Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters

Khalid Elhassan - September 8, 2021

Idiot moves are all too common in history. Take that time when a Brazilian cancer clinic moved to a new building and left behind, abandoned and unsecured, machinery that contained highly radioactive substances. It was the first in a chain of idiot actions that led to what the International Atomic Energy Agency described as “one of the world’s worst radiological incidents“. Following are thirty things about that and other idiot moves that ended badly.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The abandoned Goiania Radiological Institute building where a radiotherapy device containing cesium-137 was left behind. DW

30. The Idiot Clinic That Left Radioactive Machinery Behind in an Abandoned Building

The Goiania Institute of Radiotherapy, a private chemotherapy clinic about half a mile from the administrative center of Goiania, Brazil, moved offices in 1985. It left behind many outdated hospital machines and supplies that the administrators figured that they would not need in their new location. Among the items left behind was a teletherapy treatment device that used cesium-137, a highly radioactive isotope. Under the terms of the clinic’s license, the authorities should have been notified and careful disposal methods should have been followed. The clinic’s idiot administrators did not bother with any of that.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
A pair of idiot scavengers thought a radiological device was worth something as scrap metal. Today in History

The institute’s former premises became an abandoned building that housed homeless people and morphed into a hangout for drug addicts and derelicts. The abandoned teletherapy device and its cesium-137 contents were thus totally insecure. On September 13, 1987, two scavengers entered the clinic’s former treatment room and came across the teletherapy unit. Unaware of what it was, but figuring that it might have scrap metal value, they removed the source assembly – the part that contained the radioactive isotope – from the machine’s radiation head. It was a start of a serious nuclear incident.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The part that contained the radioactive substance released by scavengers. DW

29. Idiot Scavengers and a Radioactive Device

The scavengers, Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira took the teletherapy device’s source assembly in a wheelbarrow back to Alves’ home, where they tried to dismantle it. The idiot duo found it extremely difficult to get the thing open. The following day, Pereira experienced diarrhea and dizziness, and his left hand began to swell. He went to a clinic, where his symptoms were diagnosed as the result of something he ate, and he was told to rest at home. In the meantime, Alves persisted with the attempts to open the device, and finally, on September 16, 1987, after three days, he managed to puncture it with a screwdriver.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Site of what used to be Devair Ferreira’s scrapyard. Wikimedia

Inside, he found a glowing blue substance and scooped some of it out. He thought that it might be gunpowder and tried to light it on fire, but it didn’t ignite. Two days later, he sold the device to Devair Alves Ferreira, the owner of a nearby scrapyard. Fascinated by the glowing blue substance inside the punctured teletherapy device, Ferreira figured it might be not just valuable, but outright supernatural, so he took it to his house. Things were about to take yet another turn for the worse.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Schematic diagram of the Goiania Nuclear Incident. Veneer Magazine

28. The Idiot Scrapyard Owner Who Contaminated a Town

Scrapyard owner Devair Alves Ferreira invited family members and friends to come and check out the mysterious contents and shared several grains of the glowing stuff with them. Ferreira’s brother took some of the luminescent dust to his home, where he spread it on the concrete floor. His six-year-old daughter, fascinated by the substance, coated her body in it and ate an egg contaminated with it. On September 25, 1987, Ferreira sold the device to a second scrapyard. In the meantime, his wife, who had become seriously ill, realized that many people around her had also become ill. She began to suspect that the glowing blue stuff might have had something to do with it.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Cleanup of the Goiania Radiological Incident, caused by an idiot clinic, idiot scavengers, and an idiot scrapyard owner. The Brazilian Report

On the 28th, she recovered the device from the second scrapyard and took it to a hospital, where the cesium-137 radioactivity was finally detected. When it hit the news, the incident created a furor, and about 130,000 panicked locals swarmed hospitals, afraid that they might have been irradiated. Eventually, 250 people were discovered to have been contaminated, of whom twenty suffered radiation sickness, and four died. The fatalities included Ferreira’s wife and six-year-old niece. The two original scavengers both lost limbs to amputation. A cleanup operation was required in which the topsoil was removed from several sites, while various houses were demolished and all their contents were incinerated.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Hotel New World. The New Paper

27. The Idiot Architect Whose Incompetent Design Caused a Hotel Collapse

In 1969, the Lian Yak Realty Company broke ground and began construction at the corner of Serangoon Road and Owen Road in Singapore, of a six-story edifice. The building, completed in 1971, housed the New Serangoon Hotel, which had an inauspicious early history. In 1975, the hotel made headlines when 35 of its guests were knocked out and had to be hospitalized because of a toxic carbon monoxide leak. Despite the bad press, the hotel recovered, changed names, and resumed operations.

By the 1980s, the building housed a branch of the Industrial & Commercial Branch on the first floor, and a nightclub on the second floor. The remaining four floors were occupied by a 67-room hotel, the New World Hotel. All was routine on the morning of March 15, 1986, until 11:25 AM. Then, out of the blue, in less than a minute, the entire edifice collapsed. As seen below, investigators discovered that the cause was an idiot architect and idiot engineers who had screwed up basic design and construction calculations.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Rescue efforts amidst the debris of what used to be the Hotel New World. The Straits Times

26. One of Singapore’s Worst Post-WWII Disasters

The Hotel New World failure was one of the worst disasters in post World War II Singapore. In a collapse, not a single wall or column were left standing, and the entire building was reduced to rubble. Initial rescue efforts were hampered by the fact that Singapore’s government lacked personnel trained or equipped to deal with such a situation. Fortunately, some foreign tunneling experts were building a subway at the time, and they were sent in to spearhead the rescue.

33 people were killed, and another 17 were pulled out of the debris. Subsequent investigation revealed that the collapse was caused by incompetent architectural design: the building lacked a foundation. Specifically, a dead load foundation. Building designs have to account for two “loads” – a live load, which is the weight of the people and furniture and other things inside a building, and a dead load, which is the weight of the building itself. The Hotel New World building design only accounted for the live load.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Mr. Leong, the unqualified idiot who drew the plans for the Hotel New World building. Taking 5

25. A Basic Design Flaw That Led to Tragedy

As investigators discovered, the Hotel New World’s collapse was unsurprising: it was built with incompetent architectural designs. The building’s design and structural plans had been drawn up by unqualified draftsmen named Shum Cheong Heng and Leong Shui Lung. In their calculations for an adequate foundation, the duo failed to account for the dead load – the weight of the actual building. Leong then took his incompetent plans, along with a recommendation for an architect, Ee Hoong Khoon, to Lian Yak Realty, which built the hotel.

Khoon failed to spot – or ignored – the idiot draftsmen’s basic design flaw. A flaw that was exacerbated by the addition on the roof of a water tank, two storage water heaters, a cooling tower, and four commercial air conditioning condenser units. Lian Yak Realty’s managing director, Ng Khoon Lim, personally managed the construction. He was among the dozens killed in the collapse. In the aftermath, Singapore tightened up building inspections and required building owners to more rigorously review building plans, test structural materials, and supervise structural works.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The Mediterranean world at the start of the Second Punic War. Flickr

24. The Idiot Commander Who Caused Ancient Rome’s Worst Defeat

At the start of the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BC), Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca invaded Italy and inflicted a series of humiliating defeats upon the Romans. The losses shook Rome’s hold on Italy, as allies foreswore their allegiance and either joined Hannibal or declared neutrality. The Romans appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus dictator for six months, and he adopted a strategy that became known as “Fabian“. Aware that Rome’s manpower exceeded Hannibal’s, Fabius turned to attrition. He whittled the Carthaginian forces with skirmishes and raids on their supply lines and avoided a pitched battle.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Hannibal Barca. Pinterest

That stabilized the situation but did not sit well with other Romans, who wanted to avenge their earlier defeats as soon as possible. When Fabius’ term expired, the Romans amassed their biggest army to date. Commanded by two consuls, Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Gaius Terentius Varro, they marched off to take on Hannibal. Varro turned out to be an idiot. The Carthaginian commander, who had been discomfited by Fabius’ attrition tactics, was happy to accommodate the Romans and give them battle near Cannae, where Hannibal’s 40,000 men faced 87,000 Romans.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Initial Roman attacks at the Battle of Cannae. Wikimedia

23. A Catastrophic Defeat

The Romans rotated command on a daily basis between their two consuls, Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Gaius Terentius Varro. On August 2, 216 BC, it was Varro’s day in command, and his day to be an idiot. Against the advice of Paulus, he led out the Roman army against Hannibal. The Carthaginian general adopted a brilliant tactical plan that was carried out to perfection. He placed less reliable Gauls in the center, in a formation that bulged out towards the Romans. On either side of the Gauls, he positioned his disciplined African infantry (see map above). As the Romans advanced, the Gauls would give way, until their formation, which had started off bulging outwards, bent and bulged inwards, forming a bowl shape or sack.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The encirclement and destruction of the Roman army at the Battle of Cannae. Wikimedia

The confident Romans, scenting victory as the enemy gave ground, would push into the sack. That was when the African infantry positioned to the Gauls’ sides would wheel inwards and attack the Roman flanks. By then, the Carthaginian cavalry would have defeated the Roman cavalry. It would then turn around, and attack the enemy infantry’s rear, thus completely encircling the Romans. It worked exactly as planned. In a battle seen to this day as the gold standard for tactical generalship, the Romans were nearly wiped out. Only 10,000 out of the 87,000 strong army escaped, while the rest were slaughtered or captured.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Emperor Gaozu of Han was no idiot, but he made an idiot move that cost China dearly. Early History

22. A Great Emperor Who Made a Costly Idiot Move

Ancient China’s Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 195 BC) was no idiot. Born Liu Bang, he was a peasant who rose to become a minor official in the Chin Dynasty. When the realm fell into chaos following the death of Shi Huang Di, China’s first emperor, Liu Bang became a rebel leader and proved himself a master of anarchy. He invaded the Chin heartland and forced that dynasty’s last ruler to surrender in 206 BC, then fought a civil war between the anti-Chin rebel leaders, won, and in 202 BC declared himself Emperor Gaozu (“High Founder”).

The former peasant turned emperor established the Han Dynasty, which ruled China for four centuries. However, Gaozu did make one idiot move that cost him – and China for centuries after his death – dearly. It came about in a failed attempt to crush Steppe nomads whose raids had inflicted serious damage upon his realm. They were led by Modu Chanyu (234 – 174 BC), a formidable Steppe warrior and chieftain who was in the habit of turning his defeated enemies’ skulls into cups from which he drank blood.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The Xiongnu Empire, circa 200 BC. Wikimedia

21. A Bitter Defeat

Modu Chanyu unified the eastern Steppe’s nomadic tribes and founded the Xiongnu Empire. It stretched from Central Asia to Manchuria, and its warriors’ plunder expeditions terrorized the Chinese to their south for centuries. That led to the establishment of a complex relationship that alternated between trade and raid, marriage treaties and tribute and war. In 200 BC, China’s Emperor Gaozu tried to bring the Xiongnu to heel, but it ended in catastrophe – the worst setback suffered by the Han Dynasty’s founder. In a rare idiot move, the emperor let Modu Chanyu lead him on a merry chase through the Steppe.

In the meantime, the nomads harried the invaders’ supply lines and kept their forces on constant edge with frequent skirmishes. When the Chinese were exhausted, Modu ambushed and trapped them in a disadvantageous locale, cut off from resupply and reinforcement. Surrounded, Emperor Gaozu was forced to buy his life with an appeasement treaty known as the Heqin that recognized Modu and the Xiongnu Empire as equals, and defined The Great Wall as the mutual border. It also sent the Xiongnu leaders Chinese princesses as brides, and sought to buy them off with regular tribute payments, face-savingly referred to as “gifts”.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Chinese princesses sent as brides to Steppe nomads as part of the Heqin tribute. Top China Travel

20. A Humiliating Treaty That Lasted for More Than a Thousand Years

After Emperor Gaozu’s death in 195 BC, Modu Chanyu sent an offensive marriage proposal to his widow, the dowager empress. Incensed, she and her court were all for a declaration of war, with generals urging the extermination of the obnoxious nomads. However, calmer voices reminded everybody of Modu’s victory just a few years earlier, and that the Xiongnu army was more powerful than China’s. The empress reconsidered, wrote back a humble declination of the proposal, and sent the nomad leader a gift of imperial carriages and horses.

So badly had Modu beaten the Han, and so memorable was the defeat, that further Chinese attempts at a military solution were abandoned. Instead, the humiliating Heqin system of buying off nomads with princesses and tribute became the bedrock of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. The appeasement continued even after the Xiongnu Empire collapsed and the Xiongnu vanished into history’s mists. Chinese princesses and Chinese “gifts” continued to be sent regularly to Steppe chieftains for over a thousand years, with the last recorded instance of Heqin occurring in 883 AD.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Marcus Licinius Crassus. Pinterest

19. The Roman Plutocrat Who Led an Army to Disaster

The Battle of Cannae was Rome’s worst defeat, but it was not the only time the Romans were humiliated on the field of battle. Another debacle was the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC when a Roman army was destroyed by the Parthians. The doomed force was led by Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC), a leading figure of the late Roman Republic and its richest man. He used his wealth to sponsor politicians, including Julius Caesar, whose political rise he bankrolled, and amassed considerable power. The one thing that Crassus lacked, yet craved, was military glory. His quest for such glory ended in catastrophe.

Crassus was a shrewd and avaricious businessman. An ally of the dictator Sulla in the 80s BC, he got his start on wealth by bidding on the confiscated properties of those executed as enemies of the state. No idiot, he bought them in rigged auctions for a fraction of their value. He even arranged for the names of those whose properties he coveted to be added to the lists of enemies of the state, slated for execution and confiscation of property.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Parthian cataphracts. Imgur

18. A Craving for Glory

Crassus leveraged his wealth and power into creating the First Triumvirate, a power-sharing agreement by which he, Pompey the Great, and Julius Caesar, divided the Roman Republic amongst themselves. He wanted military glory, though – something his partners had, but that he lacked. Unlike Pompey’s and Caesar’s brilliant military records, Crassus’ only military accomplishment had been to crush Spartacus’ slave rebellion, which counted for little in Roman eyes. It gnawed at Crassus, so he decided to invade Parthia, a wealthy kingdom comprised of today’s Iraq and Iran, which he assumed would be a pushover. A decade earlier, Pompey had invaded and easily defeated other kingdoms in the east, so how hard could Parthia be?

Crassus assembled an army of 50,000 men, and in 53 BC, marched off to conquer. He trusted a local chieftain to guide him, only for the chieftain to make an idiot of him. The guide was in Parthian pay, and led Crassus along an arid route until, hot and thirsty, they reached the town of Carrhae in today’s Turkey. There, they encountered a Parthian force of 9000 horse archers and 1000 armored cataphract heavy cavalry. Although they outnumbered the Parthians 5:1, the Romans were demoralized by the rigors of the march and by Crassus’ insipid leadership.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The Battle of Carrhae. Battles of the Ancients

17. To Mock His Greed, the Parthians Poured Molten Gold Down Crassus’ Throat

The mounted Parthian archers shot up Crassus’ army from a distance and retreated whenever the Romans advanced. As casualties mounted, morale plummeted. Unable to think of a plan, Crassus rested his hopes on the Parthians running out of arrows. Unfortunately, they had a supply train of thousands of camels loaded with arrows. Finally, Crassus ordered his son to take the Roman cavalry and some infantry, and drive off the horse archers. The Parthians feigned retreat, Crassus’ son chose the wrong moment to be an idiot and rashly pursued. He was slaughtered with all his men. The Parthians rode back to the Roman army and taunted Crassus with his son’s head on a spear.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The death of Crassus. ThoughtCo

Shaken, Crassus abandoned thousands of his wounded and retreated to Carrhae. The Parthians invited him to negotiate and offered to let his army go in exchange for Roman territorial concessions. Crassus was reluctant to meet the Parthians, but his men threatened to mutiny if he did not, so he went. Things did not go well, violence broke out at the meeting, and ended with Crassus and his generals killed. To mock his avarice, the Parthians poured molten gold down Crassus’ throat. The surviving Romans fled, but most were hunted down and killed or captured. Out of Crassus’ 50,000 men, only 10,000 made it back to Roman territory.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Charles Thevenin’s ‘The Capitulation of Ulm’. Wikimedia

16. When The Austrians Should Have Blown Up Vienna’s Bridges But Didn’t

Napoleon Bonaparte conducted the Ulm Campaign in 1805, a series of brilliant maneuvers that culminated in the capture of an entire Austrian army. Austria’s Russian allies had sent an army, but it arrived too late to prevent the surrender at Ulm. So the Russians retreated to the north bank of the Danube. There, they hoped that a river between them and the pursuing French might allow them the opportunity to catch their breath and have some space in which to regroup.

To keep the French on the opposite side of the Danube, all bridges that spanned the river were either blown up or were rigged with explosives for instant detonation to prevent their capture by Napoleon’s forces. In the meantime, as the French neared the Austrian capital of Vienna on the Danube, peace negotiations were underway. The Austrians did not immediately blow up the city’s bridges, a decision they came to regret thanks to an idiot commander in charge of a bridge.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Joachim Murat leading a French cavalry charge at the Battle of Jenna. Wikimedia

15. An Idiot Commander In Charge of a Vital Bridge

As peace discussions between the French and their Austrian and Russian opponents were underway, the authorities in Vienna refrained from blowing up the city’s bridges because they did not want to cast a pall over the negotiations. They also figured that if the negotiators reached a settlement, then the destruction of the bridges would prove unnecessary. So Vienna’s bridges were prepared for detonation if the French tried to seize them, but left standing. One such was the Tabor Bridge, entrusted to a Count Auersperg.

Unfortunately for the Austrians, Auersperg turned out to be an idiot and fell for a ruse that allowed the French to seize his bridge. That chain of events began as the French army advanced upon Vienna, amidst a mood of uncertainty. The war was still on, but because negotiations were underway, the hostilities might end at any moment with an armistice and peace treaty. It was against that backdrop that the French vanguard neared the Tabor Bridge on November 1, 1805, and halted.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Murat and Lannes bluffing their way into seizing the Tabor Bridge. Quora

14. A Daring Ruse

The French forces that halted in front of the Tabor Bridge were led by two of Napoleon’s more daring generals, Joachim Murat and Jean Lannes. The duo wanted to cross the Danube, but knew that the bridge was rigged was explosive and would be destroyed if they tried to storm and seize it by force. So they decided to seize it with a ruse of war. The French generals casually ambled to the bridge and behaved in a carefree manner.

As confused Austrian guards aimed their muskets at their breasts, Murat and Lannes laughed and expressed their pleasure at the “just concluded” armistice and peace treaty. Once they reached the bridge’s far side, still seemingly without a care in the world, they asked to see Count Auersperg and wondered if he had already gone to attend the peace signing ceremony. As a messenger was sent to fetch Count Auersperg, Lannes and Murat chatted with the guards to divert their attention from the French soldiers casually crossing the bridge.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Jean Lannes. Bridgeman Art Library

13. A Brilliant Move, Helped by an Idiot Opponent

An Austrian sergeant at the Tabor Bridge correctly suspected that French generals Murat and Lannes were trying to pull a fast one, so he lit the fuse to the rigged explosives in order to destroy the structure. However, Lannes extinguished it, berated the sergeant for trying to destroy public property, then sat on a cannon as he smoked a pipe. When Count Auersperg arrived, he bought the Frenchmen’s story. When the suspicious Austrian sergeant protested, Murat, just as daring as Lannes, berated Auersperg for his soldiers’ indiscipline, and for allowing an underling to mouth off and jeopardize the armistice.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Jean Lannes stopping an Austrian sergeant from blowing up the Tabor Bridge. Maquetland

The idiot Count was browbeaten into arresting the sergeant before he turned control of the bridge over to the French. They used it to cross the Danube, and less than a month later crushed the combined Austro-Russian armies at Austerlitz, the masterpiece battle of Napoleon’s career. A court-martial convicted the hapless Auersperg of incompetence and negligence, stripped him of his rank and honors, and sentenced him to be shot. Luckily for him, the sentence was commuted, and he was eventually pardoned.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Panzer VIII Maus. War Thunder

12. The Idiot Designers of History’s Heaviest Tank

The Panzer VIII Maus, history’s heaviest tank, measured about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighed nearly 200 tons. Its secondary armament was a 75 mm coaxial gun instead of a machine gun, while its main gun was a 128 mm monster that could destroy enemy tanks at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. That was not enough for Hitler, who thought that the 128 mm looked like a toy gun on the Maus, and insisted that it be increased to 150 mm. The huge size and heavy weight came at a correspondingly heavy price that made the tank nearly useless.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Scale comparison of a Panzer VIII Maus vs a Panzer III and a Panzer I. Pintrest

As it turned out, the Maus was one of those idiot ideas that look good on paper, but turn out to be impractical in real life. It was too heavy for most bridges, so to cross rivers it had to wade through fords where available or drive over the river’s bottom with a snorkel for ventilation. To merely get the Maus to move was a problem. It was difficult to come up with an engine and drive train powerful enough to propel 200 tons of metal on the ground at any appreciable speed, yet small enough to fit inside the tank. In the end, the maximum speed was a mere 8 miles per hour on hard surfaces.

Also Read: 12 WWII Tanks.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
A Panzer VIII Maus. Tank Encyclopedia

11. A Useless Giant

The Panzer VIII Maus was intended to spearhead German attacks, smash through any opposition, and destroy all enemy armor it came across, impervious to damage from any tanks in its path. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, the Maus was largely immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, by which time the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front but just about complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield.

The Maus lacked sufficient armor protection up top from armor-piercing bombs and rockets delivered from above. Ultimately, it was an idiot idea symptomatic of Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and superweapons. The Fuhrer was indifferent to or was unable to understand, the concept of relative cost-effectiveness. He found it difficult to grasp that other “normal” weapons might accomplish the same as his superweapons at a fraction of the cost, and thus free up scarce resources for other uses that could better serve the German war effort.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
William the Aetheling. Wikimedia

10. A Pampered Prince

Prince William the Aetheling (1103 – 1120) was the heir and only legitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was also the Duke of Normandy in his own right. William was spoiled rotten, and per a contemporary chronicler, he was pampered so much that it was clear he was “destined to be food for the fire“. That indulgence had fatal consequences, as the young prince got himself killed in a silly accident. It occurred in November 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, when a fleet was assembled to transport the royal party across the English Channel back to England.

Seventeen-year-old Prince William made plans to cross in the White Ship, the English navy’s proudest and fastest ship. He and his companions turned the affair into a wild party and delayed the crossing while they got rip-roaring drunk on shore with the ship’s crew. Then, in a state of high intoxication, the prince and his entourage, which numbered about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to make a nighttime crossing. King Henry had sailed hours earlier, and without anyone to say him nay, the spoiled prince had an idiot idea that led to a great tragedy.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The sinking of the White Ship. Wikimedia

9. A Drunken Idiot Idea

The inebriated Prince William and his friends challenged the White Ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it and catch King Henry’s ship, which had sailed hours earlier before it reached England. Captain and crew, confident of their ship’s speed, accepted the challenge. Furiously rowing, fueled by copious amounts of wine while they were cheered and urged on by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally drunk crew set a good pace. However, in their plastered state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout and rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock.

The White Ship was holed and quickly sank. Hundreds drowned, including the prince. William was his father’s only legitimate male issue, and his death caused a succession crisis. King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. His barons reluctantly agreed, but when Henry died in 1135, most of them backed the deceased king’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative. The result was a civil war that tore England apart for decades.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Life in the Kafes transformed Sultan Ibrahim into a gibbering idiot. Wikimedia

8. An Idiot or a Nutjob?

Sultan Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648) ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1640 to 1648. Also known as Ibrahim the Mad, he might have been not so much an idiot, as a raving lunatic. His upbringing amply explained what drove him around the bend. When his older brother Murad IV became Sultan, he had the then-eight-year-old Ibrahim confined to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Harem. There, possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest, under surveillance by palace guards and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots. It was actually an improvement: before, Ottoman Sultans simply killed all their brothers as soon as they ascended the throne.

That expedient, known as Ottoman Fratricide, reduced civil wars and internal strife. However, many were troubled by the murder of innocent royal siblings at the start of each reign. Those misgivings reached a peak in 1595 when Sultan Mehmed III inaugurated his reign with the strangulation to death of his nineteen brothers, some of them mere infants. It was said that “the Empire wept” as a procession of child-sized coffins exited the palace the next day, and a reaction set in against such extreme measures. Thus, the Kafes. It was a harsh existence that drove some imprisoned princes to madness. However, it beat death.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Sultan Ibrahim’s mother, Kosem, breastfeeding either him or his elder brother Murad. Christie’s

7. Years of Terror and Psychological Torture Transformed This Sultan Into a Gibbering Idiot

While in the Kafes, or Cage, Ibrahim’s sibling, the Sultan Murad, executed his other brothers. Finally, Ibrahim was the only one left, in constant fear that the executioners might come for him at any moment. He remained in confinement until he was suddenly dragged out of the Kafes to ascend the throne after his brother’s death in 1640. He refused at first and rushed back into the Cage to barricade himself inside. He suspected it was a cruel trick to entrap him into saying or doing something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous.

Only after his brother’s dead body was brought to the door for him to examine, and the intercession of his mother the Sultana Kosem, “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, was Ibrahim convinced to accept the throne. By then, however, the years of isolation and the constant terror of execution at any moment had unhinged Ibrahim and left him an idiot. Already mentally unstable, his condition was worsened by depression over the death of his brother the Sultan, whom he apparently loved in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Ibrahim the Mad. Heidelberg University

6. A Kinky Crazy Sultan

Concerns quickly grew about Sultan Ibrahim’s fitness to rule. For one thing, the new Ottoman ruler fed the fish in the palace pool with coins instead of food. As it became clear that Ibrahim was, his mother assumed the rule in his stead. She encouraged him to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his nearly 300 concubines. She wanted to both keep her idiot son out of her hair and out of trouble and to have him father male heirs since, by then, he was the last surviving male of the Ottoman dynasty. For years, Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish and fathered three future Sultans and a number of daughters. As a contemporary put it:

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Fur was the Mad Sultan’s thing. Imgur

In the palace gardens he frequently assembled all the virgins, made them strip themselves naked, and neighing like a stallion ran amongst them and as it were ravished one or the other“. Then he woke up one morning, and in a fit of madness ordered his entire Harem tied in weighted sacks and drowned in the sea. He had a fetish for larger women, and one time he got turned on by a cow’s… nether regions. So he ordered copies made of gold and sent them around the empire, with inquiries to find a woman similarly endowed. A 350-pound woman with matching parts was found in Armenia. She was taken to his Harem, and became one of his favorite concubines. Ibrahim also had a fetish for fur, with which he decorated his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture, stuffed his pillows, and were intimate atop.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
The execution of an Ottoman royal by strangulation. Quora

5. End of the Mad Sultan’s Reign

When Sultan Ibrahim the Mad saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, he asked for her hand in marriage. Aware that the Ottoman ruler was depraved, the Grand Mufti urged his daughter to decline. When she did, Ibrahim ordered her kidnapped and carried to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before he sent her back to her father. Eventually, he exiled his mother and assumed personal control of the government, with disastrous results. He executed his most capable ministers, then spent profligately until he emptied the treasury. Simultaneously, he got himself into a series of wars and managed them poorly.

By 1647, between heavy taxes to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and for the bungled wars, and with a Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles that brought the Ottoman capital to the brink of starvation, discontent over the idiot sultan’s rule boiled over. In 1648 the population revolted, urged on by religious scholars, and were joined by the army. An angry mob seized Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier and tore him to pieces, and the Sultan was deposed in favor of his six-year-old son. A fatwa was then issued for Ibrahim’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation on August 18th, 1648.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Gary Hoty. Factionary

4. A Bright Lawyer’s Idiot Side

Canadian attorney Garry Hoy (1955 – 1993) was a respected senior partner at a Toronto law firm. Before he went to law school, Hoy had been an engineering major, and the robustness of modern building techniques was a subject of particular interest to him. He was peculiarly proud of the tensile strength of the windows at his office in the Toronto Dominion Center, a downtown high rise, and was in the habit of demonstrating their sturdiness by body checking them.

As things turned out, and as he discovered on July 9, 1993, it was an ill-advised habit, worthy of an idiot. That evening, Hoy was at a welcome party for law student interns, in a conference room on high rise’s 24th floor. In a bid to impress the interns with the office windows’ strength, Hoy sought to demonstrate that they were unbreakable by throwing himself at the glass panes. He had done so many a time before and always bounced off harmlessly. Not this time.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Gary Hoy’s idiot habit of body checking a high rise’s windows got him killed. Lost Media

3. An Idiot Death Made This Obscure Lawyer World Famous

As a Toronto police detective described what happened when Gary Hoy tried to demonstrate the sturdiness of his building’s windows on July 9, 1993: “At this Friday night party, Mr. Hoy did it again and bounced off the glass the first time. However, he did it a second time, and this time crashed right through the middle of the glass“. The idiot lawyer fell to his death 24 floors below. His unfortunate demise could have been averted had he left window tensile strength testing to the experts.

As a structural engineer told the Toronto Star in the aftermath: “I don’t know of any building code in the world that would allow a 160-pound man to run up against a glass window and withstand it“. Hoy’s auto-defenestration made the obscure lawyer a greater celebrity in death than he had ever been in life. His demise became the basis for sundry urban legends that were actually based on a true factual foundation. His death was featured in episodes of the TV shows Mythbusters and 1000 Ways to Die, garnered him entries in Snopes and Wikipedia, and won him a 1996 Darwin Award.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Charles the Bad ordering the execution of rebellious peasants. Wikimedia

2. When You’re So Awful That You Become Known as “The Bad”

King Charles II of Navarre (1332 – 1387), infamously known as Charles the Bad, was a powerful French magnate with extensive holdings throughout France. From 1349, he was also the king of Navarre, a small kingdom on the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. He became known as “the Bad” because of his propensity for intrigues, bad faith dealings, betrayals, dishonesty, and double-crosses as he attempted to expand his kingdom at his neighbors’ expense. During the Hundred Years War, he plotted with the English to betray France, and was arrested and imprisoned by the French King John II when his treachery came to light.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
French King John the Good pardoning Charles the Bad. Wikimedia

Charles escaped from prison and 1357, and began a series of intrigues with a variety of French parties, betraying nearly all, one after the other. After John II’s death, his successor forced Charles to renounce most of his holdings in France. In 1378, Charles the Bad was forced to cede nearly all of his remaining French holding when evidence of new treachery was discovered. He had not only planned to again betray France to the English but plotted to go one better this time and poison the French king while he was at it.

Idiotic Moves That Ended in Terrible Disasters
Medieval illustration of the death of Charles the Bad. Morphios

1. Karma Caught Up With Charles the Bad in the Form of an Idiot Servant’s Mistake

Charles The Bad’s poor reputation was no better in Spain, where he allied with Peter the Cruel of Castile against Peter IV of Aragon in 1362. He then turned around and betrayed Castile the following year, and switched his support to Peter IV against Peter the Cruel. In 1378, Castilian armies invaded Navarre and Charles was forced to flee. Out of allies, having betrayed them all, Charles was forced to accept a humiliating treaty that defanged his kingdom and reduced him and his realm to Castilian clients. Karma finally caught up with him in 1387. That year, an illness that impeded the use of his limbs led a physician to prescribe that he be swaddled from head to foot in linen cloth steeped in brandy or other spirits of wine.

A maid, tasked with securing the swaddling cloth snugly around the king’s body by sewing it in place with yarn, realized when she was done that she had no scissors with which to snip the excess yarn. So she resorted to an otherwise common alternate method for thread cutting, which turned out to be an idiot idea in the circumstances: she reached for a candle to use its flame to burn off a section of yarn. The alcohol-infused cloth caught on fire, and Charles the Bad, tightly swaddled in the burning linen, was unable to escape. He suffered horrific burns all over his body and lingered for two weeks in extreme agony before he finally succumbed.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Balfour, Patrick, Lord Kinross – Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (1977)

British Museum – Furst Karl Joseph Franz von Auesperg

Ceilan, Cynthia – Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed (2007)

Cracked – 5 Huge Disasters Caused by Idiots

Daily Sabbah, August 7th, 2015 – The History of Fratricide in the Ottoman Empire

Encyclopedia Britannica – Charles II, King of Navarre

Encyclopedia Iranica – Carrhae

Geni – Wreck of the White Ship

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volume II (1994)

History Collection – 20 Naval Disasters From History That Make Us Scared to Sail

International Atomic Energy Agency – The Radiological Accident in Goiana

Lazenby, John Francis – Hannibal’s War: A Military History of the Second Punic War (1978)

Livy – Ab Urbe Condita, Book XXII

Plutarch – Parallel Lives: Life of Crassus

Singapore Infopedia – Hotel New World Collapse

Snopes – Did a Man Die Demonstrating a Window’s Strength?

Tank Encyclopedia – Panzer VIII Maus

Wikipedia – Ibrahim of the Ottoman Empire

Whiting, Marvin C. – Imperial Chinese Military History (2002)