Misunderstandings that changed history

Hitler screaming at his generals as the Reich crumbles:

I said atom bomb, not autobahn!

One can see how such a misunderstanding might have world wide effects not in accordance with those desired by the despot.

What similar faux pas can you think of?

The cleverest way is to create misunderstanding where there wasn’t any before to achieve your goal. Some people call that diplomacy, the more cynical and right people call it Realpolitik. The master was Bismarck with his Ems Dispatch.

The Charge of the Light Brigade comes to mind, though I’m not sure whether it changed history per se or merely provided an interesting episode therein.

Kermit Tyler, the officer on duty on Dec. 7, 1941, who assumed the giant blip the radar operators reported was a group of B-17s being flown in from California.

the battle of new Orleans didn’t have ot happen due to the treaty being signed weeks before but us winning helped gain us some respect internationally

In 1979, landlord Stanley Roper discovers he can eavesdrop on his tenants through the pipe under his sink. He overhears one of his tenants, Crissy Snow, talking about getting rid of a wart, but he misunderstands and thinks she’s pregnant and considering an abortion. Things would never be the same again!

In 1945, the US gave the Japanese an ultimatum asking them to surrender.

The Japanese prime minister was asked about it. No decision had been made and he answered that he was withholding comment at that time.

He used the Japanese word, “mokusatsu,” which has multiple interpretations. One was “to show silent contempt”; another was “to ignore.” Translators latched onto that, so the US figured they were not going to surrender.

The atomic bomb was dropped ten days later.

A correct translation would probably have prevented that.

This is a fairly common tale, but it should be noted that a lot of folks don’t buy it. Here’s wikipedia:

"The consensus of modern historians is that the Allies had understood the word correctly. Chalmers Johnson wrote in 1980:

‘Since the characters for mokusatsu mean ‘silent kill,’ most informed commentators believe that the Allies did not mistranslate Suzuki. If he really meant ‘no comment,’ that is not what he said -and mokusatsu does not imply it, even obliquely. However, the fact that the Japanese and Emmerson maintain that Suzuki’s nuance was misunderstood illustrates the tendency of the Japanese to take refuge in alleged mistranslations.’"

(My bolding.)

I don’t know anything about Japanese, nor anything about Japanese-to-English translations, but the story has always seemed suspicious to me if only because in such a delicate situation you’d think Suzuki would take great pains to choose a word that has as little ambiguity as possible. He would not choose a word that could plausibly be construed to mean “ignore,” let alone “hold in silent contempt.” He’d choose a word that would be very difficult to misinterpret. He’d also presumably ask something like, “Um, okay, how much time do we have to think about it?”

At the very best this one gets a “not proven” verdict.

Clapton and Harrison had a misunderstanding about a lyric sheet and the word “bridge” (a song part) was mistaken for “Badge” the possible title and song topic for their collaboration of the moment.
Wasn’t there a story that Steve McQueen blew off a party at the Tate or LaBianca house the night of the murders because he was having a (fight)misunderstanding with his GF/wife? Story goes, he rode off on one of his bikes after the fight.

Oh, I have another rather obscure one from catholic and sacred history, and it’s a very absurd one, like everything is absurd about catholic saints and their bones (which weren’t their bones anyway in most cases, but the bones of some other poor sucker): the story ofSaint Ursula and her 11,000 thousand virgins. By a translating/editing error the number of virgins went up from a mere 11 to a whooping 11k, and enough relics were soon to be found:

Catholics and their obsession with old bones are a funny bunch.

Considering the fact that Hirohito had to force the issue of surrender, and was nearly assassinated as a result, I don’t think that a translation problem was the culprit. The fanaticism by a large part of the Japanese military was the real problem.

not sure that is entirely correct since the first bomb was dropped on Aug 6 and they didn’t throw up their hands and surrender. Nor did they surrender the day after the second bomb. May have been a misunderstanding but I don’t think they were planning on surrender right away.

The misunderstanding on the part of a radio operator led to an admiral losing all control of his emotions: “The World Wonders” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_world_wonders

Everybody who is anybody in Hollywood claims they were supposed to be at Sharon Tate’s house in the night in question. If everyone who made such a claim actually went to her house, there would have been no murders, as they would have outnumbered the killers by at least 100 to 1.

The driver of the car that was carrying the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife when they visited Bosnia forgot that the route had been changed and took a wrong turn. When he stopped the car to put it in reverse, Gavrilo Princep had the opportunity to take his shot.

Oh yeah, that’s a good one! A deed done by mere circumstance, and the things which developed afterwards were crucial to the whole of 20th century history.

Günter Schabowski didn’t read the memo carefullyand the Berlin Wall came down.

Oh yes, that’s another good one. Schabowski wasn’t even present at the meeting of the Politbüro when this dubious and half-baked traveling regulation was resolved, and he read it as an afterthought at the end of a boring press conference and had no real idea what he was talking about. The most precious moment of the PC was when an American journalist asked Schabowski shortly after that: “What’s up with the Berlin Wall now?” Schabowski: “Er, well,…” silence…:smiley:

Although things were rapidly drawing to a close, the end of WWII in Europe had a misunderstanding that effected how it went down.

Hermann Göring sent a poorly worded telegram to Hitler in the bunker on April 23, 1945 outlining a plan for when Göring might take over the Reich.

Due to poor communication at the time, the telegram was cut down from its original longer version.

The edited version was used by Göring’s enemies (esp. Bormann) to suggest Göring was effectively starting a coup.

Go Göring went from Hitler’s long time number 2 and successor to stripped of all positions and very nearly executed.

After Hitler’s suicide Goebbels became the successor, but that was brief and then Dönitz became the head of the German state.

The generals in Berlin wanted to capitulate the capital to the Russians fairly quickly, but they had to continue on until Goebbels took himself out.

Similarly, Dönitz kept the war going longer than needed for various reasons. Including, but not only, getting as many troops west to surrender to the Western Allies.

Lastly, the Allies considered Dönitz as …, well nothing after the military surrender. The result being was that the Allies took over completely all government command in Germany. This created an awkward situation as the pre-prepared civil surrender document had no one to officially sign for the Germans. So in June they just issued a declaration saying they were in charge. Which was diplomatically suspect and had long term consequences.

No peace treaty was possible until 1990.

OTOH, if Göring’s telegram was understood correctly, after Hitler’s death it may have been the case that the war would have ended a bit sooner. But the real issue is what would the Allies do with Göring’s government? Would he have been allowed to name a non-Nazi successor government? That this government would then negotiate further with the Allies? That a single government would have continued under Allied supervision? Etc. (Cf. Austria, Italy, Japan.)

My understanding is the misunderstanding was whether the condition of “all government officials involved in harming the Japanese people had to resign” applied to the Emperor … in hindsight it apparently didn’t but it was unclear at the time … though I’m not sure this had much effect on history …

Henry II of England’s knights misunderstanding thinking the King ordered them to murder Thomas Becket on the alter at Canterbury Cathedral … maybe the western half of present day France is still English territory if the Pope didn’t get so damn angry at Henry II …

Cheesemakers would be Holy today … as they should be …

“Don’t eat apples” … of course that means to eat apples, easy peasy …