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.
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...
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.