Joseph StalinTotalitarian leader of the U.S.S.R. from 1929-53, Stalin crushed the Soviet peoples with his megalomania and repressive version of communism. His adopted name meant "man of steel," and the term Stalinism has become the definition of a cruel, draconian socialism. He sent millions of Soviets not conforming to the Stalinist ideal to forced-labor camps, and he persecuted his country's vast number of ethnic groupsreserving particular vitriol for Jews and Ukranians. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev estimated that about 20 million died from starvation, executions, forced collectivization, and life in the labor camps under Stalin's rule. Another 20 million survived imprisonment and deportation.
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
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.
Maximillien RobespierreRobespierre 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.
Adolf HitlerHistory'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 class enemies.
Francois "Papa Doc" DuvalierUp 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.
Nicolae CeausescuRunning 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.
Idi AminBrutally 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.
Pol PotRadical 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."
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