Who was the 20th century’s most evil dictator?

Adolf Hitler is considered the 20th century’s most evil man according to a Facebook poll run last month by History in An Hour. Asking, “Who, in your opinion, was the 20th century’s most evil dictator?”, the April 2012 poll attracted over 12,000 responses, with the Nazi leader considered far ahead of the four choices.

Altogether, 12,236 people responded, for which – many thanks.

The choices and results were:

A. Adolf Hitler
B. Joseph Stalin
C. Mao Zedong
D. Pol Pot

Can we measure evil?

Of course the question in itself is open to interpretation, in other words how does one measure evil? And should we even try? One respondent said, “If we measure it purely by the number of people that died at their hands, then it’s Mao.” Another respondent considered the question offensive and another thought it pointless.  Perhaps, but much research is devoted to quantifying such things. One valid point was that a poll like this only establishes opinion of the most well known dictator.

But if we take the number of people who died as a consequence of living under a dictator, often the basis for measuring the extent of evil, then Chairman Mao (1893-1976) was responsible for at least a staggering 40 million deaths. Perhaps many more according to some research (see Frank Dikotter’s Mao’s Great Famine, Bloomsbury 2010), much of it down to his ‘Great Leap Forward’, Mao’s policy for rapid collectivization and industrialization.

Stalin was responsible for perhaps 25 million deaths, Hitler 15 million and Pol Pot about 1.8 million. Crude estimates. As Stalin reputedly said in his macabre aphorism, ‘One death is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.’ But these ghastly numbers do not include armed combatants killed during war – war however justified or unjustified cannot be grouped in the same category as murder. War crimes however can.

Ultimately, what is more important than mere numbers is how these men established their dictatorships, and how they maintained and abused their power for so long.

Who was missing? 

Among the many comments, quite a few suggested we should include General Franco, Idi Amin, Josip Tito, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, etc. Others, of a slightly more dubious nature, included… Margaret Thatcher (an amazing number), Tony Blair, George W Bush and Barak Obama.

Falling into the silly category we had Lord Voldemort, ‘my mother-in-law’ and someone’s ‘ex’.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote.

History In An Hour,
See Hitler: History In An Hour and Stalin: History In An Hour both by Rupert Colley and published by Harper Press.