They say you can’t rewrite history, but we can certainly speculate about it. If we had a time machine, there are ten particular events that we (or those who made the massive historical blunders) would Marty McFly back to and change.
1. Eve Bites the Forbidden Fruit
With a single bite, Eve (who never could keep her mouth to herself) cast all of mankind into born-in-sin status. Thanks a lot, lady. And you thought eating those Doritos after 8 p.m. was a mistake…
2. Signing the Treaty of Versailles
While the Treaty of Versailles formally ended World War I in June 1919 (a good thing), it placed Germany under immense financial stress by requiring the nation to pay massive reparations, surrender all of its overseas territories, virtually eliminate its army and navy, demilitarize the Rhineland, admit total responsibility for starting WWI, and accept other sanctions. It was a complete neutering and humiliation that, in hindsight, left Germany needing a strong-willed leader who would take radical measures to return the nation to prominence (someone precisely like Adolf Hitler).
3. Rejecting Adolf Hitler From Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts
He was young and hopeful in 1908. He was in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Adolf Hitler was determined to become an artist, even applying to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. Upon passing the entrance exam, all young Adolf had to do was submit drawings to prove he had the natural artistic talent to hack it at the Academy. Instead, Academy gatekeepers judged the applicant’s drawings as “unsatisfactory,” in doing so, re-setting the course of history in one of the most catastrophic of ways imaginable.
4. Burning the Library of Alexandria
The Great Library of Alexandria was a bastion of ancient knowledge, housing somewhere between 40,000 and 400,000 scrolls containing unknown information. Within a city known as an oasis of knowledge (like Florence was during the Enlightenment), the Great Library of Alexandria was the epicenter of thought. Until, of course, Julius Caesar’s forces inadvertently burned the library down during the Siege of Alexandria. The burning of the Library of Alexandria was like Fahrenheit 451 on steroids, and it’s one of history’s most egregious blunders.
5. Sixdegrees.com Is Created in 1997
Recognized as the first social media site, Sixdegrees.com was the prototype that sparked today’s social media landscape. As fun as it has been re-discovering high school classmates and monitoring loved ones’ lives from a distance, social media has also degraded interpersonal relations, political discourse, and mental health like few inventions before or since.
6. Dropping the Atomic Bomb(s)
August 6th and 9th, 1945, will forever live in infamy. Sure, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki devastatingly ended World War II. But at what cost? The atom bombs detonated in Japan confirmed the horror of the weapon Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project team first deployed in 1945 in a New Mexican desert. Despite Japan’s surrender, few look back on the leveling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with positive feelings.
7. The Dutch Say “Pass” to Australia
While the English were the first to settle in Australia (with boatloads of prisoners and guards serving as the first colonists), the Dutch were the first to land on the Land Down Under. How different would the world be if Australia looked more like a Dutch colony than an English one? More coffee shops and fewer pubs? We can’t be sure. We can, however, be certain that world history would be substantially altered had the Dutch set down permanent roots in Australia. Instead of Crocodile Dundee, we may have had Crocodile De Dundee.
8. Allowing the Red Army to Advance to Berlin
When you look back at the misery bred by the formation of the U.S.S.R., the terror inflicted by Cold War tensions, and present-day grievances between Russia and the West, one has to scratch their head at General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower’s decision to allow the Red Army advance West into Berlin. In May 1945, General George Patton pleaded with Eisenhower to allow his troops to secure Prague and prevent the Red Army from moving any further West, including into Berlin. Instead, Eisenhower stood down and ceded Berlin to the Russians, setting the stage for the Cold War.
9. JFK Agrees to a Convertible
John F. Kennedy could potentially be the most disruptive president ever. He indicated that he would attempt to regain control from intelligence agencies run amok. He may have avoided a full-scale war in Vietnam. And, based on the widely-held belief that his assassination was not the work of a lone gunman, the intelligence agencies seemed to agree that JFK was an unacceptably disruptive force. If only JFK had refused to ride in a convertible, American and global history may have unfolded far differently.
10. Russia Sells Alaska for Pennies
How much more leverage would Russia have in global relations if it maintained control of Alaska? In March 1867, Russian Minister to the United States Edouard de Stoeckl agreed to offload The Last Frontier to American Secretary of State William Seward for $7.2 million, roughly two cents per acre. People were convinced that Seward had purchased a useless wilderness plot until the Klondike Gold Strike in 1896. Geopolitically, prying Alaska from Russia has proven a pivotal move in the century-plus since the sale went down.
This article was first published and syndicated by The Cents of Money.