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Sure, it's easy to look back and play "What if?" "What would have happened if JFK had screwed himself into a sex coma minutes before he was scheduled to get in that convertible in Dallas? Or if John Wilkes Booth had been accosted by an overzealous opium salesman on his way to Ford's Theatre? Or if Amelia Earhart had been a good cook?" We could play history games all day.

But you don't need a killer imagination to see how little, insignificant details have changed everything ...

5
The Felt-Tip Pen That Won the Moon

The moon landing story we know is already pretty kickass: Apollo 11 rode a trail of fire to the moon, stabbed it in the heart with an American flag, won the universe for the USA and sailed home on rockets fueled by eagle blood. Every kindergartener knows that. But behind the scenes, things weren't quite so perfect. For example, did you know Buzz Aldrin nearly murdered all three of the astronauts with one misstep?


Sometimes trust is the same as insanity.

While bumbling around the Eagle, Aldrin stepped on a switch. Which switch? The circuit breaker that would power the ship off the moon in order to rendezvous with Michael Collins in the Columbia. That switch. In fact, we have the transcript documenting how the whole thing went down:

Aldrin: Houston, Tranquility. Do you have a way of showing the configuration of the engine arm circuit breaker? Over. (Pause) The reason I'm asking is because the end of it appears to be broken off. I think we can push it back in again. I'm not sure we could pull it out if we pushed it in, though. Over.

Don't let the tone fool you -- the conversation was the equivalent of the Titanic calmly asking if there was a way to repair an iceberg stab wound. Since the breaker for the engine was the only thing that could fire the engine to get them off the moon, Aldrin inadvertently Apollo Thirteened the whole mission. After telling mission control, they were advised to sleep a few hours while Houston came up with a plan to fire Eagle back up. As if pondering the implications of getting Gilligan's Islanded on the moon was good nap fuel.

The Tiny Thing That Saved the Day:

Instead of catching some shut eye, Aldrin weighed their options. He couldn't use his finger or anything with a metal tip because the circuit was electrical; he'd fry the ship. Ultimately, Aldrin MacGyvered the situation with a simple solution: a felt-tip pen. He found that an ordinary pen could fit in nicely where the breaker once was. And it was a good thing, because if it hadn't, the triumph of the American space program could have ended in a crippling tragedy. And we'd probably all be Soviets by now.

Speaking of ...

4
The Forgettable B Movie That Saved President Reagan

Before Ronald Reagan got good at the '80s and forgetting things, he was really just good at one thing and one thing only: making shitty movies. Between 1937 and 1964, Ronald Reagan starred in millions of mostly forgettable movies, some of them about Gippers, and others about chimps.

In most cases, the movies were so bad that Hollywood struggled to find him something else to do: managing the Screen Actor's Guild. Little did they know that presiding over "the Guild" would be the perfect springboard for Reagan's political career. Little did he know that one of those crappy little movies he made years before would just about save his life.

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Above: President Reagan confers with Henry Kissinger during a vacation to Camp David.

The Tiny Thing That Saved the Day:

In 1939 Ronald Reagan starred in a movie called Code of the Secret Service. Never heard of it? Probably because it was released the same year as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men and Stagecoach. Not to mention a new Betty Boop flick. The movie was so bad that Reagan himself called it the worst movie he ever made, which is really saying something, all things considered.


It was just them reading the actual code verbatim for 90 minutes.

But one 9-year-old with the film taste of a, well, 9-year-old disagreed with the critics, the audiences, the studio and Reagan himself over the value of Code of the Secret Service. This kid loved the movie so much that he made his parents take him to see it over and over again. And in the same way that Elvis influenced the Beatles and the Beatles influenced boy hair, Code of the Secret Service inspired 9-year-old Jerry Parr to eventually become a Secret Service agent himself. The end.

Except, not really. Jerry Parr, the kid who was influenced by a Ronald Reagan movie to become a Secret Service agent, later became a Secret Service agent protecting President Ronald Reagan. And he was right there by Reagan's side on March 30, 1981 when a Jodie Foster-obsessed nutcase took at shot at the president. It was Parr who shoved Reagan into a limo, getting him away from the shooter and out of danger.

So what would have happened had Reagan used his better artistic judgment and not made Code of the Secret Service? Jerry Parr would never have seen the movie, and someone else would have been standing at Reagan's side. Maybe someone with duller instincts or a club foot. And imagine the 1980s without Ronald Reagan running the show. Imagine it!

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3
The Pocket Change That Saved a Senator from a Bullet

Via Dailycaller.com

Do you remember how in Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks shows up at momentous spots in history: meeting JFK, teaching Elvis how to dance, busting the Watergate burglary and showing the world how good the Chinese are at Ping-Pong? It was a triumph in cinema. In some ways, Hawaiian senator Daniel Inouye has lived that kind of life.

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"Life is like a box of chocolates, only all of the chocolates are for me."

After all, not many people can claim that they've been a part of so many important moments in history, like the ratification of the statehood of Hawaii, delivering the keynote at the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention and serving on the committee that investigated the Watergate scandal. Even today, Inouye is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- so he helps decide who gets what, tax-money-wise. He's also third in line to succeed the president, should something terrible happen to Biden and Boehner.

Not bad for a guy who should have died almost 70 years ago.

The Tiny Thing That Saved the Day:

While fighting during World War II in France, Inouye led a charge against a group of Germans and was shot in the heart for his trouble. Luckily, it didn't go through, because it hit two silver dollars he carried in his shirt pocket. Two little coins that he was probably saving to buy a steak when he got back to the States were all that stood between him and a shot to the heart.

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Back then, two dollars was half of all the money on the entire planet.

Not that the senator made it through the war unscathed. He later lost his arm in a devastating attack in Italy, and he was eventually awarded the Purple Heart for his service. But it was those two little silver coins that allowed him to put his mark on the next 70 years of history.

2
The Leonard Cohen Song That Saved Roger Ebert

[Updated to acknowledge Ebert's passing in 2013. RIP Roger. - ed.]

Roger Ebert was the most prominent movie critic ... ever, we think. Being the best at it helped. (He also read Cracked, and tended to say kind things about us. But it's that first one that earned him a spot here.)

Even a less than enamored/obsessed fan of Ebert is probably aware that he battled cancer for many years, bouncing back for a period before the end to do some of the most powerful writing of his career.

He probably wouldn't have been around to do any of that, if not for one song.

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"You're welcome -- ain't no thing."

The Tiny Thing That Saved the Day:

According to this must-read Esquire piece, it was a Leonard Cohen song that did it (specifically, "I'm Your Man.")

In 2006 Ebert's cancer resurfaced, this time in the jaw, part of which needed to be removed to keep the nastiness from spreading. After a few weeks of recovery time, he was finally declared ready to return home from the hospital. He got his stuff packed up and let his doctors and nurses pay one last visit before he hit the road. The car was practically running at the hospital entrance, but Roger lingered for a few minutes to listen to Leonard Cohen.

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"Shhhh ... the gangsta rap break is coming up."

And that was when it happened.

An artery in his neck burst, as in broke, as in exploded. Blood spewed from his mouth and pooled at his feet, and everyone looked around for Hugh Laurie and a hidden camera. Once it was confirmed that, no, this was not a surprise taping of House, the nurses and doctors got to work stopping the disaster bleeding. Now imagine if, instead of happening right there in the hospital room, the blood vessel had burst while he was sitting in city traffic.

Instead, the doctors were right there and, after even more surgery, more therapy and more hospital time, Ebert was finally declared well enough to get home and start living his life again.

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A life saved by the one radio station that didn't spend 2006 playing "How to Save a Life" on repeat.

Now, think about if you were the one in that hospital room and you'd just been given the OK to go home. You would have bolted, right? Most of us can't stand hospital rooms longer than it takes to get our face moles removed, let alone long enough to sit through a whole song when we could be on our way home to our Xbox.

Such is the power of Leonard Cohen, we guess.

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"I'd love to stay and chat, but my songs have an asteroid to deflect."

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1
The Pile of Manure That Caused Wars

If you're reading Cracked, or have any sense of history whatsoever, you already know that people from different religions tend to, uh, not always get along.

So it's probably no surprise that in 1600 Europe, a Catholic king named Ferdinand started shutting down Protestant churches like they were head lice and he was a fine-toothed comb. The Protestants called shenanigans (as usual) and said they could build chapels wherever they wanted. Things were so bad that a little get-together was set up at Prague Castle. And, as you can imagine, things quickly spiraled into ridiculous violence.

Via Wikipedia
Even attempted murder seems jovial when your hats are that hilarious.

The Protestants, led by the ominously named Count Thurn, argued with the Catholics so much that many just started walking out of the meeting. After several hours, only three Catholics remained, including two nobles, Count Slavata and Count Martinitz. While everyone else thought they were to be arrested, Thurn instead pushed them out a window. From 70 feet up. Bada-bing, problem solved, Sopranos style!

Eh, not quite.

The Tiny Thing That Saved the Day:

Maybe we shouldn't call it minor, considering it saved two prominent lives, but a huge pile of shit just happened to be sitting right outside that window. Thurn had forgotten that this was the 1600s, and that the horse was the main method of transportation. And horses poop, like, all the time. You might as well assume that every window in the 1600s had a lifesaving man-high pile of manure under it.

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We're pretty sure if they had been shot at, a horse would have farted Kevlar vests onto them.

Because the counts survived, they went on to inform their superiors of all that had happened (still covered in shit, remember), which would pretty much kick off the Bohemian Revolt AND the Thirty Years War. Had the manure not been there to cushion their fall, the two counts would have most likely died, which would have delayed both the revolt and the war for several months. This would have given both sides more time to prepare for war. This might have changed the outcome of the war (which was a victory for the Protestants) and started a chain reaction of events that could have radically changed history.

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Thanks, assholes.

So if modern Europe has anyone to thank for the way things are today, they should start with a huge pile of shit.

For more tiny details that changed the world, check out 6 Tiny Things That Have Mind-Blowing Global Impacts and 6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World.

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