Top 10 Most Notorious Dictators in the 20th Century

Tags: #JosephStalin ,   #dictator ,   #Politics

Alex O'Brien

Alex O'Brien

Last updated:  2023-06-24 17:24:56

Power is a nasty thing, and it can be very deadly in the hands of the wrong people. Throughout history, we have had the worst possible examples of the abuse of authority. However, a handful of leaders had common interests in mind when in power. Therefore, we pointed out the cruelest of them all in the XX century. All of them ruled with a lack of democracy and often tortured and killed their opponents.   

10. Yakubu Gowon

Yakubu Gowon was responsible for Nigeria's civil war
Reign: 1966-1975
Death toll: 1.1 million, including million civilians
How it ended: Overthrown, but served no punishment

Yakubu Gowon was the head of the state of Nigeria from 1966 to 1975. Therefore, he was in power throughout the Nigerian Civil War, which caused the death of almost three million people, mostly civilians. Like many other dictators on our list, he gained power in a military coup. However, as he didn't have the support of the people, they organized riots, and Gowon killed over 30,000 eastern Nigerians.

Furthermore, during his reign, the people of the Biafra region tried to separate, starting the civil war. Gowon blocked all aid, which led to the starvation of one million people and the surrender of Biafra.

9. Vladimir Lenin

During his reign, Vladimir Lenin disregarded the sufferings of his citizens, as his only goal was to crush the opponents
Reign: 1917-1924
Death toll: At least 3.7 million
How he died: From incurable disease, while still in power

Vladimir Lenin was a Russian politician who led the October Revolution in 1917 to overthrow the czar. From 1917 until 1924, he was head of the government of Soviet Russia. During that time, he showed disregard for the sufferings of his citizens and mercilessly crushed any opposition. Lenin administered that the Soviet Union become a one-party communist state under Leninism, a variant of Marxism. 

Moreover, he was ruthless to the opposition of the regime. Hence, the secret service carried out a Red Terror campaign by killing or putting tens of thousands into concentration camps. He also supervised the Polish-Russian and the Russian Civil War, which led to the destruction and starvation that killed millions more.

8. Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was responsible for the worst famine in history
Reign: 1949-1976
Death toll: At least 20 million
How he died: Heart attack, while still in power

To some, Mao Zedong was the man who modernized China; to others, he led millions to death. Moreover, he was responsible for the masses dying due to starvation, forced labor, and executions. More commonly known as Chairman Mao, he was a Chinese communist revolutionary, political theorist, poet, and founding father of the People's Republic of China. Mao was the country's leader from its establishment in 1943 until his passing in 1976.

Mao's revolutionary policies to modernize the country resulted in the worst famine in history, causing the deaths of 20 to 45 million people. So, we can say that Maoism (his military strategies, theories, and political policies) was a disaster.

7. Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet had secret death camps
Reign: 1973-1990
Death toll: Over 40 thousand
How he died: Heart attack while waiting for his trial

Augusto Pinochet was a military ruler of Chile between 1973 and 1990, a general, and a politician. He arranged a military coup, helped by the US, and overthrew Chile's government. Pinochet was a dictator, ruthless to his opponents, as many of them were tortured or "disappeared."

In 1998, he was arrested in London due to Spain's warrant to stand trial for crimes of genocide and terrorism. However, he was held on house arrest until 2000, when he returned to Chile due to his ill health. He died in 2006 and never stood trial for the horrible crimes he committed.  

6. Pol Pot

Pol Pot was one of the most murderous leaders
Reign: 1975-1979
Death toll: Over 2 million
How he died: In prison, while serving life imprisonment

Pol Pot was a Cambodian politician and revolutionary, the leader of the Khmer Rouge from 1963. Pot's totalitarian regime killed opponents, Buddhist monks, and ethnic minorities. Some historians have stated that his regime was the most vicious and lethal in the recent past. 

Pol Pot had many detention centers across the country for those who stood up against his regime. The most infamous one was S-21, as only seven people survived it. Furthermore, they have killed so many people and buried them in mass graves that became known as "killing fields."

5. Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein spent his last days as a free man in the hole
Reign: 1979-2003
Death toll: Close to 300,000
How he died: Executed by hanging

Saddam Hussein was the Iraqi president from 1979 until 2003. Known as the Middle Eastern dictator, he ruled the country for more than two decades. Saddam secured his power by killing his opponents. The infamous achievements of his regime include Iran–Iraq War, which he orchestrated to maintain his position. He's known for "deporting" numerous Kurdish men who were never seen again.

Moreover, he brought starvation to the Kurdish regions, even using chemical weapons on them. As if that wasn't enough, he invaded Kuwait and killed civilians. His end came in 2003 when the US armed forces captured him. Interestingly, he hid in a deep hole before being prosecuted and later executed.

4. Idi Amin Dada

Uganda's dictator Idi Amin allegedly was a cannibal as well
Reign: 1971-1979
Death toll: At least 300,000
How he died: Kidney failure, while living in Saudi Arabia

Idi Amin Dada was Uganda's President from 1971 to 1979. Moreover, this political leader and military officer overthrew the country's elected government, arranging a military coup and declaring himself president. His nickname "Butcher of Uganda" was well deserved, as he slaughtered groups that did not support him. During his eight years of terror, he executed ethnic groups, journalists, religious leaders, judges, lawyers, artists, students, and basically anyone he saw as a threat. 

Although it's unclear how many people his regime killed, it was estimated to be somewhere between 300.000-500.000 victims. Amin was a topic of various rumors. They said he was a cannibal, kept decapitated heads of his political enemies in his freezer, and many more.

3. Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was known as Il Duce - the Leader
Reign: 1922-1943
Death toll: At least 400,000
How he died: Executed by fire squad, then hung

An Italian politician, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, was also a journalist and leader of the National Fascist Party. He ruled the country from 1922 to 1943 as a Prime Minister. Known as "Il Duce" (the Leader), he was the founder of Italian Fascism.

Mussolini's paramilitary unit, known as the "Black Shirts," terrorized the citizens of Italy. He also aligned with Adolf Hitler and adopted his anti-Semitic policies. His cruelty ended in 1945 when he and his mistress were executed and hung in Milan Plaza for people to spit on them. A day after, his ally, Adolf Hitler, committed suicide.

2. Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin brought starvation to his people
Reign: 1922-1953
Death toll: At least 7 million
How he died: Hemorrhagic stroke while still in power

Joseph Stalin was a dictator, serving from 1922 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and as Premier from 1941 to 1953. Hence, he forced rapid industrialization in the 1930s resulting in mass starvation and the imprisonment of millions of people in labor camps. Furthermore, he was responsible for a brutal political campaign known as the "Great Purge," eliminating the intellectuals, the government, and the military.

He led his country in World War II, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Ideologically, Stalin was a Marxist and a Leninist, but his policies became known as Stalinism.

1. Adolf Hitler

The man who needs no introduction thanks to his countless crimes - Adolf Hitler
Reign: 1933-1945
Death toll: Tens of millions
How he died: Suicide while still in power

We all have heard about Hitler as the dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and the man who initiated World War II by invading Poland. Adolf Hitler planned to create his ideal "master race" by eliminating Jews, gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, and political opponents by sending them to concentration camps.

Hence, they all were tortured to death, so in the end, according to reports, Hitler's regime killed millions of people. During the last days of WWII, he committed suicide in front of his shelter/bunker in Berlin. Hence, he was never convicted for all of his cruel crimes. 

To conclude, one can gain power and terrorize the people, but all things come to an end. So it's a matter of time before the dictator is overthrown. The main problem is the victims of their regime and the suffering of the citizens. It would be nice to predict how the leaders will conduct themselves after gaining power and cut the problem at the beginning. Unfortunately, we can't do that, so we'll probably have the top ten list of numerous dictators of the XXI century. Let's hope that their reign will be short. 

Who was the cruelest dictator on our list? Please tell us your opinion in the comments below.

Cover photo:



Add new Comment

Characters 0 of 1000

Thank you for comment

Mahdi Says:

Khomeini was one of the worst dictators of the 20th century, more than 120 thousand Iranians were tortured and killed during his ten years of leadership

June 24 at 05:24:56 PM

Nizzle Says:

"The Last King of Scotland" is an excellent move about Idi Amin.

August 19 at 01:34:14 PM

Similar Articles

Latest Articles

Top 5 Articles

Trending Articles

Sponsor Ads