Most Evil Men and Women in History, The

Rating: 
4
Review by Carl Muller
September 12, 2007

EVIL MEN: I asked around if any could tell me that, in this miserable world, there is 'pure evil', The response was to be expected. "Oh, there's evil - plenty of it. Stacks of it going around like HIV.... but pure evil can only come out of hell."

But I have just got my hands on a book by Miranda Twiss: "The Most Evil Men and Women in History" (Michael O'Hara Books, UK) that tells me that hell is a place to roast chestnuts and marshmallows compared with the gruesome details of this book. Read it, and I warrant, sleep does not come easy at night.

We know well enough that evil has always been with us. If acts of evil do not make the headlines, the chances are that some tyrant has wiped out all who might bear witness to it.

This book tells us of Idi Amin, the Roman Emperors Caligula and Nero, Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible; Prince Vlad Tepes Dracula, Countess Barthory and also pays attention to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, Stalin's gulags, Hitler's death camps, the Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele, and the sadistic Ilse Koch, wife of the commandant at Buchenwald.

Off my own bat, I would have added the monstrous and murderous activities of the JVP and the hideous backlash by the state's killing machine, but author Twiss hasn't paid particular attention to this neck of the woods.

 

Extract


The book weaves a spell of sheer horror. Telling of Idi Amin, let me give you some extracts: "In 1971, Amin became Uganda's President, or, to give him his full title, His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al-Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

This simple-minded man's lusting after the trappings of power led many people in the West to regard him as a coming buffoon. How wrong they were. Idi Amin executed his enemies live on TV.

He mutilated the corpse of one of his wives and forced her son to see her body. He kept the head of his former boss, Brigadier Suleiman Hussein, in his fridge and talked to it. By the end of his reign in 1979, his notorious State Research Bureau had murdered more than 300,000 Ugandans, one-sixtieth of the country's population."

Idi Amin was just an uneducated Nubian who rose through the ranks of the army to become President Milton Obote's right-hand man. Amin waited, and the opportunity came when Obote was abroad. In 1971, he took power in a military coup, led a campaign to wipe out all the tribes that backed Obote; and then turned on is own troops.

All officers who posed a threat to his absolute power, were lined up on a parade ground, ostensibly to take the salute from an armoured column.

Tanks were then driven in, circled the officers and crushed them to death. Those who were nimble enough to break through were used for target practice. History tells us that within five months, most of the trained army professionals were wiped out.

Author Twiss gives us more. She tells of the way Amin expelled all the expat Israelis as well as 80,000 East African Asians. When leaving, they were all robbed and raped at the borders. As she says: "Ugandans..... would pay large sums of money to 'body finders' to recover the corpse of a close relative for burial. Amin instructed the young killers of the State Research Bureau to butcher people and conceal their bodies.

Other Bureau investigators then informed the widows that their loved ones had disappeared or were feared dead. For a fee of 150 Sterling Pounds they would drive the weeping relatives to a forest outside Kampala and 'discover' the dead man.

Unclaimed bodies were thrown into Lake Victoria, where those that were not eaten by crocodiles would float into the sluice gates of the hydroelectric dam at Owen Falls.

When the lights dimmed in Kampala's streets it meant the dam's inlets once again needed to be cleared of rotting corpses. Amins secret police preferred to kill people slowly.

Cutting slices of flesh off a prisoner's body and force-feeding them to him was a favourite technique. However, Amin decreed that a quicker method should be used. Each prisoner was chained in a cell while another prisoner was promised a reprieve if he would batter the first to death with a sledgehammer. Once they had done the grisly deed, they were themselves chained up to await their own turn."

 

Horrors


Other examples of 'pure evil' tell of Caligula, the Roman Emperor, who grew up amid such horrors that he was almost bred to be deranged. As Twiss records: "As a child, Caligula saw his beloved father poisoned, his eldest brother forced to cut his own throat, and his mother and other brother starved to death - leaving only his sisters, with whom Caligula regularly and publicly had sex.

As an adult, he revelled in torture and liked to dine to the accompaniment of men and women being slowly put to death."

Of Nero, the author says that while he loved cruel spectacles in the amphitheatre, he was especially demonised because of his victimisation of Christians.

 

Sheer bloodlust

"He had them crucified or eaten by lions in the circus, and in the evenings used them as human torches to light his palace gardens.

He murdered several close relatives, poisoning his step-brother to prevent him usurping the throne, sending assassins to kill his mother so he could be free of her plots, killing his aunt to seize her luxurious estates and murdering his wife Octavia in order to marry Poppea.

After uncovering a conspiracy against him, Nero had hundreds of aristocrats, senators and army officers put to death, before fleeing to a suburban villa and committing suicide."

Attila the Hun made the Huns a great power as the Roman Empire faded. He simply waded through blood. And what of Ivan the Terrible? Twiss says: 'His psychosis began in childhood after watching his poisoned mother die in agony."

The author also has no hesitation in naming Prince Vlad Tepes Dracula and his sheer bloodlust, as one of the most evil men in the history. Telling of him, she says: "The fictional Dracula is a toothless pussycat beside his namesake, who conquered and lost the throne of Wallachia (in what is now Romania) three times and whose seven years in power saw the death of more than 100,000 people. Born in 1431, Vlad grew up amid violence.

His father was assassinated, and his elder brother blinded with red-hot spikes and buried alive by the Hungarians. Vlad ascended to the throne through shrewd diplomacy and ruthlessness in 1456, and thereafter he focused on terrifying his people in order to defend Wallachia against foreign invasion.

"To ensure the loyalty of his subjects, he resorted to horrendous cruelties. He had a large pot made with boards fasteed over it; people's heads were put through holes in the boards, the pot was filled with water and a fire lit underneath so that their heads were slowly steamed.

More spectacular was a technique of impalement taught him by the Turks, which was to give him the name, Vlad he Impaler. The victim was laid on the ground with an oiled and sharpened six-inch-wide stake between his legs.

Each leg was attached to a horse, and the stake was gradually driven up through the buttocks, emerging at the mouth, at which point the stake was turned upright and planted in the ground. In 1457,500 noblemen and their wives who attended an Easter banquet at Vlad's palace were accused of disloyalty and impaled."

Of course, like the fictional Dracula of Bram Stoker, Vlad did not drink blood, but in Transylvania, that neighboured Vlad's Wallachia, Elizabeth, Countess Barthory, bathed in blood.

The horror of it all is well captured by Twiss: "As a child, she saw a gypsy buried alive by being stitched into the belly of a dying horse. A woman of exceptional beauty, she married a famously cruel warrior, Ferenc Nadasdy, known as the Black Hero of Hungary, but he was so often away fighting that Elizabeth began attending orgies at the estate of her lesbian aunt, Karla.

Here, she developed her talent for sadism, and after her husband's death in 1604, she took pleasure in torturing girls to death.

In the dead of winter she had them taken into the courtyard, stripped and doused in water until they froze like ice sculptures. Discovering that blood seemed to rejuvenate her ageing skin, Elizabeth proceeded to kidnap more young girls, on the pretext of hiring them as servants, and then slowly drian them of blood.

According to testimony at her trial, she had one girl brought to her bedside when she was ill. She rose up from her pillow, opened her mouth and bit the girl first on her cheek, then went for the girl's shoulders, where she ripped out a piece of flesh with her teeth. Over a period of ten years, around 600 girls were sacrificed...."

Evil IS an absolute term - and pure evil is surely a darkness where there is no light at all! These dark spots will always be there - enclaves, provinces, states, even nations.

More than 2400 years ago, Socrates observed, "To prefer evil to good is not in human nature." But, there are so many to this very day, to whom this is most certainly not true!

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