Five of the most questionable ideas in history

Throughout history, mankind has had a reputation for making some questionable decisions.  Even some of the smartest people in the world are capable of monumentally folding when it comes to making an educated choice.  Some ideas are so stupid they never fully (thankfully) materialize, while others might seem like a good idea at the time.  And some ideas takes years for the full effect of their stupidity to reach it’s full potential.  Here are five such thoughts.

The Illinois 

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most accomplished and recognized architects in American history.  Anyone from the Greater Pittsburgh area will probably be familiar with “Fallingwater”, which has been called Wright’s “most beautiful work.”  Wright designed over 1000 structures, completing over 500 during his career.  Wright also advocated what he referred to as “organic architecture”, which focused on the balance and harmony between human habitation and the natural world.  He is considered such an influential and important figure, the American Institute of Architects named him the “greatest American architect of all time,” and a group with that name must be qualified to bestow such an honor.  In addition to being extremely talented, and allegedly pretty zen, Wright was also as ambitious as imaginable.  In fact, Wright was so inventive he once proposed a building that would stand over one mile tall!  As in, the planned height of this building literally measured in at 5,280 feet.  And that was just the proposed living space, as a 500 foot tall antennae made the structure nearly 6,000 feet tall.  “The Mile High Illinois” or “The Illinois” would have had over 500 floors, 18 million square feet of livable space, parking for 15,000 cars, and included almost 80 elevators.  The Illinois also would have been (obviously) the tallest structure ever built, and when the idea was proposed in 1957, the plans for the tower would’ve made it nearly four times the height of the existing tallest structure on earth, the Empire State Building.  Currently, the tallest structure on earth is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands almost 2,800 feet tall, meaning the Illinois would’ve been almost twice as tall.

Why was this idea insane?

Most importantly, the logistics on constructing a structure that size were almost unfathomable.  The building would’ve needed to be constructed almost entirely out of steel, for one.  The proposed site of the Illinois was downtown Chicago (duh), which is notorious for high wind speeds.  Steel is a popular building design because of its combination of rigidity and flexibly, which, coincidentally, are two important factors when building skyscrapers.  Tall buildings must be allowed a degree of flexibility, meaning the building actually will sway slightly in the wind, but it can’t be so flexible as to disturb tenants.  Or, you know, fall over.   A city such as Chicago with high wind gusts would need to have a building which would account for this.  In addition to the sheer height, another issue would be how exactly the human beings occupying this tower would be moved around.  The proposed elevators were rumored to be able to attain speeds of close to 60 mph, which seems to be the perfect jolt a sleepy commuter needs first thing in the morning.  Safety is also an issue when it comes to evacuation, as getting all the tenants safely out of a mile tall building quickly in the event of an emergency also could prove to be difficult.  Plans for the Illinois were scrapped, and no plans to construct this building currently exist.

Pretty Much Everything Woodrow Wilson Did During the First World War

There’s always that one kid who tries his best to be the peacemaker when violence ensues.  They swear they won’t become part of the problem, but part of the solution while putting on sunglasses on doing their best Tom Cruise impression, even though they sound ridiculous.  The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was this unwanted Tom Cruise peacemaker.  Prior to America’s involvement in World War 1, Wilson took a firm, definitive stance on neutrality stating “the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned” which sounds a lot like the mission statement of a flag football tournament held by a group of timid Quakers.  Wilson sincerely thought he could help end the war but being the mediator and helping everyone get along, a level of naivety and optimism we wouldn’t see again until the 90’s when Jimmy Carter tried to fix the Israel/Palestine situation.  First, Wilson decided sending supplies to one of the warring parties technically didn’t count as “being one any side” so he shipped supplies to Great Britain.  In a turn of events shocking to absolutely no one except for Wilson, German U-boats sunk several supply ships.  When Wilson said “guys, come on, quit it,” the Germans said, “alright alright that was the last one.”  Again, more ships were sent to England, and more were sunk.  Wilson initially still refused to go to war, first because he believed several of these sinkings “had evidence of being mistakes” and secondly because he didn’t feel the German’s were outright threatening him, you know, except for the whole torpedoing his ships thing.  Also, the Germans apparently contacted Mexico and said “join us and we will help you guys take back America or something”, a move also considered to be “totally not at all threatening.”  Eventually, Teddy Roosevelt had to interject some sense into Wilson by stating “if he doesn’t go to war I will personally skin him alive,” which is the single most Teddy Rooseveltian quote of all time.   So, Wilson entered into the war, siding with the Allies, but still maintaining he wanted to maintain close relations with Germany, which was the equivalent of teaming up with an old bully to beat up that new, weird kid, but still asking if it’s okay to come over for cookies after school.  The United States and the Allies would go on to beat the ever-loving bejesus out of the Central powers, and Wilson became one of the champions of the Treaty of Versailles.  The Treaty was very, very severe on the Germans.  The Versailles treaty stripped Germany of much of their territory, allotting much of it to Germany’s neighbor, Poland.  The German military was also crippled, as the Treaty forced the Germans to demilitarize to the point only 100,000 active soldiers were allowed.  The German economy was also shell-shocked, as they were ordered to pay reparations to the Allied powers, a number set a 6.6 billion Euros, which is roughly $400 billion American today.  Finally, and most embarrassingly, (and possibly unnecessary), was a clause which stated Germany was to take fully responsibility for the outbreak of the war, as well as any and all lives lost in the conflict.  This would be known as “the German humiliation clause.”  By basically turning Germany into a crumbled, poverty stricken police state, Wilson and the other Allied leaders all but assured a second war would break out at some point, which means the Treaty of Versailles could potentially be blamed for the outbreak of World War 2, the draft, The Cold War, 9/11, The German Soccer team’s dominance, and the United States’ crumbling relationship with Russia.  Oh and Hitler.  There would have been no Hitler.

The Minnesota Vikings Allowed the Cowboys to Become “The Cowboys” in the 90’s

Hershel Walker, arguably, is one of the greatest college football players of all time.  At the University of Georgia, Walker was a Maxwell, Doak Walker, and Heisman trophy winner and rushed for over 5,000 yards in three years at the school.  After his junior season, Walker really didn’t have anything left to do, and since he couldn’t enter the NFL draft yet (they were weird back then) he played two seasons in the now defunct USFL.  After literally destroying that league with his talent, Walker’s rights were acquired by the Dallas Cowboys, where he quickly became a Pro-Bowl caliber player at the running back position.  In 1988, Walker gained over 2,000 all purpose yards and scored 7 touchdowns on his way to a second-team all-pro selection.  Four games into the 1989 season, Cowboy’s head coach Jimmy Johnson realized he was sick of coaching a terrible team, so he wanted to shake things up a bit.  Johnson contacted a few teams to gauge their interest in star receiver Michael Irvin, to which Al Davis (of all people) told Johnson “that’s probably not a good idea.”  So after being schooled in team-building wisdom by the guy who drafted both Jamarcus Russell and Darius Hayward-Bey, Johnson then switched his focus into gauging interest for Walker.  Several teams contacted the Cowboys before the Minnesota Vikings ultimately panicked and traded the Cowboys three first round picks, three second round picks, a third round and a sixth round pick, and 5 players.  Johnson then worked some more magic, turning these draft picks into more players, three of which became Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson, and a dude named Emmitt Smith.  Maryland enjoyed a good career with the Cowboys, becoming a starter, and winning three Super Bowls with the team.  Woodson enjoyed a great career with the Cowboys, becoming a Pro-Bowler and winning three Super Bowls with the team.  Emmitt Smith has an amazing, illustrious career with the Cowboys, becoming a Hall of Famer, having the most rushing yards in history, and winning three Super Bowls with the team.  Hershel Walker would go on to have one more 1,000 yard season, becoming an average, run of the mill player, and winning zero Super Bowls.  Thanks to this trade, Emmitt Smith joined Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin to become the third part of their Trio of Destruction in the 90’s, which spurred the Cowboys to multiple Super Bowl trophies, turning the ‘boys into “America’s team”, gaining Jimmy Johnson a reputation as an amazing head coach, and becoming the reason Jerry Jones still enjoys a degree of fame and notoriety.  The Minnesota, Vikings in part, are just as responsible for the Cowboy’s success in the 90’s as the Cowboys are.

George Lucas Swindles FOX Studios out of Billions

George Lucas is the richest Hollywood celebrity in the world, with a net worth estimated to be around $7.5 billion.  He also directed Star Wars which is pretty much the reason he’s worth so much money.  In fact, Lucas recently sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney for $4 billion, which is roughly $4 billion more dollars than it was worth in 1973.  In 1973, the world was a very different place.  The Beatles weren’t really famous anymore, George W. Bush was getting DUIs in college, and Star Wars wasn’t a movie yet.  However, a young(er) George Lucas had the idea for a movie that combined elements of Science-Fiction and Western to create his new series of space drama two years earlier, and was working on a script in his spare time.  Lucas wasn’t famous yet, so he was still struggling to find his way in the jungle of Hollywood.  That year, Lucas finally hit the big time, striking gold with his massively successful “American Graffiti” which earned several Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director.  During “American Graffiti” Lucas’s salary was a reasonably modest $150,000; not too shabby for a struggling young director.  Meanwhile, 20th Century FOX was interested in Lucas to direct some films, but weren’t excited about his “Star Wars” idea.  FOX approached Lucas about signing a movie deal, to which Lucas’s agent said “awesome, we want his salary to be bumped up to $500,000 though.”  The studio was reluctant, mostly because they weren’t thrilled about Star Wars, and frankly didn’t think the film would be successful.  To grease the wheels a little bit, Lucas offered FOX a compromise:  He would take a $150,000 salary, but he wanted full merchandising rights to any Star Wars products, and he wanted the rights to any sequels, basically betting $350,000 on himself.  In the 1970’s neither sequels nor merchandise was considered to be that important or profitable, so FOX excitedly agreed.

Obviously, Star Wars went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time, spawned six sequels (or prequels or whatever, I don’t know), and has generated a revenue of over $12 billion from merchandise sales.  George Lucas more or less bet $350,000 and won $7 billion.  If Lucas was betting on professional football, this would be the numerical equivalent of him betting on the Chicago Bears (2000/1 odds) to win the 2015 Super Bowl.  Needless to say, I think Mr. Lucas and Floyd Mayweather about to become bros.

Operation Downfall

On August 9th, 1945, the United States of America dropped the second of two nuclear bombs on Japan, destroying the city of Nagasaki.  Combined with the August 6th bombing three days earlier which destroyed Hiroshima, the atomic bombs had killed over 130,000 people.  Another hundred thousand would die in the years following thanks to blast burns, trauma injuries, and radiation poisoning.  All told, nearly 250,000 people perished as a result of the atomic bombings; the first and only time in history a nation has used a nuclear weapon of mass destruction against a foe.  The bomb prompted Japan to sign a surrender, signaling the end of World War 2.  People all over the world celebrated the end of the long, bloody conflict, and in the years since many have examined Harry Truman’s decision to drop the nuclear bombs on Japan, citing a plethora of human rights and rules of war violations.  Although the bomb caused an unimaginable amount of large scale destruction and human suffering, it’s crazy to think using the weapons were actually the more humane decision.

In the waning days of World War 2, two of the three members of the Axis Powers, Germany and Italy, had fallen and declared their surrender to the Allies.  However, Japan opted to continue fighting, even if it meant “fighting to the very last man, woman, or child.”  After the Japanese antics during the attack of Pearl Harbor, the United States decided this statement was not hyperbole, and assumed the imperial nation would make good on its promise of never surrendering.  Then-President Harry Truman was aware of a new weapon that had been developed by top US (and German and Russian) scientists in the New Mexico desert.  This weapon could annihilate hundreds of thousands of people, and the effects were so devastating, it would be a perfect wildcard for ending the war.  At the very least he could threaten the Japanese with this weapon.  However, Harry Truman was not a heartless killing machine, so the idea of dropping a bomb that delivered several megatons of explosive suck-it was not very high up on his plan of things he wanted to see happen.  Truman, rightfully, was very wary of using the bomb because he didn’t want to see such destructive technology become commonplace in war.  So, Truman turned to the minds who could help aid him in a potential decision: his joint chiefs of staff, the Vice-president and Douglas A. MacArthur, who for all intents and purposes, loved war.

Loved it.

The group ultimately hatched a plan called Operation Downfall, and my goodness was it a doozy.  Exact numbers are fuzzy, but the plan would have involved the deployment of millions of troops in an all-out land, sea, and air assault of Japan.  Had Operation Downfall actually happened, it would have been the single largest amphibious operation in the history of history.  Since Japan is a small island, the points of entry would have been rather predictable, meaning Japan would have had troops ready and waiting for the invading forces, so it would’ve been like several thousand Normandy Beach invasions happening at once.  Obviously, the sheer numbers and logistics of the invasion gave way to some alarming numbers.  Particularly, the estimated number of casualties suffered on both sides were staggering.  First, the invading forces would have faced massive resistance from the Japanese army, as well as civilian soldiers, and American casualties could’ve been as high as several million, with over 500,000 estimated dead.   Even more disturbing is the Japanese side, who would have faced nearly 10 million fatalities, according to estimates.

The US ultimately went with the atomic bomb, which if the above estimates are accurate, was a significantly better decision.  However, Operation Downfall was soooooo close to actually happening the US government went ahead and minted a couple hundred thousand Purple Hearts, which as of last year, were still being handed out to soldiers today.


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