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What is the worst crime in history?


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Showing 1-25 of 225 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 4, 2008 8:35:30 AM PDT
What is the worst crime in history? I can think of several candidates for the title: The Nazi’s Holocaust of the Jews of Europe, Stalin’s starvation of Ukrainia, Mao’s Great Leap Forward in China, Mother Teresa’s torture of the sick of India, the European Crusades to the Holy Land, the Inquisition, the European conquest of the New World, and I'm sure there are a lot more that you all can suggest.

But I nominate as my candidate the crime that pretty much made all the others possible: Bishop Theophilus’s burning of the Library of Alexandria. It was this event, not the fall of Rome 19 years later, that marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. Without it, there would have been no collapse of European civilization, no Muslim expansion which led directly to the Crusades and Inquisition. With the knowledge that was lost, medicine might have advanced enough in those 1000 years that the Black Death would not have wiped out a third of the population. The world could have been rich enough then that Marx wouldn't have risen to prominence, preventing both Stalin’s and Mao’s mass murders.

A list of crimes is boring. The reasons you nominate your candidates are what matter.

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In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2008 3:05:39 PM PDT
Mike Breen says:
Colorizing "It's a Wonderful Life."

In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2008 3:16:14 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 4, 2008 3:28:28 PM PDT
Chimonsho says:
Good topic, & interesting choice for Crime #1. You offer sound reasons, but the cause-and-effect sequence seems problematic. Preserving the Alexandria library could have avoided such consequences, but perhaps not; we'll never know.

For my choices, I accept 2 of yours & add another (not ranked in order):

> African slave trade--internal, Atlantic/Indian Oceans, trans-Sahara
> destruction of First Americans
> Holocaust

Main criterion for inclusion is the scale of the loss of life, land and/or labor

Re letting Bush win: a significant crime, true, but too soon to know full effects. Hopefully some of the harm can be undone.

In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2008 3:38:51 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 12:44:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 5, 2008 12:52:45 PM PDT
Grim says:
Sorry Mr. Smith, but the preponderance of historical and anthropological research puts the pre-Columbian population between 8 and 112 million, with most tallys coming in above 50 million. It isn't an exact science, but everyone agrees the advent of Europeans on the American continents was a disaster for the folks already living there. Disease, slavery, and superior weaponry (in that order) wiped out something above 80 percent of the inhabitants. For those who survived the initial disaster, the ensuing 500 years have not been much fun either.

Recognizing that the European conquest was a holocaust for the people who lived in the Americas need not make our children despise their ancestors, but it might make more careful about imposing their will on others. By the by, I have children who know something about history, yet don't seem to despise anybody (on the other hand, they tend to be argumentative).

Forthe record, I'll say the worst (certainly the biggest) crime in history was the seizure of the "heathen lands" by the church. According to church law, any land that was not already ruled by a Christian king (or a recognized and tolerated pagan ruler) belonged to the church, which is why the Pope was able to "donate" everything between the Canary Islands to Japan (south of Washington DC) to Ferdinand and Isabella. It was a spectacular and grandly consequential theft.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 1:30:42 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 2:06:24 PM PDT
D. Axelson says:
Mr. Longmire -

I think of a "crime" as an intentional act. If the introduction of disease, to which Native Americans had no immunity, was inadvertent (and it was, with some exceptions), then no crime was involved. (By the same token, I wasn't aware that the destruction of the Library of Alexandria was conclusively a deliberate act; I think there were several separate burnings, and that controversy as to the cause of the fires was speculative. Hence, no crime.)

As for particular crimes, how about some categories? Is the man who kills with his own hands better or worse than the man who orders or persuades others to kill? Is serial rapist/sodomist/murderer Gilles de Rais (80 to 200 victims across six years) better or worse than, say, Richard Speck, who killed eight student nurses in a single night ? Or to more accurately fit the initial question, do we consider Speck's a single crime, but de Rais's 80 (or 200) separate crimes?

Does negligence count? And what about "self-defense" or acts during war? Some might argue that Truman committed a crime in authorizing use of the A-bomb (I don't agree, but let's at least acknowledge that someone could take that position).

[I realize that these are really more general questions, and you need not feel they are addressed to you personally; I just got started responding to your post . . .]

Okay - greatest mass murderer (using the power of the state) - gotta go with Uncle Joe Stalin on this one, although Hitler's a strong second.

Greatest serial killer who got his own hands dirty - Gilles de Rais

Greatest mass murderer who got his own hands dirty - Richard Speck [Off the top of my head - I'm sure there must be some others who killed more people at once)

Nominations for greatest criminal institution? How about "organized religion"? How many killings have been committed in the name of some religious faith?

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 2:18:03 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 2:21:10 PM PDT
Hans Castorp says:
"Mother Theresa's torture of the Sick in India"..Must admit, I'm not really familiar with that one.WORST SINGLE CRIME, MEANING THE ONE CRIME HAVING THE LARGEST EFFECT ON HISTORY..2, maybe 3..1 Crucifixion of Christ>2>Assassination of Arch Duke by Serb Princeps in July, 1914..3..Murder of Kirov in 1935 Russia...All 3 had huge effects on the world!

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 2:39:27 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 5:19:50 PM PDT
John Jarvis says:
World War I was merely precipitated by the assassination of the Arch Duke by Gavrilo Princeps, not caused by it. The powder keg was there, the Schlieffen plan and railway mobilisation schedules in place. The treaty system and arms race were far more important long term factors than a single assassination--the proximate cause probably would have been something else in the Balkans.

And while we're at it, I'd cast a vote for the Great Leap Forward as one of the great cataclysmic events, although its scale will remain unknown for a long time. Probably not a crime, though, as the CCP leadership did not intend to kill scores of millions--it just worked out that way.

As for the actual greatest crime? Conquest of the Americas comes to mind. Tempted to say partition of India, although you would have enormous difficulty showing culpability--it's certainly a great 20th century cataclysm. The 1943 Bengal famine was pretty awful as well--3 million dead in about a year, but no one in the West noticed because of World War II--at that caused by planning so poor it almost amounts to negligence.

I'm interested no one's said 9/11 (somewhat gratified, as well--far too early to tell on that one, and it's probably had rather limited effects, to be perfectly honest), and somewhat surprised.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 7:56:47 PM PDT
Intelligent.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 7:58:25 PM PDT
Don't waste your time on Alexander Smith.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 8:19:28 PM PDT
Mystic says:
Incest is the worst crime ever.
How heinous to be raped by the people/person who is supposed to love you

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 9:28:05 PM PDT
John C. F. says:
Allowing Jackie Collins to be published.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 10:11:25 PM PDT
I. Dunn says:
Charles M. Nobles says: But I nominate as my candidate the crime that pretty much made all the others possible: Bishop Theophilus's burning of the Library of Alexandria. It was this event, not the fall of Rome 19 years later, that marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. Without it, there would have been no collapse of European civilization, no Muslim expansion which led directly to the Crusades and Inquisition. With the knowledge that was lost, medicine might have advanced enough in those 1000 years that the Black Death would not have wiped out a third of the population. The world could have been rich enough then that Marx wouldn't have risen to prominence, preventing both Stalin's and Mao's mass murders.

Except that it never happened (see wikipedia). Let alone the leap of historical faith that leads you to the startling consequences. Personally I still blame the Romans.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2008 11:15:53 PM PDT
Ted Ingram says:
I am amazed at how easily a great discussion among those of us who value and appreciate history turned into a bickering contest. History, like life, is all about perspective. If we as modern day historians are to examine these events to provide an unbiased assessment of their impact on our world how can we do this if petty bickering ensues?

A good many of the events pegged by Mr. Noble are tragic and devastating to the nations/tribes/peoples that they affected. The overall effect on history should, in my opinion alone, be judged by the total impact on our world, for better or for worse.

The Nazi's Holocaust of the Jews of Europe: This might be without question the most devastating event in modern times, as a good percentage of those killed were highly respected people in their communities prior to them being labeled enemies of the state by the Third Reich in the territories they overran.

Stalin's starvation of Ukrainia: I am not sure this rate any higher or lower than the purges, pogroms, and wholesale slaughter of undesirables and perceived enemies of the state during Stalin's reign.

Mao's Great Leap Forward in China: Yet another example of Communism run amok. Again tragic, but overall impact on the world no greater or lesser than Stalin's follies.

Mother Teresa's torture of the sick of India: I have no idea what this is about. I will make no judgments on this but would appreciate some background.

The European Crusades to the Holy Land: Although motive can be questioned and the acts of the supposed Christians can be highly dubious, I think that they are in no way more or less guilty of crimes than the Muslim's they were fighting.

The Inquisition: Again tragic, but the overall impact and the level of butchery is no greater than many parts of the world before and after.

The European conquest of the New World: Over a longer time and in a less industrial manor this was genocide and should be remembered as such. Despite many arguments about how many people there were in the Americas prior to 1492 the fact that remains is regardless of how many or how few the entire culture and the majority of the populations of many civilizations were completely wiped out. By western standards some of these civilizations may have been barbaric and backwards, but no more so the modern peoples might view practices of the Greeks and the Romans today.
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Discussion in:  History forum
Participants:  119
Total posts:  225
Initial post:  May 4, 2008
Latest post:  Dec 10, 2008

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