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Throughout human history, political leaders of all kinds have been killed for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re killed because of the threat to authority they represent to those in power, while in other cases they are murdered due to a controversial stance they have taken. In the most extreme cases, the killer is simply looking for fame or operating under the guise of insanity, with no real reason for his actions. Whatever the case may be, these murders can sometimes have a profound influence on a country, and at times on the world itself.
10. Benazir Bhutto – Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, 2007
While no longer a sitting head of state, Bhuto’s influence on Pakistani politics was considerable. A moderate voice in a country fraught with extremism, her death at the hands of Islamic militants may have single-handedly destroyed any chance the nation might have had for political stability and likely contributed to the general downward spiral the nation has experienced ever since.
9. Reinhard Heydrich – Senior Nazi Official, 1942
Every bit as ruthless and twice as smart as his protégé, Adolf Hitler, the man was being groomed to be the Fuhrer’s successor when he died; had he lived, who knows if he might not of eventually found the kahunas to oust an increasingly frail and delusional Hitler and take the reins of the Third Reich himself—a prospect that could have had profound implications for the allies.
8. Indira Gandhi- Indian Prime Minister, 1984
Indira Gandhi was the voice of modernization whose death resulted in a period of considerable political instability in India for several years afterwards. Though often considered a controversial figure in Indian politics, her influence and desire to bring India into the twentieth century cannot be underestimated, nor the damage done to those plans—at least in the short term—be denied.
7. John F. Kennedy – U.S. President, 1963
While his death had only a minor impact on the political course he had set for the country can never be denied how profoundly his death cast a pall over the American people that has, in some ways, remained to this day. But even more than that, his death resulted in the creation of the entire cottage industry of conspiracy theories, all of which have done much to stoke the fires of paranoia and cynicism that burn so strongly in this country.
6. Mahatma Gandhi – Indian political activist and spiritual leader, 1948
The voice of non-violence in an increasingly violent world, when the emaciated Indian holy man was gunned down on the streets of New Delhi by a university student turned activist, it was a tremendous blow not only to India, but to the entire world. His policies of compassion towards the poor and non-violent resistance served as a blueprint for peaceful change, while his ability to affect both Hindu and Muslim alike made peace—of a kind—possible in his war-torn nation.
5. Julius Caesar – Emperor of Rome, 44BCE
The murder of Rome’s greatest general and first emperor at the hands of his own senators set the Roman Empire on a course that was to set her on the path of centuries of turmoil and treachery. What Rome might have looked like had he stayed in power is unknown, of course, but it’s likely the transition of power in the future would have been a far less messy affair.
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Civil Rights Activist, 1968
While it’s impossible to know how things would have gone for the black community in the late sixties and early seventies had King not been silenced by an assassin, the loss of their chief spokesman was unquestionably a huge blow to the entire civil rights movement.
3. Alexander II – Tsar of Russia, 1881
His death at the hands of terrorists in March of 1881 changed the course of Russia for the bad. Something of an enlightened monarch and a reformer, he was on the verge of creating a parliament in Russia at the time of his death, which likely would have led to the countries’ eventual democratization. Instead, his successors decided to take a more heavy handed approach, resulting in thirty more years of oppressive and corrupt leadership and sowing the seeds for the 1917 revolution that would introduce Communism to the world, the effects of which we are still feeling today.
2. Abraham Lincoln – U.S. President, 1865
No assassination has had as great an impact on a country than did that of the sixteenth president of the United States. His death was disastrous to the south as well, who would have fared much better under Lincoln’s conciliatory hand in the aftermath of the Civil War than it did under Andrew Johnson and subsequent administrations. In fact, it could be said that because of Booth’s treachery likely contributed greatly to the oppression of blacks in the south.
1. Archduke Franz Ferdinand – Heir Apparent to Austro-Hungarian Throne, 1914
The death of the Archduke and his wife as they rode in an open car through the streets of Sarajevo had immediate and profound repercussions. The problem was that the assassin was part of a group that had ties to the Serbian military itself; as such, in a world-class case of overreaction, Austro-Hungary held the Serbian government complicit in the murder and set in motion the wheels of war which would, in turn, start a chain of events that would, over the course a just a few weeks, not only bring the two countries to blows, but would drag the entire continent into the fray with it. The result? World War One—arguably one of the bloodiest and most futile conflicts in history. (Final death toll: 15 million.)
Original Posted in Toptenz.