Throughout history there have been a lot of amazing leaders. Some of them led from the front, even charging into battle, and others simply made incredible decisions that saved countless lives and led to a prosperous kingdom. Some did both. However, there have also been leaders who are known more for their blunders, and even some great leaders who made mistakes so bad that it sometimes overshadows their otherwise excellent accomplishments and reputation. In today’s article, we will go over 10 situations where leaders were presented with a few options… and chose very, very poorly.
10. Chamberlain’s Appeasement Of Hitler Was A Great Betrayal Of The Czech People
While many people know of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, it is still an important example to include, and plenty of people could use a refresher on the details. Hitler’s Germany had been getting increasingly aggressive for years, and no one in Europe really wanted a war. Neither France nor Great Britain wanted to pay for it with money or blood. So, they were looking to find a way through to peace despite the fact that Hitler wanted nothing more than to be as aggressive as possible with the rest of the world.
In 1936 he marched in and took the Rhineland, and Chamberlain felt it best not to do anything about it, as most of the British public felt this was mostly in Germany’s backyard. Then, Hitler had his people stir things up in the Sudetenland, an area of then-Czechoslovakia that was mostly ethnic Germans. In 1938 he used it as an excuse to invade, and without the consent of the Czech people, France and Great Britain signed the Munich agreement in 1938, giving Hitler the Sudetenland. That also gave him a huge amount of Czech resources, and he quickly had control of the entire country. While the Czech people felt betrayed, Chamberlain came back claiming he had achieved “peace in our time.” One year later, the Germans marched into Poland and Chamberlain had to declare war. He was ousted not long after.
9. President Trump Meeting Multiple Times With Kim Jong-un Defies Historical Precedent
When President Donald Trump decided to meet with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, many around the world were concerned (for a lot of good reasons), but also hopeful that something good might come from it. Regardless of how you feel about him — as all presidents are controversial — the world was hoping the two leaders could come together and make a substantial deal. Unfortunately this was not to be the case, as the the first meeting ended amicably but the agreement didn’t amount to the North Koreans doing anything besides committing to tone down their nuclear ambitions, which is very ambiguous and ultimately turned out to be pretty meaningless.
In return for these vague platitudes, Trump halted some planned military exercises in South Korea, risking upsetting the longstanding relationship that the United States has with that nation. Some think meeting with the leader at all and starting a relationship was a win, but presidents from both parties for years refused to meet with either him or his father. They felt it would give him false legitimacy, considering the brutal way the North Korean people are treated (not to mention the nation’s nuclear ambitions). Now, the president has met with him again, and this time came away without even a token deal.
8. China Bans Winnie The Pooh Because He Is Used To Insult Their Leader
Chinese people have long found ways to get around censorship by using symbols, or other clever plays on words, in order to get their meaning across in a way that will both avoid automatic censorship and also likely avoid special attention from the authorities. In fact, Chinese people are used to taking in stride their countries absurd censorship, but it was taken to a particularly ridiculous extreme recently, when ruler for life Xi Jinping decided that Winnie the Pooh and all related characters needed to be banned from the internet.
Apparently, people were comparing him to Pooh in order to poke fun at him, and using some of the other characters to represent other living people. This decision is silly, obviously, because it both makes Xi Jinping look petty, stupid, and weak to the entire world (seriously, banning Winnie the freaking Pooh?), but it also accomplishes nothing, as those determined to avoid censors will just get even sneakier and harder to catch. You can’t ban every image or cartoon character, and unless you intend to shut down the internet entirely, you are never going to shut down sly comparisons.
7. The Tsar Put All Of His Faith In Rasputin And Allowed Him To Influence His Decisions
Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra are well known for being the last rulers of Russia before the communist period started, and also for the movie about their lost daughter who managed to survive the assassination attempt — unfortunately, princess Anastasia was indeed gunned down with the rest of her family when the Bolsheviks assassinated them on July 17, 1918. Regardless, the family is famous around the world, but was somewhat infamous in Russia during their time, due to their relationship with the crazed mystic Grigori Rasputin.
Reams of articles have been written about the man himself, and you could pack books upon books with information on just how much of an oddball he was. Now, today this is a source of amusement for most people. But back in Tsarist Russia, he had great influence on the court and it was no laughing matter. See, their son Alexei had hemophilia and was often ill. Rasputin managed to regularly make him feel better using dubious healing methods, and before long he was basically a more trusted advisor than anyone else in the court. The Tsar giving the smelly, crazy monk so much influence led to great resentment and certainly made it easier to oust him from his position, and then remove his position (and him) entirely from the face of the Earth.
6. FDR Attempted To Pack The Supreme Court
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is one of the most hotly-debated presidents of all-time, and for good reason. On the one hand he saw the country through World War II, oversaw the New Deal, and was president for a whopping 13 years after being elected for a fourth term. On the other hand, he pulverized precedent by running for president so many times, and constantly pushed the power of the executive in order to both get involved in World War II as early as possible in clandestine ways, and to get the New Deal going whenever possible, even if a stubborn Congress or courts wanted to get in his way.
It was the judiciary that drew his particular ire, as several of his programs were struck down by the Supreme Court, and he felt frustrated and stymied by their votes. Feeling that the trick was to get more Democrats sympathetic to him on the Supreme Court, he proposed adding more seats, which he would have been able to appoint since he was president. To his shock, his “court packing” plan was considered so offensive to the Constitution that members of both parties refused to go along with it, and he took a huge hit in popularity with the public.
5. Truman Tried To Declare An Emergency Just To Get His Way
President Harry S. Truman had used some executive powers to control the price of certain things, like steel, that were necessary for war. This was done so the prices wouldn’t go too high, but it had consequences, as the steel companies felt they weren’t getting as much profit as they wanted, nor were they able to give their workers raises. Before long, a strike was looking inevitable, as Truman would not budge and raise the price caps on steel, and the steel companies would not pay more otherwise. Truman could have used the Taft-Hartley Act to end a strike for 80 days in an emergency, but much of his base was union and he didn’t want to anger them. So, he declared an emergency on April 8, 1952 and tried to seize steel production.
Only slightly more than a month later, on May 12, it reached the Supreme Court and they ruled against Truman 6-3, saying that such a drastic action would have to come from an act of Congress. Truman’s attempt to increase the power of the executive failed, and he only made himself look politically weaker by trying — and then failing — to do so.
4. Hannibal Being Called Back To Carthage Was Rome’s Salvation (And Carthage’s Downfall)
During the Second Punic War, General Hannibal of Carthage was getting closer and closer to Rome’s doorstep. Many feared the worst: that he would soon reach Rome and attack and invade. They didn’t want to move any troops from defensive positions, even if it meant a loss by slow attrition. However, some leaders like, General Scipio, felt that this was the wrong way to go about it. The way he saw it, it was about time to take the fight back to the enemy. Otherwise, in his estimation, they would lose by being worn down. He put together a very sizable volunteer force and marched toward Carthage, inflicting heavy losses on the way.
When he started getting realistically close to Carthaginian capital, they were so worried that they called Hannibal all the way back from his campaign to come and defend the city. Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the worst mistakes in history. Historians now say Hannibal was so close he likely could have won and taken Rome if he stuck around, and then he could have theoretically forced Scipio to back off and sue for peace. Instead, his hasty retreat ended his campaign, and was not enough to beat Scipio due to the fact that Scipio’s forces were already well prepared and in strategic positions, fresh, ready to go. Hannibal, on the other hand, came rushing back, and his men and elephants hardly had a lot of time to rest on the way.
3. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Manager Rerouting Flint Michigan’s Water Supply
We all know that Flint, Michigan has a serious ongoing problem with its water supply, especially with lead contamination, but many do not know the full story. Part of the problem was that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder gave a lot of power to people called “emergency managers,” who he put in charge of cities to try to radically reshape them. Oftentimes these people could go over the city council, which allowed them to make disastrous decisions. Back in 2014 they were looking to switch their water supply for cost reasons.
Emergency Manager Darnell Earley chose the Flint River as the water source, and soon residents were finding lead in their drinking water. However, many people think that the issue is that the water from the Flint River is bad to drink, and while this is true, it’s also not the reason for the lead contamination. The truth is that the water from the river was not badly lead contaminated, but the emergency manager ignored signs that the water was corrosive. This corrosion badly damaged the pipes, which led to lead in the drinking water. Now, changing the water source isn’t enough anymore. The city’s entire water pipe infrastructure is horribly damaged, and is going to cost a fortune to repair.
2. Prime Minister David Cameron Called Brexit Vote, Then Resigned After Disastrous Results
Former Prime Minister David Cameron will probably not go down in history with the shiniest legacy. He’s the man responsible for calling the Brexit vote — the vote to decide whether the UK would stay with the European Union or not, if you’ve been living under a rock — and then, when the vote succeeded, resigned in shock and disgrace at the outcome. He had agreed to call a referendum based on election results and claimed to be fulfilling a promise, but he also thought that people would never vote to leave. He was wrong.
Unfortunately, the vote did succeed, and now the UK has found themselves in a bloody mess where MPs are digging in their heels on the Irish backstop issue. The EU, in the meantime, is making it clear there won’t be any more negotiations or changes to the deal. At this point, the UK could soon simply drop out without a proper deal if they don’t figure something out before the fast approaching deadline, all because the former prime minister wanted to pull a political stunt and make a point.
1. President Harry S. Truman’s Decision To Drop The Atomic Bombs On Japan
President Truman appears twice on this list because he made some pretty colossal mistakes. His biggest mistake of all (as more and more people are beginning to admit), even more-so than abusing the power presidents have to declare a national emergency, was his decision in 1945 to approve the use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While he was goaded on by advisers who claimed that it was the best way to prevent a loss of life, the decision was his to make, and his alone.
Whether he thought it was right with the information he had at the time or not, the truth of the matter is that most experts now believe the justification about the atomic bomb is really more of an excuse, and that Stalin entering the war, as well as the Japanese people having little left to fight with at that point, meant surrender would have been coming very soon regardless, and that the eventual surrender had little if anything to do with the atomic bomb anyway.
To make matters worse, it also created an atmosphere of global paranoia that still exists to this day, and helped create the tension and fear that led to the Cold War. If the atomic bomb had not been dropped on a civilian city, we may never have had the true fear of it that we do in our collective consciousness.