If one politician drops the ball, the whole world may pay the price, which must make their job a living nightmare. Pile that on top of their constant media exposure, and you have some idea why politicians can sometimes go crazy.
Normal individuals make mistakes all of the time, but usually their stupidity doesn’t hurt anybody except themselves. The problem with politicians’ mistakes is that they can end up ruining economies, destroying the environment, and even costing lives.
Thankfully though, today the air is still somewhat breathable and our money sort-of-kinda works, despite all of the massive blunders contained in the following list and the many others that have been committed by politicians over the years.
Here’s a list of the top 10 most devastating mistakes ever committed by politicians.
10. Gerard Schröder extinguishes a Holocaust memorial flame
The mistake: Apparently “lefty loosey, righty tighty” doesn’t translate well into German. When Chancellor Gerard Schröder was asked to raise the eternal flame burning at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrances, he accidentally turned the knob the wrong way and extinguished it. A gas lighter was used to relight it.
The story: During his second year as Chancellor, in 2000, Schröder went on a tour of the Middle East. As a part of his stop in Israel, he attended the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrances in Jerusalem to pay respects to the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust. Historically, most foreign dignitaries visit the same shrine when they go to Israel. He was accompanied by Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak.
Schröder was asked to raise a flame that burns continuously there to commemorate Holocaust victims, some of whom’s ashes are displayed in a bronze urn in front of the flame. At his pivotal moment during the ceremony, Schröder turned the knob the wrong way, and the flame went out. Barak attempted to help him, but they were unable to get it to light again without the help of a technician, who thankfully had a cigarette lighter.
The direct consequences for this blunder were obviously minor, but it definitely was not helpful in maintaining relations between Germany and Israel.
9. Brown’s Bottom
The mistake: United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown sold approximately half of the UK’s gold reserves at historically low prices, directly preceding a bull market during which the price of gold skyrocketed.
The story: Gold prices in 1999 were stagnant, so Brown decided that it would be wise to auction off 395 tons of it and reinvest the proceeds. Some experts still say that given the information at the time, Brown’s reasoning was sound. Whether or not that were true, he undeniably made a huge mistake when he chose to announce the auction beforehand.
Gold prices started to drop leading up to the auctions, not surprisingly, since Brown had preemptively warned the market that it was soon to be flooded. The UK got an average of $275 per ounce. Considering the price for gold now is over $1K, this was a disastrous deal.
The plan to reinvest the proceeds also turned out bad. Before the gold was sold, Brown intended to invest all £3.5 billion he ultimately raised into the Euro. The surge in the price of gold caused the Euro to go up in value, however, and it turned out to be a bad investment. If the UK had waited and sold the gold later, they would have saved approximately. £2 billion
His period of blunders, which spanned from 1999 to 2002, got dubbed “Brown’s Bottom” by political commentators.
8. Dean Acheson paves way for the Korean War
The mistake: When outlining the United States’ foreign policy in the Pacific, in a speech given to the National Press Club in 1950, Secretary of Defense Dean Acheson omitted Korea from their defense perimeter. This led Russia and Kim Il-Sung to believe that the US would not intervene in a Korean civil war, and the rest is history.
The story: Acheson said “The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands.” The Ryukyu Islands are south of Japan. This statement suggested that US intervention in any conflict in Korea would be limited. Some experts say that this is one of the reasons why conflict ensued.
7. Alexander the Great refuses to choose an heir
The mistake: When asked on his deathbed who he wanted to succeed him, Alexander the Great cryptically replied “the strongest.” Not knowing what he meant, his family and advisers turned against each other after his death, and the empire of Macedon fell.
The story: Some say that Alexander the Great was poisoned, but in either case he spent two weeks on his deathbed inside of a palace in Babylon. During his final days, his advisers asked him repeatedly to name an heir, as it would make their job easier following his death, but Alexander chose to be enigmatic about it and didn’t name one directly.
After he died, his entire empire was unsure as to who was their new ruler. After many attempted to make claim, his two sons Phillip and Alexander IV were both named king. Since they both infants, this angered many.
Soon after, each of the provinces that made up Macedon declared independence, and Alexander the Great’s empire was gone.
6. Germany helps Vladimir Lenin return to Russia
The mistake: With the intent of destabilizing Russia, Germany helped Vladimir Lenin and other Russian political refugees escape exile in Switzerland and return to their motherland. Also, they helped fund the Bolshevik party.
The story: Germany sought to undermine the provisional Russian government, whom they fighting against in WWI at the time, by sending back a bunch of spirited revolutionaries that they had exiled to Switzerland. Lenin and his comrades were sealed inside a train-car and then smuggled back into Russia.
When there, Lenin continued to get help from Germany in the form of money. After the Bolshevik party gained control of Russia, Lenin essentially became dictator and brokered peace with Germany. However, after nationalizing the country’s industries and defeating the Czars for control, the socialist regime USSR came into power in 1922, and fought against Germany in WWII.
This was like if England tried winning the Revolutionary War by giving the colonies George Washington. Not a good move.
5. Atahualpa drunkenly loses the Inca Empire
The mistake: After having been invited to meet the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the town of Cajamarca, Atahualpa arrived drunk and lost 6,000 men in one of the most obvious ambushes ever conceived.
The story: Pizarro began his march on the Inca Empire in 1531, with just a few hundred men. Atahualpa learned this, and invited him to visit Cajamarca, where 80,000 of his troops were camping just outside of the city. Pizarro entered the city in 1532 with just 168 men, and found that it was mostly empty.
Atahualpa deemed Pizarro and his men to not be a threat, so when they invited him into the city for a feast, he obliged. Riding on a litter carried by 80 men and followed by 6,000 lightly equipped troops, Atahualpa arrived drunk and late at night. When he fought with the Spanish interpreter who was trying to convert him to Catholicism, Pizzaro gave the word and his men came out of their hiding spots.
Atahualpa lost hundreds of men; Pizarro lost none. Once in prison, Atahualpa offered to give the Spanish a room full of gold if they were to release him. Pizarro took the gold, and executed him instead.
4. Napoleon attempts to invade Russia… during winter
The mistake: During the winter of 1812, Napoleon tried to convince the royal families of Russia to stop waging an economic war against France by leading half of a million fighting men to Moscow. He did not, however, adequately prepare.
The story: Waging war requires lots of supplies, especially in winter, and Napoleon had a very difficult time getting them. His trains and horses kept getting slowed down by ice and snow, so supply lines were constantly being interrupted, and the Russian czars instituted this crazy “scorch the earth” plan that had rural peasants burning all of their crops and land, so that the French couldn’t take them.
In December, Napoleon’s men numbered less than 250,000, which was still more than the Russians could handle in direct combat. Rather than protect Moscow, Alexander had his army burn parts of the city and retreat from it. Napoleon’s forces ultimately became too small and ill equipped to keep chasing down the Russian army, so he had to turn around.
After this major blunder, Prussia and Austria turned on France, and Napoleon was forced into exile soon after.
3. King Philip II entrusts the Spanish Armada to the wrong guy
The mistake: A notorious micro-manager, King Philip II wanted to entrust his fleet of ships to someone who would follow his orders to the letter, so he picked the bootlicker Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia. Notice how there is no military or naval title attached to his name?
The story: The ironically named “Invincible Army” was being prepared to do battle with the English, and King Philip II needed someone to lead it. Instead of many others who were more qualified, Philip went with Guzmán, a man who had very little fighting experience on land and even less on the sea. Guzmán did, however, have a reputation as being a good Christian, which Phillip apparently liked.
In his acceptance letter to the King, Guzmán expressed doubts about his ability to lead the campaign successfully, but went along with it anyway. On his first trip, Guzmán’s ships were run out of the Channel by a British fleet, who had cannons that out-ranged them. Guzmán returned home after being thrown around by some heavy storms, then set sail again.
The second time, Guzmán tried sailing to England the long way, i.e. around the top part of it, and got many of his ships torn apart by rough seas in the process. By the time he finally reached their southern side, England was very ready for him, and the “Invincible Armada” was defeated.
2. China isolates itself
The mistake: In 1525, the Ming dynasty of China ordered that all oceangoing ships be destroyed. This and other acts of isolationism shut China off from the outside world, and arguably caused them to fall behind economically, technologically, and politically.
The story: China had a rich history of sea exploration and of trading with other cultures, but that all changed in the 1400s and 1500s. Confucian values became very important to the culture, which preached self-sufficiency and superiority through virtue. This meant that Chinese Emperors started believing that China had all it needed at home, and so they stopped exploring the world and trading with other cultures.
This culture shift was probably not in China’s best interest, because other countries began to surpass China economically and technologically, just by participating in world trade. Furthermore, sino-relations were set back due to their perception as being xenophobic elitists.
Had China continued with exploring and trading with other cultures, they may have been achieved a much better economic, political, and technological standing than the one they have now.
1. Neville Chamberlain signs the Munich Agreement
The mistake: Serving as British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain attended a conference held in Munich, where he and other major European leaders signed an agreement that conceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. This appeasement obviously failed, since WWII started shortly after.
The story: Chamberlain had a policy when it came to foreign affairs: never go to war, even if it means saving millions of lives. This led him to sign the Munich Agreement, which called for giving Nazi Germany a region of Czechoslovakia referred to as the “Sudetenland” in order to stop them from taking it by force.
The Nazis argued that people living in the region, who were members of their awesome race, were being treated very badly and deserved to join the Reich. Either Chamberlain bought that crap, or just didn’t want to fight about it. In any case, the Munich Agreement just gave the Nazis what they wanted, and they didn’t just stop there.
Hitler demanded the rest of Czechoslovakia, and when the country refused, his forces stormed in. Furthermore, fascist-Italy saw that Germany had gotten what they wanted, and made their own demands for concessions soon after.