Despite what Dan Brown's entire career says, secret conspiracies are pretty rare, and they usually fail rather quickly, often in hilarious fashion. And when they do succeed, the result is usually less "The world is now run by a secret cabal of shapeshifters," and more "Boy, light bulbs don't seem to last as long as they used to, huh?" But every once in a blue moon...
For those of you too young to remember, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used to be America's favorite bad guy. Hell, in 1993, he almost leveled up from "recurring villain" to "Thanos-level mastermind" with his scheme to take out George H.W. Bush.
Although Bush was no longer president, he happened to be in Kuwait that April to commemorate the victory over Iraq in the Gulf War. Also present were his former secretary of State, chief of staff, Treasury secretary, his wife, his daughter-in-law Laura Bush, and two of his dopey sons (George W. stayed in Texas, presumably unwilling to miss a single episode of Melrose Place). The plan was to blow up Bush's car in the parking lot of Kuwait University, using a Toyota Land Cruiser loaded with 180 pounds of explosives. Although the Iraqis fumbled Bush's itinerary, and were discovered by Kuwaiti authorities, if they'd managed to park the Land Cruiser "very close" to Bush's armored car, half the Bush family and White House staff would have become a fine mist.
If that had happened, we're guessing the American response would have still a bit harsher than the 23 cruise missiles Bill Clinton launched two months later. Like, a few thousand missiles and bombs harsher.
We're talking a full-blown Iraq War during the 16-bit era, albeit under Clinton's leadership instead of Halliburton's. Would it have stabilized the region, or would it have been a bigger military disaster than Vietnam? Your guess is as good as ours. All we know is that the press would've been too distracted with Clinton avenging the Bush family to care how he rolled his cigars.
In 1966, Israel figured the Egyptian army might be coming over soon, and not for a friendly barbecue. After deciding that Egypt probably wouldn't fall for the whole "parting the Red Sea" thing a second time, the Israelis decided on a desperate and slightly insane measure: Nuke a mountain.
Israeli scientists couldn't yet build an aerial nuclear bomb, but they could (and did) complete a device that could be detonated on the ground using a complicated explosive trigger known as "The Spider" (no one ever names these things "The Happy Duckling," for some reason). The plan reads like it was devised by Hideo Kojima: An elite team of paratroopers and scientists would helicopter behind enemy lines into the deserts of the Sinai, where they would assemble The Spider around a nuclear core atop a rocky mountain. The detonation would have been visible throughout the desert, possibly as far as Cairo, and would hopefully spook the Egyptians enough to call off the invasion and go hug their mommies.
There weren't supposed to be any casualties (beyond possibly the strike team itself), but we didn't know as much about the dangers of radiation back then. Generally speaking, massive nuclear explosions don't "go over super well." The attack the Israelis feared came in 1967, when a coalition of Arab states launched the Six Day War. As you might have guessed from the name, the war went pretty good for the Israelis, who destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on Day 1, and had seized the entire Sinai by Day 4. As such, there was no question of unleashing "The Spider." It's likely that Israel and Egypt's 1970s reconciliation would have been much harder if parts of the Sinai were still setting off Geiger counters, so we can all be thankful that the Egyptian military was so terrible at its job.
Winston Churchill was certainly not the worst head of state involved in World War II, but the guy had his moments. For instance, in 1944, he had British troops roll into Greece, which had recently been liberated from the Nazis by communist partisans, and ... immediately ordered the partisans to disarm. The British also started rearming Nazi collaborators and fascist street gangs. Why? Because Churchill wanted to reinstate his pal King George II of Greece as fast as possible, and the liberators weren't so keen on that.
Over the following months, British troops and Greek collaborators fired on protesters, and bombed working-class Athens neighborhoods. Many Greek leftists were forced into internment camps, but they had a plan to strike back. Led by resistance hero Manolis Glezos, a team crawled for hours through the sewers and planted a massive bomb under British military headquarters in the Hotel Grande Bretagne. Think of it like the attack on the Death Star meets the ending of Shawshank Redemption, but with 150% more chest hair.
What Glezos didn't know was that, amid Britain's outrage over the situation in Greece, and with an election looming, Churchill had flown unannounced to Athens to do some damage control. He went straight to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, arriving right as a shit-covered Glezos was crawling through the sewers.
The bomb was fully wired and about to be detonated when the communist leadership noticed Churchill's arrival. Unwilling to kill one of the Allied "Big Three" and give Hitler half a chub, they called off the attack at the last moment.
In 1788, the British "First Fleet" arrived to turn Australia into the world's largest open-air prison. Britain's brutal new colony deeply alarmed the Spanish, who thought that it could be a threat to their own little land holdings in South America. A naval commander they sent to investigate issued this dire, and weirdly horny warning:
Spain couldn't tolerate the threat of such a sensual invasion, and in 1793, the government authorized an invasion of Sexy Convict Island (now Australia). The plan was to assemble a massive armada of 100 ships in South America, which would be equipped with a secret weapon: a new "hot shot" cannon that fired red-hot balls, setting enemy ships and buildings on fire. They would have turned the ramshackle wooden buildings of early Sydney into a raging inferno. The 7,000 inhabitants were all to be killed (or taken back to Peru as prisoners), emptying Australia of Europeans and effectively giving it back to the natives and monstrous animals.
Obviously, that never happened, although not for lack of effort: The Spanish started assembling their armada in Uruguay in late 1796. However, the French Revolutionary Wars were raging in Europe, and Spain suffered a massive naval defeat at Cape St. Vincent in early 1797. The Spanish decided to redirect all resources to suffering more massive naval defeats in Europe, and the plan was postponed indefinitely.
In the late 1850s, a group called the "Knights of the Golden Circle" began a secret movement to annex every territory in and around Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, then forge them all into a single, independent, racist-as-hell nation. "The Golden Circle" would be centered in Havana, stretch for 1,200 miles in every direction, and function as a modern-day Roman Empire, but for asshole racists. Well, even more asshole racists.
Surprisingly, the Knights of the Golden Circle enjoyed crazy success. Their members allegedly included former Secretary of War John Floyd, former Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb, and even former Vice President John C. Breckinridge, who carried 11 states to Abraham Lincoln's 18 in the 1860 presidential election. "Knights" throughout the nation played key roles in fueling secession, occupied federal garrisons in states like Texas, helped organize armies, and even served as generals and colonels in the Confederate military. They were basically a 19th-century HYDRA operating in the Confederacy, as if the Confederacy wasn't bad enough.
The Knights of the Golden Circle's greatest dreams nearly became reality during the Civil War, which they helped create. Of course, as you may have heard, the war didn't exactly go as they'd planned. They'd actually sent several thousand members to south Texas to colonize northern Mexico, but soon had to shift their focus to fighting, you know, actual America, and their plans fizzled out. Oh, there was one presumed member who found some degree of success after the war: a somewhat well-known actor called John Wilkes Booth. Apparently he made a big splash in the theater.
Jacopo is an award-winning scholar, so buy every book he's written.
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