5 Idi Amin (c. 1923-2003)
A dictator who loved spectacle, Idi Amin drew international attention in the 1970s by flaunting his power and insulting world leaders. Observers weren’t sure if he was stone cold crazy or if shrewdness lay beneath his outlandish displays. He offered his services as King of Scotland and forced Kampala’s white residents to kneel before him and carry him around on a throne. He also caused the death of approximately 300,000 of Uganda’s 12 million citizens during his eight-year reign. People from all social strata were publicly shot or sometimes forced to bludgeon each other to death. Amin developed his own system of euphemisms, including “giving the V.I.P.” as an order for somebody to be killed, and “giving tea” to indicate a candidate for whipping and dismemberment. He’s also famous for expelling more than 40,000 people of Asian descent, mostly third-generation Ugandans, with only 90-day’s notice. In retrospect, they were lucky to leave Uganda.
4 Pol Pot (1925-1998)
In 1970s Cambodia, Pol Pot and his top Khmer Rouge cronies tried to out-Mao Mao. This gang of young Cambodians, who’d enjoyed the privilege of studying in Paris, decided that uneducated peasants were the ideal. They decided to turn back the clock to “Year Zero,” their sort of Stone Age agrarian fantasy. They abolished money, private property and religion and forced almost the entire population into forced labor camps. More than 1 million people died of starvation, execution or disease. When the reviled Pol Pot finally died, his body was unceremoniously burnt on an old mattress and a heap of car tires.
3 Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Another fan of Marxist literature, Mao Zedong tried to strong-arm the Chinese people into uniformity in their glorification of industrial and agricultural workers. Deeply suspicious of scientists, engineers, artists and anybody else whose talents or book learning he couldn’t control, Mao introduced the Cultural Revolution. Young people were encouraged to rat out anybody deemed “untrustworthy.” One-and-a-half million people died in the Cultural Revolution, and much of China’s knowledge and culture was destroyed.
2 Joseph Stalin (1879–1953)
Born with the unpronounceable name—at least to people outside his native Georgia —Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, the boy who would become Joseph Stalin enjoyed Marxist literature and overthrowing the Russian monarchy. His activism earned him several stints in Siberia. After the revolution, he worked his way up the Communist ranks, effectively becoming the Soviet Union’s dictator by the late 1920s. His vision for the future did not trouble itself with individual welfare. Tens of millions of citizens died or suffered on his 25-year watch, either as collateral damage or as direct victims of execution or slave labor camps. To his credit, he did his part to defeat Nazism.
1 Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
When someone wants a synonym for “evil,” the name Hitler is second only to Satan. If Adolf Hitler had been a better artist, history might have been much different. Rejected by the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts, he honed his talent for hate speech against Marxists, liberals and especially Jews. His fierce devotion to Germany and “purity of blood” propelled him into the political limelight. As founder and leader of the Nazi Party, Hitler was ultimately responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews and millions of gays, prostitutes and other folks he deemed worthy of imprisonment in concentration camps during World War II.
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