Dirty Little Secrets
Top Ten Bad Decisions of the Last Century
by James Dunnigan
War brings out the worst in people, especially when it comes to making really bad decisions that have horrendous consequences. Below are the ten worst wartime decisions of the 20th century.
Germany gives Austria-Hungary free hand in 1914.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was falling apart in 1914. The assassination of the Austrian crown prince in 1914 by a Serb nationalist gave Austrian hard-liners an opportunity to crack down on Slav dissidents. But this meant threatening war in the Balkans. That could bring in the Russians. Cooler heads suggested that Germany be consulted.
The Germans told the Austrians to do what they thought best, and that Germany would back them up. This was a popular decision in Germany, where there was sympathy for the Austrians (who, while Germanic, were a minority in their own empire). The Austrian bluff didn't work, the Serbs fought, and the Russians came to the aid of the Serbs. The French honored their treaty with Russia and went to war as well.
What began as an assassination turned into World War I. That, in turn, led to World War II. All because Germany would not say "no" to Austria's desire to start a war over an assassination.
Germany declares unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917.
Once in the war, Germany slowly, but irresistibly, began to win. One minor problem was its submarine war against British shipping from North America. The United States was neutral in the war, and American popular opinion was very much against getting involved. Germany, aware of American public opinion, tried to avoid torpedoing ships carrying Americans. This was difficult, so in 1917 Germany decided to make things a little easier for it's submariners by allowing them to sink anything they came across. This led to German subs sinking ships with a lot of Americans on board. That was enough to get America into the war, and prevented Germany from winning World War I.
The victorious allies impose harsh terms on Germany after World War I.
This created the economic and political atmosphere that enabled the Nazis to come to power. It was the same kind of harsh treatment of the French by the Germans after the 1870 war that helped cause World War I. This pattern finally was noted after World War II and a more practical approach adopted.
German politicians allowed petty feuds and a desire for political revenge to propel Adolf Hitler to come into power in 1933. None of the mighty politicians, generals and business leaders thought a petty operator like Hitler could hold onto power even after he got it. They were wrong.
Stalin signs a non-aggression treaty with Germany in August 1939.
Stalin thought this would keep Germany at bay until Russia could launch its own mighty offensive in 1943. Germany attacked first, in June of 1941. The Russians weren't ready and took a major beating (30-million dead). Russia almost lost.
Germany had Russia and Britain on the ropes when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
This brought America into the war, but only against Japan. German armies were stalled in front of Moscow and Hitler thought Japan needed a little nudge to attack Russia. This would tie down troops that would otherwise be sent against the Germans. But Japan had fought border battles with the Russians in 1939 and came off very poorly. When Hitler declared war against America on December 11, 1941, Japan did nothing, and it took a while for Hitler to realize what happened to Germany when American entered World War I.
Right after World War II ended in the summer of 1945, Chinese nationalist and communist armies went after each other.
Early on, the nationalists took a big gamble, sending their best troops into Manchuria in late 1945 to try to knock out the communists. Ignoring the fact that Russia was supplying the Chinese communists with advisers and massive amounts of weapons, the nationalists lost. Had the nationalists been more prudent, they would not have lost South China, and the war, by 1948. Had the civil war gone on longer, American aid could have delayed, or prevented, the communist takeover of the entire country.
President Johnson sends U.S. combat units to Vietnam in 1965.
Despite the experience of the French and President Eisenhower's refusal to get involved, Johnson ignored dire reports from the CIA and instead reacted to possible charges of being "soft on communism." As a result, 58,000 Americans died, (as well as millions of Asians), the economy was damaged for more than a decade and the U. S. lost a potential ally in southeast Asia (Vietnam, which never got along with the Chinese).
Arab states go to war with Israel in 1967.
Syria lost the Golan Heights, Egypt lost use of the Suez Canal and Jordan lost Jerusalem and the West Bank. But Israel gained a festering sore that won't go away and the Arabs developed the use of oil as a weapon.
The Soviet Union, led by Mikhail Gorbachev, adopts perestroika (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness) policy in 1985.
Gorbachev's predecessors had agreed (in 1982) that the centrally planned Soviet economy was a failure. But what to do? Ignoring the Chinese success at freeing up the economy while retaining political control, Gorbachev messed with the political system first. Big mistake. Soviet Union fell apart, as did the already fragile Soviet economy. Russia became a dangerous basket case. But at least the Cold War was over.
Coming full circle, NATO decides to send troops into the Balkans to enforce
But they do not want to use force, and get played by one side or another
while the locals replenish their arms and hatreds for another round of fighting.
It ends badly, although no one knows yet just how badly.