1900-2000: A century of genocides

by Piero Scaruffi

TM, , Copyright 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


The arrest of Pinochet in 2000 brings up the issue of which other leaders should be or should have been tried for atrocities committed during their rule. Here is a tentative list of modern mass murderers and the estimated number of people killed by their orders (excluding armies they were formally at war with). In Stalin's and Mao's cases, one has to decide how to consider the millions who died indirectly because of their political decisions. The Chinese cultural revolution caused the death of 30 million people (source: the current Chinese government), but many died of hunger. Stalin is held responsible for the death of millions by Ukrainians, but "only" half a million people were killed by his order. Khomeini sent children to die in the war against Iraq, but it was a war, so they are not counted here. The worst genocide of recent times was committed by many hutus, not just by their leader. Needless to say, I make a big distinction between killing soldiers and killing civilians. Read the bottom of this page for frequently asked questions on controversial actions such as the atomic bombs, the Iraqi war, etc.
See also Wars and Casualties of the 20th Century.

The worst genocides of the 20th Century

Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61 and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50)49-78,000,000
Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1939-1945)12,000,000 (concentration camps and civilians deliberately killed in WWII plus 3 million Russian POWs left to die)
Leopold II of Belgium (Congo, 1886-1908)8,000,000
Jozef Stalin (USSR, 1932-39)6,000,000 (the gulags plus the purges plus Ukraine's famine)
Hideki Tojo (Japan, 1941-44)5,000,000 (civilians in WWII)
Ismail Enver (Turkey, 1915-20)1,200,000 Armenians (1915) + 350,000 Greek Pontians and 480,000 Anatolian Greeks (1916-22) + 500,000 Assyrians (1915-20)
Pol Pot (Cambodia, 1975-79)1,700,000
Kim Il Sung (North Korea, 1948-94)1.6 million (purges and concentration camps)
Menghistu (Ethiopia, 1975-78)1,500,000
Yakubu Gowon (Biafra, 1967-1970)1,000,000
Leonid Brezhnev (Afghanistan, 1979-1982)900,000
Jean Kambanda (Rwanda, 1994)800,000
Saddam Hussein (Iran 1980-1990 and Kurdistan 1987-88)600,000
Tito (Yugoslavia, 1945-1987) 570,000
Sukarno (Communists 1965-66)500,000
Fumimaro Konoe (Japan, 1937-39)500,000? (Chinese civilians)
Jonas Savimbi (Angola, 1975-2002)400,000
Mullah Omar - Taliban (Afghanistan, 1986-2001)400,000
Idi Amin (Uganda, 1969-1979)300,000
Yahya Khan (Pakistan, 1970-71) 300,000 (Bangladesh)
Benito Mussolini (Ethiopia, 1936; Libya, 1934-45; Yugoslavia, WWII)300,000
Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire, 1965-97)?
Charles Taylor (Liberia, 1989-1996)220,000
Foday Sankoh (Sierra Leone, 1991-2000) 200,000
Suharto (Aceh, East Timor, New Guinea, 1975-98)200,000
Ho Chi Min (Vietnam, 1953-56)200,000
Michel Micombero (Burundi, 1972) 150,000
Slobodan Milosevic (Yugoslavia, 1992-99)100,000
Hassan Turabi (Sudan, 1989-1999)100,000
Jean-Bedel Bokassa (Centrafrica, 1966-79) ?
Richard Nixon (Vietnam, 1969-1974)70,000 (Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians)
Efrain Rios Montt (Guatemala, 1982-83)70,000
Papa Doc Duvalier (Haiti, 1957-71)60,000
Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic, 1930-61)50,000
Hissene Habre (Chad, 1982-1990)40,000
Chiang Kai-shek (Taiwan, 1947)30,000 (popular uprising)
Vladimir Ilich Lenin (USSR, 1917-20)30,000 (dissidents executed)
Francisco Franco (Spain)30,000 (dissidents executed after the civil war)
Fidel Castro (Cuba, 1959-1999)30,000
Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam, 1963-1968)30,000
Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (El Salvador, 1932)30,000
Hafez Al-Assad (Syria, 1980-2000)25,000
Khomeini (Iran, 1979-89)20,000
Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe, 1982-87, Ndebele minority)20,000
Bashir Assad (Syria, 2012)14,000
Rafael Videla (Argentina, 1976-83)13,000
Guy Mollet (France, 1956-1957)10,000 (war in Algeria)
Harold McMillans (Britain, 1952-56, Kenya's Mau-Mau rebellion) 10,000
Paul Koroma (Sierra Leone, 1997) 6,000
Osama Bin Laden (worldwide, 1993-2001)3,500
Augusto Pinochet (Chile, 1973)3,000
Al Zarqawi (Iraq, 2004-06)2,000
For a list of casualties in wars, see this page.

Main sources:
Notes:
  1. The crimes committed by right-wing dictators have always been easier to track down than the crimes against humanity committed by communist leaders, so the figures for communist leaders like Stalin and Mao increase almost yearly as new secret documents become available. To this day, the Chinese government has not yet disclosed how many people were executed by Mao's red guards during the Cultural Revolution and how many people were killed in Tibet during the Chinese invasion of 1950. We also don't know how many dissidents have been killed by order of Kim Il Sung in North Korea, although presumably many thousands.
  2. I often get asked if Hiroshima/Nagasaki qualify as a genocide. I disagree. First of all, why only nuclear weapons? The carpet bombing of German cities and of Tokyo killed the same number of people. Second, Winston Churchill and Harry Truman did not start that war: they ended it. It is even debatable if these bombings killed or saved lives: Hiroshima probably saved a lot of Japanese lives, because a long protracted invasion like the one that took place in Germany would have killed a lot more people (Germany lost 2 million people, Japan only 300,000, because Japan was never invaded, while Germany was invaded from all sides). Actually more Japanese died in two weeks of battles with the Soviet Union in Manchuria than in the two nuclear bombings. I suspect a nuclear bomb on Berlin would have killed 100,000 people but caused Germany to surrender right away, thus saving many German lives. (I know, it is gruesome to count dead bodies like this; but, again, i didn't start that war, the Germans and the Japanese started it). The USA had a casualty rate of 35% in the battle of Okinawa: they expected to lose one million soldiers in a land invasion of Japan, and the estimates were that Japan would lose the same number of soldiers and many more civilians. Most historians believe that it was the atomic bomb to convince Japan to surrender, and it was the second one: after the first one, there were still members of the Japanese cabinet that were opposed to surrender (the cabinet had to be unanimous in order for the emperor to surrender). Koichi Kido, advisor to emperor Hirohito, said: "We of the peace party were assisted by the atomic bomb in our endeavor to end the war." Hisatsune Sakomizu, chief secretary of Cabinet, said that the atomic bombs were a "golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war." Thus the Japanese themselves (those who wanted to surrender) seem to indicate that the two atomic bombs were indispensable to end a war that was killing hundreds of thousands of people per battle (the battle of Okinawa killed more Japanese than the atomic bomb on Nagasaki). It is also estimated that throughout Japan-occupied Asia about 200,000 civilians were dying every month (of disease, hunger, etc): if the atomic bombs helped Japan surrender even just six months earlier, that saved the lives of one million Indonesians, Indochinese, Philipinos, Chinese, etc. (Notable dissenting voices were the two most powerful USA generals, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, who both felt that the atomic bombs were unnecessary to finish Japan. But historical documents prove them wrong: on August 9, the day of Nagasaki, the supreme council of Japan was still split on whether to surrender or continue the war. Even after Nagasaki, the council was still split. The emperor in person had to force them to surrender. The dissenters who wanted to continue the war even tried a coup to overthrow the emperor rather than obey the order to surrender. There is no evidence that Japan would have surrendered any time soon without the two atomic bombs).
    People die in wars. During the previous world-war, millions died of everything from guns to chemical weapons. The fact that a more or less efficient weapon is used to fight a war does not constitute genocide, per se.
    It is not the weapon, but the intent. Churchill's and Truman's intent was to end the war, not to exterminate the peoples (which they could have done easily, had they wanted to). In fact, I think that Churchill and Truman are exemplary of how to treat a defeated enemy: instead of annihilating the enemies, they helped Germany and Japan to rebuild themselves and become as strong and wealthy as they were before the war. It may have been the first time in history.
    Also we know that Werner Heisenberg in Germany and Yoshio Nishina in Japan were working on an atomic bomb: what if they had had the time to complete one? Heisenberg in Germany had failed to correctly calculate the critical mass of uranium required to sustain a chain reaction, but Nishina in Japan had just done that in 1944. It was a matter of time before Germand and Japanese scientists would find out the right recipe. Thus the first bomb was justified, and (as crazy as it sounds) it saved a lot of lives, probably millions of lives (not just Japanese lives, but lives of all the nations that were being massacred by the Japanese). Estimates of 1945 (based on the ratio of civilians and soldiers who died in similar ventures) were that one million USA soldiers would have died and 10-20 million Japanese would have died during a USA invasion of Japan. Last but not least, the USA dropped 720,000 leaflets on Hiroshima and other cities two days earlier, warning of the impending destruction of the city.
    It is debatable, instead, if the second atomic bomb was necessary. The USA did drop millions of leaflets over Japan to convince the population to revolt and the emperor to surrender. But the USA only waited three days to see the effect of the first atomic bomb and of its leaflets. We now know that Japan would not have surrendered. At a cabinet meeting after the first atomic bomb the Japanese generals convinced the civilian ministers to continue the war. After the first bomb, Nishina (head of the Japanese nuclear program) was asked if it was possible that the USA could build another atomic bomb within six months: obviously the people who asked him the question were not going to surrender unless a second bomb was possible. Even after the second atomic bomb the Japanese generals still argued in favor of continuing the war. It was the emperor in person who ordered the surrender. Even the surrender was not quite what the USA wanted: the Japanese requested that the emperor be left in control of Japan. Truman was under pressure from the USA public opinion to execute or at least jail the emperor. The plan for the land invasion of Japan was ready. Eventually Truman decided that he would rather live with the public anger of having appeased the Japanese emperor then with more USA soldiers dead in the war, and so decided to accept the Japanese conditions. All the evidence indicates that the second atomic bomb was crucial to end the war.
  3. I've been asked why i blame the USA only for part of the civilian deaths in Vietnam while i blame the Soviet Union for all of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The USA "invasion" of Vietnam is not as clearcut as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:
    1. Even today many in Vietnam think that the aggressor was North Vietnam, not the USA, at least at the beginning, whereas everybody in Afghanistan blames the Soviet Union for that invasion. Nobody welcomed the Soviet Union, whereas about half of Vietnam welcomed the USA.
    2. When the Soviet Union withdrew, almost no Afghani followed them, whereas, when the USA withdrew, about eight million Vietnamese left with them and about three million ran away from Vietnam in the following decades risking their lives (the "boat people").
    3. There are documented large-scale atrocities by the North Vietnamese against their own population (read the Black Book of Communism) while i haven't seen evidence of any large-scale atrocity by the Afghani fighters against their own population (why would they do that if the population was massively opposed to the USSR?)
    4. The Soviet Union tried to invade the WHOLE of Afghanistan. The USA never tried to invade the northern part of Vietnam: it simply fought the Vietcong that wanted to annex south Vietnam to north Vietnam (if you read the history of the country, north and south Vietnam have fought wars for more than 1,000 years: go to the Timeline of Indochina and look for Annam and Champa. the ancient names of the two kingdoms). When the USA bombed civilians in North Vietnam, then i consider it a war crime.
  4. The most frequently asked questions are always about current unpopular USA presidents: Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II... The moment the USA elects a new president, i start receiving emails asking to add him to the list of "genociders". The moment the president leaves office the same people forget about him and jump on the next one. Can we consider President Bush a genocider due to all of the civilians killed in Iraq under his watch? I don't think so, because the vast majority of civilians killed in Iraq were NOT killed by US troops. It is genocide, but the "genociders" are others, and the situation is still too murky to decide who exactly killed those 100,000 civilians. (If Bush is indirectly guilty of it, then certainly Islam is too). The USA bears some clear responsibilities for the chaos, but ineptitude, miscalculation, ignorance, etc do not qualify as genocide. Otheriwse the United Nations and France would be responsible for the genocide in Rwanda (900,000 people). Putin would be a better candidate for "genocider", since the vast majority of Chechen civilians killed under his watch were killed by Russian troops. However, i have never received a single email nominating Putin...
  5. Specifically about Bush (the hot topic between 2003 and 2008). I have seen no evidence whatsoever that he or anybody working for him or Blair or the Australian prime minister wanted to kill Iraqi civilians. And even less evidence that Iraqi civilians were killed in any large number by US soldiers. The Iraqi civilians killed by US soldiers are estimated at about 4% of all deaths, which is a little over 5,000. With all due respect for those families, a seven-year war that kills only 5,000 people (less than 1,000 a year) does not register anywhere in the history of the world. All the other civilians were killed by militias, suicide bombers, etc. In fact, all the documents show that some caution was taken by the US and Britain to avoid mass civilian casualties. Compare with Vietnam, when the US bombed densely populated areas knowing that thousands of civilians would die. In fact, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be the first large-scale wars in which the winners went out of their way to avoid mass civilian casualties. Compare with any other war. Future generations (who will face other crises and will be more concerned with their presidents than Bush II) may see more clearly who is responsible for those killings. Most of them were killed by fellow Iraqis or at least fellow Muslims, not by US soldiers. Once we remove all the personal emotions against Bush, it is self-evident who/what killed those Iraqi civilians.

Back to world news | Back to history