In the late 1950s, writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote in his memoir, If This is Man, “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.” Sadly, nothing has changed in half a century — each generation is witness to acts of atrocities that reveal the ferocious, seemingly boundless evil that lurks in man.
At the top of the list of the biggest mass murderers in history is Chairman Mao Zedong. Zedong initiated the “Great Leap Forward,” a policy meant to usher in a nationwide utopian, collectivized society. However, Zedong’s plan was met with widespread resistance and his draconian response was to order the death of 45-60 million people (historians disagree about the number of reported deaths) between 1958 to 1962. To place the number of victims in context, consider that World War I resulted in an estimated 55 million deaths.
Although the Great Leap Forward atrocities are well known to experts on Chinese history and communism, they are not well known by most Westerners. In his book, Mao’s Great Famine, historian Frank Dikotter, writes about the shocking details of the mass murders: “It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates [of the Great Leap Forward mass murders], but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato.”
A review of the grim statistic of the biggest mass murderers in history brings to mind Aldous Huxley’s keen observation: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” In the list below, the name of dictator is followed by country, period of regime, and number of deaths:
Mao Zadung: China 1946-76: 60 million victims
Joseph Stalin: Soviet Union (1929-53): 40 million
Adolf Hitler: Germany (1933-45): 30 million
Hideki Tojo: Japan (1941-45): 5 million
Ismail Enver Pasha: Ottoman Turkey: 2 million
Pol Pot: Cambodia (1975-79): 1.7 million
Kim Ilsung: North Korea (1948-94): 1.6 million
Mengistu Haile Mariam (1974-78): 1.5 million
Yakuza Gowon: Nigeria (1967-70): 1 million
For further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/08/03/giving-historys-greatest-mass-murderer-his-due/