Category Archives: Kards

History Kards - Aces - Greatest Villains Deck - Four of a Kind hand art

THE ACES – HISTORY KARDS GALLERY

Welcome to the Aces Gallery for HISTORY KARDS: 50 GREATEST VILLAINS OF ALL TIME, where you can see the cards large enough to make out text and graphics. Klik "MORE ON THE ACES" below for additional info, or klik on any image to see it bigger.


The Aces

Meet the worst of the worst (The Greatest!) of our ugly little "family" of mass murderers and monsters, the Aces! The big surprise for most is that my "mass murder metrics"—the mathematical means by which I ranked these killers—indicates someone most folks today have never heard of. Or, if they have heard of him, they have no reason to include him in such exclusive (ahem) company.

I'm speaking of the god-like, unquestioned ruler of Japan, Emperor Hirohito, who signed off on large scale slaughter every bit as horrific as anything the Nazis did. And worse yet, it went on for the better part of a decade before war broke out in Europe—thus giving the brutal Japanese much more time to commit wide-scale war crimes and mass slaughter.


Interestingly enough, the ideology which powered this carnage was not dissimilar to that of the Nazis; the Japanese believed they were the master race and had every right to impose their will on the "subhumans" unfortunate enough to be overrun. Sound familiar?


Some historians believe that WWII began much earlier than is commonly understood. To this camp, WWII did not begin with the German conquest of Poland in 1939. Rather, it began with the Imperial Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and further attacks/invasions across all of Southeast Asia in the years following.


Study the behavior of the Imperial Japanese conquerors, and you'll begin to wonder if Hitler, Stalin and Mao didn't take their inspiration from the East, and if Hirohito hasn't gotten his full due. The atrocities committed by the Japanese were truly appalling. I try to correct that injustice in History Kards. 


In a strange coincidence (and I don't think it's more than that), the swastika of the Nazis is actually an ancient sign of good luck and fortune from the East. 

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Nearly every astute person knows that Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler comprise a very special trio, all with links to the pre-WWII world and, with the exception of Hitler, well beyond. But there is one particular villain at this level whom most people never think about and, indeed, are often completely unfamiliar with, even though his crimes stand out in the annals of carnage for being on a truly epic scale and akin to his infamous rank-mates.

Like Chairmen Mao and Stalin, this ruler held absolute power across many decades and was never seriously challenged from within. This might have been because his subjects fervently believed his rule divine and decreed by the gods themselves. This was a status his rivals must surely have envied, because the inviolability of his office and station went far beyond fear; his rule was an unquestioned article of faith. What ruler doesn't want his subjects (i.e. slaves) to completely believe in his absolute, unchanging, evermore inevitability and infallibility?

This unassailable and unquestioned ruler was none other than Emperor Hirohito of Japan, whose armies committed widespread atrocities and mass slaughter in his name all across Asia and the Pacific region before and during WWII. This unprecedented tsunami of death and destruction places him squarely among the worst of the worst. Strangely, despite the scope and scale of his legacy of horror, he has largely escaped the verdict of history.

Some say this is because he was rarely seen, even by the Japanese—a shadowy, aloof figure one prayed in the name of but never expected to see. Others, because he did not fit the image of the other tyrants of his era. Hirohito was cultured and reserved. He was not perceived as a thuggish egomaniac or ruthless fanatic.

But as the numbers show, the carnage done in his name and with his approval puts him in the same rare company as the other far more infamous Aces.

Emperor Hirohito may have escaped the verdict of the court of public opinion, and perhaps, to some extent, that of academics and politicians, but he does not escape the judgment of HISTORY KARDS.

THE KINGS – HISTORY KARDS GALLERY

Welcome to the Kings Gallery for HISTORY KARDS: 50 GREATEST VILLAINS OF ALL TIME, where you can see the cards large enough to make out text and graphics. Klik "MORE ON THE KINGS" below for additional info, or klik on any image to see it bigger.


The Kings

If it weren't for the Aces, the Kings would surely rank as the most horrible human beings of all time, and there's certainly no doubt that this collection of miscreants are due every bit of their shame and infamy—if not moreso. Surprisingly at this level, just as with Ace Emperor Hirohito of Japan, there are two relative unknowns in this group—men who most folks have never heard of, but who should be (in my estimation) household names.

Ironically, only one of them was a real king. Another was an emperor, and two were "democratically elected" leaders. All were brutal tyrants the world would have been better off without.

NOTE: As someone who grew up during the long post-Vietnam/Watergate national autopsy (which is still, to some extent, on-going today) I knew of Pol Pot even before The Killing Fields was released. But it took a David Drake story about the Belgian Congo to learn of the horrors committed by Leopold II and his army of "civilized" white monsters.

Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, upon which Apocalypse Now was loosely based and from which the phrase "the horror, the horror" originates, is set in this cauldron of run amok greed, mutilation and murder.

In a testament to how societal denial works, to this day many Belgians consider their old king a great man and are largely unaware of the atrocities committed on his watch and in their name...

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Our second tier of monsters could easily rank among the first. It is only in sheer numbers of deaths that they fall short, though in the case of Genghis Khan it was not DToll but DRate which put him here. For his ghost, it must chafe that he is neither in the first rank nor the number one mass murderer of all time. What an underachiever! Prior to the 20th century, he would have made the top tier. Though I have no doubt such paltry concerns never entered his mind. Still, he clearly put in the work—if you can call it that—eight hundred years ago.

The Ways and Means of Monsters

Outside of the Great Conqueror, our gallery of monsters consist of men born in modern times, more or less. Once again, IMHO, this emphasizes the relationship between mass production and mass killing. In some ways, this makes Khan's "achievements" all the more impressive. In his day, it took real physical effort to kill another man, and the work was slow. With the advent of standing armies, firearms and "weapons of mass destruction" (even a single cannon is one such in comparison to bows and arrows), killing at scale became not just feasible, but inevitable. Killing, sad to say, became easy.

Of the four villains in this group, only one turned his malign intentions entirely inward, towards his own people. Ironically, as is so often the case, the great villain had every good intention. Pol Pot thought (or convinced himself, anyway) that he was doing good by the Cambodian people when he slaughtered the educated and intellectuals and reduced life in his nation to slave labor on collective farms more akin, as I said on his card, "to death camps."

At some point, as his peculiar idea of paradise put more and more Cambodians in the ground (the infamous "killing fields"), it almost certainly occurred to him that perhaps he had gone to far. But who can say? He never had a day in court, and may well have been a homicidal manic to the bitter end. He died in the custody of his own former stalwarts, and possibly by his own hand.*

Right Men, Wrong Outcome

All of the Kings were fanatics in their own right, though in most cases it was not so much over ideology as ego. It's my conclusion that mass murderers tend to be "right men;" those who believe they know best and better than anyone else. To me, what is so sad is that human societies continue to put quite obvious right men—men who are usually, though not always, clear ego maniacs—in charge, and then wonder later how things went so disastrously awry. Whether it be a priest or a politician, right men are quite often wrong men, and their rule frequently ends in ugliness, if not outright tragedy.

But a bad end is not the case for three of the four right men here. Genghis Khan, Chiang Kai-Shek and Leopold II managed to get away with their crimes and die, not at the end of a noose, but quite comfortably in bed. The "moral" lesson here appears to be that if you're going to be a mass murderer, do it on a truly epic scale, do it to somebody else's people, and do it while "at war"—even if you started said war—or while "keeping order" over "savages."

Put another way; small time murderers go to prison, whilst large scale ones go to palace and live quite happily ever after. 🙁

*Interestingly enough, he may well have killed himself with the same drug (chloroquin) President Donald J. Trump recommended to Americans during the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020.


THE QUEENS – HISTORY KARDS GALLERY

Welcome to the Queens Gallery for HISTORY KARDS: 50 GREATEST VILLAINS OF ALL TIME, where you can see the cards large enough to make out text and graphics. Klik "MORE ON THE QUEENS" below for additional info, or klik on any image to see it bigger.


The Queens

The "big name" monsters of history are nearly all men, and it is male tyrants who have amassed the truly awe inspiring (if completely appalling) records of savagery. Whether we're talking about Genghis Khan eight hundred years ago, or the genocidal maniacs of the last century, no woman comes close—in terms of death and destruction directly attributable to her or her minions.

So women must, perforce, be judged by a different standard than men for purposes of the 50 GREATEST VILLAINS OF ALL TIME. For women, it's not so much the body count as the depravity and impact of their rule that became my criteria for inclusion here, particularly as this level.

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When compiling the individuals to be included in HISTORY KARDS: THE 50 GREATEST VILLAINS OF ALL TIME, it quickly became apparent what should have been obvious to me at the start. To wit, that female monsters are few and far between as compared to men. Before starting the project, I'd just never consciously thought about it before.

Duh! Right?

Furthermore, the magnitude of the crimes of female rulers pales in comparison when stacked against the worst of the worst, all men. I suppose we should all be grateful. I for one would find it extremely depressing if women were mass murderers on the same scale as men. It's bad enough that we have one gender which not just seems capable of, but which seems to excel at and even revel in, large scale death and destruction.

I was also faced with a pragmatic problem: the rank of Queens. I couldn't assign men to this rank. It just wouldn't work.

(Well, I suppose a few of the more "flamboyant" (ahem) rulers in history might also qualify as "queens," but let's not quibble.)

Fortunately, if you can call it that, there are enough female villains in history to fill out the rank. They're just not there, generally speaking, because they killed tens of millions. They're there for reputations of total depravity, wanton cruelty and, to be clear, a fair amount of bloodshed.

All of this begs the question: Why haven't there been female rulers on the same level of evil as Hitler, Stalin and Mao?

I don't think there's a simple, succinct, easy answer. My sense of it is that there are many factors at play, including complex, interacting issues of society, gender and circumstance.

History's most powerful nations, whether they be empires or republics or dictatorships (or whatever) have tended to be run by men because most societies on earth are fundamentally patriarchal. Ironically, in those societies which are more "modern" and "progressive," women have tended to have less of voice in matters than perhaps even in times past.

For example, it took over a hundred years for women to get the right to vote in the supposed "freest country on earth;" the United States of America. In 2020, 240+ years after the nation's founding, women are still "second class citizens" in many ways. They're paid less than men, are continuously having to fight and refight battles for control of their own bodies, and have considerably less of a presence in leadership than their 51% of the population would suggest (though this may finally be changing for the better). In this regard, it can be argued that female nobility have had more of an impact on their respective societies than American women have had on theirs.

I don't know about you, but simply as a humanist, I find that to be a disturbing revelation—one which only came about because of this project.

Case in point, 2012 marked the Diamond Jubilee (60 years) of the rule of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. As we are only two years away from 2022 at this point, there's no reason to believe she won't make it her 70th anniversary. While the information age seems to have obviated the likelihood of real tyrants such as those we saw in the 20th century coming onto the scene again (and let us pray that this is so), imagine if England's Queen had been a tyrant like Hitler, Stalin or Mao. What would her DToll and DRate be across 60+ years? I shudder to think.

It is also true that the Queen of England's role in the modern age, under a constitutional monarchy, is mostly ceremonial. She probably couldn't become a tyrant of the type I'm talking about if she wanted to, and I don't think for a moment that she has any such desires. But the point remains. She has had over six decades on the throne; how many female leaders outside of the monarchical system have had 1/10th as long "in charge?" Not too many.

Communist doctrine holds that women are the equal of men, and numerous revolutions around the world have relied on women every bit as much as men. It just seems that, once these governments are established, the patriarchal forms reassert themselves. How many female heads of state did the Soviet Union or communist China produce? Answer: none. Hell, look at today's communist Chinese leadership. If there are any women among them, they seem to be in the distinct minority. So much for equal representation.

Generally speaking, women have had even less of a chance to be long-term leaders in supposedly "more advanced" eras than hundreds of years in the past.

The larger point being that, I think it's fair to say, women have not had the opportunity be monsters anywhere near the same degree as men. Women also tend to be considerably less violent than men. Which does not in any way suggest that women cannot be violent or cruel. That capacity resides in all of us.

I shudder to think what might have happened had Hitler elevated some of the sadistic and extremely violent female concentration camp guards to positions of even greater power (you know, the ladies who happily made lampshades and book covers out of the skins of women and children they'd murdered).

In a twisted sort of way, perhaps it is good that women have not had the same opportunities as men to be mass murderers.

In any event—and was a long and winding road to get here, for which I apologize—the four women which make up the Queens set deserve to be there. Two of them were actual Queens, in fact, and all were nobility—which, parenthetically, only reinforces the above argument.

It is unclear to me at the time I write this whether there will even be more women in the card deck outside of the Queens. I think there probably will be, but there is one thing I can guarantee. They will be in the distinct minority, and I, for one, am glad.

WHEN HISTORY CARDS BECAME HISTORY KARDS

IDEA AS BRAND MARKETING STRATEGY

Not every great idea comes complete with an equally brilliant brand marketing strategy. Few do. It's one thing to have a great idea and another thing entirely to sell it. Proper branding can make or break a product. A good branding choice can carry you a long way on a limited budget, whereas a bad one might not work for any amount of money. 

On top of this, projects evolve and change. It's important to think about your branding from early on—even from the very beginning. But it's also important to remain flexible, because the brand which was so perfect for one version of a product might not be for the finished one.

In any event, this particular project is one of those obvious ones which did not require any great creativity on my part. When the idea of History Cards popped into my head, my next thought (because I'm a marketing dork) was: "And the name is the brand! Awesome!!!"

However, the totally obvious choice ended up as a loser, of a sorts. What began as a "no brainer" ended with a change of mind.

GENESIS

I originally decided to call my history-related playing cards series History Cards, with a capital 'C'—simple, straight and to the point. Right? That I couldn't get the .com domain for the name didn't bother me too much. Other domain extensions were available, though it's common wisdom (and probably actually true) that ".com" is still the best, overall.

The theory goes that when people think of websites, they think of ".com"—right? I mean, when was the last time you thought of ".net" or ".org" for that matter? Sure, they're still two of the "big three" original TLDs (top level domains), but who uses them? These days, almost nobody. Even charities and non-profits tend to use ".com," which is pretty funny since such organizations are explicitly non-commercial, and ".org" is specifically for such utilizations.

However, there's a counter argument, insofar as using a non-.com domain. That is, the domain would still be "HistoryCards"—short, sweet, memorable, to the point. For a number of reasons (from branding to SEO), I thought it would make sense to go this route. Following this decision, I decided to go with .xyz because it is, IMHO, the most memorable of the new TLDs. So, I was reasonably happy with HistoryCards.xyz

Would I have preferred HistoryCards.com? Sure. Of course. But again, I couldn't get it. So, as far as I was concerned, I settled for the next best thing.

SECOND THOUGHTS

Staircase wit is one of my special talents. And so is second-guessing myself. I can talk myself into just about anything, and just about as easily talk myself out of it, too. :-/

Not long after making the "History Cards decision," the dread second thoughts began to stir. As I worked along, the thought kept bugging me that while HistoryCards.com was long gone, HistoryKards.com was available and ready for the taking. Not incidentally, the "k" thing is on brand for me personally, as you may have noticed herein. Though never a planned affectation initially, I started substituting "k" for "c" on this site and in my work whenever and wherever possible, both to be a tad bit jarring—and therefore more memorable—and because it's a play on my broadly Germanic/Nordic (GerMannik/Nordik?) heritage. Besides, if I could get a .com, that would make up for the unusual spelling—though that, in and of itself, made it memorable and more brand worthy.

I mean, look at all the companies today which have made small (or large) fortunes with completely non-sense but memorable ones. Sadly, there is no ".kom" though.

Even more than HistoryCards.xyz, HistoryKards.com began to sing to me. And the more I tried to tell myself that I should ignore this gut-level impulse, the harder and harder it was to disregard. It really began to eat at me.

So, I was talking myself out of what I'd talked myself into. Go figure. What little I lost with a "c" was more than made up for by a "k". Even the SEO argument was not very strong; with just a little bit of traction, people searching for "history cards" will still find "history kards"!

Besides, the great thing about domains is that they can be pointed anywhere. I knew I could (and since have) pointed HistoryCards.xyz to this site, just as HistoryKards.com will, if and until I decide to build out a dedicated site. I can tell you one thing, though; that's' not gonna happen unless the project takes off and becomes a viable commercial one. Only then would it be worth the trouble!

One of the reasons I originally chose "HistsoryCards.xyz" was for SEO reasons. I want to rank for the term "history card(s)"—even though, at this point, it's not a term people search for.

Finally, I just like the look of History Kards over History Cards. To me, it's just stronger. And as I said before, I think it's notably memorable whereas the original version is kinda bland, and therefore not especially so. Not that, either way, it makes that much of a difference. If you can't remember some historical playing cards as "history cards"—however you spell it—it doesn't much matter if you spell it with a Q.

This brings to mind the great Monty Python sketch where a character being interviewed on TV explains that his name is Raymond Luxury Yacht, but it's pronounced Throat Warbler Mangrove.



But I digress...

THE CHANGEOVER BEGINS

So, the other day, I woke up with my mind changed. "F*ck it," I thought. You can argue it either way, but in the end, it comces down to personal preference. My feeling was that "History Kards" was just going to be better, long run, than boring old "History Cards." It was that simple.

But there was a further complication. As I'd already started using HistoryCards.xyz, switching over to HistoryKards.com was going to entail redoing some art and purging pieces that were already out there. Ugh. That was a moderately big downside to contemplate, and it almost talked me out of the changeover. But ultimately, I decided to make the change now, when the pain would be limited, rather than sitting pat and becoming increasingly restive and regretful about it.

I just knew that end of the day, I was not going to be happy with History Cards. And the longer I waited, the worse it would get from a "rebrand" standpoint.

So, I took the plunge. History Kards it is.

All things considered, I believe the new version of the name is better than the old, and a better overall brand marketing strategy.

What do you think?