Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried

Khalid Elhassan - November 1, 2019

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Hitler declaring war on the US, December 11th, 1941. Wikimedia

8. Hitler’s Insane Declaration of War Against the US

As seen above, Japan might have made a terrible decision when it chose to go to war with the US, but at least it was a reasoned decision. Perhaps poor reasoning, but there was nonetheless some coherence in the argument linking Japanese interests and the decision to pick a fight with the US. It was the kind of decision that historians could examine, and think: “I see what they were trying to do. They got it wrong, but I see where they were coming from, and where they thought they were going with this“. Such coherence and a rational connection between decision and goals was decidedly absent when Adolph Hitler declared war on the US soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was as if he saw Japan doing something utterly dumb, then did the equivalent of going: “oh yeah? Well here, hold my beer!

In the 1930s, Germany and Italy signed an anticommunist pact directed against the USSR, forming the Berlin-Rome axis – from which WWII’s Axis Powers derived their name. Japan’s militarist rulers, vehemently anticommunist in their own right, eventually signed the treaty, forming the Tokyo-Berlin-Rome axis. The pact’s clauses included a defensive treaty, binding the signatories to aid any member that came under attack from a foreign aggressor. Notably, the treaty did not bind its signatories to aid any member waging an offensive war in which it was the aggressor. That was illustrated in the summer of 1941: after attacking the USSR, the Germans pled with Japan to join in finishing off the Soviets by attacking from the east. The Japanese refused: since Germany was the aggressor, Japan was not treaty-bound to come to its aid. In short, Germany was under no obligation to go to war against the United States.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
WWII GDP comparisons. Quora

7. Hitler Seals Germany’s Fate

Japan’s going to war with America did not obligate Germany to do the same, but when Hitler learned that Japan had devastated America’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, he decided to declare war on the US. Hitler loathed America, which he deemed a degenerate mongrel nation, controlled by Jewish capitalists. The US government was also avowedly anti Axis, and was generously furnishing Germany’s enemies with supplies under the terms of Lend-Lease. Nonetheless, the US was not at war with Germany – and by December of 1941, the war was not looking too good for Germany. Britain, whom Hitler had expected to defeat in 1940, was still fighting. The USSR, which Hitler had expected to defeat in a few weeks, had put up a far fiercer resistance than anticipated, and Germany found herself in a protracted war of attrition against an industrial and manpower giant.

Only days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Soviets had launched a counteroffensive in front of Moscow, that brought the German Army Group Center to the brink of collapse. Given the preceding, Germany had nothing to gain from adding the world’s wealthiest and greatest industrial power to the ranks of its enemies. Yet, despite the opposition of his generals, Hitler, driven by emotion instead of reason, declared war against the US on December 11th, 1941. It was a rash decision that all but guaranteed Germany’s doom. At a stroke, Hitler added to his enemies a country whose GDP was nearly four times that of Germany’s, and whose factories and homeland were thousands of miles beyond the reach of German arms.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Chinese propaganda poster, extolling the Great Leap Forward. Chinese Posters

6. Chinese Dictator’s Brainstorm Almost Wrecks China

In the late 1950s, China was in sore need of rapid and massive industrialization. Other countries had industrialized gradually, by accumulating capital and buying heavy machinery. China had neither the time nor the money – its population was rapidly outstripping the available resources, and it was too poor to accumulate enough capital anytime soon for the massive industrialization necessary. So Mao Zedong and his communist acolytes decided to mobilize China’s vast population. They would use labor-intensive means of industrialization that emphasized manpower, of which China had plenty, instead of machinery and industrial plant, of which China had little. Thus was born the Great Leap Forward in 1958, a revolutionary campaign to rapidly transform China from an agrarian economy into an industrial giant. Unfortunately, Mao’s understanding of economics turned out to be faulty, and his expectations turned out to be wildly unrealistic.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Backyard furnaces during the Great Leap Forward. Missed in History

Mao wanted to increase steel production – a benchmark of industrialization – without waiting for the development of infrastructure such as steel plants, or the training of a skilled workforce. Instead, people would use blast furnaces behind their communes – literal backyard furnaces. People used whatever fuel they could get their hands on to power the furnaces, from coal to wooden furniture to the wood of coffins. When they lacked iron ore, they melted whatever steel objects they could find to produce steel girders. However, making steel is complicated, and the girders produced were of low quality and cracked easily. What came out of the backyard furnaces was actually not even steel, but pig iron, which had to get its carbon removed to become steel. And in some regions, where there was little metalworking tradition or understanding of metallurgy, even the pig iron produced was too useless to get turned into steel.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Chinese peasants toiling on collectivized farms during the Great Leap Forward. Alpha History

5. The Great Leap Forward Sets China Back

As it turned out, Mao’s backyard furnace fiasco was not the worst part of the Great Leap Forward. The Chinese dictator and his followers sought to revolutionize China’s countryside, where most of the population toiled as peasants. So they prohibited private farming, and ordered mandatory agricultural collectivization – combining communities’ private plots into big fields, belonging to the entire community. The theory was that economies of scale would come into play, and the big collectivized fields would prove more efficient and productive than the small plots. However, poor planning led to poor implementation of collectivization, and the big fields ended up yielding less than private plots. Additionally, the Great Leap Forward emphasized ideological purity and fervor, rather than competence.

As a result, collectivization ended up being led by enthusiastic and zealous overseers, instead of capable and competent managers. A series of natural disasters from 1959 to 1961 made things worse. The result was history’s greatest man made disaster. By 1960, it was obvious that the Great Leap Forward had been a bad decision, but by then it was too late. The diversion of labor from farms to ill advised industries such as backyard furnaces, plus the disruptions of collectivization, combined to produce a catastrophe. Between 1959 to 1962, about 20 million Chinese starved to death, and some estimate that the casualties might have been as high as 50 million.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Rasputin. Wikimedia

4. Russia’s Rulers Trust an Illiterate Religious Charlatan

One of history worst decisions was that of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra to believe in Grigori Rasputin, a religious charlatan. After gaining their confidence with his holy man act, Rasputin transformed Russia’s rulers, particularly the airheaded Empress Alexandra, into his puppets. He offered them advice on governance, which the royal couple accepted in the belief that Rasputin was blessed by God, and so would not led them astray. He ended up leading them not only astray, but to outright disaster.

Rasputin kept up a pretense of being a humble and holy man in the royal family’s presence. Beyond their gaze, however, he was a depraved drunk who claimed that his body had holy healing powers, and led a Christian sex cult that engaged in wild orgies. The Emperor and Empress were unwilling to hear any criticism of their pet holy man, however, and turned on those who spoke ill of Rasputin. Towards the end of his life, Rasputin was wielding such influence over the imperial nincompoop couple that ministers, high ranking officials, and generals, were appointed and dismissed based upon his advice.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Empress Alexandra with Rasputin, her children and a governess. Pintrest

3. The Holy Man Wrecks an Empire

Rasputin’s worst advice came during the First World War. When he sought to visit the front to bless the troops, Russia’s army commander, who viewed Rasputin as a charlatan, vowed to hang him if he came anywhere near the front. So Rasputin bad mouthed him to the Emperor, and claimed that he had a religious revelation that Russia’s armies would not succeed until Nicholas II went to the front and took personal command. So in 1915, the Emperor appointed himself commander of the armed forces, and announced that he would assume personal command of the war. It was a disastrous decision. Absolutist imperial rule was made psychologically palatable to the Russian masses with the myth that whatever was going wrong, the Emperor was blameless. Corrupt officials were responsible, and they hid the truth from the Emperor.

That myth became untenable once Nicholas took personal command. From then on, responsibility for defeat, mismanagement, and incompetence in conducting the war would be laid directly at the Emperor’s feet. Since Nicholas knew next to nothing about running a war, there was bound to be plenty of defeat, mismanagement, and incompetence to lay at his feet. It was made worse by another decision, based on Rasputin’s advice, to place Empress Alexandra in charge of running Russia while Nicholas was running the war. On the one hand, there was no doubt of her loyalty to the royal family. On the other, she was incompetent and stupid. And the worst kind of stupid: the kind in which the stupid person is too ignorant to even grasp the extent of said ignorance, and thus gets deluded into believing that he or she is intelligent.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
A contemporary cartoon depicting Rasputin’s hold on Russia’s Emperor and Empress. Pintrest

2. The Religious Charlatan’s Contribution to The Collapse of Imperial Russia

Before long, Empress Alexandra was soliciting the barely literate Rasputin’s advice on matters of state and government. She then heeded the charlatan’s advice, or badgered her husband into carrying out his recommendations. Soon, officials were being hired and fired based on Rasputin’s say so, and those seeking to advance or secure their positions showered him with bribes. Others sent their wives and daughters to seduce Rasputin into putting in a good word for them with the royal couple. Rasputin’s influence during this period ranged from appointing high ranking members of the church hierarchy, to selecting cabinet members and high ranking government officials, many of whom proved incompetent opportunists. On occasion, he intervened in the conduct of the war by writing the Emperor, offering him advice on this or that general or this or that plan, based on religious visions and holy dreams.

Rasputin’s influence was exploited by opponents of the Emperor to challenge his competence, the integrity of the imperial dynasty, and the very concept of absolutist rule. Rasputin helped his enemies and those of his royal patrons with scandalous behavior visible for all to see. In addition to his dissoluteness and licentiousness, Rasputin got in drunken public brawls with church officials, and bragged about his influence over the Emperor and Empress. While drunk, he even boasted of having slept with Empress Alexandra. Notwithstanding a mounting public clamor for his removal, Alexandra continued to fiercely defend Rasputin, insisted that he remain by her side, and compelled her husband to resist all calls for his banishment. That undermined public respect for imperial rule, and prepared the ground for the institution’s overthrow in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Terrible Schemes that Governments and People Have Tried
Qin Shihuangdi. Encyclopedia Britannica

1. “Immortality Drugs” Kill Emperor

Qin Shihuangdi (259 – 210 BC), whose name means “First Emperor”, was the first ruler to unify China’s disparate kingdoms into a single empire. One of history’s most capable rulers, he was also one of history’s cruelest despots. In a great karmic plot twists, Qin Shihuangdi wanted to live forever and pursued a “Life Elixir” to that end, but instead of prolonging his life, the quest for immortality ended up killing him. To live forever, China’s First Emperor sought the advice of philosophers, alchemists, opportunists, sketchy characters, and outright charlatans. One of the charlatans gave him mercury pills, which he claimed were a life-prolonging intermediate step in his research for immortality drugs. Using them every day should tidy Qin Shihuangdi over until the Life Elixir was ready. However, ingesting mercury every day gave the emperor a nasty dose of mercury poisoning, and drove him insane.

He became a recluse, and spent his days listening to songs about “Pure Beings”. During this period, he did many bizarre things, such as order the live burial of hundreds of scholars, and had his son and heir banished. Mercury poisoning finally finished Qin Shihuangdi off at the relatively young age of 49. While touring the provinces, he dropped dead inside his huge imperial wagon – a miniature house on wheels – on September 10th, 210 BC. His corpse was discovered by his chief bodyguard, who informed the emperor’s most trusted adviser, Li Ssu. The duo sat on the information until they returned to the capital, and in the meantime, put on a show to pretend that the emperor was still alive and kicking. They sent food and official reports to the wagon and its ripening corpse, whose stench they concealed by placing wagons of rotting fish nearby.


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

Agriculture Victoria – Red Fox

Bentley, Matthew A. – Spaceplanes: From Airport to Spaceport (2009)

Central Intelligence Agency – What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa

Cracked – 5 Bonkers Supervillain Plans Real Governments Actually Tried

Diamond, Jared – Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Great Leap Forward

Guardian, The, December 1st, 2006 – Lawyers Warned Eden That Suez Invasion Was Illegal

History Dot Com – The Grisly Story of America’s Largest Lynching

Kershaw, Ian – Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (2000)

Live Science, December 27th, 2017 – China’s First Emperor Ordered Official Search For Immortality Elixir

Maniates, Michael, et al The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice (2010)

Massie, Robert K. – Nicholas and Alexandra: An Intimate Account of the Last of the Romanovs and the Fall of Imperial Russia (1966)

Mob Museum – Prohibition Profits Transformed the Mob

Vice, April 26th, 2013 – The Soviet Scientist Who Dreamed of Melting the Arctic With a 55 Mile Dam

New York Times, May 21st, 1993 – Orphans of the 1950s, Telling of Abuse, Sue Quebec

Rabbit Free Australia – The Rabbit Problem

Radzinsky, Edvard – The Rasputin File (2000)

Smithsonian Magazine, September 4th, 2018 – When the US Government Tried to Make it Rain by Exploding Dynamite in the Sky

Tucker, Spencer T., Ed. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, & Military History (2001)

Wikipedia – Juan Pujol Garcia

Yorkshire Post, November 30th, 2016 – How the Suez Crisis Sank the British Empire