6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World

The stuff they say about time travel is right. You go back in time and change one little thing, and suddenly the future is full of Nazis and dinosaurs.
6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World

The stuff they say about time travel is right. You go back in time and change one little thing, and suddenly the future is full of Nazis and dinosaurs.

If you go back through history, you find that time and time again the huge changes that shape our world today all hinged on some utterly random coincidence. Change it, and the entire course of history changes with it.

The Sandwich that Started a World War

You probably know from history class that World War I started with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke named Franz Ferdinand, kicking off a domino effect of events that left millions dead. You may not know, however, that what knocked over that first domino was a sandwich.

There was this guy named Gavrilo Princip. He was a Bosnian student and guerrilla, part of a group called the Black Hand. Sounds like the evil organization of mages that secretly controls the world, right? Unfortunately, it was something a lot less awesome: a Slavic independence group.

And for some weird reason, they really hated Franz Ferdinand.

To be fair, he had that kind of face.

The World-shattering Coincidence

Let's make sure to clear this up: Gavrilo Princip very much wanted to assassinate Uncle Franz. It was how it happened that was so fucking random.

In mid-1914, Ferdinand, his wife and the obligatory group of less important political figures and other random hangers-on that always accompanies a soon-to-be-assassinated fool, were cruising through the streets of Sarajevo in a (stupidly) open-top car.

The Black Hand had crafted an intricate assassination plot, which basically consisted of, "just kill this dumbass somehow." Unfortunately, as is always true with intricate assassination plots, something went wrong.

When Franz's motorcade passed by the assassins, one of the group, a guy named Nedeljko Cabrinovic, lobbed a grenade at the motorcade. The problem was he was using a shitty 1914 grenade, so it took 10 seconds to detonate, and by then Uncle Franz was out of range. The unlucky fools in the car behind them bit it instead, and the assassins dispersed in the chaos.

Cabrinovic took a cyanide pill that failed to kill him and jumped into a three foot river to "drown" himself. Franz and his party, it seemed, were safe.

But Franz was not yet done putting his life in insane danger. Against the advice of pretty much everyone, he insisted on going to the hospital to visit the people who were injured by the grenade. The driver, unfortunately, had no idea where the fuck he was going. They ended up crisscrossing hilariously through the streets of Sarajevo, until they just randomly happened to pass a cafe where, you guessed it, Gavrilo Princip was enjoying a post-failed-assassination sandwich.

After the obligatory pause of dumbfounded luck, Princip grabbed his pistol and turned the tide of history.

And How Did it Change The World?

First, WWI broke out ...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... Then there was the post-war economic failure...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... Which was part of the reason Germany actually elected...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... Who caused...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... Which ended with...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... which resulted in the Cold War...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... Which led to...

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

... And finally gave us:

Pictured: Gavrilo Princip's fault.

That's right. Most of the horror and death of the 20th Century may not have happened had Gavrilo Princip not gotten the munchies for a sandwich.

The Rejected Art School Application that Killed 35 Million People

OK, maybe we're being too hard on Princip. After all, we might not have had World War II if a particular art school had relaxed their admissions standards a little.

For instance, what do you think of this painting?

Sort of OK, right? You probably wouldn't hang it on your wall, but at least it does look professional.

Would you accept the painter to your art academy? If you said no, then you're just like the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, who rejected a little someone named Adolf Hitler.

The Ridiculous Coincidence

In 1905, a young Adolf left his tiny Austrian hometown and moved to Vienna, all starry-eyed and with dreams of becoming a great artist. Unfortunately for the world, the academy rejected him. Twice.

Is this picture not inexplicably horrifying?

A few months after his second rejection, his mother died, cutting off his financial support. With no direction and no career to pursue, young Adolf was forced to move to the crappy Vienna slums, which were full of all sorts of filthy minorities, including Czechs, Croatians, Italians and, worst of all, Jews.

Hitler claimed that it was in Vienna when he became an anti-Semite. Specifically, it was one Orthodox Jew that he saw one day and simply couldn't shake from his mind. If only he had been somewhere else during these years, like, say, among a bunch of liberal artist types at the dormitory of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

After spending several years in Vienna among all the disgusting non-Germans, Hitler decided to move to Munich. A year later, someone decided to go for a sandwich and WWI broke out. Without anything better to do, he joined the army, quickly rising through the ranks until he ended up a member of the German military police, tasked with infiltrating a little group known as the National Socialist German Workers Party.

If only there had been something else occupying his time, like painting naked chicks at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. And totally not thinking about how much he hated Jews.

And How Did it Change The World?

It was a little more than a decade after he joined the Nazi party that he got elected Chancellor and became the modern face of evil. We'll never know what would have happened had he gone to art school. Hell, maybe if he stayed in Austria, he would have gotten drafted into the Austrian army instead of the German one. There, some random Russian could have killed him in one of Austria-Hungary's many, many defeats during WWI.

The Cigar Box that Won the Civil War

What would you do if you found a cardboard box lying around in the middle of the countryside, like, say, an old cigarette carton or something? Would you ignore it? Kick it at a nearby squirrel for the hell of it? Assume that it contains something horrifying, like a human pancreas stolen by the Organ Mafia, and leave it alone?

During the Civil War the Union Corporal Barton W. Mitchell found just such a worthless-looking box, but did none of those things. He opened it instead, and that may be the reason that today the USA is one country instead of two.

The Ridiculous Coincidence

Late in 1862, the Confederate army was well into its invasion of Maryland. Confederate Supreme Commander Robert E. Lee drafted a document called Special Order 191, which described in extreme detail every movement of every brigade of his army for the next several months. He gave copies of the order only to his most trusted generals, including Stonewall Jackson.

He could wreck you with his eyelashes.

Jackson, however, was way too lazy to write up individual orders to each of his commanders, so he gave them all copies of 191. One of those commanders was Daniel Harvey Hill, who did what we always do with our tax forms and jury duty papers: he left them on the ground, in a box, wrapped around three cigars. He then forgot about them.

"Boy, I am not a good commander."

Several days later, the aforementioned Union scout, Barton W. Mitchell, found the papers at the campsite, probably thinking, "Holy shit! Free cigars!"

He recognized the cigar wrappings as looking important and sent them off to his commander. That guy, in turn, sent them to his commander. Through who knows how many chances for the scrap of paper to get lost, bled on, eaten by a horse or for the guy holding them to get blown up by a cannon ball, they survived until some aide somehow recognized it as Robert E. Lee's handwriting.

He gave it to Union General George McClellan.

And How Did it Change The World?

Ever heard of the Battle of Antietam? The bloodiest day in American history? The North won, and from that point on the South didn't really have a chance.

Well, the Union won because it basically had the equivalent to Prima's Official Strategy Guide on Robert E. Lee's Invasion of Maryland.

From then on, a Union victory was pretty much guaranteed. Lincoln felt secure enough to give the Gettysburg Address, slavery officially ended, the South was reunited with the rest of America and talk of seceding from the union was gone forever. Well, until we elected a black president, anyway.

The Spur of the Moment Land Deal that Created an Empire

As you can see, it's easy to take great men and accomplishments for granted. After all, Napoleon was a brilliant general, so it's easy to assume that no matter what else happened, he would have taken power in France, and got closer to conquering the world than anyone else in modern history.


The Ridiculous Coincidence

The thing was, Napoleon wasn't born in France, but on the French island of Corsica, in 1769. And as recently as the year before that, Corsica wasn't French.

Pictured: Bonaparte House, and the only reason Corsica is important.

Before the day the Corsican landscape presumably tore apart to deliver baby Napoleon from the earth in a storm of fire, the island was ruled by Genoa. More specifically, it was ruled by whichever filthy rich bearded Genoese banker bribed the duke enough to be granted governorship. Unfortunately, the island was constantly rebelling or being conquered by random Turks.

Finally, after five centuries of struggling, Genoa said "fuck it" and gave up on Corsica. Honestly, it was pretty shitty, anyway. The duke sold it to some French guy.

Then that guy handed it over to the French crown, for whatever reason. Over the next several years, French soldiers were smuggled onto the island and stuffed into the citadels.

Finally, in 1768, Genoa and France signed a treaty, officially ceding the island to France.

And How Did it Change The World?

Out popped Napoleon Bonaparte a year later. Even though he was born to an Italian family, it was technically on French soil--and even then only tentatively, as Corsica was revolting again. Thus, he became a French citizen, which allowed him to join the French Army.

Fast forward a couple of decades. The French Revolution comes to Corsica, and the next thing anyone knows, some random Italian idiot from some backwater island nobody had ever heard of, is ruling France, and doing a hell of a job.

If the land deal had gotten delayed, or the treaty signed later, or any one of a thousand things had happened to delay the handover for a year, no Napoleon.

The Heart Attack that Saved the Western World

You know how every comic book villain and James Bond mastermind has some convoluted plan to take over the world? Totally ridiculous, right? The entire world? Come on. Nobody can possibly hope to do that.

Or maybe real villains just don't think big enough, because it can be done. In fact, if it weren't for a well-placed heart attack, it probably would have already happened.

The Ridiculous Coincidence

Welcome to Central Europe, circa mid-13th Century. A few years ago, you got word of some powerful distant nation, led by a guy named Genghis Khan, was destroying the hated Muslims. "Great!" you said. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend! What could possibly go wrong?"


Then things started getting sketchy. You heard about this mysterious army utterly annihilating Russia. Hey, that's not right! Russia is Christian! They're Orthodox heretics, sure, but they're still Christians.

Then one day, you finally meet this friend. Except, instead of bringing you Funyuns and Mountain Dew, he's here to slaughter you and everything you hold dear.

Folks, this was the Mongol Invasion of Europe. And shitty Europe, with its clunky knights and piss-poor peasantry, could do absolutely nothing to stop it. The Mongols, led by Genghis Khan and later, his son Ogedei, defeated the armies of such greats as Hungary, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. They utterly plundered Poland (thank God that country never suffered again), and set their sights on the next densely populated nation: Germany.

Oh, yeah. They would have totally been fine.

Then, the Mongolian leader, Ogedei Khan, died. And everyone had to go back to Mongolia.

Why? Because Mongolian cultural traditions required everyone to go back home when a new khan ascended. Everyone knew that Ogedei's son Guyuk was going to succeed him, but they all had to go back to Mongolia and ceremonially "vote" for him anyway--or vote for someone else, and probably get their face skewered.

And How Did it Change The World?

More than you might think, actually. One recent book speculates that the Mongols' destruction of the Islamic heartland, and their comparative non-destruction of Europe, was what allowed the West to become the power center it was.

After they were done piling skulls into pyramids and ripping fetuses out of pregnant women's uteri, what the Mongols basically did was connect the world. New trade routes opened up, and new contacts were made between the major centers of population.

So while China and the Middle East were getting their shit burned, Europe was gaining new contact with the East. This, in turn, motivated the Age of Exploration. Hence why the West has nukes and computers and technology today, while everyone else has goats and carriages. Thanks, Mongolia!

The Meteor Shower that Gave us Christianity

The fact that there are two billion or so Christians in the world today is largely due to one guy: Constantine the Great. He's the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity, converted to Christianity himself and cleared the path for spreading the religion throughout Europe and then across the globe.

So go for it, atheists. Here's who you have to blame.

But Constantine wasn't always a Christian. In 310 A.D., not-yet-emperor-Constantine was fighting a civil war against another guy laying claim to the throne, Maxentius, who we believe made such claim based purely on the fact that his name was awesome.

After several months of fighting, Constantine and Maxentius met for a single, decisive battle. Maxentius had almost twice as many men but, as it turns out, Constantine had God on his side. A few hours before the battle, Constantine "saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, 'Conquer By This.'"

And he did.

The World-shattering Coincidence

Depending on how religious the person is you are talking to, the sign he saw in the sky was either a miracle or some ridiculous thing he imagined/made up later for the awesomeness. Turns out, it was apparently just a massive, flaming meteorite that just happened to be flying by at that moment.

That's right, the entire religious makeup of the modern world turned on a random hunk of space rock.

OK, that doesn't explain the words "Conquer By This" flying across the sky. It's possible here that he decided to enhance his meteor shower viewing by dropping some nice acid.

If however it turns out the meteor's trajectory was such that its flame trail did somehow spell out "Conquer By This" across the sky in the man's own language, well, we probably have to give props to the divine intervention school of thought.

And How Did it Change The World?

Constantine went on to win and become Roman Emperor. Forever altered by the events of the battle, he passed the Edict of Milan, which granted religious tolerance to everyone!

Well, not everyone.

Christianity exploded in popularity and a few decades later, was declared the sole religion of the empire. And the rest is... well, you know.

For more lucky occurrences that changed history, check out 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World. Or find out about some assholes writer that were lucky in their own right, in 6 Writers Who Accidentally Crapped Out Masterpieces.

And visit our Top Picks to see the sites that were good enough to make it (read: provide boobies) and the ones who are on their by pure coincidence (read: show no boobies).

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