Who Is the Worst Leader of All Time?

A big question

Graham Roumieu

Laurence Leamer, author, The Price of Justice

I was thinking of Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, when the goofy, smiling face of President George W. Bush appeared out of nowhere. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions, was a major factor in the dismemberment of nation-states, and the tally goes on.

Matt Karp, author, This Vast Southern Empire

The bad leader I know best is Jefferson Davis. He embraced America’s deadliest conflict, over the right to own people as property, and by the end of it, he had earned the hatred of almost everyone involved, including his fellow people-owners. But c’mon, the answer is Hitler. It has to be Hitler.

Graham Roumieu

Teresa Shawcross, history professor, Princeton

There were the bad and the mad—Nero, Caligula—and then there was Romulus Augustus. Named after the founders of Rome and the Roman empire, he surrendered to the barbarians. Contemporaries called him the “little disgrace.” Hard to imagine a more ineffectual ruler than the youth remembered as the last emperor.

Chris Cuomo, co-host, CNN’s New Day

The devil, for appealing to the weakness in human nature, disconnecting people from the basic love of one another in order to secure a leader’s power over them. Look at Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler—different times and places, but they all share that diabolical influence.

Bryan Safi, co-host, TV Land’s Throwing Shade (premiering in January)

Ronald Reagan. Tens of thousands of gay men were wiped off the map simply because he refused to speak, much less act. What’s worse than ignoring a national health crisis while you stuff your face full of jelly beans and your wife reads her horoscope in the next room?

Reader Responses

Graham Roumieu

Gerald Bazer, Toledo, Ohio

Neville Chamberlain: “Peace for our time” led to World War II and millions of civilian and military casualties.

Dan Fredericks, Janesville, Wis.

Few can compare to the enigmatic Napoleon Bonaparte, whose grandiose, ambitious foreign policies and epic military blunders ultimately led to the collapse of the first French empire.

Ahmad Alsaleh, Edinburgh, U.K.

Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia, took a reasonably functioning country and left it vulnerable to radical revolutionaries. He lost the war with Japan and was losing his side of World War I. His misjudgment allowed Rasputin to become influential. That was a huge mistake.

Graham Roumieu

Michael J. Nighan, Rochester, N.Y.

The worst leader would be Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose decision to back Austria-Hungary against Serbia led to World War I, which in turn led to World War II, which then led to the atomic and hydrogen bombs and the Cold War.

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