The concept of the dictator, or an all-powerful ruler, has been around the term was invented in ancient Rome. Today, it is a word associated with the use of systematic violence against political opposition and the persecution of religious and ethnic groups.
Below are just a few of the most evil dictators to have blackened modern history with their deeds.
1. Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)
This dictator who rose to power in the 1930s was responsible for the greatest ferocities in human history. He ordered systematic racially based murder of about 11 million people, of which 6 million were Jews; while his foreign policy provoked World War II which claimed 50 to 70 million lives.
Fearing his imminent capture by the Soviet Red Army that was advancing in Berlin during that time, Hitler eventually committed suicide on April 30, 1945.
From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in the deadliest genocide in history, which was part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime. Under the coordination of the SS, following directions from the highest leadership of the Nazi Party, every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet citizens and Soviet POWs, Romanis, communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories was used to concentrate victims for slave labor, mass murder, and other human rights abuses.
The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what Nazis termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (German: die Endlösung der Judenfrage), an agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe. Initially the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Nazis established a network of concentration camps starting in 1933 and ghettos following the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In 1941, as Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen murdered around two million Jews, partisans, and others often in mass shootings.
By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. This continued until the end of World War II in Europe in April–May 1945.
2. Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953)
This Georgian-born Soviet leader rose to power after Lenin’s death in 1924, whose era was ill-famed for the notorious Gulag camps – the forced labor camps where the people worked to death.
Stalin, the future ally of the United States and Britain against the Nazi Germany, was a paranoid man who brutally suppressed his political enemies as well as suspected opponents. The number of casualties of the Stalinist regime vary but about 14 to 20 million of people are estimated to have died in the Gulags or were executed during the Great Purge in the 1930s, while millions were deported and exiled.
Estimates on the number of deaths brought about by Stalin’s rule are hotly debated by scholars in the field of Soviet and communist studies. The published results vary depending on the time when the estimate was made, on the criteria and methods used for the estimates, and sources available for estimates. Some historians attempt to make separate estimates for different periods of the Soviet history, with casualties for the Stalinist period varying from 8 to 61 million. Several scholars, among them Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, former Politburo member Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev and the director of Yale’s “Annals of Communism” series Jonathan Brent, put the death toll at about 20 million.
Genocide scholar Adam Jones claims that “there is very little in the record of human experience to match the violence unleashed between 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power”.
Stalin’s attempts to solidify his position as leader of the Soviet Union lead to an escalation in detentions and executions of various people, climaxing in 1937–38, and continuing until Stalin’s death in 1953. Around 700,000 of these were executed by a gunshot to the back of the head, others perished from beatings and torture while in “investigative custody” and in the Gulag due to starvation, disease, exposure and overwork.
3. Pol Pot (1925 – 1998)
The leader of the Khmer Rouge and dictator of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 was directly responsible for one of the severest genocides in modern history.
The Cambodian genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 in which an estimated one and a half to three million people died. The Cambodian Civil War resulted in the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea by the victorious Khmer Rouge, which planned to create a form of agrarian socialism founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The subsequent policies caused forced relocation of the population from urban centers, torture, mass executions, use of forced labor, malnutrition, and disease which led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population (over 2 million people). The genocide ended in 1979 following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. As of 2009, 23,745 mass graves have been discovered.
Unlike in other genocides or conflicts, no one was immune from being branded an enemy of the state. Even if one was considered to be on the right side that could change the next day – many Khmer Rouge members were also killed during purges.
Children and babies were not exempt from their cruelty; it was often noted “to stop the weeds you must also pull up their roots.” Anyone affiliated with Lon Nol’s regime or military was also immediately killed.
No evidence was needed in order to send one to prison and people often fabricated their confessions of various crimes, with the belief that this would end their torment. In reality, they were more often than not executed once they gave up a list of names of new people to arrest.
In the beginning, executions were not necessary – starvation served as an effective tool to dispose of undesirable populations, but as more and more people were sent to prison, the Khmer Rouge moved over to a system of “killing fields,” establishing hundreds all over Cambodia.
As the genocide progressed, survival was determined by one’s ability to do work on the collective farms. This meant many of Cambodia’s elderly, handicapped, ill, and children became targets due to their inability to undertake harsh manual labor.
Money, free markets, schools, private property, foreign styles of clothing, religious practices, and traditional Khmer culture were abolished, and buildings such as schools, pagodas, and government properties were turned into prisons, stables, camps, and granaries.
Family relationships were heavily criticized, and the Khmer Rouge insisted that everyone consider “Angka” (translated to the Organization, referring to the top level of the regime) as their mother and father. Child soldiers were a huge tool of the Khmer Rouge, as they were easy to control and would follow orders without hesitation, to the point where many were forced to shoot their own parents.
4. Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong ruled China for 27 years, for promoting class struggle as major platform to conduct leftist path, he purposefully destroyed the traditional Chinese values and ethics. On his communist way of ruling the country, he master-minded many disasters that caused extreme damage to the Chinese culture and society, and every tragedy that he steered can be regarded as truly devastating for mankind.
Based on the Soviets’ experience, Mao considered violence necessary to achieve an ideal society derived from Marxism and planned and executed violence on a grand scale.
Land reform and the suppression of counterrevolutionaries
The first large-scale killings under Mao took place during land reform and the counterrevolutionary campaign. In official study materials published in 1948, Mao envisaged that “one-tenth of the peasants” (or about 50,000,000) “would have to be destroyed” to facilitate agrarian reform. Actual numbers killed in land reform are believed to have been lower, but at least one million.
The Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward of the People’s Republic of China was an economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China from 1958 to 1961. The campaign was led by Mao Zedong and aimed to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization. However, it is widely considered to have caused the Great Chinese Famine.
Chief changes in the lives of rural Chinese included the incremental introduction of mandatory agricultural collectivization. Private farming was prohibited, and those engaged in it were persecuted and labeled counter-revolutionaries. Restrictions on rural people were enforced through public struggle sessions and social pressure, although people also experienced forced labor.
It is widely regarded by historians that The Great Leap resulted in tens of millions of deaths. A lower-end estimate is of 18 million, while extensive research by Yu Xiguang suggests the death toll from the movement is closer to 55 million. Historian Frank Dikötter asserts that “coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward” and it “motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history”.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Mao’s Red Guards were given carte blanche to abuse and kill the revolution’s enemies. Millions of people were killed in the violence, while many more committed suicide.
5. Kim Jong-il (1941- 2011)
Kim Jong-il was the supreme leader of North Korea, from 1994 to 2011. By the early 1980s Kim had become the heir, apparent for the leadership of the country and assumed important posts in the party and army organs.
Kim Jong Il basically starved his people and if they were too weak to work, he would either torture them by drowning, dissection and if lucky, shot or in a gas chamber. The concentration camps were confidential and only former guards could tell the tale.
In the camps, there are deformities, amputees, newborn babies injected with a liquid that causes major swelling, babies were buried alive or faced down to suffocate. The worn out people were dissected alive in underground labs. By far there have been the most inhumane and horrible ways anybody could torture someone since medieval times. Over 2 million people were killed and had slow painful deaths. He died on December 17, 2011.
6. Jiang Zemin (1926- )
Jiang came to power in 1989, after showing that he was a hardliner during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing and Shanghai. Over the past many years, Jiang has carried out horrific killing of millions of people who hold independent beliefs, under the pretense of ensuring stability in the society.
Jiang’s most heinous crime is the brutal persecution of Falun Gong – a traditional meditation and self-improvement practice that is being practiced by over 100 million people worldwide. The practice has got over 2000 awards of honor and recognition from various governments across the world.
The persecution of this peaceful meditation began in 1999 in China, and is still continuing. On Jiang’s orders, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were tortured to death, and hundreds of thousands were in detention at any one time, according to Minghui.org, a website that carries firsthand information about the persecution.
Jiang Zemin lacks both ability and moral integrity. Since May 2015, over 200,000 Chinese citizens and Falun Gong practitioners have filed criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin for crimes against humanity. This makes Jiang Zemin to be the biggest dictator with the largest legal criminal cases pending against him.