Looking for an amusing article to tickle your funny bone? You’ve definitely come to the wrong place. While we live in strange times where a cheerful diversion does us a lot of good, it’s also important to never forget that humans have done some pretty terrible things over the years. In no particular order, here are:
1. The Sinking of the Titanic
When the passenger ship the RMS Titanic was built, its creators boasted that it was unsinkable. Their degree of arrogance was so great that they didn’t bother supplying the ship with enough lifeboats to save all of its 2,200 passengers in the event that it did sink. Some of the planners had insisted on 64 lifeboats, which would likely have been sufficient, but ultimately the number was lowered to 32 and finally 16. The reason? The White Star Line felt they would take up too much space on the deck. When the ship did hit the iceberg, only around 700 passengers survived, with the remaining 1,500 dying unnecessarily.
2. The Cambodian Genocide
When Pol Pot came to power in 1975, his goal was to take the Cultural Revolution to a whole other, tragic level. In less than 4 years, he and his Khmer Rouge (the Communist Party rulers) murdered between 1.5 million and 2 million citizens, including the country’s previous leadership intellectuals, Buddhists, Muslims, and ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, among others. Brainwashed children were convinced to carry out atrocities. Pol Pot was eventually arrested in 1998, but died in captivity before he could be brought to justice.
3. The Salem Witch Trials
The witch trials in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, which took place between 1692 and 1693, frankly prove how stupid the human race can be. Spurred on by religious extremism, family feuds and simple vindictiveness between neighbors, 200 victims in total — including lots of teenage girls and even younger — were accused of committing witchcraft, with 30 of them being found guilty and 19 executed through hanging. The folks quickly came to their senses and within a few years most of the accused were exonerated. But goodness, it never should have come to that!
4. The Great Leap Forward
Launched by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958, the purpose of this campaign was to transform the country from an agrarian economy to a communist society. China invested a significant amount of money into this plan, but it was ultimately a disaster. The country’s economy shrank significantly, and as a result of exaggerated agricultural output, roughly 45 million Chinese died of starvation, the most deadly famine in human history.
5. The Dropping of Atomic Bombs on Japan
When President Harry Truman made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was ostensibly done in order to avoid an invasion of Japan. The claim was that countless American soldiers were spared as a result. But when you look at the facts, Japan was already on the ropes, having lost all the territory it had conquered, and the neighboring Soviet Union was breathing down its neck. Between 130,000 and 229,000 Japanese — mostly civilians — died as a result of the bombings, some in an instant while others in the following months, suffering from starvation and radiation poisoning. Historians have argued that a naval blockade and conventional bombing would have achieved the same outcome — Japan’s surrender — without having to destroy entire cities in the process.
6. The Holodomor
Ukrainians have always been fiercely proud and independent people, making them a throne in Josef Stalin’s side in the early days of his reign of the Soviet Union. During his plan to force collectivization on Ukraine, he deliberately manufactured a famine in order to break the will of the peasantry. While there was plenty of food to go around, Stalin confiscated grain and livestock, even exporting it to other countries while Ukrainians starved. In total, 3.9 million Ukrainians — or 13% of its entire population — died.
7. The Atlantic Slave Trade
Starting in the 16th century and lasting through the 1800s, between 12-12.8 million Africans were shipped to the Americas for the purposes of slavery, with most of them remaining enslaved for their entire lives, along with several generations of Black men and women that followed. It’s also estimated that around 1.2-2.4 million never made it to shore, having died from disease during the long, horrifying journey. Although slavery was banned in the U.S. following President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclaimation on January 1, 1863, and a lot of progress has been made since, the events of just these past four years demonstrate that there’s a great deal of work left to do.
8. The Holocaust
Wars are always horrible and full of injustices, but no regime in the history of the world has committed the level of atrocities at the scale that Nazi Germany did. In total, the Holocaust — the systematic extermination primarily of the Jews, but also gypsies, homosexuals, and others regarded as “undesirables” — resulted in 11 million deaths. Aside from gassing Jews at the various death camps in Germany and Poland, Nazis such as Dr. Josef Mengele conducted horrible experiments, most of which served no practical medical purpose.