 300,000.
7. Ivan the Terrible
Ivan the Terrible was supposed to inherit Russia when he came of age. In childhood, he was mistreated and neglected by the boyars – the ruling class – subjected to beatings, abuse, and molestation, as well as the countless murders he witnessed. At 13, he called a meeting of the boyars, after which he fed the leader to a pack of dogs and was shortly crowned czar. For most of his reign he focused on conquering, in which he was very successful, but upon the death of his wife he became unhinged and uncontrollably brutal.
He set up the Oprichniki, a police force that began killing church officials and performing “masses” that ended in orgies of rape and torture. Ivan also ordered them to massacre the sixty thousand citizens of Novgorod, who were tied to sleighs and run into a river after their archbishop was sewn into a bearskin and fed to hunting dogs. Many executions commenced in Moscow.
Ivan also killed his own son – when his pregnant daughter-in-law Elena was dressed immodestly, and Ivan attacked her so brutally that she miscarried. When his son rose to defend her, Ivan killed him. A few years later Ivan himself died of a heart attack, leaving an incompetent son in charge of a petrified, but much expanded, Russian empire.
6. Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein took over Iraq in 1979 after the suspicious death of its general. He immediately began a campaign of executing anyone who disagreed with him, mostly Kurds and Shiite Muslims. After a 1982 attempt on his life, he ordered the slaughter of 150 civilians, including a large number of children. He also abducted eight thousand members of the clan of a revolutionary leader, and most of the bodies were later discovered in mass graves. In 1986-1989, he ordered every living thing in a certain Kurdish area to be killed. There were over 180,000 deaths. Another targeted group was the Shiite Marsh Arabs, descended from ancient Mesopotamians: Hussein ordered the destruction of their marshes, which caused the 250,000-strong population to drop to about 30,000. Hussein was captured in 2003 and in 2006 was hanged for his crimes.
5. Joseph Stalin
One of this merciless Soviet dictator’s most famous quotes is: “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.” In his life, Stalin seems to have done his best to prove that point. His estimated death toll is 20 to 60 million, most as a result of artificial famine, execution, or work in Nazi-like labor camps. One of Stalin’s victims was his own son: Yakov, his only child with his first wife, was captured by Germans during World War II and when the Germans tried to bargain with Stalin, the dictator made no move to save his son, causing Yakov to perish in a concentration camp. Stalin is also notorious for the political deaths under his reign. With a merciless secret police and a policy of encouraging citizens to spy on each other, the victims of his paranoia ranged in the millions. Some were his friends. Without question, Stalin was as ruthless and bloodthirsty as his political enemy Adolf Hitler, but the difference is that many of Stalin’s crimes were against his own people.
4. The Pasha Brothers
The Pashas: Brothers Talaat and Enver Pasha were the leaders of Turkey during the Armenian genocide. In a series of brutal massacres, death marches, and forced starvation, over half of the 2 million Turkish Armenians in 1915 were murdered. The crimes began in April of 1915, when hundreds of Armenian nobles were rounded up and massacred and their heads put on display. Men were forced to serve in the Turkish army and subjected to death by overwork and execution. In one instance, two thousand ex-soldiers were slaughtered and their bodies thrown into a cave. Women, children, and the elderly were starved, bayoneted, thrown off cliffs, and sent on death marches. The Pasha brothers attempted to disguise these actions as a security measure.
3. Vlad the Impaler
This 15th-century Romanian noble, who served as an inspiration for Count Dracula, is notorious not as much for the numbers he killed by the method. His nickname “The Impaler” refers to his fondness for impaling his victims, but he used countless other methods of torture as well. His victims were usually his subjects, but perpetrators of any crime, no matter how small, were victims of his ruthless bloodlust. Methods such as blinding, strangulation, mutilation, exposure to wild animals, and boiling were all utilized, and bodies would often be left out in the town square for days. He was certainly not a vampire, but his thirst for blood was about equal to that of the wicked character he inspired.
Nero rose to power when his mother, wife of Claudius, used poisoned mushrooms to kill the emperor. For a while Nero was a respectable and well-loved leader, but when his mother fell out of favor she turned against him, throwing support toward Britannicus, who was Claudius’ natural son. Britannicus soon died suspiciously. Nero fell in love with a noblewoman named Poppaea Sabina and wanted to divorce his current wife Octavia in order to marry her, but his mother was a strong supporter of Octavia and severely opposed this idea. Nero then orchestrated the murder of his mother, divorced Octavia and forced her to commit suicide, and married Poppaea. After the murder of his mother Nero became a monster. He executed anyone who spoke out against him – in one case, an army commander who badmouthed him at a party. After the Great Fire of Rome, which he was suspected of causing, he blamed the Christians and persecuted them gladiator-style. He was eventually driven out of power and committed suicide.
1. Leopold II of Belgium
King Leopold II of Belgium committed crimes against tribes in the Congo. During a wave of European imperialism, he conquered the Congo and established a brutal, 23-year long rule that included such atrocities as severing hands and genitals, flogging people to death, and burning villages. The affair began when Leopold’s men tricked Congolese chiefs into signing away their tribes into slavery in exchange for cloth. The Belgians established quotas of work that men had to meet each day or else face punishment such as flogging and the severing of hands. In one village that rebelled, Leopold ordered the men’s heads to be cut off and the women and children to be hanged. When Leopold died, he was arguably the richest man in the world because of the spoils of African slave labor.
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