The 5 Most Embarrassing Failures in the History of War | Cracked.com
Missing from the list: Italy's defeat by Ethiopia in 1896. In the decisive battle the Italians marched their way into narrow valleys, wherein they were trapped by Ethiopians on the surrounding mountainsides, and systematically cut down by attacks through the passes. The Italian army consisted of about 15,000 fighting men. In the final battle and the subsequent retreat, they lost 11,500 of them (killed, wounded, or taken prisoner), all their artillery, and 11,000 rifles.
As they ran away in confusion, the Italians could have lost 100% of their force, but the Ethiopian general decided against a slaughter for fear that he would turn Italian humiliation into anger, thereby creating the mood for a crusade on the Italian home front. He was probably correct, or at least his actions produced the desired outcome. The Italian public turned their immediate anger against their own leaders.
Historians have concluded that the battle of Adwa was a major turning point in geopolitics, representing the first time that a non-white nation had defeated an aspiring European colonization, and frightening to the Europeans in the overwhelming decisiveness of their defeat. Perhaps most humiliating for the Italians was the fact that they had to depend on Ethiopian mercy to avoid a massacre. Paul Henze wrote "These defeats were the beginning of the decline of Europe as the center of world politics." The Italian rout would have repercussions throughout the next 40 years for Europe in general, because it forced Europeans to rethink the risks involved in their colonization plans, and for Italy in particular, since the Italian desire for revenge simmered until Mussolini decided to augment his own "heroic" status by avenging the loss at Adwa, expending considerable resources in his unprovoked and brutal attack of Ethiopia in the 1930s.