The 20th century’s Bloodiest “Megamurderers” according to Prof. R.J. Rummel

“The more constrained the power of governments, the more power is diffused, checked, and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide. At the extremes of power, totalitarian communist governments slaughter their people by the tens of millions; in contrast, many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers.”

Prof. R.J. Rummel, Death By Government (New Brunswick and London: Transaction, 1994), 2.

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The late University of Hawaii Professor Rudolph Joseph Rummel (d. 2014) devoted his career, as a political scientist, to the study of violence and warfare with a goal of reducing it. One of the means by which he sought to reduce conflict was through the promotion of democracy, providing statistical analysis to argue that democracies typically do not go to war with each other (referred to as Democratic Peace Theory). Rummel also devoted considerable efforts to providing statistical analysis of the numbers of people killed under various regimes and is known for creating the term “democide” to describe mass murder by governments. Although he produced a number of influential books addressing this topic, one of his best-known works is his provocatively titled Death By Government, published in 1994. In it, Rummel laid out a list (see page 8) of what he describes as the 20th century’s “Bloodiest Megamurderers.”

They include the following:

  1. Joseph Stalin (over 42 million deaths)
  2. Mao Tse-tung (nearly 38 million deaths)*
  3. Adolf Hitler (nearly 21 million deaths)
  4. Chiang Kai-shek (over 10 million deaths)
  5. Vladimir Lenin (over 4 million deaths)
  6. Tojo Hideki (nearly 4 million deaths)
  7. Pol Pot (over 2 million deaths)
  8. Yahya Khan (1.5 million deaths)
  9. Josip Broz Tito (over 1 million deaths)

* I initially questioned the fact that Mao Tse-tung was ranked second, as most estimates attribute somewhere around 60 to 70 million deaths to his policies. In a later online essay titled Reevaluating China’s Democide to be 73,000,000, written in 2005, Rummel updated his research to move Mao into the number one spot ahead of Stalin. In response to those who criticized his earlier attributions of only around 38 million deaths to Mao, Rummel explained both his initial rationale and the reason for changing his mind.

First, Rummel’s initial rationale for attributing the lower number of 38 million deaths to Mao.

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Now the reason for changing his mind and updating the figure to the mind boggling estimate of 77,000,000.

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