May 28

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HISTORY KARDS TERMS & METHODOLOGY


The kards are pretty self explanatory. Name, Born and Died are obvious. After "Died" is a number in parenthesis, which is the age of the villain at death. Era, Dtoll and Drate require a bit more explanation, which follows...

ERA

This is the "active period" during which the villain in question did the harm that made him or her infamous. It usually equates to the period of time in which he or she was in charge, or in command of some kind of entity which did the harm.

For instance, in the case of Hitler, it's the period from his appointment to Chancellor of Germany, upon which he declared himself Fuhrer ("Leader") and took complete control over all of the nation, to the end of his life (which was also the end, for all intents and purposes, of Nazi Germany). 

For someone like Mao Zedong, it represents the lengthy period of time from when he was a revolutionary and head of the Chinese Communist Party all the way through to being the undisputed leader of China.

Note that the bracketed number following the Era range is the total number years during which the villain did his or her worst.

DTOLL

This is short for "Death Toll." It represents the total number of deaths directly attributable to the villain in question.

Since killers on the scale of the 50 Greatest Villains of All Time don't achieve their infamy by working alone, it also represents the crimes of the people and organizations subordinate to said monster.

As I've noted elsewhere, and historians have pointed out time and time again, many, if not most, of history's worst mass murderers did not personally get their hands dirty. At least not much.

  • Stalin didn't personally arrest or convict the vast numbers of Soviet citizens who were exiled to near-certain death in the Gulags or simply liquidated under his authority. 
  • Hitler is believed to have personally executed a few enemies over the years, but most of the dirty work of the Third Reich was done by his henchmen (and women).
  • Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong did spend a lot of time in the field where blood was shed, fighting the Chinese Civil War amongst themselves, and then fighting together against Imperial Japan's invasions. But when it came to genocide, political murder and crimes against civilians, it was generally others who did the real dirty work.
  • King Leopold of Belgium never came within a thousand miles of the blood being spilled in his name and for his benefit in the Congo Free State. The same near-total detachment from mass murder and crimes against humanity can be said for Hirohito. 

Nearly every villain down through the ages believes (or has convinced himself) that what he is doing is justified and even good. Even the pure psychopaths who don't need to justify their crimes need others to help them, and in this, an ideology which permits or even celebrates murder is more than just useful, it is necessary. Enemies must be demonized and dehumanized in order to get average people (most of whom have a conscience) to do horrific things to their fellow man. 

One wonders if mass murder and genocide would even be possible if it weren't for the odious ideologies which poison minds and convince large swathes of people that inhuman behavior is somehow acceptable and even preferential. 

In a way it makes perfect sense. No man, no matter how homicidal, can kill large numbers of people over weeks, months and years without willing collaborators and awful machinery at his disposal.  

DRATE

This is short for "Death Rate." In some ways, it's a more important statistic than DToll, because it measures the average annual death toll during the Era in which the villain was active.

In other words, I divided the total number of deaths by the number of years the villain was active (Era); this results in an average, which is the DRate. Obviously, this is a rough estimate, but it certainly gives one a different perspective. 

For instance, in total numbers of deaths, Hitler ranks third, behind Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin. These last two dictators committed their crimes against humanity across decades, giving them much higher total body counts.

But what makes Hitler arguably the single worst mass murderer of all time is the rate at which people died under his reign. His regime set the standard for industrial-scale murder. Let us hope no future leader ever aspires to anything like it.

METHODOLOGY

If you want to know more, you can read a detailed explanation of the background to this project. As I discuss there at length, rating history's greatest (i.e. worst) villains is hardly an exact science. No two experts, looking at the same evidence, arrive at the same conclusions. In the end, it all falls into the realm of "best guestimate," and in that regard—perhaps appropriately, given the project—it is more art than science. 

I doubt that "exact science" for something like History Cards is even possible. 

For example, even in a hyper-anal, super-detail oriented society like WWII-era Nazi Germany, where extensive and voluminous records were kept on everything—including the very regime's crimes against humanity—it's impossible to have an exact accounting of its worst transgressions. Records were lost and destroyed, of course, and some attempt was made to cover up the most egregious crimes of the Third Reich, especially towards the end of the war (many of Hitler's subordinates realized that all was lost and a reckoning on the way).

But even if we had a perfect set of records, they are not to be fully trusted. Nazi exterminators had incentives to lie about their "kill count," just as US troops did in Vietnam. There were inevitable mistakes and record keeping errors. And beyond this is the ugly truth that for millions of Nazi victims, there was no record kept whatsoever. Does anyone really believe that the Einsatzgruppen (the SS death corps) kept a tally for every single person they killed in the vast swath of death they cut across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union? 

When compared to most other eras and entities involved in large-scale crimes against humanity, the Third Reich's book keeping was damn near perfect—and it is the exception which proves the rule. 

By contrast, when Genghis Khan was laying waste to entire regions, and killing people on a vast scale, there was a dearth of detailed records—few which exist today and are considered useful by historians. What is true for Genghis Khan is true for most of the mass murderers in history, which probably explains why even the experts disagree—and in many cases, so dramatically.  

So, for each villain I chose a number range, from low death numbers to high death numbers (though in some cases tossing the far outliers), based on the estimates of respected academics and experts. From there I took an average, which became the DToll. I think it's about the best anybody can do. 

If YOU have information or ideas which might be value to this project, please leave a comment below or kontact me directly. The former is preferred, as others will then be able to see what you have to say and weigh in. 

About the Author

Mann is a former Hollywood/Fortune 500 Wunderkind/Creative Director who was lucky enough to escape the ad biz with his integrity and sanity still intact. Well, mostly.

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