A few days ago I published a blog post outlining history’s ‘most brutal dictators’. The accompanying post on our Facebook page elicited lots of responses, with many implying that the list should be based on the number of people killed, rather than the brutality exhibited by the tyrants doing the killing. This reminded me of a graphic that has been doing the rounds for the last few years on the internet, which estimates the number of people killed by different dictators and megalomaniacs. Although the figures are estimates, and in many cases may be underestimating the total number of victims, it is nevertheless astonishing that just ten people are responsible for more than 150 million deaths. Details on the top five most lethal dictators are given below.
1. Mao Zedong
Chairman Mao was Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Mao is one of history’s most significant figures, and was responsible for a number of advances in China, such as the development of a modern education and healthcare system, and a general improvement in life expectancy in the country during his leadership. However, this progress is vastly outweighed by the huge numbers of people who starved to death as a result of disastrous programs such as the ‘Great Leap Forward’. Most modern estimates put the death toll during his leadership at anything between 40 million and 80 million people, making him by far the most lethal dictator that has ever lived.
2. Josef Stalin
As General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Stalin was responsible for a process of industrialisation and collectivisation that resulted in a disastrous disruption of the agricultural process that resulted in millions of deaths through famine. He also launched a number of purges of the Communist Party, initially designed to root out his enemies, but which later came to be used to murder any significant figures in the army or educated classes who might one day pose a threat to Stalin’s position. It is estimated that he was responsible for the deaths of at least 23 million people.
3. Adolf Hitler
Leader of the Nazi Party and Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, Hitler was responsible for the Second World War and the millions of deaths that came with it. In addition, Nazi ideology was responsible for the deaths of at least five million Jewish people during the holocaust.
4. King Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was King of the Belgians between 1865 and 1909, and is best remembered as the founder and owner of the Congo Free State. Explorer Henry Morton Stanley claimed much of the Congo for Leopold’s private project, allegedly to improve the lives of the region’s inhabitants. In reality, Leopold mercilessly exploited the region’s natural resources as well as its people, with human rights abuses accounting for the deaths of at least 15 million Congolese.
5. Hideki Tojo
Tojo was Prime Minister of Japan from 1941 until 1944, and was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour which brought the US into the Second World War, and the associated escalation of the conflict.