The Deadliest Catastrophes In Modern History: 34 Heartbreaking Photos

Published August 10, 2017
Congo Victim With No Hand
Pancho Villa Bullets
Chateau Wood Ypres Disaster
Russian Civil War Street Kids
The Deadliest Catastrophes In Modern History: 34 Heartbreaking Photos
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The phrases “20th century” and now “21st century” are often used to invoke modernity and all of its related developments in science, technology, and the like — a brave new world of comfort and reason, the culmination of human civilization, set off from the millennia of darkness that went before.

Ironically, however, this most recent phase of human history has been by far the deadliest, demonstrating yet again that historical progress doesn’t go in a straight line.

Beginning with the colonial barbarity in Belgium's Congo Free State in the 1880s, atavism seemed to grip Europe – supposedly the apex of advancement – with a barbaric outpouring of blood in the First and Second World Wars.

Today, nightmarish violence continues on in places like Syria and Somalia. Meanwhile, humanity remains prey for deadly diseases that defy science – or simply thrive on negligence.

The eruption of violence and disaster in the modern era is not just a tragic coincidence. In fact, the willingness to commit unspeakable atrocities against fellow human beings stems directly from the rise of modern fanatical ideologies – chiefly nationalism, racism, communism, anti-communism, and politicized religion – all based on the idea that there is a higher law governing human affairs, for which it is not only permissible but necessary to kill.

Nationalism first arose in 19th-century Europe, where it filled the vacuum left by the retreat of the Catholic Church and later Christianity in general. Walking hand in hand with nationalism, racism, with the aid of science, allowed us to classify and sort different groups of people. Then, communism purported to provide a scientific framework for understanding history. Nazism and fascism arose in response to communism, equaling its capacity for barbarity. Later, politicized religion, including radical Islamism, claimed to present a new path but simply mirrored the inhumanity of the earlier ideologies.

In many cases, ideology has merely provided a fig leaf for some other very human qualities, notably greed and lust for power. And in other cases, whether it's disease or natural disaster, scores of people perish and no other humans are to blame at all.

Whatever the cause, see the deadliest disasters in modern history by viewing the gallery above.

Next, read up on some of history's most fascinating forgotten disasters. Then, check out the weirdest disasters in human history.

All That's Interesting
A New York-based publisher established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science to share stories that illuminate our world.