The Ten Deadliest Civil Wars

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Wikipedia does not have a list of civil wars by death toll so I made my own. I filtered the article ‘List of wars by death toll’ to include only civil wars, rebellions and internal conflicts then ranked them by the number of victims.

Casualties of war are always estimates, so I used the geometric mean wherever possible and rounded it to the nearest one hundred thousand.

A civil war is a conflict between factions in the same country. I counted rebellions against foreign governments, like the Dungan Revolt, Bangladesh Liberation War and Indian Rebellion as civil wars because Han Chinese, East Pakistanis and Indians fought on both sides respectively.


  1. Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) – 45,000,000 casualties
  • The Taiping Heavenly Army, led by a man claiming to be Jesus Christ’s brother, rebels against China’s Qing Dynasty. Qing victory.

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  1. An Lu Shan Rebellion (755-73) – 21,700,000
  • An Lu Shan, a powerful general of Central Asian heritage, establishes a rival empire against China’s Tang Dynasty. Tang victory.

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  1. Dungan Revolt (1862-1877) – 9,800,000
  • Chinese Muslims rebel against the ruling Qing Dynasty. Qing victory.

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  1. Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) – 9,700,000
  • Warlords, Nationalists and Communists fight for control of China. Communist victory.

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  1. Russian Civil War (1917-1922) – 6,700,000
  • The Red (Communist) and White (anti-Communist) armies fight for control of Russia. Communist victory.

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  1. Yellow Turban Rebellion (184-205) – 4,600,000
  • Taoist secret societies lead a peasant revolt against China’s Han Dynasty. Han victory.

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  1. Second Congo War (1998-2003) – 3,700,000
  • A greater African proxy conflict. Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe support the Congolese government against Ugandan, Rwandan and Burundian backed rebels. Stalemate.

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  1. Bangladesh Liberation War (1971) – 3,000,000
  • East Pakistan (Bangladesh), secedes from Pakistan with Indian support. East Pakistani victory.

French Wars of Religion - Wikipedia

French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) – 2,900,000

  • French Protestants rebel against the Catholic monarchy. Catholic victory.

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  1. Indian Rebellion of 1857 (1857-1858) – 2,900,000
  • India rebels against British colonial rule. British victory.

Not only did half these wars happen in China, but the entire first four! It is not surprising, given China is, and always has been, the most populated country in the world. The Taiping Rebellion cost more lives than the next three conflicts combined. According to Wikipedia more were killed in this conflict than the Second World War! (35 million).

Most are wars the average Westerner have never heard of. The most famous ones, like the American, Spanish and Syrian civil wars, number under one million casualties.

Only two – the Second Congo War and Bangladesh Liberation War- involved significant interference from outside powers.

Note (31/07/18) – If you would like a post on any of the conflicts listed, please suggest it in the comments below!

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The Murder of the Romanovs

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On the 16th of July 1918, Russia’s Imperial family were gunned down by leftist revolutionaries. The execution occurred in a house in Yekaterinburg where the prisoners spent their final months. In one fell swoop the dynasty which ruled Russia for three centuries was ended forever. The story of their demise is grimmer than fiction.

The dead consisted of:

  • Tsar Nicholas II, 50 years old
  • Tsarina Alexandra Feodovrona, 46, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria

Their children:

  • Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, 23
  • Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, 21
  • Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, 19
  • Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, 17
  • Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, 14

And the loyal servants who accompanied Romanovs into exile:

  • Alexei Trupp, 62, a Latvian born housekeeper
  • Eugene Botkin, 53, Court Physician, treated the Tsarevich’s haemophelia
  • Ivan Kharitonov, 46, a cook
  • Anna Demidovna, 40, a maid

The picture above is from 1913

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Tsar Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, Russia’s all powerful emperor, abdicated when the 1917 February Revolution brought the Provisional Government to power. In November the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government. Vladimir Lenin, their leader, transferred Nicholas and his family to the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg.

The Russian Civil War erupted soon after. Opposing the Bolshevik ‘Red Army’, was the counterrevolutionary ‘White Army’, a broad coalition that included supporters of the Tsar.

In 1918 the White Army was winning. When the Czechoslovak Legion threatened Yekatarinburg Lenin approved the ‘liquidation’ of Nicholas his family.  A potential rescue was too risky.

Yurovsky.jpgFearing the local guards had grown sympathetic, the local command dispatched nine Bolshevik agents, under command of Peter Yermakov, to assist the execution. Non-ethnic Russians were deliberately chosen for the deed: Yakov Yurovsky  (pictured), the commandant at Ipatiev, was of Jewish extraction and Yermakov’s men were mainly Latvians and Hungarians.

At 1am Yurovsky woke the Romanovs. They were relocating and would wait in the basement until transport arrived.  Without questions, the prisoners dressed and followed Yurovsky downstairs. The prisoners were lined up against the wall of the small brick room, some sources say for a photograph. Chairs were brought for Alexandra and Alexei who, owing to his haemophaelia, was too weak to stand.

Yurovsky planned for a swift execution: he assigned each of his nine man firing squad a  prisoner to shoot. Only Yermakov was tasked with two.  To make the deaths quick and to prevent an excess of blood he instructed his men to aim for the heart.

Two soldiers were unwilling to shoot the women. Yurovsky dismissed them for failing their ‘revolutionary duty’.

Yurovsky then gave the death sentence. The Tsar could only shout ‘what?’ before he shot him dead. The commandant’s men opened fire but, to their surprise, the bullets ricocheted off the walls and their targets, grazing an executioner by the hand. Yurovsky halted his men, and as the smoke cleared they found Anna Demidovna, Tsarina Alexandra and her children alive on the ground. Anna Demidova exclaimed ‘God has saved me!’ but Yermakov dispatched her with his bayonet and Yurovsky shot the young prince in the head.

After another round of gunfire the Tsarina and her daughters were somehow still alive. Yurovsky ordered his men to bayonet them instead, which also failed. At last they killed the women with bullets to the head. Only later was it revealed Alexandra and her children had sewn diamond jewelry into their clothes, which protected them from both the bullets and bayonets of their executioners’ guns. The ordeal took a total twenty minutes.

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The aftermath of the shootings

The disposal of the bodies was botched even further. First the truck broke down then the sunken mine shaft they’d chosen for a grave proved too shallow. To Yurovsky’s dismay, the thoroughly drunk Peter Yermakov, who had organized the burial, had only brought one shovel. After stripping the corpses they tried to collapse the mine with hand grenades but this was ineffective. The bodies floated in the muddy water.

The following night Yurovsky and his men returned to relocate the bodies to a deeper, and more discrete mineshaft. The truck broke down again in the muddy bog however so, with dawn approaching, the murderers resolved to bury them on the spot. A 60 centimetre grave was dug and, to fit the cadavers, Yurovsky’s men doused them in sulfuric acid, tried to burn them and used their rifle butts to crush the skulls into the pit. By 6AM the grave was sealed and the sordid affair complete.

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Porosenkov Log, where the Romanovs were buried

Was it justified? Nicholas II, despite being a family man, was an incompetent and tyrannical ruler with little regard for his subjects. His suppression of the 1905 Revolution and disastrous campaigns in the Russo-Japanese and First World wars cost thousands of Russian lives. Alexandra too was despised by the Russian people for her paranoia and connection with the mad monk Rasputin.

The children and servants however, were innocent.  None of the victims were given a trial.

Leon Trotsky, commander of the Red Army:  

The Tsar’s family was a victim of the principle that form the very axis of monarchy: dynastic inheritance, for which their deaths were a necessity”

Only by eliminating the Romanov family in its entirety could the Bolsheviks ensure the Tsars never reclaimed the throne. A lost heir would be a rallying point for enemies of the revolution and threaten the Soviet Union’s existence. All it would take would be for one of the Romanov daughters to wed a foreign prince for a foreign army to march on Moscow with local support.

There were precedents. When Oliver Cromwell and the forces of Parliament executed King Charles I of England, his son survived. The prince returned with an army and restored the monarchy with himself as Charles II. England’s Republican experiment only lasted 11 years.

After Napoleon’s fall, the brothers of Louis XVI reversed the French Revolution by reinstating the Bourbon Dynasty.

The Tsar’s children had to go. By killing the Alexei and his sisters, the Bolsheviks ensured a Tsarist restoration could never take place. In their eyes that would save thousands more innocent lives.

The bodies were excavated in 1991. DNA analysis confirmed all the prisoners at Ipatiev were buried there, disproving the various Anastasia pretenders who sprung up in the 1920s.

romanov saintsWhen the Soviet Union fell Russians were free to see the Romanovs in a different light. Boris Yeltsin denounced their murder and in 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church canonised the Romanovs and their servants. Today 60% of Russians view their execution as an ‘unjustified atrocity’.

Sources: Alexanderpalace, The Atlantic (1928 issue!), European Study Blog, Eyewitness History,, Russian News Agency, Russia Today, Unofficialroyalty

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Leon Bridges – Good Thing (Album Review)

220px-Good_Thing_by_Leon_Bridges.pngGood Thing is Texas soul singer Leon Bridges’s sophomore album, released on the 8th of March 2018.

I was introduced to Leon Bridges’s music two years ago by a friend. He is a new artist but plays an old style. Accompanied by acoustic and bass guitar, piano, saxophone and drums, Bridges channels the essence of traditional rhythm and blues; singing about love and desire, family and spirituality with a beautiful voice and old fashioned charm.

Popular music is stuck in a rut. New artists deliver mainly overproduced pop which relies too much on thrumming EDM riffs, or self-indulgent mumble rap. For me, the stripped-down, smooth and nostalgic soul of Leon Bridges was (metaphorically speaking) music to my ears.

Bridge’s 2015 debut, ‘Coming Home’ was one of those albums you can play start to finish and enjoy every song.  Highlights include the groovy flagship single ‘Coming Home’, the tale of his mother’s conversion ‘Lisa Sawyer’ and the hauntingly spiritual ‘River’.  Critics compared him to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. Everything from the way he dressed to his lyrics: ‘What can I do? What can I do?/ I’d swim the Mississippi River/ if you would give me another chance girl’ was clearly a homage to that era. You won’t hear a single curse either.

I awaited ‘Good Thing’ with anticipation.  On first listen one thing was clear: this was a different album. Bridges experiments with modern production and a more pop-friendly sound. This is clearest in ‘You Don’t Know’, ‘If it Feels Good (Then it Must Be) and ‘Forgive You’.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

The shift reminds me of Bob Dylan’s ‘Going Electric’.  When the folk singer introduced his new sound, diehard fans cried ‘Judas’. Luckily, ‘Good Thing’ hasn’t quite met the same reaction. If Leon had a few more retro albums under his belt, it might have. Asserting a diverse pallet early is probably a wise move.

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Bridges has not lost his way. Songs like ‘The Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand’ and ‘Bad, Bad News’, go in new directions while retaining his signature sound. The autobiographical ‘Georgia to Texas’ could have been from Coming Home.

‘Beyond’ is my favourite. It really captures both being in love, and the equally powerful fear of having maybe found the one, with heartfelt lyrics and an uplifting tune: ‘I’m scared to death that she might be it/That the love is real, that the shoe might fit/she might just be my everything and beyond (beyond.)’

Song for song, I still find Coming Home a better album. However, for Bridges, who never meant  the retro theme to define him, it is a step in the right direction.  Good Thing’s best tracks – of which there are a decent few, hold the album strong.

Leon Bridges is in the big leagues now. His new producer, Ricky Reed, is a pop music giant with clients like Jason Derulo and Maroon 5. My only hope is that Bridges remembers his roots and doesn’t sell his soul to the radio as did the latter. Judging his humble demeanour, I don’t think he will.

Verdict: 3/5

Aum Shinrikyo


Aum Shinrikyo was the Japanese Doomsday Cult responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks. Cult members used sarin gas to kill thirteen people and injure a further 5,000 in Japan’s most deadly act of terrorism. Cult leader Shoko Asahara and six other members were hanged on the 6th July 2018.

On the 20th March 1995 during the morning rush hour five members of Aum Shinrikyo boarded Tokyo’s busiest commuter lines.  Each carried a spiked umbrella and two plastic bags full of 0.9 litres of liquid sarin. At coordinated stations, the cultists pierced the bags and got off the train to meet their getaway drivers.
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Victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks

Sarin is the most deadly nerve agent. Created by the Nazis, it causes a victim’s nervous system to destroy itself. Sarin is absorbed through the skin: effects include convulsions, paralysis, permanent brain damage and/or death. A pinhead is enough to kill an adult.

Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired acupuncturist, started meditation classes from his Tokyo apartment in 1984. He claimed to be able to levitate, and could help others achieve salvation by withdrawing from society and following his teachings. Like Charles Manson, Asahara was a New Age guru who manipulated others to evil. He would later declare himself the incarnation of Lord Shiva, the Buddha and Jesus Christ.

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Aum Shinrikyo was officially founded in 1987, a year after Asahara found ‘enlightenment’ in the Himalayas. The cult’s name derives from the Hindu symbol of creation, Aum, and the Japanese word for ‘supreme truth’. Aum Shinrikyo combined Mahayana Buddhist teachings with Hinduism, Taoism, Christian eschatology and, to a lesser extent, the writings of Nostradamus and Isaac Asimov.

Asahara and his followers believed the Apocalypse would occur in 2000, after which the Third Buddhist Age of ‘Shoho’, when nirvana is attainable by all, would commence. Secretly, they believed it was their job to induce it.

asahara book.jpgIn 1989 Aum Shinrikyo gained official recognition as a religious organisation. From their commune at the base of Mount Fuji, Aum exploited the spiritual void left by Japan’s obsession with work and materialism to proselytise disillusioned students and intellectuals. Asahara published several books and spoke at universities. At its peak, Aum had over 10,000 followers in Japan, and an estimated 30,000 in Russia. Many were graduates of Japan’s top universities, some of whom developed the chemical weapons used in 1995.

Few souls would survive the Apocalypse – only the members of Aum, and those they killed. Asahara’s disciples believed that by killing outsiders they would prevent them from attaining further bad karma, and therefore save their immortal souls. Everyone outside the cult was an enemy.

In 1989 Aum claimed its first victims; Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer investigating the cult, his wife and baby son.  Over the following years, they secretly amassed an arsenal of weapons, attempted to obtain anthrax and ebola samples and even a nuclear warhead. Chemical nerve agents proved more practical. In 1994, cultists used sarin gas to murder seven in the village of Matsumoto.

After the 1995 Tokyo Subway incident, Japanese police raided the Aum Shinrikyo commune. Inside they discovered stockpiles of LSD and other drugs, a Russian military helicopter and enough sarin to kill 4 million people.

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Aum Shinrikyo members executed last Friday. Clockwise from top left:

  • Shoko Asahara
  • Tomomasa Nakagawa –  murdered Mr Sakamoto and his family
  • Seiichi Endo – head scientist
  • Masami Tsuchiya – chief chemist, developed Aum’s sarin supply
  • Kiyohide Hayakawa – ‘construction minister’, strangled a dissident cult member in 1989
  • Tomomitsu Niimi – ‘minister of internal affairs’, getaway driver
  • Yoshihiro Inoue – ‘head of intelligence’ and mastermind of the 1995 subway attack

Nine others await execution.

In 2004 Asahara and his inner circle were convicted of a total of 27 counts of murder and placed on death row. The last culprit, a getaway driver, was arrested in 2012.

Aum Shinrikyo survived and renamed itself ‘Aleph’ in 2000. The group has ostensibly rejected violence, but remains under tight police supervision. It currently has 1650 members.

Sources: Apologetics Index, Associated Press, BBC, Council on Foreign Relations, Japan Times, Rationalwiki

John Oliver’s China Episode


Two weeks ago on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, British-American comedian John Oliver criticised Chinese government censorship and poked fun at leader Xi Jinping. In response China blocked the HBO network and all mention of John Oliver within its borders.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014-) is an Emmy award winning satire show that explores current events with a liberal and comedic bent. It focuses mainly on US politics.

On the 17th June, Oliver spent the episode’s first half discussing the narrative pushed by Chinese propaganda: the fact China is more prosperous than ever before and the idea that ’Uncle Xi’ is a benevolent ruler adored by his people. Oliver also showed a clip of the English language propaganda video for the Belt and Road Initiative, which he later parodied. The original is available on Youtube, a website ironically banned in China.

Internet content is tightly regulated in China, where freedom of speech is not permitted. More than any other authoritarian government, The Communist Party has the wealth and state capacity to enforce this effectively.

Oliver discussed:

  • Xi Jinping’s removal of term limits
  • Subsequent censorship of search terms including ‘my emperor’, and ‘personality cult’
  • ‘Dystopian’ oppression of the Uighur minority
  • China’s social credit system, which denies privileges like buying plane flights or real estate to ‘untrustworthy’ citizens
  • The blocking of candle emojis following the death of Nobel winning activist Liu Xiabo

pooh1In 2013 Chinese dissenters started sharing memes comparing Xi with Winnie-the-Pooh. Authorities responded by blocking all mention of the fictional bear on the Chinese internet. Though noting the resemblance is not particularly strong, Oliver suggests this makes it all the more funny:

“Clamping down on Winnie-the-Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength. It suggests a weird insecurity.”


The comparisons were a running gag for the remainder of the episode.

Though the HBO network is not available on mainstream Chinese television, its website was accessible. Since then Chinese authorities have blocked the entire network and all mention of John Oliver, who has joined Liu Xiabo, Justin Beiber and Winnie-the-Pooh as figures deemed ‘harmful to national security’.

Given China’s economic leverage, today western governments rarely criticise its dubious human rights record. Free Tibet has been forgotten. What’s troublesome is that such censorship is slowly leaking beyond the Great Firewall. The FCC has already killed Net Neutrality in the USA and opened the door for corporate tampering. Less than a week ago Youtube quietly removed John Oliver’s China episode without comment.

Sources: BBC, Greatfire, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, New York Times, Variety 

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