Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Stephanie Schoppert - October 16, 2016

When it comes to being the leader of a country or an empire, it is not an easy feat. There is a constant stream of issues to deal with and when it comes to protecting your people, the right answer is not always clear. For these world leaders, the decisions they made caused untold problems within their own country and sometimes all over the world.

Shah Al ad-Din Muhammad Kills Genghis Khan’s Ambassadors

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

In 1218, Genghis Khan had expanded his empire so far that it shared a border with the Khwarezmia Empire. Khan decided to make contact with his border neighbors by sending a 500-man caravan of Muslims to start official trade relations. Shah Al ad-Din Muhammad was suspicious of the caravan and Khan’s intentions so he had the entire caravan arrested under charges of conspiracy. Most historians believe that Khan had no intention to start any conflict with his new neighbors because he was already fighting against the Jin in China. Which is probably why Khan then sent ambassadors to the Shah in order to negotiate trade relations and the release of the caravan.

The Shah responded by shaving the heads of the two Mongol ambassadors and beheading the Muslim ambassador. Khan took this as a personal insult because he found ambassadors to be sacred. So Khan began preparations for attacking Khwarezmia. He carefully planned out the invasion using numerous intelligence sources from his spies along the silk road. Historians debate on the size of each army but most believe that the Khwarezmia army was outnumbered.

Khan strategy for his defeat of Khwarezmia was to divide and conquer. He sent one of his armies off to find and execute the Shah. This put on the Shah on the run in his own country. The Shah’s army was split over many of the major cities as the empire had only recently been conquered. Khan was able to siege each city one by one and destroy not only the armies but the entire Khwarezmian empire. The Shah was disposed and the campaign was considered one of the most brutal ever waged by the Mongols. Huge cities were leveled, numerous artifacts were destroyed and entire populations were massacred.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Mao’s Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward was a disastrous attempt in 1958 by Mao Zedong to rapidly industrialize China. He banned all private holdings and created communes where peasants who no longer owned their own land would live together in a field and would be forced to work steel instead of farming. Each farm would be given a steel furnace and often every peasant in the commune was forced to work long hours. Mao also tried to improve farming through a number of misguided techniques set forth by Trofim Lysenko. The techniques decreased grain production but local leaders were under so much pressure that they actually falsely reported large increases in grain production in order to please their superiors. Unfortunately, these numbers were used to determine how much grain was sent to the capital to be used for export, the false numbers meant little if any grain was left to feed the peasants.

These and other polices of the Great Leap Forward are believed to be responsible for the Chinese Famine which resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese. 30 to 40% of all houses were also destroyed as part of the Great Leap Forward as the materials were needed for their efforts to industrialize. Even as Mao knew his people were starving, he continued to export grain in order to save face and some even claim he knew millions would die through his program but he thought it was a worthwhile sacrifice. The economy also failed as the period of the Great Leap (1958 – 1961) was the only time between 1953 and 1973 that the economy regressed. Officials who had lied about harvests were publicly executed and Mao took a backseat to government affairs for several years. Liu Shaoqi said in 1962 that 30% of the economic crisis and famine was the result of nature and 70% human error.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Berlin Conference 1884

The Berlin Conference was a bad decision made by just one world leader but by several. The conference was attended by major European powers and the United States in order to finalize the claims on African territories. It was a way to end the fighting between countries as they scrambled for territory on the resource rich African continent. A map was drawn up to establish current colonies and to establish a framework that would allow for future negotiations of claims on the continent.

The problem with the Berlin Conference was that it made no consideration for the people that lived in the colonies. Ethnic groups that had inhabited the same area now found themselves in different colonies and no longer able to cross the border. Migratory peoples found that they could no longer migrate their usual territories and herders found themselves cut off from their pastureland. Not only were the borders problematic but the Berlin Conference established the authority of European colonial powers to exploit the natural resources of their colonies for trade.

For 60 years the continent existed solely for the benefit of the colonial powers and once the colonies began achieving independence the borders drawn by the Europeans in 1884 remained the same. Tribal conflicts only continued after independence as warring tribes were still forced to inhabit the same land and were often cut off from their ancestral lands. Today the bad blood between tribes still exists and has led not only to discrimination within states but also very violent conflicts. Even more than a century later many of the current problems in Africa today can be traced back to the exploitation of the colonial powers.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

The Trojan Horse

The Trojan Horse was such a great strategy by the Greeks and such a bad decision by the Trojans that it is one of the most well-known stories of ancient history. It spelled such a decisive defeat for the Trjoans that the term Trojan Horse has come to be synonymous for any military strategy that tricks a target into allowing a foe into a secure space. The story of the Trojan Horse comes from a few sources, namely the Aeneid of Virgil and it is referenced in Homer’s the Odyssey.

As the story goes Odysseus thought that he could trick the Trojans into letting a Greek force into the city by giving them a gift. So in three days Odysseus and his men built a massive horse in which Odysseus and 30 of his best men hid inside. One man stayed outside the horse and the rest of the Greek army boarded a ship and sailed away. The Horse bore the inscription that told the Trojans the Horse was a gift in return for the ship’s safe passage back to Greece. Once the Trojans accepted the horse, the Greeks waited until nightfall. Once darkness fell, the Greek ship sailed back and the men inside the Trojan horse emerged. They quickly overtook the Trojan guards and let the rest of the Greek army into the city.

Historians have long debated whether or not the horse really existed. Some believe that the Horse actually referred to a battering ram that the Greeks used to break down the walls of the city. Others believe that it may have referred to a peace envoy. But with so many accounts of the Trojan Horse and the success of the Greeks against the city of Troy, most still tell the story of the hidden Greeks within the horse that caused the fall of Troy.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Alexander the Great Refusing to Name an Heir

Alexander the Great was a great leader who built a substantial empire, however his last decision likely ended up being one of his worst. His empire brought together numerous powerful cultures and it was hard enough for a leader like Alexander to control. Therefore, it needed a powerful leader to keep it together but as Alexander laid upon his deathbed and he was asked for the name of his successor, he refused to name one.

Some accounts say that Alexander requested that his empire go “to the strongest” and others suggest that Alexander gave his signet ring to Perdiccas who was his bodyguard and leader of the companion cavalry. This is suggested as a way for Alexander to choose his successor even though he was too ill at the time to speak. At the time Alexander had no living sons but Roxanne was pregnant and Perdiccas hoped that the child would be male so that Alexander would have an heir. So he held off taking power over Alexander’s empire until the child was born.

This arrangement did not suit Alexander’s generals who were left out of any discussion of succession and rivalries formed. Alexander’s child did end up being male (Alexander IV) and he was declared heir to the empire with Perdiccas and Phillip (Alexander’s half-brother) ruling as regents until the child came of age. But this did not suit the generals and so began a 40-year war between the generals who believed that they should have been chosen as successors. During the course of the war of the successors, Perdiccas, Phillip and Alexander IV were murdered. While not absolute, it is possible that, in the two weeks that Alexander the great languished before his death, a public announcement of his successor may have spared his empire decades of war.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Neville Chamberlain Appeasing Hitler

World War II can be seen as a series of mistakes made by leaders on both sides. Hitler made bad choices during the war and so did the allies. But at the very start of the war there were major failings on the part of the Neville Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain was put in the unique position of determining whether or not the League of Nations and collective security would work, but faced with a country that was tired of war, he was reluctant to stand up to Hitler’s aggression.

When Hitler re-militarized the Rhineland it was the first chance to show force to stop Hitler. France asked the League of Nations for help but no one was willing to risk another war. The Soviet Union was the only state that was even willing to do sanctions against Hitler. This showed Hitler that the League of Nations and international community would not stand against him and it put Germany in a position of power. The failure to address the Rhineland was only the beginning of what became known as appeasement, in which Neville Chamberlain and other European power reluctantly gave Hitler anything he wanted in the hopes of preventing another war.

Neville Chamberlain also did not act when Germany annexed Austria. Nor did he intervene or call the League of Nations to action when Hitler took over the Sudetenland. This deprived Czechoslovakia of most of its industry and 800,000 of its people. Britain, France and Italy met with Germany to come to the Munich agreement. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the negotiations and felt betrayed when it was decided that Hitler could remain in the territories that he had occupied. Neville Chamberlain led the policy of appeasement up until Hitler invaded Poland, all in an attempt to prevent a war that would cost the lives of so many. However, it did little to prepare the continent for war or stop Hitler’s plans.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War has been credited as one of the greatest foreign policy and military disasters in American history. The country decided to enter in to the war with little knowledge of how fight the type of war that was being waged in Vietnam or with any real idea on how to defeat the North Vietnamese. Kennedy believed that a war of defensive attrition would be enough to cause the North Vietnamese to back down.

The U.S. sent troops and focused on body counts with little idea of how much money was being spent or how much ground was being taken. The war of attrition did little to cause Ho Chi Minh to back down and he even said that it did not matter if 10 of his men died for every 1 man he killed because he would still outlast the will of the Americans. The U.S. troops also did little to shut down the Ho Chi Minh trail and therefore could never fully get the upper hand over the North Vietnamese.

When the U.S. pulled out of the country the negotiated peace agreement did not last and the North Vietnamese resumed their attacks. This time South Vietnam was left to fight for themselves. They were unable to hold off the Viet Cong and Saigon fell. The Vietnam War cost 58,220 American lives with more than 150,000 wounded. The cost of the war was over $110 billion and as of 2013 the United States government continued to pay $22 billion a year to the Vietnam veterans, their families and survivors. The war was costly mistake for the U.S. in terms of lives and money and by the end, the United States had little to show for it and they had a public that would be unwilling to intervene militarily in other countries for years.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

King Vortigern Hiring Mercenaries

King Vortigern was a ruler sometime during the 5th century according to the ancient histories. At the time the Picts were the greatest threats to the future and stability of Britain. King Vortigern was desperate to protect his land from its enemies. So he came up with the plan to hire the Saxons to come to Britain in order to fight as mercenaries against the Picts. Jutish brothers Hengist and Horsa arrived in Kent with three of their ships in order live there and fight under King Vortigern. The Saxons had an ulterior motive however and that was to eventually take the island for themselves.

At first the Saxons just asked King Vortigern for more supplies and food, always increasing their demands on the pretense of feeding their armies. They told the king that all of their demands needed to be met in order to the troops to be able to fight against the Picts. King Vortigern was happy to comply with the demands because the Saxons were successful at driving out the Picts. But this was only a temporary situation because King Vortigern never planned for if and when the mercenaries turned against him. His own forces were not enough to combat the Saxons that he had brought in.

Disputes between King Vortigern and the Saxons over payment arose after the successful ousting of the Picts. The negotiations failed to reach an agreement. Some accounts report that King Vortigern went as far as to marry Hengist’s daughter in order to broker an agreement between the two groups. But the Saxons mutinied and easily overthrew the kingdom. By around 457 the Britons were completely overwhelmed by the Saxon army and forced to flee Kent. For this reason, the Britons always remembered Vortigern as a treacherous king with some going as far as to slander his name by suggesting he engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was basically a way for the Allied Powers to take out their anger and frustration on Germany without really thinking about the long term, or even the short term consequences. What was expected from Germany was not only completely unfair but it was also impossible for Germany to comply with the punishments against it. The Treaty completely disregarded the Fourteen Points that Woodrow Wilson negotiated as part of the armistice that was negotiated with Germany.

Germany was expected to almost completely disarm with its massive army being drastically reduced. The reparations were seen as too large for Germany to ever be able to pay, though some argue that with the reduced spending on the military Germany could have paid the reparations. However, it would have still stagnated the Germany economy as they would not be able to put that money toward their industries. Another issue of the Treaty of Versailles was that while it did free the countries that had been occupied by Germany it gave no thought to the Germans within those countries. Many of them were brutally harassed and victimized causing them to not only flee their homes but harbor resentment toward the Allied powers.

The Treaty also caused resentment throughout Germany. The Allied Powers forced Germany to take sole responsibility for the war and put Germany in a position where it would not be allowed to have any sort of positive influence within Europe. This coupled with the economic depression of the 1930s fostered huge hatred within Germany for the Allied Powers and a desperate desire to blame someone for the dire straits that Germans now found themselves in. This not only allowed for socialism to grow but for Hitler to come to power and build the military back up to try and conquer Europe again.

Ten Terrible Decisions Made By World Leaders Throughout History

Kim Jong and North Korea

There are few rulers in the history that are as crazy, misguided and ill-suited for ruling a country as Kim Jong. His decisions have led his country into economic ruin and have placed him so far outside the respect of the international community that his country may never recover. He has put forth disastrous economic policies and uses massive portions of the country’s budget to fund the 4th largest military in the world. He has absolutely no military experience but he is a General in his army.

He is one of the most ruthless dictators in the world and yet there are aspects of his leadership that border on the ridiculous and the absurd. It makes it seem like the country is ruled by a petulant toddler who wants everyone to think his hair is cool (and therefore everyone must have the same hair) instead of a world leader.

He continues to provoke the world with his threats of attack and missile tests. He also attempts to provoke South Korea into war which would likely bring its more powerful allies to stand against Kim Jong. The hatred for the leader of North Korea is felt worldwide especially as more people risk their lives to escape the impoverished country. His recent decision to sentence an American to 7 years’ hard labor for stealing a poster has once again brought the ire of the world against him and public attention to the numerous human rights abuses in the country. With all that he has done wrong to impoverish his people and do little to modernize his country, it is not surprising that he is outranked by a dead man. Kim Jong is actually outranked by his grandfather who is the eternal leader of North Korea. While Kim Jong’s mistakes may not have affected the world like mistakes of other leaders, they have had disastrous effects for his own country.