It's weird to think back and realize that throughout history no one knew what they were doing. No one was more aware of the consequences of their actions in the long term than you or I are. A small action made thousands of years ago can still have a big impact on what happens today. 

People on Reddit were asked: "What was the single biggest mistake in all of history?" These are some of the best answers.

Whoever rejected Hitler's art school application.


The Chernobyl meltdown. Such a huge [screw] up. Such irreversible ramifications.


Well, the Byzantine Empire came to an end at the Battle of Constantinople. They lost because somebody accidentally left a small gate into the city open.


From a religious standpoint, Eve eating the damn forbidden fruit. We could all be roaming around carefree and naked without any pain in childbirth but noooo now we have to have jobs and do other stupid [stuff] because were "intellectuals".


Hitler's choice to postpone the invasion of Russia by 6 weeks to go help the Italians take over Greece was a huge tactical mistake and ruined his chances to knock the USSR out of the war before the Russian winter set in.


In 1995 there was a high-altitude scientific rocket experiment launched from Norway. The Norwegians had notified the Russians of the launch but the information was never passed along to the proper people within the Russian military/government. The Russian early-warning radars detected the launch and identified it as a potential attack. The whole military was immediately put on high alert. President Boris Yeltsin was given the "nuclear suitcase" and according to Russian protocol had 10 minutes to decide whether to fire their nuclear missiles (that was the estimated time it would take for a US missile to land in Russia). 

As the Russians monitored the rocket they noticed that it reached a maximum altitude of 1,453 km, exactly mimicking the expected altitude of a Trident missile. The Russians knew the US kept many Trident armed submarines in the Norwegian sea, so these facts seemed to confirm the attack. To make matters worse the rocket was a multistage rocket and separated from its booster rockets in flight. To the Russian radar system the rocket separation into multiple parts looked exactly like a MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) payload. 

Under these circumstances, according to Russian policy, President Yeltsin is supposed to launch a retaliation attack. Yeltsin activated the "nuclear keys" for the first time ever. This caused all Russian nuclear submarines to go into a combat readiness state and prepare for nuclear retaliation. With his thumb over the launch button, and knowing full well the standing policy was for him to launch, he made a mistake, at least according to policy, and decided not to launch.


Archduke Franz Ferdinand driver taking a wrong turn ending in front of his assassins. Result? World War I and underestimating the Sacred Band of Thebes.


This doesn't exactly count for all of history, but I think America's biggest mistake was not listening to George Washington when he warned us not to form political parties.


Assuming the German forces would take Moscow before the onset of winter in 1941.


Whoever was the first to decide that owning people (slaves) was an "alright" thing to do.


Ending the space program, specifically the Apollo program.

The reason we have made advances in computer technology in the past 50 or so years was because of the research NASA scientists did to build a space ship to travel across space and land a human being on the moon. It's because of NASA that we have things like satellites, personal computers and smart phones.

Had we have stayed on the moon, we would be way WAYYYYYY ahead of where we are at now technologically. We definitely would have figured out fusion by experimenting with the large amounts of helium-3 up there. Space travel would have advanced faster, as the trial and error processes involved with researching ships would have enabled more efficient space ships, and we may have even traveled to mars by now. That is just the tip of the iceberg of what the research we could have done to get us to STAY on the moon could have given us.

Perhaps, some of the atrocities committed between the ending of the Apollo program and now could have been avoided. They would at least be different. The cold war could have turned out differently, had the planned joint Russian and American space travel efforts in the 1960s been approved. Hell, the war in the middle east could have played out differently (However, I must admit that that is a stretch).


On November 9, 1979, shortly before 9 a.m., the computers at North American Aerospace Defense Command's Cheyenne Mountain site, the Pentagon's National Military Command Center, and the Alternate National Military Command Center in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, all showed what the United States feared most— a massive Soviet nuclear strike aimed at destroying the U.S. command system

On the morning of this day U.S. Senator Charles Percy was being given a guided tour of the NORAD facility at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. While he was there 1000 inbound Soviet ICBMs were detected: " NORAD...all hell broke loose; they were absolutely convinced there were missiles coming at us."

A threat assessment conference, involving senior officers at all three command posts, was convened immediately. Launch control centers for Minuteman missiles, buried deep below the prairie grass in the American West, received preliminary warning that the United States was under a massive nuclear attack. 

The alert did not stop with the U.S. ICBM force. The entire continental air defense interceptor force was put on alert, and at least 10 fighters took off. Furthermore, the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, the president's "doomsday plane," was also launched, but without the president on board.

It was later determined that a realistic training tape had been inadvertently inserted into the computer running the nation's early-warning programs.

Now thats a mistake.


Napoleon ignoring the physical properties of tin and using it in the buttons for their military outfits - the buttons would become fragile and break hence their winter coats were always open, in the brutal Russian winter this was an amateur mistake. Leaving the men with one hand to fight with as the other would have to hold the coat together (seriously its like bone-shattering cold in that country) weakened the army and stopped Napoleon from fully conquering Europe. Just a theory but its cool to think how knowledge of a single element can change the course of history.


Maybe not the biggest, but the Spanish Armada and Phillip II's reign in general. He was handed over half of Europe by his father and had the largest overseas empire in the world. Spain was wealthier and nearly more powerful than all of Europe combined.

If Phillip played his cards correctly, Spain could have ended up ruling all of Europe.


In the 14th century the Ming Empire of China has the potential with their navigator Zheng He who was able to establish a trade presence in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. If China had become a maritime power it is inconceivable that Western Europe would have been able to be as dominant over the rest of the world as it became. Imagine the Chinese discovering America a century before Columbus.

Instead the Mings abandoned the project and turned towards massive isolationism.

But right now it looks like China will come back and dominate the world anyway, so I guess it was only a half millennium delay.


Russia selling Alaska for 7.2 millions dollars. 2 cents an acre!


"Hey this wooden-horse gift seems legit..."


I think the biggest mistake is letting Stalin's horror fall to the back burner compared to Hitler's.


NASA taped over the moon landing. There are no known original media recordings of the event, because they used a proprietary format and needed to reuse tapes down through the years. No matter how badly you [mess] up something at work, you can always feel good that at least you didn't tape over the moon landing.


The Dutch discovering Australia about 100 years before it was settled by the British but never acting on it. They could now have a landmass 100s of times larger than their own.


The destruction of Archimedes book/journal.

Archimedes was on the verge of discovering calculus almost 2000 years before Newton did and had numerous machines and concepts that were well before his time. He wrote this book around 200 B.C., and around 700 years later, the text was transferred onto a new scroll. Unfortunately, however, during that dark ages, a monk, who was instructed by the church to write scripture and needed paper to write on, decided to write over Archimedes work. Up until recently, only rumors existed of this "book" Archimedes had written. We did, however, find his book and were able to decipher what he wrote, thus confirming the tales.

Had his work been around and able to be referenced by past mathematicians and scientists, our global society could be hundreds, even thousands, of years ahead technologically because of the doors that calculus opens up.


Treaty of Versailles:

Lead the way for German national extremism and extreme poverty that lead Germans to believe in anything such as the propaganda against the Jews and other groups which would eventually be killed in the Holocaust.

It would also pave the way for the Cold War due to main factors bred in World War 2.


Peru 1532 - Atahualpa Inca agreeing to meet Francisco Pizarro and fewer than 200 Spanish soldiers in Cajamarca square.

Atahualpa had received the invaders from a position of immense strength. Encamped along the plains of Cajamarca with a large force of battle-tested troops fresh from their victories in the civil war against his half-brother Huascar, the Inca felt they had little to fear from Pizarro's tiny army, however exotic its dress and weaponry. In a calculated show of goodwill, Atahualpa had lured the adventurers deep into the heart of his mountain empire where any potential threat could be met with a show of force.

Despite their experience, Pizarro's 160 men had marched into an impasse and were now thoroughly frightened and desperate. All that they could decide during that anxious night was to employ the various tactics and advantages that had proved successful in the Caribbean. They could use surprise, attacking first without provocation, and take advantage of the novelty of their appearance and fighting methods. Their weapons - horses, steel swords and armor - were far superior to anything they had encountered so far in the Indies, although they were not so sure about the Incas. They had in mind the tactic that had succeeded so well in the conquest of Mexico: the kidnapping of the head of state. They could also try to make capital of the internal dissensions within the Inca empire - Hernando Pizarro had already offered the services of Spaniards to help Atahualpa in his inter-tribal fighting.

Possibly their greatest advantage lay in the self-assurance of belonging to a more advanced civilization and the knowledge that their purpose was conquest: to the Indians, they were still an unknown quantity of uncertain origin and unsure intentions.

Atahualpa accepted this invitation but was in no hurry to make the short journey across the plain to Cajamarca. He had just finished a fast and there was drinking to be done to celebrate this and the victory of his forces at Cuzco. The morning went by with no sign of movement from the native encampment. Finally leading a procession of over eighty thousand men, he advanced down the hillside very slowly.

The familiar noble envoy arrived from Atahualpa saying that he intended to come with his men armed. 'The Governor replied: "Tell your lord to come ... however he wishes. In whatever way he comes, I will receive him as a friend and brother."The Spaniards were concealed in their buildings, under orders not to emerge until they heard the artillery signal. A chronicler recalled 'I saw many Spaniards urinate without noticing it out of pure terror.'

When the messenger reached Atahualpa, he made a reverence and told him, by signs, that he should go to where the Governor was.' He assured the Inca 'that no harm or insult would befall him. He could therefore come without fear - not that the Inca showed any sign of fear.' Shortly before sunset Atahualpa left the armed warriors who had accompanied him, on an open meadow about half a mile outside Cajamarca. His immediate party still numbered over seven thousand but were unarmed except for small battle axes intended for show.

Eighty lords carried him on their shoulders, all wearing a very rich blue livery. He was seated on the litter, on a small stool with a rich saddle cushion. When Atahualpa arrived, Pizarro launched the ambush with the prearranged signal and killed many hundreds of Atahualpa's family and followers. Many tried to save the Inca but it was futile. The carnage continued.

The kidnapping set of a chain of events but the immediate aftermath was Atahualpa tried to ransom himself, and Pizzarro tried to use him as a puppet ruler. When that did not materialize, Pizzaro executed Atahualpa in 1533. Over the next thirty years the Spanish struggled against various insurrections, but, with the help of native allies, they finally gained control of the Inca empire in the 1560s.

Many reasons can be offered for the fall of the Incas, but the sudden conquest of a mighty empire by only a handful of Spaniards is still hard to comprehend.


I want to say the War of 1812. The Americans declared war with the British because the British had cut off trade. The thing is, a week before the Americans declared war, the British changed their trade policies and allowed for American trade again. At the time, communication was very slow, so the Americans didn't know that they already had what they were declaring war for.



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