24 Assassinations That Changed the Course of History

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With very few exceptions, the act of assassination is political. Whether the executioner is acting alone or on behalf of a larger organization or country, the intended result is ending the target’s ideas, striking fear in their colleagues or allies, or even altering the very destiny of a nation. (These are 26 rulers who were killed by their own people.)  

24/7 Tempo has created a list of the assassinations that changed the world by referring to such sites as Historyhit, Historyplex, History, Britannica, and Biography. We exercised editorial discretion in compiling the final list, based on the long-term effects each assassination had.

Sometimes the outcome is almost immediately disastrous, as with the assassination of Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered World War I, and the murder of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, which ignited one of the 20th century’s worst genocides. (These are the nations that killed the most civilians during the 20th century.)

With tacit U.S. support, South Vietnam and South Korea assassinated presidents Ngô Đình Diệm and Park Chung-hee to end oppressive rule in their respective countries.

Political leaders Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin each won a Nobel Peace Prize, along with their Islamic counterparts, for trying to forge elusive peace accords in the Middle East, and each paid the ultimate price for pursuing that goal. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used nonviolent strategies in the cause of civil rights in India and the United States, respectively – but both died violently. 

While assassinations usually have unfortunate aftermaths, often involving political destabilization, good can sometimes come from them. For instance, as tragic as was the shooting death of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay office holder in San Francisco, his slaying led to greater understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community nationwide.

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