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  • 2020 is in the rearview mirror, but many people still shudder when they think about it.

  • But it was far from the most brutal period to live through.

  • Here are some more of the worst times to be alive.

  • It was 1861, and the United States was one of the world's youngest nations.

  • But it was about to be torn in two, as a fierce debate over the southern states' right to

  • maintain a system of chattel slavery had boiled over.

  • The election of abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln had caused the crisis to reach a boiling

  • point, and before he even took office, a collection of southern states seceded and declared themselves

  • an independent nation - the Confederate states.

  • And after a skirmish at Fort Sumter, war was declared between the United States and its

  • rogue breakaways.

  • But things were about to go from bad to worse.

  • For the first time in the United States, the government instituted a military draft - and

  • so did the Confederate states.

  • Young men were ordered by the government to take up arms and fight for their side - whichever

  • side of the new border they were on.

  • That meant that you could wake up one morning, be told that your state had seceded, and be

  • ordered to fight against your own countrymen - or even your own family.

  • And if you were an objector to your side's cause, good luck - the penalty for desertion

  • during wartime was death.

  • But not everyone was willing to go.

  • The draft did not go over well with some citizens.

  • In Tennessee, the eastern part opposed the Confederacy and secession was largely done

  • against their will.

  • Things got worse in New York, as a large group of draft-age men - many new immigrants - rioted

  • through the city and targeted black citizens who they blamed for causing the war.

  • The riots caused massive damages, killed over a hundred people, and eventually troops had

  • to be sent in by President Lincoln to quell the riots.

  • New York was largely untouched by combat - but not by the Civil War.

  • But for one group, things were just as dangerous as they ever were.

  • The Civil War brought hope to enslaved black Americans, but first they would have to survive.

  • In the years prior to the Civil War, laws were passed making it nearly impossible to

  • escape slavery, even by legally buying freedom.

  • It was common for free black Americans to be kidnapped and taken down south to be enslaved

  • - with a system largely rigged against them.

  • While Abraham Lincoln eventually issued a proclamation freeing all slaves in the south,

  • it would be a dangerous battle to get there.

  • The war would end - with a terrible cost.

  • The war would end in 1865 with the surrender of the Confederacy.

  • It would be a long, hard battle to put America back together, and when the dust settled estimates

  • are of over a million dead in total.

  • This makes it the deadliest war in US history - because for the first and only time, every

  • death on both sides was an American.

  • But it doesn't always take a brutal war to make a terrible time.

  • Sometimes it just takes one man.

  • The year was 1932, and the Soviet Union was ruled over by Joseph Stalin, the second head

  • of the country's communist regime.

  • He was known for being far more brutal than Vladimir Lenin, and any dissent was cracked

  • down on harshly.

  • That included the rising Ukraine independence movement, which had been building ever since

  • the Russian takeover of the neighboring country.

  • But a far bigger crisis was building.

  • The Soviet Union was a massive territory, ranging from eastern Europe to the far eastern

  • edge of Asia.

  • And that fast growth was about to lead to disaster.

  • Russia had industrialized quickly, which led to a drop in farming.

  • Additionally, natural disasters had cut down on the harvests.

  • What began as a food shortage developed into a massive famine that hit all of the Soviet

  • Union.

  • This led to millions of deaths, with an estimated 42% of Soviet-occupied Kazakhstan dying in

  • the famine.

  • It also caused serious malnutrition issues in pregnant women, leading to a rash of underweight

  • and sickly babies.

  • It would be a crisis that would define the early days of the Soviet Union.

  • But one place was hit harder than any other.

  • In Ukraine, the famine led to extreme starvation.

  • While urban workers were given rations, peasant communities were starved and died en masse.

  • The food soon ran out, and the city workers began starving as well.

  • Stalin's response?

  • Showing them propaganda films depicting the peasant workers as counterrevolutionaries

  • who were stealing food.

  • This led the desperate Ukrainians to start turning on each other, with many being encouraged

  • to turn each other in for the hope of more food - which largely never came.

  • But starvation was only part of the nightmare.

  • Stalin used the crisis to tighten his control over Soviet society, imposing harsh laws that

  • punished any attempt to relieve the hunger.

  • Particularly notorious was the Law of Spikelets, which policed the collective farms and made

  • it illegal to glean leftover grain from the fields.

  • 200,000 people were arrested for this crime, and Stalin soon targeted landowning peasants

  • and instituted stricter regulations on travel within Soviet territory.

  • The famine lasted two terrible years, with as many as ten million dying across the Soviet

  • Union and over three million in Ukraine.

  • That led historians to ask a dark question.

  • The famine in Ukraine in particular would become known as the Holodomor, forto kill

  • by starvation”.

  • Many Ukrainians consider it a genocide, as Stalin seemed to use every opportunity to

  • make the crisis worse and treat them as guilty simply for starving.

  • It remains one of the darkest periods in the history of the Soviet Union.

  • But Stalin wasn't the only dictator of the era to transform his society for the worse.

  • It was 1959, and Chairman Mao Zedong ruled over the People's Republic of China.

  • The communist leader had won power in a bloody civil war, and now he aimed to transform society

  • into a modern communist society like the Soviet Union rather than a traditional agrarian society.

  • He announced the Great Leap Forward, a series of programs designed to collectivize farming.

  • Private ownership of farms was banned.

  • This was accompanied by orders to multiply grain yields far beyond the usual harvest

  • - sending farmers into a panic.

  • But the country wasn't ready for this leap - and the consequences were deadly.

  • It led to three years of terrible famine, where the inefficient distribution and strict

  • quotas led many crops to be lost.

  • Additionally, Mao ordered the elimination of pest animals including flies, mosquitos,

  • rats - and sparrows.

  • The little birds were seen as grain parasites, but they also ate a lot of insects - and this

  • campaign actually made the insect problem worse.

  • Mao's attempts to reinvent the economy also led to him ordering millions of Chinese to

  • reverse professions - farmers were ordered to switch to industrial work, while educated

  • professionals were sent to the countryside to become farmers.

  • It led to a massive loss in productivity.

  • The blame for this failure, of course, fell on Mao's enemies.

  • The famine eventually ended, but struggles continued and dissent against Mao's reign

  • grew.

  • This led to Mao taking greater control over all corners of Chinese society, instituting

  • a new educational system that would root out all elements that weren't true believers

  • in his movement.

  • This led to the more notorious cultural revolution, where Mao's loyalist groups of urban workers

  • and youth activists were riled up by claims that there were right-wing movements trying

  • to take down the government.

  • This led to brutal purges against senior officials and intellectuals.

  • The consequences for Chinese society would be devastating.

  • Even the Chinese president at the time, Liu Shaoqi, was purged and humiliated, dying soon

  • after.

  • The Down to the Countryside movement, which deported intellectuals to the countryside

  • to do farm labor, targeted ten million individuals.

  • The Cultural revolution lasted over ten years until Deng Xiaoping took over for Mao and

  • began liberalizing the country slightly.

  • In total, the industrialization, ensuing famine, and brutal repression led by Mao Zedong led

  • to a staggering death toll of at least forty million Chinese citizens - the worst of any

  • dictator in modern history.

  • It wouldn't be the only time paranoia and repression brought a society to its knees.

  • The Roman Empire had fallen long ago, but for over a thousand years afterwards, the

  • Roman Catholic Church would remain the true power in much of Europe.

  • Based in the Vatican and ruled over by a Pope who set the doctrine, they were the only power

  • that even kings answered to.

  • From the 12th to the 15th century, they ran a series of courts across Europe for those

  • accused of heresy, with most being given the opportunity to repent and to penance.

  • But for repeated and unrepentant defiers of the church's power, they faced imprisonment

  • or execution.

  • But in Spain in 1478, things were about to get much worse.

  • Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed with the goals of the inquisition, but were unsatisfied

  • with the Church's lax enforcement.

  • They wanted to ensure Catholic orthodoxy was enforced, so they created their own version

  • - the infamous Spanish Inquisition, which would be known more for its persecution of

  • religious minorities and harsh tortures of its victims than for chasing heretics.

  • Decrees were issued in 1492 and 1502 ordering all Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism

  • or be exiled.

  • But the Spanish Inquisition would be best known for the man who ran it.

  • Tomas De Torquemada was a Dominican Friar who became the first appointed Grand Inquisitor

  • of the Spanish Inquisition.

  • He was an obsessive man, who was particularly interested in rooting out Crypto-Jews - those

  • who had converted to Catholicism for political reasons and safety, but maintained some Jewish

  • religious practices.

  • His men spied on converts, looking for any evidence, and when they didn't find it,

  • they would often create it - forcing confessions out of their targets through intense torture.

  • If there was one thing Torquemada was known for, it was his brutality.

  • Extreme tortures like the rack were used to extract confessions of heresy, and those convicted

  • on coerced confessions were usually sentenced to hang - or worse, to be burned at the stake.

  • Torquemada's brutality was such that the Pope noticed an increase in clemency petitions

  • and questioned representatives of the Spanish Inquisition, but Torquemada had become a very

  • powerful person and was able to stay in power until his death in 1498.

  • And for the residents of Spain, under the Spanish Inquisition they were only a false

  • accusation away from brutal torture and an appointment with a burning pyre.

  • But sometimes humanity's greatest enemy isn't itself.

  • Sometimes it's nature.

  • The year was 1815, and in the Dutch East Indies, Mount Tambora had been rumbling for a long

  • time.

  • Smoke had been coming from its plume.

  • But no one was prepared for what would happen on April 10th.

  • Three plumes shot up and merged, and a mass of flowing lava began pouring down.

  • Large pumice stones were shot into the air, followed by a cloud of ash.

  • A massive explosion expelled over ten billion tons of igneous rock, and spread a cloud of

  • ash around the whole island mass.

  • It would be the largest observed eruption in recorded history.

  • But the devastating consequences were just beginning.

  • As the dust settled, it became clear that this was the deadliest volcano disaster in

  • recorded history, with as many as ten thousand people killed immediately by the lava flows.

  • Around the disaster area, the heavy blanket of ash killed crops and led to lung ailments,

  • disease, and starvation.

  • Nearly another twenty thousand died later in the immediate area, and historians disagree

  • on the total casualties - with some saying it could be as high as a hundred thousand

  • from the local results of Mount Tambora's eruption.

  • The effects, however, would not remain local.

  • As time went on, it became clear that the eruption had long-term effects not just on

  • the islands, but on the world's climate.

  • The atmosphere had become filled with ash, and this caused a drop in overall temperatures.

  • In Asia, a combination of floods and frost led to a massive famine.

  • Europe's crops had been suffering for a while, and the cold climate led to the failure

  • of wheat, oat, and potato harvests.

  • This led to riots, and the worst violence in Europe since the French revolution.

  • Even in North America, a persistent fog and an oddly red sun plagued the continent, and

  • harsh climates in the north caused crops to fail and prices to rise.

  • This dark period would eventually gain a unique name - The Year Without a Summer.

  • It would be several years before the haze would lift, and extreme temperature swings

  • were common.

  • During summer, it could shift from ninety-five degrees to thirty-five and kill crops in only

  • hours.

  • And the world, which was starting to industrialize, came to a harsh realization - no amount of

  • progress can overcome harsh natural conditions.

  • But the worst possible time to be alive was one that no human has ever seen.

  • It was around 250 million years ago, at the tail-end of the Permian Age.

  • Before the age of the dinosaurs, earth was filled with diverse life on land and sea.

  • Plants, animals, invertebrates, and vertebrates had created a lush ecosystem full of beauty

  • and terror.

  • The sea was ruled by massive arthropods known as sea scorpions.

  • Large reptiles and even proto-mammals lived on the surface.

  • It was the first age of large animals before the dinosaurs.

  • And then, suddenly, almost all of them would be gone.

  • The dinosaurs are believed to have gone extinct due to a meteor strike, though competing theories

  • still exist.

  • But the Permian Extinction actually dwarfs that devastating event in scope, with an estimated

  • 83% of all genera of animals and plants dying off.

  • Not only did most large animals cease to exist, but the effects of this mystery extinction

  • were so bad that it became the only insect mass extinction in the history of Earth.

  • What event nearly led to the end of all life on Earth?

  • The culprit may be the same one as the Year Without a Summer.

  • In Siberia, a massive volcanic rock formation known as the Siberian Traps exploded, releasing

  • a world-altering amount of carbon dioxide into the air.

  • The animals and plants of Permian Earth, which had evolved to exist in a specific climate,

  • found the world itself suddenly unsuitable for their existence.

  • They couldn't breathe the air.

  • The oceans were depleted of oxygen and became intolerably acidic.

  • And so began the Great Dying.

  • The only evidence of many of the species that went extinct are fossils, many in imprints

  • rather than solid bones.

  • The ecosystem of Earth took millions of years to recover, and the Triassic era began - and

  • with it, came the dinosaurs, the new kings of the earth - until their end came.

  • The Permian Extinction casts in stark relief just how fragile life on earth is.

  • It is the closest Earth ever came to becoming inhospitable to life - making it the worst

  • possible time to be alive.

  • Want to learn more about Earth's darkest days?

  • Check outWhat WasWorst Time to Be Alive in History”, or watch this video instead.

2020 is in the rearview mirror, but many people still shudder when they think about it.

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Even Worse Time to be Alive in History

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/31