John F. Kennedy? You've heard about him. Caesar? Got his own salad.
History is stuffed with famous warriors and mad geniuses who are just waiting to be played by Russel Crowe, or at least, Ben Affleck.
This article isn't about them. This is about the little guys who wandered onto History's highway and managed to do something that changed the world for the better, and in a huge way.
There you are, getting ready for work, brushing your teeth, staring at the mirror, wondering if anyone is going to notice that zit... and then this thought kinda just pops into your head:
"Today, I'm going to accidentally bring down the American government."
Never happened to you? Security guard Frank Wills had no early warning either. With a hefty paycheck of $80 a week, Wills might have had good reason to believe he was well out of History's high beams. But in 1972, while patrolling the offices where the Democratic National Headquarters was, Frank noticed that little strips of tape was holding a few doors open. He tore them off. Coming back later, he saw that the tape had been replaced and, deciding that shenanigans were afoot, he called the police.
Not on Frank Wills' watch!
You all pretty much know the rest of the story. The burglars were arrested, tied to Nixon's re-election campaign and eventually, to the President himself. Amidst charges of massively illegal behavior, Nixon finally resigned in 1974, and was beaten to death in an alleyway behind a New Jersey Taco Bell.
The one on Rt 34.
No, wait. He became a bestselling author, and lived for years.
Wills, the hard working American who was just doing his job, managed to disintegrate into obscurity almost as quickly as he'd emerged. He played himself in the 1976 movie All the President's Men, but he didn't even get a raise for bringing down the government. In fact, when he left the job because they apparently refused to pay for vacation time, he found he couldn't get work anywhere else. One university told him that they didn't want the government to withhold funding because they'd hired him as a security guard.
Money went fast, and there wasn't a whole hell of a lot of it to begin with. He couldn't pay his electricity bill, couldn't afford to bury his mother, and had to wash his clothes in a goddamn bucket. And not one of those fancy golden buckets. In 1983, he was sentenced to a year in prison for shoplifting a pair of $13 shoes. And that was pretty much it until he died in 2000.
Without This Person, We Might Not Have:
The desire to add "-gate" to every scandal that makes the news. That, and an executive branch that wasn't totally corrupt. For most of the 20th century the media had a crush on the president. Teddy Roosevelt made racist jokes, JFK chased tail, and the press blushed and wondered if the president ever thought of them when they weren't around. Frank Wills showed the world how important accountability can be, especially when the president is a paranoid lunatic.
Watergate caused Congress to strengthen the Freedom of Information act, making it a vicious scalpel of Truth for the common man. Until George W. Bush weakened it in 2001. And in 2002. Don't worry, though. We're pretty sure his intentions are pure.
Richard I of England, usually portrayed as a smug Sean Connery type, spent most of his life at war. When he wasn't slaughtering heathens, hating Jews and seizing land, he was at war with his brothers and his father. The man had lived to the then-unbelievable age of 42 when a hundred elite assassins sacrificed their lives to mortally wound him in a dazzling swordfight along a sheer cliff face.
No, just kidding. It was one kid with a crossbow and a frying pan.
The young assassin was such a nobody that historians don't even know his name, calling him either Peter, Dudo, John or Bertran (we'll just call him PDJB). The Lionheart came to PDJB's tiny land to suppress a minor revolt, killing the kid's father and brother during the assault. With most of the castle's defenders dead, Richard the Lionheart took a stroll along the base of the walls.
And there, history tells us, the Lionheart rofled. Because at the top of the wall, all alone, was our friend PDJB, batting away arrows with a dented frying pan, and shouting insults at the top of his young lungs. Spotting the king, the boy fired an arrow and missed. Richard, who clearly thought arrow wounds were things that happened to other people, cheered on the defender. The second arrow buried itself in his shoulder. After an unsuccessful surgery made the wound gangrenous, the dying king had PDJB brought to him, and pardoned the boy. Once the king had died, his soldiers skinned PDJB alive. Then, to drive home the point that everyone was just so irritable about the regicide thing, they hung him.
With Richard dead, his brother John became King of England, and began losing territories from Richard's hard-won empire so fast that you have to imagine he was getting candy and handjobs out of it.
Without This Person, We Might Not Have:
The Magna Carta. Though there is still a debate as to whether Richard was even into the ladies, he was still married to one. If he had survived long enough to have a kid, the crown wouldn't have gone to John, who lost so many battles that he got the nickname "Softsword". After a particularly nasty defeat, his Barons forced him to sign a document that essentially made him a king in name only. Add this to the fact that we remember John now as the sissy, whining lion in Disney's Robin Hood, and you have a pretty fair idea of how bad he was for England at the time.
King John signing the Magna Carta. Also, some guys with pots on their head.
If it wasn't for that one lucky shot, English royalty might have held on to their God-given deathgrip on the lives of their subjects. Our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution? Gone. And you and I, buddy? Proud citizens of the great nation of "New England". Kiss that July 4th holiday goodbye, suckers. And pretty much all of the political advances of the past few hundred years.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes has always been credited with taking down the savage Aztec empire when it was at its bloody peak, but he never would have gotten anywhere if it hadn't been for his mistress, Dona Marina.
Let's look at the numbers. The population of the Aztec empire around that time was about 20,000,000. Cortes, in typical we-have-superior-weapons-plus-they-are-heathen-savages fashion, only thought to bring 600 men. We'll leave you to do the hilarious math. Fractions have never been our strong point.
The idea is insane. He should have been on a sacrificial altar within a week. But shortly after landing, he was given twenty slave girls as a gift. La Malinche, later Dona Marina, was among them, and became his "translator".
Okay. What the hell is going on in this picture?
Remember: Cortes and his men didn't know the land, the language or the culture. Any reinforcements were months and months away. With Marina's help, the Spanish army avoided traps, made allies among the natives and worked their way towards the capitol of Tenochtitlan, which surrendered without a fight.
Historians have been having a vicious cage match over this for years. The most interesting theory is that Marina took advantage of religious prophecy and imagery to trick her people into thinking that Cortes was the earthly incarnation of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. By the time the devout emperor realized he had been tricked, it was too late.
Without This Person, We Might Not Have:
Everyday life in the Aztec Empire looked like a Rob Zombie movie. During one four day "festival" they sacrificed 84,400 people in order to prevent their sun god from causing the apocalypse.
Now nobody can say for certain what would have happened to this terrifying culture if they'd given Cortes a less cunning slave girl, but it almost definitely would have happened like this:
Instead of gods, the Aztecs see Cortes and his men as bank robbers with weird pigmentation. After slaughtering them easily, they spend the next few decades studying his advanced weapons. Hundreds of years later, you spend most of your childhood hoping that Aztec fighter jets don't bomb your city as a sacrifice to the sun god.