We could play the what-if game all day. "What if Hitler had really been killed in the Operation Valkyrie assassination plot?" Answer: Not a hell of a lot would be different.
But that's not always the case. Some assassination attempts have come dangerously close to changing the world in horrifying ways. We're not saying we'd be living in a land of breakdancing dinosaurs and chocolate flavored rainbows if a few things had gone the other way ... we're just saying we might all be Nazis.
The Nazis would have won World War II.
Fanny Kaplan, besides sounding like an LSAT prep teacher slash old-time burlesque dancer, was a political revolutionary during the Bolshevik Revolution. Unfortunately for her, she wasn't a Bolshevik, but a Socialist Revolutionary and her party was banned by Lenin shortly after he came into power. Already a little messed up in the head from a stint in a Siberian prison, Fanny figured assassinating Vladimir Lenin would be the perfect way to get her party back on track.
So she fired three shots at him on August 30, 1918. He survived the assassination attempt, and showed her what was what by having her and a few thousand others assassinated three days later.
But What if She Succeeded?
The Bolshevik Revolution would have collapsed. And the Nazis would have won WWII.
By 1918, Lenin's ability to inspire crowds and his willingness to kill the crap out of anyone who opposed him was the only thing keeping the loose factions of the newly triumphant Bolsheviks together. Especially since his Czar-loving opposition, awesomely called the White Russians, were backed by the better funded Allies.
Delicious, delicious opposition.
Without Lenin, the White Russians would have won the struggle for control of Russia, and a non-communist, possibly even democratic government would have eventually emerged. So Joseph Stalin wouldn't have been around to kill tens of millions of Russian people, which would have been super, but there also would have been no "Uncle Joe" to drag Russia kicking and screaming into modernity so that they could have the military badassery to kill eight out of every 10 Germans that died in WWII.
Of course, that also means Hitler's ill-fated invasion of Russia may have been a raging success, providing the Nazis with the much needed manpower, raw materials and crops they needed to win the war. So, yeah, thanks Fanny. Thanks for failing.
You know your country's in for some hard times when "not shooting the tyrant" is the best option.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
A Fascist planet.
In February 1933, America was in the anaconda vice hold of the Depression and Franklin Roosevelt was less than a month away from his first inauguration. But a five-foot tall bricklayer named Giuseppe Zangara nearly undid the 20th century when he showed up at an FDR speech in Miami with the intention (we think) of killing the president-elect.
Fortunately, Zangara was so short that he had to stand on a wobbly folding chair to get his shot, which missed. Then the surrounding crowd knocked the short out of him as Zangara fired wildly in FDR's general direction.
But What if He Succeeded?
Aside from the tragic loss of one of the most influential figures in history, how would the assassination of FDR have affected everyday life as we know it? According to one expert, we'd be living in something out of a science fiction novel. In fact, somebody did write a science-fiction novel about it, and he was none other than the legendary Philip K. Dick.
In 1963's The Man in the High Castle, Dick imagined the assassination of FDR as a "point of divergence," in history, triggering a domino of events starting with a weak Vice President Garner taking office. Unlike FDR, Garner maintains the stance of isolationism through the war. The Allies lose without America's help and, shortly thereafter, the Axis powers turn their attention to conquering the U.S. Which they do, in 1948.
Because Hitler's still alive, but debilitated by syphilis (?), his under-Fuhrer is the guy who starts rolling out the Mein Kampf agenda. Specifically, the eradication of the world's inferior races. And, oh yeah, Germany's unstoppable rocket program gets the Swastika on the moon, Mars and Venus, which is important because colonizing the solar system with National Socialism is all the rage.
You try weathering a Venusian summer without short shorts.
If looking at the Axis map below isn't enough to thank your god for Giuseppe Zangara's height/aim/planning deficiencies, then you're either a Fascist or maybe you just think Philip K. Dick was full of shit.
Basically everybody's Fascist but Canada.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito and other officials, when they were on the verge of surrendering WWII.
Japan would be a barren wasteland.
By mid-August 1945, the war in the Pacific was just about over. The USSR had bounced Japan's ass out of Manchuria; Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still smoldering; and Emperor Hirohito was finally ready to announce he was going to call it a day and surrender.
But not everyone on Team Japan was cool with surrendering to the Allies. So officers of the War Ministry and the Imperial Guard concocted the plan to prevent Hirohito's announcement of surrender, namely by assassinating all of the peaceniks except for the emperor, who would be placed under "protective custody."
Then the plan would be to broadcast an alternate speech declaring Japan's intention to fight down to the last man, woman and child. Fortunately, four officers went A-Team on the conspirators' asses and the whole shebang fell apart at the last minute.
But What if They Succeeded?
Japan would be a barren wasteland. And we'd all probably be radioactive mutants.
Had Hirohito not surrendered, the Allies would have implemented Operation Downfall, an apocalyptic plan that would have resulted in millions of Allied casualties and tens of millions of Japanese casualties. One military planner estimated that SEVEN atomic bombs would have been ready for detonation by X-Day, which was scheduled for November 1, 1945.
And as if this scenario wasn't horrific enough, the U.S. had absolutely no idea what the fuck they were doing with nuclear warfare, and were prepared to send troops into ground zero with no radiation gear whatsoever only 48-hours after the atomic bombings.
And don't think that it would have just been American troops dropping into Radiationland. Allied troops from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand would have also been invited to the poison party.
Keep your nukes close, and your infantry closer.
And then they'd all have gone home and got started on that baby boom we've heard so much about. Would the next generation have been born with grotesque deformities? Or superpowers?
The world will never know.