Tamerlane's life ( 1336-1405) was spent conquering the
inhabitants of Asia. A Turkik Mongol, his goal was to make his
capital, Samarkand, the most impressive in Asia. Yet he rarely
stayed at home, preferring to vanquish and destroy additional
lands. Legendary for his ruthless savagery and lack of mercy,
Tamerlane massacred entire populations including the 80,000
residents of Delhi and razed whole cities, leaving behind nothing
but rubble. And he had a macabre sense of architecture building
towers out of the skulls of his victims.
Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV)
On January 16, 1547, Ivan became the first czar of Russia, ruling
until 1584. His early reign was primarily spent in battle in an
effort to expand Russian land. His tyrannical cruelty only
developed later in life, when he turned increasingly paranoid and
vindictive historians suspect mental instability. In 1570, Ivan
formed a troop of personal bodyguards called oprichniki, who
answered only to him and became the vehicle for massacring his
perceived enemies over a seven-year period (1565-1572). The landed
gentry was Ivan's particular nemesis, and he unleashed his oprichniki upon thousands of them. He was equally guilty of
domestic violence, killing his son and heir, Ivan, in a state of
fury, as well as several of his wives he is believed to have had
seven of them.
Robespierre was the mastermind of the Reign of Terror (1793-1794),
the dark underside of the French Revolution that perverted its
lofty ideals of democracy with fanaticism and inhumanity.
Robespierre, leader of the infamous Committee of Public Safety,
turned France into a police state, sending "enemies of the nation"
to the guillotine without benefit of a public trial or legal
representation. About 40,000 French men and women were executed or
died in prison, and another 300,000 were imprisoned. Only Robespierre's own beheading ended the slaughter.
History's most chilling tyrant, Hitler controlled Germany from
1933-45. His fascist maneuverings for world domination, his dream
of a Teutonic master race subjugating all non-Germanic peoples,
led to a criminality unmatched by any leader this millennium.
Responsible for the genocide of six million Jews, the slaughter of
Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Communists, and other "undesirables"
and "decadents," as well as the invasion of Europe and the
preposterous ambition to rule the world, Hitler defies any more
sophisticated explanation than categorical evil.
Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung)
A despotic ideologue who controlled China from 1949-76, Mao
subjected the Chinese people to his massive social experiments,
all of which went catastrophically amok. Early in his reign, he
encouraged free speech in an attempt to avoid the mistakes of
Stalinism. When criticism of his regime arose, however, his true
sentiments absolute intolerance of dissent and opposition emerged,
and he retaliated savagely. When he launched the Great Leap
Forward his economic plan to forge an industrial revolution in
China it resulted in the worst famine of the century, described as
a "totally unnecessary, entirely man-made holocaust that claimed
between 23 million and 30 million lives." He then masterminded the
Cultural Revolution, which, despite its ideological claim to
"purify" communism of bureaucrats and elitists, was a vehicle for
settling Mao's personal scores and shoring up power. During the
nightmarish decade when culture was equated with depravity,
millions most of whom were guilty of the crime of belonging to the
bourgeoisie were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered as suspected
Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier
Up to 60,000 Haitians died under the 1957-71 reign of Duvalier,
and millions were exiled. With his henchmen, the Tontons Macoutes
("Bogeymen"), Duvalier terrorized and murdered potential
political foes and ordinary Haitians. Trained as a doctor hence
his ironically paternalistic nickname Duvalier declared himself
President-for-Life in 1964 and portrayed himself as a semidivine,
voodoo-empowered ruler . . . a portrait shows him posing with
Jesus Christ. His corrupt policies spawned a fabulously wealthy
elite and a dirt-poor populace Haitians' per capita annual income
under Duvalier was $80, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.
After his death, his pudgy, somewhat dim son Jean-Claude "Baby
Doc" Duvalier was enthroned, and carried on his father's venal
policies until he was driven out of the country in 1986.
Running a neo-Stalinist police state from 1967-89, Nicolae
Ceausescu wound the iron curtain tightly around Romania, turning a
moderately prosperous country into one at the brink of starvation.
To repay his $10 billion foreign debt in 1982, he ransacked the
Romanian economy of everything that could be exported, leaving the
country with desperate shortages of food, fuel, and other
essentials. Yet no costs were spared for his own self
glorification the self-proclaimed "Genius of the Carpathians"
spent lavishly on party office buildings and personal residences.
Ceausescu also razed thousands of villages and forced citizens
into concrete high-rises, a misguided socialist idea of modernity
as well as a way of wiping out Romanian culture and history. His
corruption and nepotism were legion, and former Secretary of State
George Shultz claimed that during Ceausescu's reign, Romania had
"possibly the worst" human rights record in the East bloc.
Brutally authoritarian president of Uganda from 1971-79, Idi Amin
oversaw the torture and murder of an estimated 300,000 of his own
people. He orchestrated the persecution of the Lango and Acholi
tribes, and expelled all 60,000 ethnic Asians from the country,
thereby destroying the economy. He lined his own pockets with his
country's wealth, and as an advocate of Islamic terrorism, was
personally involved in the Palestinian hijacking at Entebbe in
July 1976. With his bombast and buffoonery, he gained an
international reputation as a parody of an African despot: he
called himself "Conqueror of the British Empire" and the national
heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda, for example, and claimed to
have direct conversations with God. As amusing as his pompous
antics were from afar, his savagery and repression have deeply
scarred Uganda, in spite of its remarkable recovery under current
President Yoweri Museveni. Today, Amin lives in a large marble
villa in Saudia Arabia.
Radical Marxist leader of Cambodia from 1975-79, who butchered his
own people. The four years of nightmarish Khmer Rouge rule led to
the state-sponsored extermination of citizens by its own
government. Between 1 million and 2 million people were massacred
on the "killing fields" of Cambodia or were worked to death
through forced labor. Pol Pot's radical vision of transforming the
country into a Marxist agrarian society led to the virtual
extermination of the country's professional and technical
class anyone wearing glasses, for example, was murdered. Pol Pot
died in 1998 without remorse, declaring, "My conscience is clear."