The human race has seen its fair share of tragedies since the earliest recorded histories. From the crusades to the Vietnam war, battles across the world have cost people their lives.
Perhaps we’re headed in a direction or future that is more positive, however, war and fighting continue to be a part of human civilization. There are other events that have been documented through photography, that have captured devastating or disturbing moments in our history that give us a great deal of perspective.
We can look back on these photos with the hope that we will never commit these crimes again, or in hopes of a better tomorrow where these tragic events are put behind us, and we can look to a brighter, happier future. The following images vary from disturbing, to devastating, to giving much-needed perspective about where we have been as humans, and perhaps take comfort in knowing that it’s behind us. Maybe tomorrow will promise to be a more positive time.
1) The Historical Photo Lesson To Be Learned: If history has taught us anything, it’s that humanity has a tendency to repeat itself. Photographs of our past give us a great deal of perspective about where we’ve come as a people and also humanize the experience a bit. Candid photos like this one of soldiers on their downtime show us that even in the darkest times, we can manage to find times to rest our eyes and recuperate.
2) Hiroshima Aftermath: This tragic and decimated vista of debris was caused by the detonation of two nuclear warheads that, according to a report at UCLA, killed and wounded up to 150,000 total but the exact numbers of those affected may never be known. The destruction led to the decision of humanity to refrain from using Nuclear weapons in war, however, this treaty is threatened by world leaders who use Nuclear weapons as intimidation tactics to this day.
3) This Old Clipping Of A Plague Doctor: These disturbing beak-like masks were worn by doctors during times of great plagues in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The designs were supposed to protect them from the foul putrid air. Now they’re used mostly for costume purposes, but this doesn’t excuse how sad and tragic a part of history it is.
4) Vintage Halloween Costumes: Perhaps on the lighter side of things, this disturbing photograph of a man dressed up in a Halloween costume gives us the heebie-jeebies. These vintage photos of Halloween remind us that people in the past could still manage to have fun on holidays. This pig mask is quite scary.
5) The Holocaust: This photo shows the devastating and cruel genocide of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust during WWII. Up to 6 million Jews were murdered, and an estimated 17 million were affected by this holocaust according to Wikipedia. The photograph serves as a reminder to never let this happen again.
6) Book Burning: This photo shows the Nazi party committing ‘tomecide’ in an act of censorship while soldiers and the public perform the Nazi salute. This type of destruction of culture was seen all throughout Germany during the events that lead to World War II. It is universally seen now as a severe loss to cultural heritage, as many of these texts were seen as irreplaceable.
7) Slavery: During the 18th and 19 centuries, human slaves in the United States were common, often coming from Africa. These families were persecuted until the end of the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, setting more than 3 million slaves free. This photograph shows a challenging time in American history that reminds us all that slavery cannot become a part of our history again.
8) Vietnam War Photo: This photo shows the exhaustion and downtime between fights during the Vietnam War. A total of 1.3 million deaths occurred in total for all parties involved according to CNN. The war ended for Americans in 1975 when troops were ordered out of the region during peace talks, but the fight began again between North and South Vietnam. The US government were involved in several scandals that eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation.
9) Child Labor: This photograph shows two young children in extremely unsafe working conditions at a factory during the early 1900s in America. It wasn’t uncommon for the children of immigrant families to enter these workhouses and it wouldn’t be until the 1930s that labor laws were put in place to protect children, according to Wikipedia.
10) Baby Cages: Trying to get your children some fresh air in the city during the 1930s was a bit of a challenge, and many apartments saw the construction of these bizarre “baby cages” where infants could dangle from high rises. Thankfully, practices like this were soon abolished, protecting infants from needless and senseless dangers.
11) Early Dental Work: This photo showing a tooth extraction in process during the 1800s is both amusing and disturbing. The man getting his tooth pulled was likely given copious amounts of Alcohol in order to numb the pain a bit from the extraction, but doctors had to hold the man down with their legs in order to get enough leverage to extract the tooth. Thankfully, better dental practices and medicine have greatly improved over the years.
12) Aerial Photo Of Jonestown: This area photo shows the devastation and aftermath of the infamous Jonestown mass suicide, where 918 people died after drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide (some died by other means, including the infamous Reverend Jim Jones who was found with a self-inflicted bullet wound.) The town’s cult leader, Reverend Jim Jones was a radical leader who had toxic ideas about religion that prayed upon and manipulated people. This photo shows some of the disastrous aftermath of this radical movement.
13) The Great Depression: This photo was taken during the great depression. It shows a disturbing number of men lining up for “free coffee and doughnuts” for the unemployed. What’s disturbing about this photo is that so many people were affected by the great depression, and required desperate help in order to stay afloat in the poor economy.
14) Twin Towers On 9/11: The coordinated terrorist attacks on America on September 11th, 2001 cost 2,996 people their lives, and injured over 6,000 others. In addition to the loss of lives, the event caused over $10 billion dollars in damage. The event would rally the nation together, igniting the war on terror.
15) The Titanic: Although this isn’t an image of the famous RMS Titanic sinking, it’s a shot of the cruise ship just as it’s leaving harbor on her maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912. However, on April 15th in the small hours of the morning, the ship crashed into an iceberg, which started the long and tragic process of sinking into the Atlantic. According to Wikipedia, more than 1500 people died in the process, making it one of the most tragic and disastrous commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.
16) Segregation: Although slavery had been abolished in 1865, it would be a long road before the Civil Rights Movement sought for an end to segregation in America between 1954 and 1968. Many black Americans mobilized after extreme violence was used against them by hate groups like the KKK. Many of these movements were popularized by the philosophical teachings of Martin Luther King Jr, who to this day serves as a martyr for those who fight against racism in America.
17) Polio: Polio or Poliomyelitis is an infantile and infectious paralysis disease that is spread by the poliovirus. In the early 1950s, Polio became a serious concern for children and quickly spread as the largest communicable disease among children. Thankfully, through many different scientific efforts, vaccines were invented to stop this disease from spreading. Jonas Edward Salk is credited as the inventor of the first successful polio vaccines. According to Wikipedia, it is hoped that efforts to vaccinate people on a global scale will lead to the total eradication of the disease by 2018.
18) Cruelty To Circus Animals: Wild animals, especially rare species like Elephants and Tigers used to be a staple of circuses around the world, but now over 19 countries have signed an act that bans the use of wild animals in the circus due to their cruelty in captivity. Just this past year, the New York City mayor passed a bill banning the use of Circus Elephants in New York City.
19) Chernobyl: The destruction of the Nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, is looked on as one of the biggest Nuclear Power Plant disasters in history. The failure of the reactor core caused 31 direct deaths and an additional 15 deaths due to exposure. The city of Pripyat remains abandoned after the incident and stands as a ghostly reminder of the accident.
20) Unsafe Working Conditions: Imagine going on your lunch break 50 stories above the city on nothing more than a steel beam? Or perhaps being required to construct a bridge with zero harnesses? Thankfully our workplace safety standards have greatly increased over the years minimizing needless fatalities and injuries while on the job.
21) The JFK Assassination: This disturbing photo shows Jackie Kennedy reaching for the hand of a secret service officer shortly after her husband was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The event would burn into the memory of people around the world as one both tragic and shocking. Oswald was shot dead a few days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
22) Oklahoma City Bombing: On April 19th, 1995, a domestic terror bombing attack on Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people and injured more than 600 others. The attack destroyed a third of the building and damaged all the surrounding buildings causing nearly $652 Million dollars in damage according to Wikipedia. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both convicted of the crime. Nichols was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole after the jury deadlocked on a death sentence, whereas McVeigh was sentenced to death by lethal injection on June 11th, 2001. The Oklahoma City Bombing remains the deadliest domestic terrorist attack, and prior to 9/11, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. History.
23) Tōhoku Earthquake And Tsunami 2011: An earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered one of the most powerful earthquakes in Japanese history, which created Tsunami waves of up to 40 meters in height according to Wikipedia. The latest numbers according to the Japanese National Police Agency confirm a total of 15,894 deaths, 6,156 people injured, and 2,546 people still missing. The estimated cost damage for the disaster is around $360 Billion in US dollars, making this also one of the most costly natural disasters in history.
24) Man In Trenches – WW1: This man who died in Northern Europe is seen caught by barbed wire after his death in World War I. The first world war saw a great many deaths and was known as the war to end all wars before the onslaught of World War 2. These wars have taught us as a society that we must learn from our past mistakes, and hopefully, a third world war will never occur.