Monday, April 12

The most evil people in history

Studying Hitler and Stalin and got to thinking about this question. I know you, my friends, will have good contributions. Stupid answers like 'Bush' or 'Obama' will be deleted with extreme prejudice.

Started with this search and found:

Top 10 Most Evil Men
Top 10 Most Evil Women
Most Evil Men and Women in History


Leopold II of Belgium
Pol Pot

My main criteria is body count. Did Pol Pot and Hirohito/Tojo get into the millions like the top 4?

What do you think? I'm sure there's much I don't know that you can teach me.

PS: reading 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' now and wonder how to factor slavery in. More on that in a subsequent post...


Brad B. said...

Slavery predates written history, so i'd be hard to peg it on one person. An interesting question would be which is more evil, slavery or genocide?

From everything i've read, I think Mao wins on pure body count. A book on him is in my 'to read' stack and your post may bump it up a notch or two. The only reason he doesn't get quite the infamy of a Stalin or Hitler is simply because they isn't a lot of visual documentation to get us emotional about it.. Which one of these guys said, 'A dozen dead is a tragedy. A thousand dead is a statistic.' To many of us, without the photos or personal stories, Mao and the horrors of Darfus are just statistics to us.

Shawn said...

If we are talking body count is there room for discussion of Truman? Around half a million in the fire-bombing of Japanese cities. Another several hundred thousand in the dropping of the bombs.

Sean Meade said...

BB: yes, but, from what i've read, most ancient slavery (esp. in the Roman Empire) was different from American slavery. in the old world, slaves retained some rights.

you're probably right on Mao.

SC: wow, didn't see that coming. i certainly wouldn't include Truman.

Shawn said...

I'm not saying Truman would make the cut, but...

Your main criteria you mentioned was body count. Truman was ultimately responsible for over half a million civilian deaths. So I think he needs to be in the discussion.

Dan tdaxp said...


I'm pretty sure "Good old days slavery..." arguments are examples of Romanticism as opposed to being statements supported by logic or evidence.

Agreed on Mao n shear body count.

The case of Mao also complicates other decisions. Stalin was awful for Europe and Russia, but was a positive influence on China, as most of Mao's worst decisions were attempts to rid his system of Stalinist-trained technocrats.

Cory James Meade said...

In sole consideration of body count, Mao wins hand down. However, to me, evil implies motive. If you're considering motive, then Hitler and Stalin would rise above Mao. I don't know that Mao ever tried to kill off entire people groups, and then succeeded on a mass scale (but admittedly don't know much about Mao, good point Brad).

If we're considering body count in wartime, then Hitler should also be bumped, and perhaps Hirohito, both of whom would still be well above Truman. Can Stalin also be bumped up here, for how many Russian soldiers were used as cannon fodder?

I also agree with Brad about slavery. It's hard to pinpoint one person, although everything I've ever learned about slavery points to a drastic change in the 1500's when the Portuguese began transitioning it into a race based institution in Europe and the Americas.

Dan tdaxp said...

Mao used violence to liquidate social groups he disliked. About a million landlords were killed in 1949-1952.

M said...

Are we using body count as the sole measure, because the nominees' list is heavily slanted toward the 20th Century (with one exception). Leopold II would be up there on any list. In undergrad, a professor of Chinese history (who fled China) said of Mao: "He was a great patriot." That surprised me. Even now, Chinese opinion is mixed on Mao. It is hard to dismiss him as evil if his compatriots have mixed feelings about him.

Hitler would be near the top of my list, if not at the top. I'd like to do a little more research before committing.

Dan tdaxp said...


Mao is the beneficiary of a huge, ongoing cult of personality that has nothing to do with his policies. Mao's successors got to where they were by supporting Mao from the 1930s to 1970s. While Deng et al's are generally anti-Maoist, Deng and that crew only got to the top by working for the monster.

Still, if Mao is near the top, Cixi should be too. The Boxer Rebellion was just the Cultural Revolution, 70 years earlier.

Sean Meade said...

there are a lot more comments over on my Facebook note (i think you're all my friends over there):

SC: ok. my main criteria is body count, but i was assuming evil intentions or methodology, as Cory subsequently noted.

Dt: this article describes both kinds:

Cory: thanks for your contributions!

fwiw, i wouldn't count Stalin using soldiers as cannon fodder. not sure i have a great reason, though.

M: just what i picked. i'm certainly open to other criteria, and anyone else can make their own list ;-)

right! i'm not really committing either. just sort of putting this out there.

Dt: interesting idea re: Cixi, but we can't even pin a million on her, right?

Dan tdaxp said...


Thanks for the link. I think it demonstrates my point well :-)


deichmans said...

Truman's decision to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in no way motivated by evil. And the "half million" figure is an exageration by more than a factor of 2.

I think "body count" is too simplistic a measure. If one considers "evil" to be the expression of vanity over any concern for others, then Kaiser Wilhelm II should be near the top of the list. It was his profound vanity that made Hitler possible, and set the 20th century on its path to Armageddon.