#2. The Kid Caught in a Custody Battle Between Democracy and Communism
The Famous Version: Elian Gonzalez
Before 9/11, cable news had about as much relevance as, well, as cable news does today. But they had a brief heyday of cultural importance, and if you were paying attention at the time, you probably remember the story of Elian Gonzalez. For months, the 24-hour news cycle hyped the story of an adorable Cuban child at the center of an intense multinational custody battle. It turned out ... poorly, and the kid was eventually sent back home after experiencing a bunch of needless trauma. Which we could have avoided if we'd just remembered the story of ...
What you've never heard of: Yossele Schumacher
In 1959, right as the Cold War was really heating up (or cooling down or ... defrosting?) Yossele Schumacher and his parents decided to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. But apparently there just ain't no party like a communist party, because the Schumachers soon "decided" to return to the USSR. Yossele's grandfather, who had custody of the boy, accused the parents of being communists and denying the boy a proper Jewish education. Like Elian, the law made it pretty clear that the parents were in the right, so naturally the grandfather did the only reasonable thing: He kidnapped Yossele, dressed him in drag and started hopping countries like a drunken coed hops bars.
He'd always remember Spring Break '59.
The inevitable media tshitnami struck soon after. Israel became so swept up in the sensation that they may have even pulled the Mossad -- you know, those badass multinational assassins -- off of their current case to locate Yossele. Authorities finally caught up with Yossele in Brooklyn, three years after his disappearance, and he was returned to his mother.
That case the Mossad were working on when the government allegedly pulled them to investigate a hyped-up personal interest story? It was hunting down evil Nazi scientist Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele was never caught and lived out the rest of his life a free man in sunny South America -- but that 6-year-old in drag didn't get away! The Mossad always get their man.
"Technically, Mengele wasn't a human being, so it didn't count against our record."
#1. Authorities Fatally Bungling the Prolonged Siege of a Radical Group
The Famous Version: Waco
The 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, has gone down as one of the most bungled government operations of the 20th century. A radical cult following self-proclaimed space prophet David Koresh's dong (weird how it's always the dong with cult leaders, isn't it?) started stockpiling illegal weapons and child brides. When the ATF came to investigate, it ended in a shootout leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead. The siege that followed was practically textbook, assuming that textbook was Arson for Authorities: How to Make Friends and Burn Literally Everybody Else.
David Ake/AFP/Getty Images
"In my defense, I didn't know humans were flammable."
What you've never heard of: MOVE
Eight years earlier, Philadelphia was dealing with a radical black liberation group called MOVE -- a collection of left-wing neo-Luddites. After a series of violent skirmishes, MOVE fortified their residential compound and began an entrenched standoff with authorities that ended only after both sides attempted civil conversation over drinks.
Well, not quite: After firing 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the MOVE house, police decided that bullets just weren't explosive enough. But you know what's very, very explosive?
"You lost me. Damn it, I'm a cop, not a scientist."
Temporarily confusing their jobs with a Die Hard prequel, the cops called in a helicopter, circled over the -- we remind you, centrally located residential home -- and dropped 4 pounds of C4 on it. The explosion started a fire that killed all but two inside, including five children. The resulting blaze further spread to the entire block, leveling a total of 62 houses.
The only thing missing from this picture is a cartoon coyote with a sign.
Following up, a commission looked into the incident and found that the actions were "grossly negligent" and that the police commissioner and officers involved were responsible for "unjustified homicide," which is actually pretty mild phrasing considering they're referring to explosives being hurled out of a helicopter into an inner-city neighborhood. The destruction was so bad that, as of 2010, the entire block was still boarded up. But it's not as though nothing good came of the incident. Philadelphia earned a new moniker that day: "The city that bombed itself."
You can find Steve mulling over a hot stew of forgotten history at his blog.
For more odd coincidences in history, check out 6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World and The 5 Most Mind-Blowing Coincidences of All Time.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 6 Hilariously Mundane Ways Prisoners Are Using Social Media.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnists have the same father.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up RIGHT NOW and pitch your first article today! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!