Nobody was born screwup-proof. I mean, look at the times you've made a mistake, like, in the past year, and your blank page will be full by the second month of the year.

But there’s one thing about getting caught lying and entirely another when someone literally makes a regretful decision that starts the plague in their country, or when an entire business goes bankrupt.

So when someone put up the question “Which is the worst single decision in history ever made by a person?” on AskReddit, it immediately became a hit on the subreddit. 47.3k upvotes and 17k comments later, we’ve got the most illuminating replies that may, in fact, make us change our perspective of things. Welcome to the land of historical screwups, the place where any given error is worse than your very worst one times infinity.

#1

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. There was no cause or direct threat, and it led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars spent, and the creation of ISIS.

technicalaversion , Lance Cpl. Brian L. Wickliffe, U.S. Marine Corps Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

ABSOLUTELY

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#2

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Allan Savory the ecologist who killed 40000 elephants because it was believed that grazing was causing the desertification of Africa, only to find out later that elephants were essential to prevent desertification.

corylew , Savory Global Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

Grrr scummy 🤬

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#3

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Burning of the Library of Alexandria

Russian_Spy_slav , Oak Knoll Press Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

Ohhhhhh yesssssss

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#4

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS “Hey, let’s create a coffee machine that uses a single use plastic cup for every cup of coffee or tea. How bad can the trash from that really be?”

I actually read that the creator of the K-Cup, John Sylvan, regrets inventing the pod system.

Gorctam , frankieleon Report

Col BatGuano
Community Member
3 months ago

since he sold out his share for only $50,000 I expect he's not a big fan.

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#5

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS My great great grandfather, a carpenter, did some work for a poor painter in the neighbourhood. The painter had no money, so he offered either a bottle of wine or a painting. My great great granfather chose the wine.

The painter was Edvard Munch, and the painting would have been worth millions upon millions today, or even just a few decades later (if translated to todays money).

Brillek , wikipedia Report

Laugh or not
Community Member
3 months ago

My grandfather refused a painting as payment from Picasso: it was just a Spanish refugee helping another Spanish refugee, no need for payment.

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#6

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS “Alright gentlemen we’ve successfully fended off the Greeks for 10 years, our great city of Troy still stands. If we keep this up surely they will realize the siege is fruitless and return home before long.”

“Yo captain there’s this big ass wooden horse outside”

“Oh rad bring it in”

Mr_Boi_ , Adam Jones Report

River Webb
Community Member
3 months ago

and nobody, except a crazy old woman, thought it was even remotely suspicious

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#7

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Mao Zedong

Pest capaign: He basically told his nation to take pots and pans to kill all the sparrows. However, the ecosystem was disturbed and the locust population skyrocketed.

Seeds: he thought that planting seeds 1 meter in the ground would result in greater roots and better harvest. He also thought that putting tons of seeds in one compact area would cause a better harvest. All the seeds died however. Around 30 million or so died from Famine under his rule.

"Hey! Look at the other nations industrializing! Lets smelt all our metal to build better infrastructure. What? It creates pig iron which is super unstable and impure therefore being ultimately useless? Oops!" -Mao

s_sekowski , Public domain Report

Eliška Hůlková
Community Member
3 months ago

He was also the one behind Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Bloody tyrant.

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#8

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Well, the decision of Inalchuq, the governor of the Khwarazmian city of Otrar, to attack Genghis Khan’s trade caravan was pretty bad. Khan was famous as a ruthless warlord, not the sort of guy you want to piss off.

But maybe they could have got away with it. Genghis sent three ambassadors to negotiate a settlement.

Which is when Muhammad II, the Shah of of Khwarzem, made the really bad decision to kill one of these ambassadors and send the other two back without their beards as a sign of humiliation.

Genghis Kahn was so enraged he assembled an army and destroyed the Khwarazmian Empire. Wiped out every town they had. He even re-routed a river to wipe out the village where the Shah was born, wiping it off the map. By 1120 there wasn’t much of anything left.

Horacecrumplewart , commons.wikimedia Report

Hans
Community Member
3 months ago

Ouch

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#9

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Eastman Kodak deciding not to go forward with their own newly invented digital cameras and instead sticking with film because it made them so much money at the time.

starshame , Ente75 Report

Col BatGuano
Community Member
3 months ago

Film is better.

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#10

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS How about the guy who bought 20,000 Albanian slaves, brought them to Cairo, trained them to be the greatest warriors of their time, and then got overthrown by said slave warriors because they were so well trained.

TheRealSumRndmGuy , British Museum Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

Oooops

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#11

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Invading Russia. Always invading Russia.

warriorwoman96 , Lencer Report

Lauren Caswell
Community Member
3 months ago

People always seem to think "surely it's not that cold".....Well yeah

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#12

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Thomas Midgley Jr can lay claim to three:

First, he discovered and helped popularize the use of lead in petrol/gasoline, causing unimaginable harm to the atmosphere and our brains. He contracted lead poisoning when working on the project, but apparently neglected to draw any conclusions from this.

Second, he lead the team that discovered freon, the first chlorofluorocarbon, and helped popularize the use of CFCs in refrigeration and industrial applications, causing further unimaginable harm to the atmosphere

It’s suggested that he had a greater impact on the atmosphere than any other single person in history.

As for the third, well:

In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley contracted poliomyelitis, which left him severely disabled. He devised an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys to lift himself out of bed. In 1944, he became entangled in the device and died of strangulation.

JamesCDiamond , commons.wikimedia Report

Andrew Bridge
Community Member
3 months ago

To be fair though freon is better than what they were using, and no one was to know of the consequences

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#13

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Here’s a recent one...

After successfully invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein, the US decided that all members of the ruling Baath party should be banned from government and military positions in the new government.

The result was a crop of knowledgeable bureaucrats and military leaders available to join a group of terrorists under Zarqawi to form a little group that would go on to become ISIS.

JayArlington , Iraqi News Agency Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

TONY BLAIR SHOULD BE IN PRISON , ALONG WITH BUSH

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#14

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Maybe the worst business decision ever made was by Xerox with their Alto computer.

Xerox invented the graphical interface modern computers use. Desktop, folders, copy/paste etc. They basically invented the modern computer in the '70s. But the problem was, the people in charge at the time were businessman without any technical knowledge so they didn't realize what they had. They did nothing with it and gave it away to universities and showed other companies. The famous story is that Steve Jobs saw this and within 5 minutes realized this was the way computers would work in the future. He copied it, because Xerox didn't patent their invention and didn't do anything with it and the rest is history.

cheesyvoetjes , Joho345 Report

Tequila4Two
Community Member
3 months ago

Oh, the irony. Xerox got copied.

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#15

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS The guy who rejected Hitler's art academy application?

Nondramatic , public domain Report

Lauren Caswell
Community Member
3 months ago

I sometimes fear what would have happened had a more stable yet amoral leader been in control of the nazis: a lot of mistakes were made that could have spelled disaster for the allies had the axis not screwed up, and that was down to a tyrant ruling through fear and instability and shooting the messenger. Mistakes got covered up. Its awful enough as it is, and with a more able person at the helm? I dont want to even imagine that.

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#16

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS John H. Sununu might count. He was an MIT educated engineer, brilliant guy, PhD in mechanical engineering. He even served on MIT's Advisory Board of the Technology and Policy. He remains a member of the National Academy of Engineering. More importantly, he was a governor of NH and later the White House Chief of Staff under George H.W. Bush.

As Bush's adviser, he was the first one with a STEM background to doubt climate change. He publicly questioned the validity of James Hansen / NASA's modeling efforts. In fact, the US was on the verge of signing a binding climate treaty with 65 other nations (in 1989!)

Prior to this point, the argument was "how do we balance emission reductions versus economic losses", with conservative forces recognizing the danger but insisting we protect businesses from overreaching regulation. After Sununu's public doubts, the entire debate shifted to "is climate change even real?". It inspired the "everything's fine" PR campaign that has been ongoing ever since. I honestly suspect treaty opponents didn't even realize that pure denial would be a realistic strategy until Sununu called James Hansen a liar.

I guess in another 50 years we'll see the true extent of the damage he did. Ironically all this falls not on some moron, but on a brilliant guy who decided to speak on something outside his expertise.

Ut_Prosim , Commons Report

Radek Suski
Community Member
3 months ago

Holy guacamole. Thanks for sharing that

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#17

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS The decision by the Scottish to invade England during Black Death must be up there.

jtswtf , Rosser1954 Report

N G
Community Member
3 months ago (edited)

That on its own doesn't sound like a screw-up - they (more or less correctly) assumed the English would be weakened by the disease and invasion would be easy. The screw-up takes effect when the Scots started catching it and dying, and the remaining Scots fled... Back to Scotland, taking the disease with them.

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#18

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Gavrillo Princip shooting Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

On that day, a man acted upon his self-constructed vendetta against a non-tyrranical monarch, thinking the world would remember him as a symbol against foreign tyranny. A symbol of national sovereignty.

A year later, 10 million men were dead.

Dickcheese_McDoogles , wikipedia Report

Eliška Hůlková
Community Member
3 months ago

The War politically destabilized Central Europe and thus opened door to Hitler. This must be one of the biggest fails in history.

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#19

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Game of Thrones Season 8

figtoria , wikipedia Report

engineer_nope.avi
Community Member
3 months ago

Oh God!

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#20

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS That one time nintendo had a partnership with sony to develop a CD based console but in the end changed their mind and kicked Sony out cuz they decided to stick with cartridges.

Sony then thought "screw this, We'll make our own console, with blackjack & hookers" and created the playstation as a f**k you towards nintendo...

YoungDiscord , Paquitogio Report

engineer_nope.avi
Community Member
3 months ago (edited)

Sega actually made a similar mistake. So after Nintendo humiliated Sony, they actually went to Sega and asked about a collaboration. The US Division were actually on board and loved the collaboration. The Japanese Division, however, hated it and shot it down so the deal never came through. Then there's the infamous Saturn early launch, which basically screwed the company forever.

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#21

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Blockbuster not buying Netflix.

powerlesshero111 , Ildar Sagdejev Report

Sum Guy
Community Member
3 months ago

Just because someone buys something, doesn't mean it will continue with that trajectory. If Blockbuster bought netflix when they were still posting disks, then it would continue like that.

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#22

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Two terrible decisions for the price of one:

The British gave Native American's blankets diseased with smallpox to "thin" out their ranks during The French and Indian War. They didn't anticipate just how deadly this would be; some tribes losing as much as 90% of their number due to the epidemic.

When Edward Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine, Britain made fast allies by exporting it out to the world. Some of those shipments were to be sent to the United States, with the intention of helping both the Colonial American populace and the Native American Populace.

Only problem was that the Colonials and the Natives were having a bit of a war for the west at the time. The US Army took the vaccines hostage, with the intention of letting more Natives die, until they gave up and moved into the reservations the US Army had built for them.

Native Americans just can't catch a break at all.

killingjoke96 , Ernest Board Report

Deborah B
Community Member
3 months ago

This was not a 'mistake' it was an active and intentional genocide.

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#23

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Radcliff Line - The process to divide India and Pakistan boundary in 1947 was done hastily and without major considerations to local populace religion. Radcliff was not a geography guy and majorly messed up the process. Millions died.

earliestowl , commons.wikimedia Report

Nea
Community Member
3 months ago

Radcliff was not a geography guy, he was an imperialist sore with the facts that they wer going to leave india after years of loot and tyranny.

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#24

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Anatoly Dyatlov making sure with every step, that reactor 4 at Chernobyl exploded in 1986.

dikarich , 02790015 Report

Lauren Caswell
Community Member
3 months ago

Countries that fear looking weak during a crisis seem to almost always do the absolute opposite of what's needed. If there are any cases where this stance hasn't backfired, I'm not aware of it anyway, or not considering it for some reason (I'm a tad forgetful)

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#25

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Yahoo refused to buy Google for 1 million and later for 40 billion again.

Edit: They refused 1 million, later offered 3B, and Google wanted 5B so no deal. And Yahoo was offered 40B by Microsoft and they didn't want to sell. And later they sold for 4.6B.

Jasper_Reddit , Flickr Report

Samantha PandaNotBored
Community Member
3 months ago

Yahoo is full of junk anyway

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#26

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS David Cameron's decision to call a referendum on Brexit, closely followed by Teresa May caking a snap General Election and losing her party's majority.

RegalGibbon , wikipedia Report

Jon S.
Community Member
3 months ago

The level of incompetence in the Tory party is truly staggering. They came to power promising to eliminate national debt and instead gave us the biggest debt in modern history. And that was before covid.

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#27

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Robert Ballard, one of the guys who discovered Titanic, says that his biggest regret is that he and Jean-Lous Michel didn’t bring a piece of the Titanic up with him when he first discovered it in 1985. At the time, they didn’t want to disturb the wreck, and leave it pristine. But if they had done so, then they would’ve been able to claim legal ownership of the wreck under international maritime law, and therefore more control over it. Because they chose not to do that, everyone and their grandma is free to take artifacts and pieces of the wreck, and this makes preservation impossible.

RedWestern , Titanic Belfast Report

Tomas Holicka
Community Member
3 months ago

Preservation is made impossible by the fact that iron-eating bacteria will soon eat up the whole wreck and in 100 years there'll be nothing to show. Also, it's a mass grave and those boots one sees lying around on the floor were once complete people - now decomposed and eaten up, only their shoes remain.

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#28

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS The Donner Party of 90 pioneers choosing to take a shortcut when heading West from Illinois to California in 1846. Said shortcut led to them getting trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains and resorting to cannibalism.

QuestioningAccount1 , commons.wikimedia Report

Col BatGuano
Community Member
3 months ago

It's not like they intended to do that.

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#29

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Maybe not the *worst*, but maybe Ronald Wayne, he was a co-founder of apple along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976. Just 12 days after forming the company, he sold his shares for $800. He owned 10% of the company, which would be worth ~$80,000,000,000 (80 billion) today.

ProGenji777 , Kottke_Wayne Report

Colin Matthews
Community Member
3 months ago

Hahaha Money right, overrated right ?

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#30

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS How about the greatest single decision that could have ended up as the worst single decision in history ever made by a person?

Vasily Arkhipov. The man who was solely responsible for preventing nuclear war in 1962. The three officers on board the diesel-powered and nuclear armed B-59 sub had to agree unanimously to launch the nuclear torpedo. Conditions due to the Kennedy administration's blockade began to take a toll upon the crew members. Diesel subs can get incredibly hot over extended periods of time, the batteries failed and the air conditioning stopped, and the lack of fresh air from increased carbon dioxide levels means delirious crew members. Eventually two officers, Captain Savitsky, and the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov got sick of waiting due to thinking WWIII had already begun and decided to go through with the launch. But Arkhipov was second in command and his position as flotilla commander meant they also needed his approval to launch it. If he wasn't a flotilla commander it wouldn't have been needed gain his approval even as second in command. Vasily disagreed and all three actually got into a physical confrontation, fighting over command of the torpedo. Eventually they agreed with Vasily and had brought the sub to surface. Needless to say, they faced criticism and were disgraceful to their superiors who would have rather saw them go down with their ship than be captured by the enemy.

According to Wikipedia: ''Each captain was required to present a report of events during the mission to the Soviet defense minister, Andrei Grechko. Grechko was infuriated with the crew's failure to follow the strict orders of secrecy after finding out they had been discovered by the Americans. One officer even noted Grechko's reaction, stating "upon learning that it was the diesel submarines that went to Cuba, removed his glasses and hit them against the table in fury, breaking them into small pieces and abruptly leaving the room after that."

It's safe to say that there's an almost unanimous amount of agreement over the importance of Arkhipov's decision. Everyone from Chomsky, to McNamara have agreed that this was the defining moment of whether or not we would prevail as a species. This was it. The test. The launch of the torpedo would have meant the nuclear destruction of the blockade above, and thus the invasion of Cuba and the launching of the NATO nukes in Turkey and other European countries. Meaning the missiles in Cuba which were operational at this point, would have decimated all the major cities on the Eastern seaboard, and the major cities in the Midwest.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an advisor for the John F. Kennedy administration and a historian, has stated, "This was not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history."

SubatomicG , wikipedia Report

Radek Suski
Community Member
3 months ago

What about Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov?

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#31

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS The guy that sold the bottling rights for Coca Cola, for $1, and never even made the guy pay the $1.

TheGarp , Ralf Roletschek Report

Scagsy
Community Member
3 months ago

Boycott Coca-Cola for their 'Be less white' mandate to their staff. Racists

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#32

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Hmm, here are a few candidates:

Hitler/Napoleon (for attacking Russia)

Dyatlov for various things he decided at Chernobyl (but there are so many Versions of that it's hard to say who was most responsible)

Whoever ordered Pearl Harbor (for ordering the attack)

Licencing Thalidomide for use against morning sickness (killed about 40% of the unborn babies and had horrendous effects on many of the rest)

Using Hydrogen to fly the Hindenburg

Aibeit , Imperial Japanese Navy Report

Samantha Lomb
Community Member
3 months ago

The hydrogen thing was the US's fault. The US had a monopoly on the production of Helium.

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#33

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Eight years ago when that guy bought two large pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin.

Im_jk_but_seriously , Jan Kaláb Report

Okay Dokey
Community Member
3 months ago

8 Years ago that was already 25.000 USD

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#34

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Brutus decided to join Cassius in murdering the dictatorial tyrant, Caesar. The reason? They suspected his intent to become a king.

Which then started a chain of events leading to his adopted son Caesar becoming a military dictator without equal, having all the powers of a king without being called one.

When this Caesar Augustus dies, his name and title is passed on for the next four hundred years almost like you would a crown. Monarchies then returned all over Europe, in the style of Augustus Caesar.

And so, the decision of Brutus to join the conspiracy in effect changed all of Western civilization for the next 1900 years to adopt the very political style he wanted to avoid.

It would not be until the 1770s when America and later France would begin revolting and experimenting with Democracies and Republics.

Ipride362 , Marie-Lan Nguyen Report

Láďa Durchánek
Community Member
3 months ago (edited)

It is worth noting that democracy was mostly collapsing in Rome that time because of corruption and military reforms that shifted loyalty of legions to their commanders. There had been other attempts to seize the ultimate power before and Octavianus Augustus was merely the first one who fully succeeded. That said, even without the Brutus's decision, it would likely happen anyway at some point later and given that Augustus was actually an extremely effective leader, it could have been much worse.

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#35

Whoever signed the bill passing prohibition

Hibberd92 Report

Coleonema
Community Member
3 months ago

It's amazing all the ripple effects that can come from one, seemingly meaningless, decision

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#36

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Sultan Murad IV sending the first flying man in history (Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi flying three kilometers over the Bospurus in 1638) , into exile instead of putting all efforts into aviation.

WeirdAstronaut , Levni Report

Jon S.
Community Member
3 months ago

Never heard of this guy before. I would be interested to know if there were more than one account of his life/work. Wikipedia says the account of the flight across the Bospurus is doubted. It puts me in mind of the chinses legend of Yuan Huangtou, who did something similar (against his will) in AD559.

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#37

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Alcibiades was considered a traitor in Athens for leading his men to death. A traitor in Sparta because he got the queen to cheat on the king with him and a traitor in Persia after including them in a war

itsmustafatime , Musée Fabre Report

River Webb
Community Member
3 months ago

maybe that guy was just a genuine asshole

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#38

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS William Howard Taft running for US president:

Prior to ww1, the US elections took place with Woodrow Wilson winning with a 36% (give or take) majority, how could this happen? Taft. The election was split 3 ways, Wilson for the democrats, and Taft and Teddy Roosevelt for the Republicans, they split the vote and Wilson Won. Had Taft not split the vote Roosevelt would have won and serve a third presidential term. As president, Roosevelt would have almost definitely pushed the US one WW1 much earlier than Wilson did, possibly shortening the war by up to a year. The main impact of this would have been on Russia, while it wouldn’t have saved the Tsar, it would have put down Lenin and prevented the rise of Communism, as it would have denied Lenin the public backing he needed, given that the current govt. didn’t look quite so incompetent. With no Lenin, no Stalin, no mass genocides, speaking of genocides, the fear of communist take-over largely fuelled support for the Nazi party and without them, Hitler would have lived and died a fringe extremist with very few people even noticing him.

TLDR; Taft ran for president, split the vote, denied Roosevelt a third term, which lead to a prolonged WW1, the Russian Communist take over, WW2, Cold War, etc.

Dan-aufsE-IOO , Harris & Ewing Report

Col BatGuano
Community Member
3 months ago

Roosevelt and Taft were good friends until Taft turned all a-hole.

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#39

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS The Soviet government not informing their nuclear power plants of the defect which caused Chernobyl to melt down and almost destroy all of eastern Europe.

iconoclast63 , Carl Montgomery Report

Samantha Lomb
Community Member
3 months ago

It did not "almost destroy all of Eastern Europe".

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#40

Biggest-Historic-Screw-UPS Kaiser Wilhelm II firing Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck had a plan. He always has a plan. But not when an incompetent Kaiser boots him out of his means of putting his plans into action. Bismarck had everything set up perfectly, but Wilhelm II decided to f*ck up everything he had set up, and got into WWI for it.

AdouMusou , Thomas Heinrich Voigt Report

Cip IESAN
Community Member
3 months ago

No. Bismark wanted a new war with France even in 1875! Wilhelm was a kind of a pacifist, as a cousin of the British King and the Russian Tsar, he didn't wanted war. The German Empire entered WWI because of the treaties signed with the Austro-Hungarian Empire... And von Bismark died in 1890, 24 years before WWI.

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Note: this post originally had 46 images. It’s been shortened to the top 40 images based on user votes.