Dictators — most people would not want to remember them based on their atrocities they had committed, however the brutality they are known for is too much to be forgotten. These dictators were really cold-blooded and they did not care or value human life. They did anything they could to further their selfish ambitions for power, domination, greed, and immorality. But believe or not, some of these dictators are well regarded, even worshiped. Here are 15 of the most horrific dictators of all time.
More known to others as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, Vlad III Prince of Wallachia was a three-time voivode or prince of Wallachia who was a member of the House of Basarab. He lived from 1431 to 1477, and came from a noble family. Since he protected the Romanians from both sides of the Danube, Romanians (even up to now) look up to him as a folk hero. He was also generous, contributing handsome donations to several churches and monasteries, and championed welfare, especially of the peasants.
However, there’s a notoriously bad side of Vlad Dracula: the horrifyingly barbaric punishments. Often, he ordered people to be skinned, boiled, burned, decapitated, roasted, buried alive — every inhumane method imaginable. He even wanted to have parts of the bodies severed — including ears, limbs and sex organs. But his most favorite form of execution was through impalement on stakes. Thus, he was posthumously dubbed as Vlad Tepes (Romanian for “Vlad the Impaler”).
Vladimir Lenin was a politician and a leader of Russian Communism. He was also one of the most important Marxist theoreticians. His own political theories, known as “Leninism,” are based on Marxism.
Lenin played a major role in instigating the October Revolution in 1917, which resulted in the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the formation of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. He was among the original members of the Politburo (along with Joseph Stalin), to take control in the Bolshevik Revolution. Under Lenin’s rule, homosexuality, no-fault divorce, and abortion were legalized, and free education and healthcare was also implemented.
While his supporters admire him for championing the poor, his detractors view him as despotic because of his abuse of power. Under his rule, the government seized a lot of properties from owners and distributed them to the peasants, as well as nationalized banks and several industries. Lenin was also responsible for human rights abuses and mass murders especially for those who raised their voices in dissent.
Pol Pot was a Cambodian revolutionary and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. His followers were known by the name of Khmer Rouge. He is responsible for the genocide of 1 to 3 million Cambodians under his totalitarian dictatorship. He and his government imposed a radical form of agrarian socialism which forced people — including educated people and professionals — out of the urban areas and to work on collective farms and forced labor. Many people died from a variety of factors — execution, poor health care, and starvation, to name a few.
When Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge fell from power, he fled to the north but was eventually captured and held under house arrest, where he died in 1998.
Nero was a Roman emperor who ruled in the years 54 to 68. During his reign, he aimed his attention towards trade, diplomacy, and promoting cultural enrichment throughout the empire. However, he was also a megalomaniac who would do anything for his personal gain.
Many Romans believed that he started the Great Fire of Rome (where the legend that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, arose) in order to clear the land to build his dream palatial complex, the Domus Aurea. For this, he imposed high taxes from his people who soon instigated a revolt against him which led to his suicide. His rule also saw the mass persecution of Christians, whom Nero blamed for the disastrous fire.
Maximilien Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician, and one of the most important figures of the French Revolution. Robespierre, initially, was seen as a hero. Since he represented the poor he became General for the Third Estate, Robispierre fought for the poorest of poor, and gave them freedom, rights, and some privileges, as well. He was also against capital punishment and the dechristianization of France while upholding the abolition of slavery and equality of rights to all French people.
But as the French Revolution went on, Robespierre transformed into some kind of a despot. He was notorious especially during a certain period of the Revolution which was called The Reign of Terror. This was an episode marked by a violent and bloody battle between the Girondins and the Jacobins, Robespierre’s political party. He wanted to kill all of his enemies and as a result, the death toll ranged in the tens of thousands. Many of the deaths were from summary executions. This period certainly ended with a bloodbath, and Robespierre himself was beheaded in 1794.
Koki Hirota was a Japanese diplomat and politician, notorious for his war crimes during World War II. He was the Prime Minister of Japan from 1936 to 1937. As a diplomat, he was ambassador to Russia and served as a foreign minister. His rule as Prime Minister witnessed excessive military spending, the government’s interference on the domestic economy, his country’s invasion of China during the war, and the signing of the Anti-Comintern pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Facing mounting opposition and pressure from the army, Hirota stepped down from office, and soon returned to the foreign minster post. In 1945 he conducted negotiations to prevent the Russians from declaring war on Japan. Following Japan’s surrender, Hirota was arrested as a war criminal, and in 1948 he was convicted and executed by hanging.
Kim Il Sung was the first Supreme Leader of North Korea for 46 years, from its establishment up to his death in 1994. He is considered one of the longest-reigning dictators of the 20th century.
Kim presided with totalitarian rule in his country, basing it on Stalinism. And because of that, he made sure that every single factor of life in North Korea was under control by himself and the government. Like Josef Stalin, Kim also established a secret police to make sure that every single move would not escape under its watchful eyes. Kim controlled the people’s minds to the extent that North Koreans believed their country was economically prosperous while rival South Korea was poor. Another effect of Stalin’s influence on Kim was the establishment of cult of personality around himself. He used propaganda and mass media to brainwash his people into worshiping him as a sort of god.
Following his death, his son Kim Jong-il succeeded him, and the son automatically made himself 2nd Supreme Leader of North Korea. Kim Jong-il ruled from 1994 until his death in 2011, and his own son Kim Jong-un succeeded him as 3rd Supreme Leader of North Korea.
Dr. Josef Mengele was not really a dictator per se, but the German physician and SS officer of the Nazi Party presided over a particularly wicked world of his own. He conducted unscientific, inhumane, and deadly human experiments on Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners during World War II. He himself also selected the victims to be sent to gas chambers. Mengele had a particular interest in twins on whom he often performed in his abominable experiments.
Following the fall the of the Nazi regime, Mengele escaped to South America in 1949. Initially, he lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then fled to Paraguay, and finally to Brazil to avoid being caught, sent back to Germany, and tried for his crimes. In 1979, Dr. Mengele died in Sao Paulo, Brazil from drowning.
Ismail Enver Pasha was an Ottoman general and political leader. He led the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 which brought back the establishment of the 1876 liberal constitution. After the 1913 coup d’etat, Enver Pasha became a virtual dictator, and fought in the Turko-Italian War in Libya and in the Balkan Wars, where the Turkish territory lost. Frustrated over that defeat, he allied with Germany during the World War I. When Turkey signed the Armistice of Mudros, Enver Pasha fled to Berlin in exile.
Enver was killed while leading an anti-Soviet battalion during the Basmachi revolt, on August 4, 1922. His remains were buried in today’s Tajikistan and then brought back to Turkey in 1996.
Idi Amin was the Ugandan president who ruled from 1971 to 1979. His military career began in 1946 when he joined the British colonial regiment, the King’s African Rifles. He rose to become major general, and then commander, in the Ugandan Army after the country’s independence from the British. In the country’s coup d’etat that overthrew then-President Milton Obote in 1971, Amin led the military who instigated the coup, and later seized power.
During Idi Amin’s terrible rule, he rose to notoriety in 1976 when he provided a safe haven for the hijacking Palestinian terrorists, who were then killed by Israeli forces. Whoever opposed or dissented his rule, Idi Amin used his brutal force to repress or kill them. His reign was characterized by political repression, extrajudicial killings, persecution of ethnic groups, corruption, nepotism, and economic downfall. The number of people killed during his rule ranges from 100,000 to 500,000.
Amin unsuccessfully attempted to invade Tanzania, where Tanzanian forces drove them back and in turn invaded Uganda, signifying the end of his regime. Amin was forced to flee, first to Libya and then to Saudi Arabia where he remained for the rest of his life. At age 78, Amin died in 2003 from a variety of illnesses, including kidney failure.
Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese-French Communist revolutionary leader, Prime Minister, and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century. When he was in France, he was immersed in the French socialist movement and became one of the founding members of French Communist Party. He then left Paris for Moscow where he studied revolutionary tactics and was employed by the Comintern. As a member of the Comintern, he was sent to Guangzhou, China, where he would give socialist “education” to young Vietnamese revolutionists. He founded the Communist party of Indochina, which was later the Vietnamese Communist Party, and continued to give lectures on Marxism-Leninism and Confucian-inspired ideals to the younger Vietnamese.
Ho was a key figure in the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1945). Differences with the French, however, led to warfare which led to the France’s defeat in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. This eventually led Vietnam to become an independent republic, and Ho became its first president. He stepped down in 1965 due to health issues, but remained a force and inspiration for the young Vietnamese who fought for his Communist ideals and causes. He died in 1969 from heart failure, aged 79.
Since Ho Chi Minh’s death a personality cult has been held and maintained around him, and there’s even a city named after him, replacing Saigon. However, not all Vietnamese (especially the anti-communists) agree to the name change and sometimes still refer the city as Saigon.
Hideki Tojo was a general of the Japanese Imperial Army and a statesman. He became Prime Minister of Japan during much of World War II (1941 to 1942). Being the most powerful figure in his government, he approved the attack on Pearl Harbor which, eventually, initiated the war between Japan and the United States. At home, Tojo and his government asserted totalitarian control over the people.
Following the end of the war, Tojo was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for his war crimes. He was executed by hanging on December 23, 1948.
Chiang Kai-Shek was one of the most important Chinese political leaders in the 20th century. He was an influential member of the Kuomintang (KMT) party and Sun Yat-Sen’s close ally; together they fought to overthrow the Chinese imperial dynasty. The Republic with China was established in 1912. After Sun’s death, Chiang became the leader of the Kuomintang and overtook control of the government. He was unable to maintain a good relationship with the Communists (unlike his predecessor) and eventually forged a civil war against them — the Chinese Civil War. Also referred to as “Generalissimo,” Chiang also led the army against the Japanese invaders in Manchuria.
During World War II, Chiang sided with the Allies, who gave him full support. He was acknowledged as the leader of strife-torn and impoverished China for much of the war. After World War II, Chiang and the Communists re-ignited the civil war, and he was eventually forced to flee the mainland to the neighboring island of Taiwan, where he ruled until his death in 1975.
Why was (and still is) Chiang seen as a dictator, even though he was a staunch anti-Communist? In the Chinese Civil War, he caused the deaths of millions of people. After he and his army retreated to Taiwan, he imposed martial law, and would persecute those who would question his authority. As a result, thousands of dissenters were either imprisoned or executed, whether their opposition to Chiang’s rule was real or perceived. He also put strict limitations on civil and economic freedoms, as well as intellectual and personal property rights. Despite all these, Taiwan never became a Communist country under his rule.
Adolf Hitler was, as many know, a German dictator, founder and leader of the Nazi Party in Germany. From 1933 to 1945, he was Chancellor of Germany and Furher of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945.
Hitler’s leadership was based on his belief in “racial purity” or “racial hygiene. He believed his mission was to achieve the racial supremacy of the “Aryan race,” which he thought was the “master race.” Hitler thought that other races such as Jews, Slavs, and ethnic Poles were Untermenschen (“sub-humans”) that were only fit to be exterminated; but he held a particular hostility towards the Jews. He and his regime were responsible for the genocide of at least six million people, including about 5.5 million Jews. In addition, tens of millions of people, both soldiers and civilians, perished as a result of European Theater during the war.
Following Germany’s defeat and the fall of the Nazi Party, Hitler committed suicide, along with his long-time companion Eva Braun on April 30, 1945, to elude capture by the Soviet Red Army. Their remains were burned afterwards.
Kaiser Wilhelm II was the last German emperor (kaiser) and the King of Prussia since he ascended to power in 1888, when he was 29 years old, until his abdication in 1918.
Even when he was young and during his rule, his sense of entitlement and his authoritarian ways weren’t taken too kindly by Otto von Bismarck, who’d been in power for about three decades. Wilhelm removed von Bismarck from power, and took over almost all affairs in Germany. The Kaiser’s penchant towards the military and ambitions for colonization alienated many countries such as Great Britain and the United States. This climaxed in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914, which many believe, directly led to the First World War. Following the victory of the Allies and the defeat of Germany, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm’s abdication from both titles. Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He died there in 1941, aged 82.