The Top-10 Most Evil Leaders of the 20th Century (2023)

By Jan-Benedict Steenkamp

The 20th century is the most violent century in history. While this century witnessed many great leaders, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, it had more than its "fair" share of utterly evil leaders. Here is my top-10. (You can check out the polar opposites, the Top-10 Greatest Leaders of the 20th century by clicking here.)

#1. Adolf Hitler

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Any list of evilness invariably is topped by German Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler who came to power (democratically!) in January 1933. His mad quest for revenge, conquest, and ethnic cleansing nearly succeeded. In December 1941, nearly all of Europe was under his heel. After Stalingrad though, the Third Reich lost battle after battle, and in May 1945, after Hitler committed suicide, Germany unconditionally surrendered. The country lay in ruins, six million Jews were murdered, and World War II in total mourned some 55 million dead. Hate, racism, xenophobia, and megalomania are but a few words to describe this man.

#2. Mao Zedong (1893-1976)

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Mao was a successful guerrilla fighter against the Japanese invaders and the corrupt Kuomintang government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In 1949, he had overcome them all and the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed. It went downhill ever after. In the purges of the early 1950s, millions of “wealthy” peasants, intellectuals, and “saboteurs” were killed. Then came the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-1962) one of the most insane experiments in social engineering ever. Private plots were abolished and communal kitchens were introduced. It was a disaster. Production plummeted and the ensuing “Great Chinese Famine” cost the lives of up to 45 million people. Not having had enough, a few years later, the dictator launched the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" in 1966. Millions of people were persecuted and suffered public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, hard labor, and execution. When Mao died in 1976, the country’s per capita income was lower than Congo’s, and China had lost over 55 million lives. Not that Mao cared. Purity above everything else--his purity.

(Video) 10 Most EVIL Men in History

#3 Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

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In any list of evil men, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ranks high. He rose to power in the 1920s, after the death of Lenin. A succession of Five-Year programs industrialized the country but at unimaginable human costs. This, and forced collectivization of agriculture, to led to widespread famine, which costs the lives of countless millions. Then came the "Great Terror” involving purge after purge of the party apparatus and society. Millions were sent to forced labor camps, their death, or both, the death rate in the Gulags was horrific. Almost all senior Red Army officers were purged shortly before Hitler attacked, ensuring the dismal performance and the horrific losses in the early stages of World War II. In the early 1950s, he was planning another bloody terror but thankfully he died before he could unleash it upon the harried nation.

#4 Pol Pot (1925-1998)

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Pol Pot was the leader of the Communist Khmer Rouge. He grabbed power in Cambodia in 1975 and set about to create a communist paradise on earth. Not surprisingly, it was worse than Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell (violence). To fulfill his vision of an agricultural society, the urban population was forcible relocated to the country side to work in collective farms. Money was abolished and all citizens were made to wear the same drab black clothing, which made Mao costumes look fashionable. Intellectuals were summarily murdered—this included people who wore glasses. This experiment in social engineering costs the lives of about 25 % of the population, and was immortalized in the Hollywood movie Killing Fields. His evil government was toppled after four years by invading Vietnamese forces.

#5 Leopold II (1835-1909)

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(Video) Top 15 Most Evil Leaders In History

The Belgian king Leopold II was a nasty piece of work. He deserves inclusion in this list by what happened in Congo, which he acquired as his private property in 1885 in the Berlin Conference when much of Africa was divided among European powers. From the beginning, he was in it for the money, extracting maximum amount of wealth from this huge colony. Millions of Congolese inhabitants, including children, were mutilated, killed, or died from disease during his rule. Failure to meet rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Forced labor was instituted to increase production. Around 10 million people died during his brutal regime in Congo. Not that he cared. Things got so bad that in 1908, he was forced to hand over the colony to the Belgian state.

#6 Kim Il-Sung (1912-1994)

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Kim Il-Sung was the dictator of North Korea from 1949 till his death in 1994. The official name of North Korea is the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." All of it is a lie. There is nothing democratic about North Korea. The people are treated as slaves, and it is not a republic but a de facto kingdom with leadership going from father to son. Kim invaded South Korea in 1950, and in this war some 3 million people perished, including 12-15% of North Korea’s population. Subsequent Stalinist economic policies and widespread repression led to poverty and famine in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, died. Sadly, the country has not improved much under his son and grandson, both of whom are utterly ruthless, evil leaders in their own right. What a family…

#7. Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)

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Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. The common thread is his life was his morbid thirst for power, absolute power, no matter how high the cost in human blood. Saddam was notable for using terror against his own people, including mustard and nerve gas to subdue the Kurds. He attacked Iran in 1980. The war ended in a stalemate and one million dead. Having learned nothing, he invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading the First Gulf War, and another 85,000 dead. Uprisings after the war led to the death over some 150,000 civilians. The list goes on until he was toppled in 2003 by American and Allied forces, and hanged in 2006. Good riddance.

(Video) Most Evil Dictators and What they Did

#8 Idi Amin (1925-2003)

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Idi Amin ruled as dictator of Uganda after launching a military coup in 1971. His nickname is “Butcher of Uganda.” Amin’s behavior steadily worsened during the 1970s. He expelled all Asians and handed over their businesses to his cronies, which led to a collapse of the economy. Yet, the Asians were “lucky” compared to his violent persecution of rival Uganda tribes, who were killed by the tens of thousands. The total death toll of his regime amounted to half a million out of a population of 10 million. He was feared for feeding victims alive to crocodiles. He boasted that he kept the decapitated heads of political enemies in his freezer, although he said that human flesh was generally "too salty" for his taste. His megalomania knew no limits. Among his titles were "Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas" and "Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa." He was deposed in 1979 and fled to Saudi Arabia. He never expressed any remorse for his brutal deeds. He, too, was the subject of a Hollywood movie, Last King of Scotland.

#9 Mengistu Haile Mariam (1937- )

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Mengistu Haile Mariam rose to power in 1977 as member of the murderous Derg regime in Ethiopia, which had toppled and murdered Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. His policies were to modernize Ethiopia’s economy along Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist lines.Land, companies, banks, etc., were all nationalized. Farmers were compelled to join collectives. The free market was abolished. Not surprisingly, it was a disaster. People resisted, famine ensued, and economic destitution was widespread. This did not stop Mengistu. Widespread resistance was met with brutal force. Between 1.2 and to 2 million people were killed during his regime. According to the Times, it was not uncommon to see students, suspected government critics, or rebel sympathizers hanging from lampposts each morning. Mengistu himself is alleged to have murdered opponents by garroting or shooting them, saying that he was leading by example. Yes, we really need such examples.... Human Rights Watch describes his regime as "one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by a state ever witnessed in Africa.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, his position became untenable and he fled the country.

#10. Josef Mengele (1911-1979)

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(Video) The Top-10 Most Evil Leaders of the 20th Century

No list of 20th century evil leaders is complete without Josef Mengele’s, whose nickname Todesengel ("Angel of Death") says enough. He was the most prominent medical doctor at the Auschwitz death camp (concentration camp seems too friendly a term). He selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers, and happily administered the gas himself. That is bad enough, but what earned him his place in this top-ten of infamy is his experimentation on humans. Mengele used Auschwitz as an opportunity to continue his research into genetics and heredity. He was fascinated by twins. The experiments he performed on twins included amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of that twin into the other. He experimented to change the eye color included injecting chemicals into the eyes of living subjects. And so on. Mengele has become the stereotype for the mad scientist for whom ethical boundaries were a nuisance, who would do anything to satisfy their lust for knowledge. Unfortunately, he was never captured.

Jan-Benedict Steenkampis C. Knox Massey Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Honorary Professor at EIASM (Brussels), Fellow at Fudan University (Shanghai), and Executive Director of AiMark. His latest book isTime to Lead: Lessons for Today’s Leaders from Bold Decisions that Changed History, with a Foreword by Maj. General Cameron Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

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Who are the top 10 dictators? ›

The 10 Most Brutal Dictators in History
  • Idi Amin.
  • Saddam Hussein.
  • Pol Pot.
  • Leopold II.
  • Adolf Hitler.
  • Joseph Stalin.
  • Genghis Khan.
  • Mao Zedong.
Jan 1, 2023

Who is the cruel leader in the world? ›

From Vlad the Impaler to Genghis Khan, the annals of history are filled with leaders who used fear and violence to achieve their goals.

Which world leaders killed the most people? ›

But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

Who was the kindest dictator? ›

Josip Broz Tito

Shapiro, he was widely popular and was seen by most as a benevolent dictator. He was a popular public figure both in Yugoslavia and abroad.

Who are the deadliest dictators? ›

  • Adolf Hitler, Germany (1889-1945) ...
  • Francisco Franco, Spain (1892-1975) ...
  • Mao Zedong, China (1893-1976) ...
  • Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Haiti (1907-1971) ...
  • Kim Il-sung, North Korea (1912-1994) ...
  • Augusto Pinochet, Chile (1915-2006) ...
  • Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania (1918-1989) ...
  • Idi Amin, Uganda (Approx. 1925-2003)
Aug 17, 2022

Who is the last dictator in the world? ›

Lukashenko heads an authoritarian government and has referred to himself as the "last dictator" in Europe.

Who is the most evil villain in history? ›

10 Most Evil Movie Villains Of All Time, According To Reddit
  • Darth Vader - Star Wars (Various) ...
  • Judge Doom - Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1998) ...
  • Commodus - Gladiator (2000) ...
  • Nurse Ratched - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) ...
  • Anton Chigurh - No Country For Old Men (2007) ...
  • Mrs. ...
  • Hans Landa - Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Nov 29, 2022

Who is the most infamous person in history? ›

  1. 5 Most Infamous People In History We Wish We Could Forget. Terrifying figures the world has ever seen. Image Source: Wikipedia. ...
  2. Adolf Hitler. Image Source: Wikipedia. ...
  3. Leopold II Of Belgium. Image Source: Wikipedia. ...
  4. Pol Pot. Image Source: Wikipedia. ...
  5. Vlad The Impaler. Image Source: Wikipedia. ...
  6. Mao Zedong. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Sep 29, 2022

Who was the best leader in history? ›

History's 5 Best Leaders
  • Mahatma Gandhi. The founding father of nonviolent protest and a staunch pursuer of peace, Mahatma Gandhi embodied a complex leadership style, espousing many of the principles of intelligent leadership. ...
  • Martin Luther King Jr. ...
  • Abraham Lincoln. ...
  • Nelson Mandela. ...
  • Winston Churchill.
Jun 6, 2022

Who is truly evil? ›

To be truly evil, someone must have sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others (whether this person successfully executes his or her plan is beside the point).


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