5 Insane 'What If' Scenarios That Almost Changed Everything
For every terrible tragedy history has handed us, there is an infinitely long list of disasters that we narrowly missed. The geopolitical complexion of the entire world can change radically due to one leader's spur-of-the-moment decision, or just pure dumb luck.
Here are five ways history almost took a turn for the awful.
Japan Was Almost Invaded -- and Maybe Divided -- by the Soviets
Imagine if Japan were in the same situation as Korea -- split in half, one part the free anime-loving country we know, the other half a backward communist nightmare. That might have been just days away from happening at the end of World War II.
As the war drew to a close, the next conflict was already emerging, with the Soviets and the rest of the Allies each trying to gain control over the defeated Axis countries. That is, of course, why some wound up getting divided, like North and South Korea and East and West Germany. Well, that exact thing almost happened to Japan.
"The southern half will be known as South Japan. The northern will be known as Eastern Kentucky."
In August of 1945, the final days of the war, the Soviets rolled a fearsome ground army into Japanese-controlled Manchuria to push the outlying forces back. This was part of a joint Allied strategy and actually began the same day as the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, because this strategy was apparently codenamed Japan Can Go Straight to Hell. Japan was thoroughly crushed by the combined offensive (we daresay probably more so by the two doomsday explosions leveled at them with weapons that no one had ever seen before) and surrendered six days later, signing the official surrender documents in early September.
However, according to some historians, the USSR originally had no intention of stopping at Manchuria. It was supposed to be the pre-game show of a full-scale invasion of Japan itself, which would've seen the Red Army folk-dance its way across the Pacific Ocean and squat-kick the island nation into submission.
It would have looked exactly like this.
The Soviets planned to begin their invasion in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in late August, a full two months before the Allied invasion, Operation Olympic, was scheduled to take place. However, Stalin kept his plan a secret from the other Allied forces and had absolutely no intention of telling them anything about it, preferring to wait until the forces of Operation Olympic stormed the shores of Japan to find him sitting in the emperor's palace watching cartoons. In fact, some theorize that Japan surrendered not because they were afraid of more atomic bombs from the U.S., but because they were afraid of the Soviets.
So what would have happened if Stalin had managed to plunge his forces into Japan before the war had ended? We'll never know, but based on how it went down with the other disputed territories, it's easy to guess. Stalin would've had a legitimate claim to, if nothing else, split the island in two once the war was over, maybe with a North and South Japan (possibly even a partitioned Tokyo), with a hotly contested border constantly patrolled on either side by varying groups of aggressively non-Japanese people.
We'll let you guess which side this would have been.
How would that have changed the complexion of the Cold War? Would Japan have still become the economic and technological powerhouse it is today? Would there have been a weird Japanese version of Kim Jong Il? It sets so many dominoes in motion that it hurts the brain to think about it.
Lincoln Was Nearly Assassinated Before He Took Office
As you probably can guess from the whole "country almost split in two during his administration" thing, Abraham Lincoln was one of the most polarizing presidents in American history. People threatened to kill him pretty much all the goddamned time -- by some estimates, he received more than 10,000 death threats during his first term alone (keep in mind that this was the 1860s, before death threats became the currency of the Internet). Chief among those threats was the Baltimore Plot, one of the earliest and most serious assassination attempts ever hatched against the president. Had it been successful (as it very nearly was), Abraham Lincoln would have been murdered before he'd ever served a single day as president, and Bill and Ted would've definitely failed their history project.
Daniel Day-Lewis might have had to content himself with starring in Davis.
According to the CIA, the plot called for Lincoln to be assassinated while passing through Baltimore by train en route to his inauguration in February of 1861. Baltimore was already a hotbed of Confederate-leaning Abe haters, so the conspirators simply hired a bunch of them to stage a riot as the president-elect's train passed through, thus creating enough chaotic distraction to allow an assassin to appear out of the crowd and blast Lincoln. It's not like the Secret Service existed yet, so the deed wouldn't have been too hard to accomplish.
Once the plot was discovered and confirmed by several independent investigators, Lincoln's itinerary was changed at the last minute into a circuitous riddle involving multiple train changes, carriage rides, and telegraph offices to keep his location secret. He arrived in Washington in complete anonymity. That's right: This was the president-elect of the United States, and they had to hide him to keep him from being killed.
Let's not even imagine America with a beardless Lincoln.
When Lincoln was finally sworn in on March 4, 1861, it was under the protection of a standing army complete with rooftop-haunting sharpshooters fucking daring Baltimore to come and try something.
Lyndon B. Johnson Was Almost Killed on the Same Day as JFK
As tragic as JFK's murder was, imagine what it would have been like for the nation to lose Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's vice president and the newly appointed president of the United States, just a few hours later. Because a Secret Service agent totally almost shot him by accident.
As documented in The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence, Agent Gerald Blaine was patrolling the Johnson estate in Washington only 14 hours after Kennedy had been killed when he saw a dark figure appear out of the night. Now, under normal circumstances, Blaine would've probably assumed that it was Johnson or a member of his family, seeing as how he was on Johnson's home property at the time. However, the president had just been assassinated and everyone was on high alert, so on this particular night, Blaine's first response was to point his machine gun at the figure, with his finger on the trigger.
"... and I thought, 'I can't die, I've so much of a prick left to be.'"
When Blaine finally saw the person clearly, he realized that he was aiming his weapon at Lyndon B. Johnson, who had frozen in his tracks and gone pants-shitting white. Johnson said nothing, turned around, and went directly back into his house, presumably to clean the aforementioned pants with brandy and tears. In addition to being perhaps the only real-life Twilight Zone/Shyamalan twist ever to occur in modern history, the death of two presidents in such a short period of time would've led to a constitutional crisis the likes of which the nation had never seen. People are already convinced that the Kennedy assassination was some kind of inside operation, even after half a century -- imagine what the national landscape would've been like if Johnson had gotten snuffed out the same day, by his own Secret Service detail. Do you think anyone would have bought the "It was a wacky innocent mistake!" explanation?
The presidency would've passed to 71-year-old Speaker of the House John William McCormack, a guy who was routinely bullied by the people in Washington who just wanted to nuke the hell out of Cuba and be done with it, and there would have been no way to convince the American public that it hadn't been engineered to happen that way. We're not entirely convinced that the history we know isn't some alternate timeline brought about by time travelers trying to repair the past as best they could from the damage done by a McCormack presidency.
Plus, we never would have seen LBJ's Harvey Keitel phase.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor Almost Went on for Days
The attack on Pearl Harbor, admittedly one of the worst days in American history, does not even come close to the Michael Bay movie it almost was (or the Michael Bay movie it unfortunately became). Several of the Japanese commanders in charge of the attack wanted to keep the assault going for another wave that would have pretty much destroyed the island, crippled the Pacific Fleet, and added several years to World War II, potentially extending the conflict well into the next decade and overriding all the doo-wop records and Honeymooners episodes people were supposed to be occupied with in the 1950s. Also, it would've seriously encroached on the Korean War, and that war gets so little attention as it is.
We hope our new commemorative clothing line changes that.
According to this book, the initial surprise attack on Pearl Harbor went so well for the Japanese that virtually all of their carrier commanders wanted to stay in Hawaii for the next few days, utterly devastating the American oil reserves, ammunition stores, dry docks, and repair facilities. The absent American aircraft carriers (which were the targets of the attack in the first place) would be drawn back to Hawaii, but with Pearl Harbor obliterated, they would essentially be like a bunch of sick old men with shattered kneecaps trying to break up a gang fight.
But the proposed "third wave" was voted down by Japanese Admiral Chuichi Nagumo because his forces were spread out and in need of refueling. Basically, he didn't want to push his luck and wind up losing all six of Japan's aircraft carriers simply because his commanders wanted to bro down all of a sudden. So he packed up and steamed back to Japan, content that the attack had been a resounding success, when in reality all it had done was successfully enrage the United States into joining the war.
But really, World War II is full of terrifying near-misses like this. And if you're saying, "Who cares, the Axis would still have lost as long as the Allies had the Soviet Union on their side," you're right. Which brings us to the scariest near-miss of all ...
The Soviet Union Almost Teamed Up With Hitler
What if Batman and the Joker teamed up against Superman? Or God and the Devil teamed up against Gandhi? That would be weird, right? Almost as weird as when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany hopped into bed together in 1939.
There's this chapter of World War II that history classes kind of skim over, which is that Germany and the Soviet Union began the war with a non-aggression pact, which basically said that although the two countries weren't necessarily allies, they wouldn't interfere with each other's plans to take over whatever parts of Europe they fucking felt like. When Japan and Italy joined the party in 1940, Germany invited the Soviet foreign minister to Berlin to officially extend the offer of Axis membership and discuss how half of the goddamned world was going to be split up among them like some kind of dictator fantasy league.
That's them at the signing of the non-aggression pact. Note Stalin in the back right with his Mario mustache.
So what stopped them? Hitler suddenly remembered at the last possible minute that he was the daffiest shithead in history, and he abandoned the talks and decided to invade Russia instead.
If you listen to the only known recording of Hitler speaking like a normal person instead of trying to shout all of the crazy out of his lungs, you'll hear him open up about how his decision to invade the USSR quickly became the stupidest thing he'd ever done outside of whatever barbershop brain stroke led to that haircut and mustache. Russia, of course, turned out to be a wall of ice that he kept smashing his armies against with little effect.
Stalin, sensing that his uneasy friendship with Germany had come to a close, quickly sided with the Allies, essentially tossing Hitler and his buddies into a two-front war that, as we've pointed out before, killed any possible chances of Hitler's supervillain scheme coming to fruition.
This is Jacopo della Quercia's 100th Cracked article. You can follow him on Twitter or over at Man Cave Daily.
For more close calls in history, check out 7 Random Animals That Decided The Course of History and 6 Random Coincidences That Created The Modern World.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out A Terrifying True Fable That Will Make You Never Lie Again.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover why our history won't matter in 10 years anyway.
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