Everyone's been caught in the midst of a petty feud, where two people with trivial differences screw things up for everyone around them. These mostly occur in middle school and really shitty divorces, but some petty feuds have shaped the modern world. Just because they're titans of business and leaders of nations, that doesn't mean grown men are above letting some name-calling influence their decisions. For instance ...
#5. A Misheard Sentence Shapes the Shoe Market
Adolf and Rudolf Dassler were German brothers who shared a passion for shoemaking, and eventually they shared ownership of the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Like most German citizens at the time, they were card-carrying members of the Nazi Party, but they sort of sucked at it. For instance, during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, they outfitted Jesse Owens with the shoes he would wear while proving that Hitler was wrong about the inferiority of black athletes.
Also unlike Hitler, the brothers' shoe-selling prowess survived World War II, and today they sell more athletic shoes and apparel than anyone other than Nike and Reebok. If you're reading this in a Western society, you've almost definitely worn their shoes or clothing. You just knew them as Puma or Adidas. While the brothers continued making shoes, they did it as separate companies.
Adolf, creator of Adidas. Full-on Nazi.
One night during an Allied bombing raid, Rudolf was sitting in his bomb shelter with his family when Adolf and his wife joined them. Maybe it was the bombs being dropped above, or perhaps a premonition of how hard his name was about to go out of fashion, but Adolf was pissed about this particular bombing raid, and greeted his brother's family with a remark about what a bunch of bastards the Allies were. Specifically, he said, "Here are the bloody bastards again."
The apparently insecure Rudolf thought Adolf was referring to him and his family. Instead of clarifying and bro-hugging it out, what followed was the sort of inexplicably persistent misunderstanding that only happens in sitcoms, bad comedies and apparently German families. Thanks to that one sentence, their relationship grew rockier over the course of the war. When American soldiers accused Rudolf of being a member of the Waffen SS (the war-crimesiest sector of the Nazi military), he assumed that his brother had put them up to it. By the time the war was over, the brothers hated each other so much that they decided they couldn't work together. And so they divided their shoe manufacturing business, with Adolf Dassler naming his company Adidas, after a wisely shortened version of his first and last name (Adolfdas probably wouldn't have sold quite as well). Rudolf chose to name his after a jungle cat, and the two companies have been trying to put each other out of business ever since.
Rudolf, creator of Puma. We really can't stress enough how Nazi these guys were.
They've run smear campaigns about each other, and like the worst divorcing parents ever, forced the citizens of their town to pick sides. Employees from the two companies wouldn't marry each other. Pubs have loyalties to one shoe company or the other. Herzogenaurach was eventually given the convoluted nickname "the town of bent necks" because the citizens wouldn't talk to another person until they checked their shoes to make sure they were wearing the same brand. And it's still like that to this day.
But at least they're Germans, so we know they won't take things too far.
#4. The Gulf War Was a Petty Feud
After the second Iraq War, after two generations' worth of President Bush had spent billions of dollars and hundreds of American lives trying to take out the same maniacal Iraqi dictator, American soldiers finally captured the sonofabitch, and subjected him to interrogation. They wanted to know where the weapons were hidden, why he'd been such a pain in everyone's ass for the past decade and a half, and they probably teased him a little bit for writing all those shitty romance novels.
True to his reputation, Saddam went out of his way to be defiant and uncooperative in the face of FBI and CIA interrogation. An FBI intelligence officer named George Piro was finally able to start getting some answers from him by appealing to his vanity, assuring him that he was a high-ranking official who reported directly to President Bush, and presumably that President Bush would be conducting the interrogation himself, but he had a thing he couldn't get out of.
"And fourth place in the semi-national burping contest: George W. Bush!"
Once Saddam started talking, he revealed that he hadn't been expecting America to follow through with their threats of a ground invasion. This wasn't altogether surprising, since even American generals thought the ground invasion was a bad idea. What was more surprising was what Saddam had to say about his reasons for invading Kuwait, the baffling decision that started the whole damn conflict years earlier.
At the time, Iraq was in some serious debt to their tiny neighbor Kuwait, which had loaned them a whopping $80 billion for the Iran-Iraq War. At this point, America didn't have a dog in this fight. They'd given Iraq $40 million in aid to fight Iran. They were of the opinion that as long as nobody was getting too strong and invasion-y in the region, everyone would act like a couple of little Fonzies and be cool. When Saddam stationed 100,000 Iraqi soldiers along the Kuwait border, things started looking decidedly un-Fonzie-like, but then on July 25, 1990, Kuwait finally agreed to an oil settlement that would have solved the crisis. Everyone with an economic interest in the region had given both sides of the conflict a resounding "Bitch be cool!" and it had worked.
Saddam went back to his day job, revolutionizing the world of sweaters.
That is, until the emir of Kuwait said he wanted to make every woman in Iraq into a $10 prostitute. That's right, according to what Saddam told Piro under interrogation, the entire Gulf War was a result of that one insult. Saddam took this comment personally, and in revenge for it, invaded Kuwait. America and a coalition of over 20 nations and millions of forces invaded Iraq, and Saddam retaliated by attempting to invade Saudi Arabia, too.
Iraq's armed forces were annihilated in the conflict, but Saddam stayed in power, and remained defiant about the permanent presence of U.S. forces in the area, which would lead directly to his country being invaded a second time by U.S. forces, and being captured and put to death. All because one guy insulted the women of Iraq. In the end, Saddam really was a hopeless romantic.
"Seeing your mustache in this light brings me much joy ... in here."
#3. Two Generals Feud and Allow the Entire German Army to Escape
World War II was a classic Hollywood-style come-from-behind story. The Nazis rolled over Europe and into Russia without much problem. Knowing a winner when they saw one, Japan joined the Nazis by bombing Pearl Harbor and quickly conquered the West Pacific. But by 1943, the Allies had turned a corner. The Russians had won a brutal battle in Stalingrad, and the British and American forces had just kicked the Nazis out of Africa. Contrary to what Americans like to tell themselves, they weren't the cause of, or even much of a help in, turning things around up to that point. They'd been all thumbs and assholes in Africa to the point that the British, having been firsthand witnesses, didn't want them involved with the next stop on their journey of Nazi-ass whomp: Sicily. Also known as Italy's oversized toe wart.
Or as they like to call themselves, "The James Bond poison boot mist of Europe."
Sicily had been the Nazis' chosen diving board for bombarding anything flying an Allied flag in the Mediterranean. The British had managed to convince Germany that they weren't planning to invade Sicily by stuffing a briefcase full of fake plans, handcuffing it to a dead body and dropping them off the coast of Spain, because the people who write shitty comic books were temporarily in charge of reality during World War II.
The Nazi forces in Sicily were plum for the plucking, but instead a pissing contest broke out between American general and overall badass George Patton and British General Bernard Montgomery. Each was in charge of commanding his own nation's troops in the operation and each absolutely hated the other. Montgomery saw World War II as a British war, and had seen the American troops shit up the works in Africa. Patton hated Montgomery as a general, and also hated the British in general.
You can't really tell from this angle, but each of them is trying to slyly stab the other in the hand.
The weight of their hate boners was enough to change the earth's rotation.
The plan was for British and American troops to invade from different points on the south of the island and meet up in the northern city of Messina, capturing thousands of Axis soldiers when they got there. Once both battalions had landed in Sicily, Montgomery kicked things off by taking away vital roads from the American troops at the last second and giving them to himself, causing all the American soldiers to go back to the beaches and reposition themselves.
Patton decided that this was his cue to make a charge for Messina and get there before Montgomery. In the midst of the most deadly conflict in human history, the two generals who were supposed to be cooperating would send each other messages riddled with racial slurs insulting one another's intelligence.
"... oh, and say something about how dry their sausages are."
As the generals crept closer to Messina, they began making reckless decisions that cost hundreds of lives, all to be the first one standing in Messina, wagging his dick when the other arrived. When the British showed up in Messina, victory bagpipes in hand, the Americans were there. After making the fastest advance in military history up to that point, the Americans captured Messina easily. We say easily because there were no Axis soldiers there. Why? Because while the two generals had been stretching their respective penises out to the five on their respective rulers, the Germans and Italians had actually evacuated their troops the hell off of Sicily.
Everybody around the two generals saw that they had their heads up each other's asses. According to Patton's right hand man, "However rapidly we pushed into that city, we could not cut the enemy's escape route across to Italy." In total, around 100,000 soldiers, 10,000 vehicles and 17,000 tons of equipment made it from Sicily to fight again on mainland Italy. Still, Patton got the chance to waggle his dick at the British when they arrived second in Messina. Had he not, they would have wasted all that time they'd spent polishing the little army penis helmet they'd built for the occasion.
"Pardon me if I don't stand at attention. Last time I did that, an innocent woman who was just walking by got pregnant."