Was Operation Barbarossa the largest-scale human endeavor in history?
December 6, 2012 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Was Operation Barbarossa the largest-scale planned human endeavor in history?

Four million Axis troops invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941; the operation lasted six months. According to Wikipedia it was the largest invasion in the history of warfare. Has there ever been a planned human endeavor that involved more people as part of the plan?

By "largest-scale planned human endeavor," I'm curious about the planned event or operation that involved the largest number of people in the plan. In this case, there was a plan that had four million people do something: invade the Soviet Union.

I suspect the largest planned human endeavor would be something on the Eastern Front in World War II; my first guess, Operation Bagration, involved 3 million Soviet and Polish troops.
posted by kirkaracha to Grab Bag (12 answers total)
The Five Year Plans of the People's Republic of China dwarf Barbarossa.
posted by pompomtom at 9:11 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hands Across America -- 6.5 million people doing one thing together. Possibly not as significant as the other options. :)
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:12 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could argue for the NATO/Warsaw bloc War preparations during the Cold War; millions of people preparing for War, maintaining a high level of readiness, and high-level control, huge industrial involvement.

With Nuclear War, you always need to be ready for a large-scale deployment, as the War can reach its full intensity within hours (with planes) or minutes (with ICBMs)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:20 PM on December 6, 2012

Where do you draw the distinction? One could easily view all Allied or Axis activity in World War II as a planned endeavor. You will have to define the scope of the question in order to get an answer that is convincing.
posted by twblalock at 9:40 PM on December 6, 2012

I believe I've defined the scope sufficiently. I referred to two specific planned operations in WWII where were plans, the plans called for a specified number of people to do something, and they did it.

Hands Across America comes closest to what I'm thinking of so far. The Five Year Plans are close, but seem a bit too vague and high-level.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:56 PM on December 6, 2012

Over 128 million people voted in the recent US presidential election? Or you could say that there were several competing 'plans' that day, and one involved 65 million people (voting Obama) and the other involved 60 million (voting Romney).

And that's nothing compared to the number of people voting in India. According to Guinness, 714 million eligible voters cast 417 million votes in the 2009 Indian election.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:22 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Live Aid in 1985? An estimated global audience of 1.9 billion people.
posted by epo at 3:08 AM on December 7, 2012

I'm more interested in events that were planned in advance and have specific detailed instructions to the participants than I am in events that had more unstructured participation.

Elections: no. There weren't specific instructions to people about where to vote and who to vote for, for example.

Live Aid: no. People could watch or not watch, and choose where they went to watch.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:14 AM on December 7, 2012

Would the various coordinated Mongol invasions count? In the 1200s the Mongols coordinated military campaigns across Europe, the Middle East and Song China. The campaigns in Europe alone were on a scale not seen since Roman times, and that was just the less important 3rd front for the Mongols. By absolute numbers it doesn't compare with WWII but relative to what was typical at the time it was unprecendented.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:10 AM on December 7, 2012

Percentage-of-people-on-the-planet-wise, what about the building of the Pyramids at Giza?
posted by mdonley at 9:51 AM on December 7, 2012

This just doesn't make sense to me as a question. You can compare apples to apples but not to oranges. There's really hardly anything that compares to military operations except other military invasions, in terms of preparation, coordination, and equipping. I can't think of much else that comes close except projects like building the Suez or Panama Canals, the Chunnel, or perhaps the Transcontinental Railroad, but you can quickly run into more problems of definition such as whether the Interstate Highway System counts, or the Great Wall of China. For any fair comparison you need a discrete definition for it to be meaningful.
posted by dhartung at 6:33 PM on December 7, 2012

Elections: no. There weren't specific instructions to people about where to vote and who to vote for, for example.

Maybe Canada's different on this front, and in other countries you can vote whereever you want, but there absolutely are instructions on where and when to vote here, and the logistics of telling 24 or so million people to show up in specific places on specific days are quite complicated. Elections Canada develops a whole hierarchy of staff in order to manage this stuff -- sign agreements to use the spaces, ensure they have the proper equipment (tables and chairs as well as ballots and ballot boxes), staff and volunteers to supervise each poll, and a huge effort goes into letting voters know where their polling place is and when it's open. Every single registered voter gets a card in the email with specific instructions, maps, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 AM on December 8, 2012

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