One Person Changing History

From time to time, I have mentioned my love of history. After all, we are where we are because of the past.

And I have also been amazed at how such momentous historical events can change on the actions of one person – or a few.

I was surprised a few weeks ago – watching a documentary, that the predecessor to Husband E. Kimmel at Pearl Harbor, James O. Richardson, was fired by Franklin Roosevelt for strenuously disagreeing with the CiC over the placement of Pacific Fleet at Hawaii. It had been based on the west coast, but Roosevelt wanted to keep it at Hawaii to deter the Japanese. Kimmel was installed February, 1941 and we all know what happened in December.

U.S. Fleet Commander-in-Chief Admiral James O. Richardson challenged the President’s action, arguing that the fleet would be better served by returning to the West Coast, where support facilities for war preparation were far superior. As a result of such bluntness, the President fired Richardson and replaced him with Rear Admiral Kimmel on 1 February 1941. Kimmel was promoted to four-star rank, jumping over nearly 50 more senior officers when he took command of what then became the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Perhaps his service with Roosevelt more than 25 years earlier was a factor in his selection.

A friend of mine is reading a new acclaimed book on Franklin Roosevelt and his meeting at Tehran with Churchill and Stalin.

The author brings out a lot of little known historical facts. Among which, Hitler became a virulent anti-Semite when the Viennese art school rejected his application.

One has to wonder how the world would be different today had the school simply accepted the application of a fledgling mediocre artist.

Then today, I read this article from the BBC – when, in 1913, Hitler, Trotsky, Tito and Stalin all lived in the same area of Vienna. Would the world have been better off had a plague or earthquake hit Vienna in that time?

Or the driver’s of Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade, already on edge from some nearby bombings, had changed route as they were supposed to do?

Arriving at the Town Hall for a scheduled reception, Franz Ferdinand showed understandable signs of stress, interrupting a prepared speech of welcome by Mayor Fehim Curčić to protest: “Mr. Mayor, I came here on a visit and I am greeted with bombs. It is outrageous.” Duchess Sophie then whispered into Franz Ferdinand’s ear, and after a pause, Franz Ferdinand said to the mayor: “Now you may speak.” He then became calm and the mayor gave his speech. Franz Ferdinand had to wait as his own speech, still wet with blood from being in the damaged car, was brought to him. To the prepared text he added a few remarks about the day’s events thanking the people of Sarajevo for their ovations “as I see in them an expression of their joy at the failure of the attempt at assassination.”

Officials and members of the Archduke’s party discussed what to do next. The archduke’s chamberlain, Baron Rumerskirch, proposed that the couple remain at the Town Hall until troops could be brought into the city to line the streets. Governor-General Oskar Potiorek vetoed this suggestion on the grounds that soldiers coming straight from maneuvers would not have the dress uniforms appropriate for such duties. “Do you think that Sarajevo is full of assassins?” he concluded.

No First World War, no sending Lenin via sealed train by the Germans to Russia to overthrow the government and prevent the birth of Communism, no defeated Germany, no devastated France, no Weimar Republic, no Hitler, no Second World War….

Or would, as one Lexican suggested, the changed conditions merely bring some other demagogue to power? It is, to a large extent, political and economic forces that bring people – good or bad – to power.

North America speaks English with a British heritage instead of Spanish because one famous sea captain was playing bowls when he received word of the coming Spanish fleet.

What if, instead of playing a game on the lawn, he had disappeared into some unknown pub? 😉

It’s easy to think linear in alternative history…if only this hadn’t happened…

Still, it is fun to speculate…

Of course, the best answer to this was reputedly given by an RAF officer years ago to the question of how the 1940 Blitz would have changed had Goering’s Luftwaffe simply stayed to the plan of bombing RAF airfields? Instead, some Heinkel squadron pilot, thinking he was in the countryside and in need to jettison his bombs in bad weather, dropped them on West London instead.

Prompting an infuriated Churchill to send some Lancasters to bomb Berlin.

Prompting an enraged Hitler to change the whole strategy and begin a campaign of terror bombing London.

Which ultimately gave the RAF victory, due to a few very brave pilots.

When asked how things would have changed the officer reportedly said, “If your aunt had bollocks she’d be your uncle“.

Still, it is amazing the changes one person can have on the world’s history.


Filed under History

5 responses to “One Person Changing History

  1. “One has to wonder how the world would be different today had the school simply accepted the application of a fledgling mediocre artist.”

    Most likely, once he got in the school, and even assuming he graduated, he still would have been filled with rage because no one wanted to buy his paintings. The timing would have been different, though…

    • Probably still filled with rage but many as you say the timing was off to lead the Nazis? They might have remained a fringe group in Munich – maybe in the street battles the Communists won?

      The event I believe had the most profound effect was the first world war. From it we got the 2nd, Communism, the Cold War…

      And in that article the organizers had wanted to alter the Archduke’s motorcade but the drivers never got the word.

      Or would something else have triggered the Great War?

  2. And with different timing, perhaps either the Germans or the Japanese–or both–might have developed “The Bomb” first.

    And… No. Let’s not even flirt with that…

    • If you have Amazon Prime, The Man In The High Castle is a must see for alternative history. The Nazis and Japanese won; the Bomb is referred to as “The Heisenberg Device”

  3. Pingback: “A Date That Will Live In Infamy” | The Lexicans

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