Top 10 Ruthless Dictators

They exacted complete control – often by force. In honor of Kim Jong-il assuming supreme leadership of North Korea on July 8th, 1994, and the birth of Benito Mussolini July 29th, 1883, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 most ruthless dictators. For this list, we’ve chosen some of the most notable and brutal dictators in history, and have ranked them based on the ruthlessness of their crimes. Special thanks to our users Dave Strauss, hardcorelegend101, Miroljub Milisavljevic, FatefulEnd522, Cal Smith and Jacob Frey for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page!
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Top 10 Ruthless Dictators


They exacted complete control – often by force. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 most ruthless dictators.

For this list, we’ve chosen some of the most notable and brutal dictators in history, and have ranked them based on the ruthlessness of their crimes.

#10 – Kim Jong-il (North Korea: 1994-2011)

Like his father before him and his son after, the eccentric Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea strictly and with a strong personality cult. His was apparently one of the world’s most repressive governments, with poverty-stricken residents isolated through restrictions to practically everything. Between the starvation, executions and forced labor, some estimate the deaths attributable to this Supreme Leader in the millions – and that’s without mentioning the nuclear program.

#9 – Francisco Franco (Spain: 1936-1975)

Spain was ideologically divided when Franco attempted to overthrow the left-wing government. With support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the Nationalists won the ensuing, bloody civil war, and Franco assumed power. Murder and suppression of language, culture and more kept “El Caudillo” in office almost four decades. And, while the regime eventually softened and a democratic turnaround surged after his death, the repercussions of Franco’s actions reverberate today.

#8 – Mao Zedong (China: 1949-1976)

This communist leader became a savior to many by founding the People’s Republic of China, and by leading his people through industrial and cultural revolutions and the Great Leap Forward. Though China’s transformation into a superpower is revered, critics suggest the cost of these initiatives in human lives ranged between 40-70 million, due to famine, murders and forced labor, cementing Chairman Mao’s place as a polarizing figure.

#7 – Benito Mussolini (Italy: 1926-1943)

Portrayed as the only man capable of unifying Italy and restoring order, “Il Duce” disassembled the democratic system, transformed the country into a one-party state and seized power with his Fascist Party. Militia and secret police met political foes with aggressive force or executions, while Mussolini expanded the Italian Empire by colonizing African countries. But it was his misguided partnership with Hitler that ultimately led to his spectacular downfall.

#6 – Saddam Hussein (Iraq: 1979-2003)

Once called the world’s most dangerous man, Saddam was one of the few dictators tried, convicted and executed for his crimes. Though his unparalleled social programs were hailed, he executed dissidents, slaughtered the Kurdish population, and used oil and power as justification to invade neighboring countries. This triggered wars, unrest and uprisings, and later, false allegations about weapons of mass destruction eventually led to his ruin.

#5 – Muammar Gaddafi (Libya: 1969-2011)

Shortly after becoming Libya’s ruler, Colonel Gaddafi exacted his influence by making opposition to his regime illegal, among other measures. Suspected of crimes against humanity, the “mad dog of the Middle East” established extensive surveillance of his people and became increasingly wealthy as the poverty level rose. Despite his indiscriminate murder of rebels during the Arab Spring, discontented Libyans fought back, and the Brother Leader was deposed and killed.

#4 – Pol Pot (Cambodia: 1975-1979)

Following his ascent, Pol Pot attempted to return Cambodia to its rural roots by forcing city residents to toil on collective farms. Though it held power four years, Pol Pot’s communist Khmer Rouge party caused approximately two million deaths with politically motivated murders, torture, forced labor, disease and food shortages, the victims of which were buried in the Killing Fields. He clung to nominal power until his 1998 death.

#3 – Idi Amin (Uganda: 1971-1979)

Military background and charisma served Amin well as he overthrew the Ugandan leader and became self-proclaimed “President for Life.” His brutal eight-year reign was marked by economic breakdown, political authoritarianism, corruption, human rights violations, ethnic cleansings, mass murder and rumors of cannibalism by the leader himself. By alienating his followers with unpredictable behavior, the “Butcher of Uganda” ensured he ended his life alone after being ousted and exiled.

#2 – Joseph Stalin (USSR: 1924-1953)

After serving under Vladimir Lenin, this “Man of Steel” became Soviet dictator by discrediting and eliminating rivals. The communist’s aggressive industrialization killed millions due to famine, murder and Gulag camps; but the Great Purge was the darkest period, when citizens were deported, incarcerated and randomly executed. Though he helped defeat the Nazis in WWII, this paranoid man’s influence was erased after his death with a period of de-Stalinization.

#1 – Adolf Hitler (Germany: 1934-1945)

As German Chancellor and leader of the Nazis and Third Reich, Hitler made his motives clear when he made the Nazis the only legal political party and used suppression, propaganda and death to quash opponents. By annexing countries, triggering WWII, and initiating a Holocaust of Jews, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals and the handicapped, Hitler caused tens of millions of deaths and committed some of the worst atrocities in human history.

Who do you think have been some of the most ruthless dictators in history? For more informative top 10s, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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