A Brief History
On December 6, 1969, the Rolling Stones used the motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels, as security for a concert. Doing so was a dumb decision, as chronicled in our previous article on December 6th What Were We Thinking? Dumb Decisions… and we have highlighted other bad choices in our articles of September 8th 10 Infamous Pardons, and April 23rd 10 Business Blunders. Today we list 10 more of those choices people have made that have proven (with 20/20 hindsight!) to be dumb decisions. What stupid, ill-considered, ridiculous, poor judgement, or just plain dumb decisions would you include on this list? (Note: No significance to the order listed.)
1. Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor/Germany Declares War on US, 1941.
Although Japan knew Britain and the Netherlands were pretty well tied up with the war in Europe, the US was untouched by war and was already geared up for wartime production when the Japanese attacked the US military facilities at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. A grave miscalculation by Japan, the US outproduced Japan in ships and planes to the point that Japan was left a burned out hulk of a country, and twice atom bombs were dropped on hapless Japanese civilians. As this entry is a “2-fer” we include the decision made by German dictator Adolf Hitler to declare war on the US in the wake of the Japanese sneak attack, another gross miscalculation that contributed greatly to the defeat of Germany in World War II.
2. John McCain picks Sarah Palin as running mate, 2008.
John McCain, a longtime senator from Arizona and a certified war hero that is descended from a line of naval heroes gained the Republican nomination for President in 2008. Not seen as an ideologue, McCain appealed to a lot of the middle ground (swing) voters and may have had a chance to get elected President of the United States, but he made one terrible decision! McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his Vice-Presidential running mate. Palin, popular at the time in her home state, brought the possibility of being our first female Vice-President to the election, but her repeated gaffes made her appear to be a disingenuous air-head. Questions about her political integrity arose concerning her time as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and her improper use of influence as Governor into family affairs. She came across to voters and comedians as an ill-prepared dunce, possibly costing McCain any chance of being elected President. (Dishonorable mention to Al Gore choosing Joe Lieberman as his running mate in the 2000 Presidential election.)
3. Hillary Clinton decides to use private email server, 2009.
After being appointed Secretary of State by President Obama, Secretary Clinton decided to forego the government provided email system for her work related communications and instead had a private server installed to handle her email communications, including sensitive government correspondences. An FBI investigation ruled that the decision to use the private server was not technically illegal, but was of incredibly poor judgement, bordering on illegal. As Ms. Clinton did not release ALL emails made on that private server, the public was left with doubts about whether or not she had given over to FBI investigators 100% of government related emails for scrutiny. Public mistrust of what appeared to be a shady practice (even though Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice had also used private email for government correspondence) was exploited by the Donald Trump Presidential campaign in 2016, and almost assuredly cost Ms. Clinton the Presidential election.
4. Donald Trump Tweet, 2017.
Right away, the reader asks, “Which one???” since there have been SO MANY ill considered tweets by President Trump this year. We refer specifically to the tweet of December 2, 2017, in which Trump tries to justify the firing of former National Security Advisor (and now convicted felon) Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn by saying he fired Flynn because Flynn lied to the Vice President and also lied to the FBI. By saying he used Flynn lying to the FBI as a reason for firing Flynn, Trump implies that he knew of Flynn’s lie to the FBI prior to pressuring FBI Director Jim Comey to stop the investigation into Flynn, a clear obstruction of justice. This tweet, out of all the really bad decisions made by President Trump when using Twitter, may prove to be the key to driving Trump from office. Compounding the blunder, Trump’s legal team attempted to roll back the damage from the tweet by claiming the tweet had been drafted by Trump’s personal attorney. When it was pointed out that this would implicate the attorney (not to mention making the attorney look totally incompetent), the Trump White House attempted to roll back that claim as well. The whole episode is turning into a disaster for the President. “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide! I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” For that matter, the decision to hire Michael Flynn in the first place can be considered a Dumb Decision!
5. US Army decisions about the M-16 rifle, 1964.
When the US military decided to go with the then futuristic M-16 rifle chambered in 5.56 X 45 mm NATO, they made a few terrible decisions accompanying the decision to adopt the rifle. First, despite a recommendation that they insist the bore and chamber be chrome plated, the Secretary of Defense and Ordnance chose not to have chromed bores and chambers, resulting in terrific fouling problems that cost the lives of US soldiers and Marines in Vietnam. The decision to use a ball type gun powder instead of the stick type powder originally specified also resulted in increased fouling of the rifles. On top of these 2 problems, the users in the field were not issued cleaning kits at first on the mistaken impression cleaning was barely necessary with the new high tech weapon! After these problems were mostly corrected with the advent of the M-16A1, the military later switched to an M-16A2 improved rifle, with quicker twist rifling and heavier duty plastic parts, as well as improved sights. This is all good, except the choice of the SS109 (M855) type of ammunition, 62 grains vs. 55 grains for the original (M193) bullet. The new bullet is longer and heavier than the old bullet, and the new bullet it built to not break up on impact with a human body, a by product of its improved penetration against barriers. Thus, the new bullet fired from the M-16A2 or especially from the M-4 carbine version that has become the main issue rifle is better stabilized and of stronger construction, so that the bullet passes right through a human body without the devastating effect of the original bullet fired from a standard 20 inch barreled M-16A1. Plus, the heavier bullet is slower, so that when fired from the shorter barreled M-4 carbine, it is only going 2840 feet per second, compared to 3250 feet per second in the original rifle/ammunition combination, the difference of 400 fps resulting in much less hydrostatic shock to flesh. Thus, although more accurate at longer ranges and better at penetrating barriers, the new rifle and bullet combination is less lethal than the original. Real life experience with the M-4 and the M855 round have been disappointing, starting in Somalia and continuing through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
6. German building massive weapons during World War II.
The grandiose visions of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen resulted in German production of the Bismarck class battleships, the Tiger I and Tiger II tanks, and gigantic rail guns, all of which could have been better replaced by merely making more of the more successful weapons systems available to the German military. The enormous amount of man hours and thousands of tons of steel that went into the production of the mighty battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz would have been far more intelligently spent on making more submarines, the backbone of the German naval effort. The massive Tiger tanks and their assault gun derivatives not only took twice the material and time to build than other German tanks, their massive bulk made crossing bridges difficult and recovery of the tanks on the battlefield required 2 or 3 tank recovery vehicles instead of 1 recovery vehicle per tank. Plus, the extra fuel expended became a factor later in the war as well. Sophisticated and complicated engineering meant not only slower and more expensive production of the Tiger tanks, but also a lack of reliability in the field. Hitler’s fascination with giant artillery pieces likewise did not serve the German military well, with guns that needed 2 parallel railroad lines to transport and maneuver the guns! With a crew of 250 men to operate the Heavy Gustav 31.5 inch caliber railway gun, and another 2500 men needed to lay the needed rail tracks (as many as 4000 men assigned to each gun), a Major General commanded each of the 2 guns built and deployed. A train consisting of 25 cars served each gun, and each gun weighed a massive 1500 tons apiece! (As much as 30 Tiger tanks each.) The projectiles weighed up to 15,000 pounds each. Capable of launching a shell up to 43,000 yards, the rate of fire for these big guns was only about 14 per day. Again, the men and material that went into producing and manning these limited use weapons would have been far better used in more conventional ways. In spite of the experience with these weapons actually hurting the German war effort, Hitler and friends had plans for even bigger tanks and guns!
7. Trusting Bernie Madoff, 1991-2008.
Starting in 1991 (possibly as early as the 1970’s), Madoff constructed a “Ponzi” scheme of fraud, creating a pyramid of investors to create the illusion of a successful investment opportunity. With around $65 billion (actual losses about $18 billion) fleeced from over 4000 investors, Madoff perpetrated the biggest individual fraud in history. For some reason, people trusted Bernie Madoff, many perhaps because like them, Madoff is Jewish. Baseball great Sandy Koufax and Jewish activist Elie Wiesel number among his victims, as does clothing magnate Carl Shapiro ($400 million investment!) and investor Ira Rennert ($200 million thrown away). Many large international banks and investment firms were taken in by Madoff, for sums up to $7.5 billion apiece! Yeshiva University, a private but non-profit Jewish research university in New York was foolish enough to invest $140 million in Madoff’s rip-off. When will people learn the truth behind the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it is!” In 2009 Madoff’s treachery came home to roost when the crook was zapped with a jail sentence of 150 years behind bars!
8. Moving MGM’s Bounty during Hurricane Sandy, 2012.
For the 1962 blockbuster film, Mutiny on the Bounty, MGM had a replica ship built, called the Bounty (without the HMS because only Royal Navy ships get that honor), a real ship, though somewhat larger than the original HMS Bounty. Stretching 180 feet long along the main deck and with a beam of 31.6 feet (compared to 90 feet 10 inches and 24 feet 4 inches for HMS Bounty) the MGM version of the ship was about double the bulk of the original vessel. Kept in Florida as a tourist attraction after the filming was complete, the Bounty was saved from its original planned fate of being burned after the film by protests from actor Marlon Brando. The ship was also used in making other films featuring tall ship sailing vessels. In 1993 Bounty began splitting the year between display in Massachusetts and display in Florida. On October 25, 2012, in an effort to avoid the effects of Hurricane Sandy that was threatening the Northeast coast of the United States, Bounty was sent from port in Connecticut on a voyage to St. Petersburg, Florida. Unfortunately, the ship sailed right into the hurricane and was lost in the heavy weather off the coast of North Carolina. Of the 14 people aboard the ship, 12 were rescued. A crew member was found dead, and the body of the captain was not recovered. A Coast Guard investigation concluded the decision made by the captain to sail right into the hurricane had been “reckless.” (But apparently not “wreckless!”) The deceased crew member, Claudene Christian, was reputed to be a descendant of the infamous Fletcher Christian of the original Bounty’s mutineers.
9. Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.
Widely regarded as one of the worst US Supreme Court decisions of all time, Plessy made the doctrine of “separate, but equal” apply to racial segregation laws across the United States. States were thus officially allowed to enact and enforce laws segregating the races (just try defining all the “races” of the human race, including mixed race people!) as long as “equal” facilities, such as schools, were made available to all people. In practice, segregation virtually NEVER provided equal or even near equal facilities to African American schools and other institutions. This Supreme Court decision actually was a step back from the laws enacted during Reconstruction which attempted to create some sort of fair play for former slaves, and reinforced the “Black Code” and “Jim Crow” laws limiting the rights of African Americans. This horrendous decision was (kind of) overturned by the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954, and further diminished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although actual desegregation was an uneven process over many years. The Plessy decision was also used to justify the segregation of Chinese from Whites.
10. Massive US involvement in Vietnam, 1964.
After the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that may or may have even happened, the United States became increasingly committed to military involvement in Vietnam between the Communist North and the corrupt and disjointed Capitalist/Democratic (sort of) South. By 1974 when the US finally pulled out, billions of dollars and over 58,000 US lives had been lost (in combat) only for the North to easily take over the South anyway. A couple million Vietnamese had died, and if the US stayed another 10 years and another couple million Vietnamese died the result would still have been a forced reunification of the country by the Communist North Vietnamese. The American government (President Johnson, et al) did not seem to understand the depths of the corruption of the South Vietnam government and the lack of commitment to that government by the people of South Vietnam. The Americans also misjudged the commitment of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong to driving out the Americans and other foreigners from their country. Even after these truths became apparent, the American administrations continued to lie to the American people and persist in failed policies! Sadly, there seems to have been no lesson learned from this horrible experience, as the Soviets made the same mistake in Afghanistan during the 1980’s and the US continues to invest in hopeless cases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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For more information, please see…
Joel Selvin, Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day (HarperCollins, 2016).