April 9, 2024 | Sarah Ng

9 Human Mistakes That Changed The World Forever

The Power Of One Decision

It's wild how one human decision can be the catalyst for greatness or tragedy. Here are the nine mistakes in history that changed the world forever.


Hiroshima And Nagasaki: A Terrible Misunderstanding

In 1945, with the close of WWII, the Allies wanted Japan's unconditional surrender. But one press conference led to one of the most chilling moments in history.

The Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference in 1943U.S. Signal Corps photo., Wikimedia Commons

He Used The Wrong Word

At this press conference, the Japanese prime minister, Suzuki Kantarō, replied to the Allies' demands, using the word "mokusatsu." This can mean "treat with contempt" or "ignore." He also noted that Japan wouldn't give up the fight. This turned out to be a grave mistake.

Portrait of Suzuki Kantaro in SuitUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

They Misinterpreted His Statement

Unfortunately, Suzuki Katarō's statements were completely misinterpreted. Japan obviously wasn't going to be the victor, but they didn't want to completely shut down their army. They also wanted to protect the future of the Emperor. However, the word "mokusatsu" came off as a distinct threat. 

The consequences were horrific.

Kantaro Suzuki cabinet - June 9, 1945Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The US Took Extreme Action

Following this press conference, the United States retaliated, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Around 200,000 civilians tragically lost their lives.

Enola Gay  CrewsUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Bay Of Pigs Invasion: Forgotten Time Zones

America supported several coup d'états throughout the Cold War—but not all of them went as planned. In fact, the mission in Cuba went horrifically wrong.

Bay of Pigs InvasionUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

A Doomed Plan

You see, the US was concerned about Prime Minister Fidel Castro and his communist regime. In 1961, the CIA launched the Bay of Pigs Invasion. They sent Cuban counter-revolutionaries to the nation's southern coast. But from there, the plan took a dark turn.

Fidel Castro speakingPeriódico ¡ahora!, Flickr

A Lazy Paint Job

Unfortunately, the US did a terrible job of disguising their involvement. They painted old B-26 bombers to look like Cuban planes, but the result was nowhere near convincing enough. Everyone knew it was the US. 

President Kennedy had no choice but to withdraw them. However, there was one more mistake to be made.

Nixon and Kennedy debatingUnited Press International, Wikimedia Commons

An Hour Too Late

From Nicaragua, a bombing raid began their mission, only to find themselves without the necessary escort of fighter jets. The humiliating reason why? Someone had failed to take into account the one-hour time difference.

Douglas A-26C Invader 44-35440 wearing false Cuban AF markingsRuthAS, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Fleming's Happy Accident: Penicillin

Thankfully, not all mistakes are catastrophic. Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician, made a life-changing accident in his lab. 

Professor Alexander Fleming At Work In His LaboratoryMinistry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Wikimedia Commons

He Left His Cultures Out

In 1928, Fleming had been doing research on the bacteria Staphylococcus. When the weekend came around, he mistakenly left some cultures in a petri dish out. When he finally came back, he made a shocking discovery.

Sir Alexander Fleming.Unknown Author, CC BY 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

The Very First Antibiotic

Fleming looked at his forgotten petri dish and saw fungus growing on it. Any of the bacteria near the fungus had been eradicated. This was the beginning of the world's very first antibiotic—Penicillin. The history of medicine would never be the same.

PenicillinSolis Invicti, Flickr

Constantinople: Un Unlocked Gate

By the 1450s, The Byzantine Empire was in crisis. It had shrunk to a vulnerable size: the capital of Constantinople and some islands. They were inevitably doomed—but one mistake expedited the process.

The chain that closed off the entrance to the Golden Horn in 1453, now on display in the İstanbul Archaeology MuseumsCobija, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Chilling Siege

In 1453, the Ottoman Empire invaded the city. The siege lasted 53 days. The Ottomans had an overwhelming army, as well as powerful munitions—but they had one of their enemy's mistakes to thank for their swift victory.

Siege Of ConstantinopleDimiTalen, Wikimedia Commons

They Had Easy Access

Someone made the terrible mistake of leaving the Kerkoporta unlocked, which was a small—but important—gate. Thanks to easy access, around 50 Ottomans were able to enter Constantinople and flash their victorious flags. 

This caused utter panic among the defenders—and the Ottomans quickly gained the upper hand.

Mehmed the Conqueror enters ConstantinopleFausto Zonaro, Wikimedia Commons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand: One Wrong Turn

The infamous assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand has gone down in history as the spark for WWI. However, this bloody incident could have been evaded if not for one twist of fate.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of AustriaFerdinand Schmutzer, Wikimedia Commons

He Couldn't Outrun His Fate

At the time, the archduke had already dodged the grim reaper once before. While visiting Sarajevo, the same group tried to take him out with a bomb. However, it was on his return journey that he faced mortal danger once again.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria before his liquidationTrampus, Wikimedia Commons

The Driver Didn't Understand

You see, the archduke driver was Czech and didn't understand the travel directions. They ended up taking a wrong turn. When the vehicle came to a halt, it stopped right next to one of the assassins, giving them the opportunity to carry out their mission. 

The archduke and his wife lost their lives—and history was forever changed.

Archduke Franz FerdinandImperial War Museums UK, Picryl

When Russia Sold Alaska

The Crimean War truly disrupted Russia's order of operations. Many countries began blocking its sea routes. As a result, Russia was no longer able to send necessary supplies to one of its biggest territories—Alaska.

This caused them to make a drastic decision.

Angel Rocks overlook, off Chena Hot Springs Road Alaska.Thor of Alaska, Shutterstock

They Weren't Thinking Longterm

In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the US for 7.2 million dollars. In the moment, it seemed to like the right decision—but many think that it was actually a mistake.

Alaska PurchaseEmanuel Leutze (d. 1868), Wikimedia Commons

Wave Goodbye To Those Resources

Alaska is a rich territory of resources. Both its gold and oil would have profited Russia more than the price they sold it for. As well, if Russia still had its fingers in North America, the Cold War may have followed a different trajectory.

The territory of AlaskaLibrary of Congress, Picryl

D-Day: The Birthday That Changed Everything

D-Day is often considered the beginning of the end of WWII. On June 6, 1944, the Allies sought to reclaim Western Europe by embarking on a risky operation.

D-DayNational Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons

It Could Have Ended Differently

Landing on the beach of Normandy, France, the Allies faced a real-life nightmare. The fatalities were overwhelming. However, D-Day did play an essential part in the overall victory on the Western Front. 

That said, few know that the entire operation could have had a different ending.


The General Took Leave For A Birthday

You see, Erwin Rommel was one of the German's best generals. He oversaw the the German defense of the Atlantic Wall. However, by chance, his wife's birthday fell on June 6th—and so Rommel took leave. But that wasn't all.

Erwin RommelBundesarchiv, Bild, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

They Got The Weather Wrong

German meteorologists also messed up. They believed that there'd be stormy weather for a couple weeks, which eliminated any changed of a seaborne invasion. Some believe that if Rommel had been in charge, the beachhead may not have been taken by the Allies.

D-Day - The Normandy InvasionExpert Infantry, Flickr

Christopher Columbus Had No Clue What He Was Doing

The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus has been touted as the man who discovered the Americas. Of course, these days, we're far more critical of him—especially his despicable conduct toward Indigenous people.

As well, the man's many achievements resulted from his deeply erroneous ways of thinking.

Christopher Columbus is depicted landing in the West IndiesJohn Vanderlyn, Wikimedia Commons

He Thought The Earth Was Small

Yes, Christopher Columbus did indeed look for Asia, traveling across the Atlantic in his attempt. However, his understanding of the Earth's size was all wrong. He thought it was much smaller and used misguided estimates.

Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492Emanuel Leutze, Wikimedia Commons

He Didn't Understand Geography

Columbus' understanding of geography was appalling, so when he arrived in America, he assumed it was Asia. There's a good chance that without Spain's demand for spices, Columbus would never have set sail in the first place.

Christopher Columbus lunar eclipseCamille Flammarion, Wikimedia Commons

The Berlin Wall: A Public Announcement Gone Wrong

The Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany—a dark symbol of the Iron Curtain. The wall was constructed to impede citizens from fleeing the communist East to the democratic West.

However, thanks to one oblivious East German official, the wall fell far sooner than imagined.

Berlin WallNoir, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Fateful Day In History

November 9, 1989 was a very important day in history. The German official Günter Schabowski messed up a public announcement at a press conference. His words incited a mass movement.

The press conference on 9 November 1989 by Günter SchabowskiLehmann, Thomas, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Gave Them Permission

Schabowski said, “...we have decided today to implement a regulation that allows every citizen of the German Democratic Republic to leave East Germany through any of the border crossings.” But that wasn't the worst part.

Günter Schabowski speakingLink, Hubert, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Said The Wrong Thing

When asked when this regulation would be implemented, Schabowski replied, “According to my information ... immediately, without delay." He was terribly mistaken.

Fall of the Berlin WallUr Cameras, Flickr

Miscommunication Madness

Turns out, Günter Schabowski had failed to provide key information. He should have clarified that East Germans could apply to leave the following day. Instead, everyone thought they could leave right away. Obviously, this led to chaos.

Fall of the Berlin WallGavin Stewart, Flickr

They Let Them Through

Soon, thousands of East Germans began rushing the wall. The border guards weren't willing use their arms to control the crowds, so they opened the border and let everyone through.

The fall of the Berlin Wall - November 1989Gavin Stewart, Flickr


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