5 Unknown People Who Shaped History (While Being Lunatics)
"It's so crazy, it just might work" is a groan-worthy stock phrase in cheesy action movies. But believe it or not, there's a stunning amount of historical precedent for that type of thing happening. And crazy ideas don't only come from normal folks in stressful situations. Many times they come from genuine lunatics who just know what works. We're talking about people like ...
The Prussian Commander Who Defeated Napoleon At Waterloo Believed He Was Pregnant With An Elephant
The military leader who was arguably the most vital to kicking Napoleon Bonaparte in the boules one last time was Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, Furst von Wahlstatt. In what we're hoping was a sign of respect, his soldiers simply called him "Marshal Forward," on account of his tendency to stampede in battle, knocking down anything in his path. And who could blame him? Marshal Blucher believed he had a little elephant in him, after all.
During the Battle of Waterloo, the Prussian army was integral to defeating the French, launching an exhausting march to catch Napoleon's army at the rear. It was a dangerous offensive that would not have happened without the strong leadership of Blucher, who rallied his troops to attack once more after suffering a crushing defeat the day before. But despite his reputation for frontline leadership, the aggressive field marshal had to excuse himself from combat on account of a medical emergency. He was about to give birth -- and here's where we gotta take a bit of a deep breath -- to a baby elephant.
This wasn't just some "Don't ask, don't tell" way of asking fellow soldiers if they would like to see his trunk. Historians agree that in the harrowing two months before Waterloo, Blucher had suffered a schizophrenic episode that had him convinced the French impregnated him with an unplanned pachyderm, despite his physiology, advanced age (nobody's getting preggo in their 70s), and difference in species. He was also getting into fistfights with ghosts, and hopped around on his tiptoes because he believed the floor was lava (his servants had been paid to heat it by the French). To his credit, Blucher knew there was something wrong with his head. It was made of stone, which is why he regularly asked people to hit him with a hammer.
Despite other superior officers knowing of Blucher's breakdown, they considered him such an amazing battlefield commander that the chief of the Prussian General Staff himself wrote that he "must lead though he have a hundred elephants inside of him." They were right to trust the obvious madman, as Blucher managed to lead his forces better than the Duke of Wellington could, striking a decisive blow at Napoleon's troops which led to their retreat. For this he was later granted a sovereign princedom and was decorated officer, which must've made his large grey son very proud.
The Pearl Harbor Attack Succeeded Thanks To Captain Tortoise-Man, Nudist Genius
Even today, military scholars marvel at the execution of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. After all, who would be so bold to go at one of the most powerful navies in the world with an untested plan in which a billion things could go wrong? It turns out that was the exact kind of bold of Captain Kameto Kuroshima, a naked human computer who literally sweated over the plans until they were perfect.
When Japan started thinking seriously about going to war with the United States, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy Isoroku Yamamoto believed the only way to do so was to strike Pearl Harbor first and worry about retaliation later. But the rest of the brass, like any sane strategists, figured that'd be a suicide mission. The harbor was too shallow for traditional torpedo assaults, meaning the entire thing would have to rely on airplanes, which the Japanese were only just getting good at.
But Yamamoto had one true ally: his senior staff officer, Captain Kuroshima. Tall, gaunt, and bald, the captain had earned the nickname Ganji, or "Gandhi," but his demeanor was anything but saintly. Kameto -- whose name meant "tortoise man" -- was a withdrawn, chain-smoking eccentric who refused to bathe and talked back to his superiors. And while that sounds like the kind of weirdo behavior that would get you kicked out of any army, not to mention the very uptight Japanese, he balanced it out by being a ballsy genius.
And Yamamoto saw a lot of both -- Ganji's genius and his balls, that is. To figure out the daunting technical aspects of an air raid on Pearl Harbor, Kuroshima would retreat into his boiling hot quarters, strip down naked, and sit there unmoving for days on end. Eventually, crashing through towers of dirty dishes and releasing a giant plume of incense and cigarette ashes, Tortoise Man Kuroshima would poke his head out of the room reciting incredible technical calculations from memory. He was also the one sent to Tokyo to convince the war leaders to approve the attack. And when they refused to just, you know, bomb America, he resorted to threatening his superiors, vowing that he and his boss would resign and leave Japan to be snuffed out by the Americans.
Once again, his highly unusual strategy worked and, afraid to be robbed of Japan's greatest military talent, Marshal Admiral Osami Nagano approved the attack. Kameto was promoted to general, the war with the U.S. began, and the Tortoise Man found even more uses for his skills, like learning how to duck and cover from atomic bombs.
Nancy Reagan's Astrologer Helped End The Cold War
Joan Quigley, who is a real person and not a Lemony Snicket character, is arguably the greatest Cold War weapon America didn't know it had. After getting her degree in art history at Vassar, she did what any smart Vassar art history major would do and made a career change, becoming an apprentice to a soothsayer. She then decided to put her new divination powers to use in, ugh, politics. Quigley eventually met Nancy Reagan and convinced the first lady that her horoscoping powers could've prevented her husband from getting shot. That was plenty for Nancy, a woman who'd sooner consult chicken entrails than a scientist. She gave Quigley a $3,000-a-month job as the presidential astrologer, which probably made all the other Vassar art history grads super jealous.
This, as we've mentioned before, gave the soothsayer political powers which Quigley later boasted had not been seen "since the days of the Roman emperors." (How quickly we forget Rasputin.) She influenced the comings and goings of the president of the United States based on alleged bad juju, to the point that staffers complained that normal presidential conduct was impossible. And when it came out that a spiritual con-woman was pulling the Gipper's strings, it attracted criticism from both scientists and religious leaders who deemed astrology the "Devil's tool" (in that you'd have to be a real tool to believe this garbage).
But this Devil's tool may have helped save the world from nuclear Armageddon. Supported by several sources, including Donald Regan, a former chief of staff (and definitely not Ronald Reagan in a fake mustache), Quigley claims she was the one who convinced Reagan to sit down with Mikhail Gorbachev. After reading the Russian leader's horoscope and determining that he was smart and open to new ideas, she and Nancy pressured the president to stop posturing and reopen talks with Russia, preferably through a medium.
When Reagan finally sat down with Gorbachev to discuss ending the Cold War, it was Quigley again who got to decide when this historical moment would take place, based on the alignment of the world leaders' signs. The summit finally was approved on December 8, 1987, a date now known as the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And whether or not the alignment of planets played any part, like any good soothsayer, Quigley quickly started taking credit for saving the world.
Stonewall Jackson Was A Goofy Hypochondriac
The Confederate Army, to put things kindly, lost. And badly. But that's not what we're here to dwell on. We'd like to talk about one of the leaders of those losers, General Stonewall Jackson, a man more preoccupied with not getting the sniffles than his legacy or the lives of those around him.
Many of General Robert E. Lee's most infamous victories over the Union Army, like the Seven Days' Battles and the Second Battle of Bull Run, would not have happened without Jackson, who managed to stand fast against overwhelming odds, denying the North valuable reinforcements and allowing Lee to kick the shit out of those dastardly slavery-haters.
But while his military tactics were those of an immovable wall of steel, Jackson himself was a weird puddle of a man. He was a raging hypochondriac who preferred to stand instead of sit because he believed his organs were most aligned that way. He refused to eat anything seasoned with pepper, since he thought it made his left leg weak. (Apologies to any Southern nanas who nearly had a heart attack reading that sentence in their kitchens.) He also had one arm raised high in the air at all times because he believed it was longer than the other, and that draining the blood out would somehow change this.
The only thing crazier than Jackson's many imagined illnesses were his ideas on how to cure them. His homespun treatments included dunking his head in water to cure his poor eyesight and eating tons of lemons to help with his digestive issues (which they could only have been exacerbating). He also refused to eat anything whatsoever outside of whatever arbitrary dinner time he set out for himself -- and you really don't want a general making life-and-death decisions when he probably just needs a Snickers.
You'd think with all of that health-based panic swirling around his head -- a head he refused to turn away from a battlefield, because he was convinced he'd immediately be shot in the back of the skull -- his enemies would've found a way to take him out. Oddly enough, it was ultimately the South that got that privilege. Jackson died after being accidentally shot by one of his own soldiers, which led to the amputation of his left arm, weakening him so much he died days later from pneumonia. Or as he would've diagnosed it, a fatal lack of equal arm lengths.
The Founder Of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab Was Into Occult Sex Magic
Most things aren't rocket science -- except, of course, rocket science. That's why the founding of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was such an incredible feat. Which makes it even weirder that its founder, Jack Parsons, was into some very medieval mumbo-jumbo.
Despite only having a high school diploma, Parsons and his colleagues (known as "The Suicide Squad") started the first government-funded research group for rocketry with a measly $1,000 in funding. While developing jet engines for the U.S. Air Corps, Parsons developed a stable solid-state rocket fuel that was later used shuttles and missiles into space, something that previously was thought as impossible as a witch weighing more than a duck.
At the same time that Parsons was inventing technology that would pave the way for space travel, he was also experimenting with the occult, which might be par for the course for someone getting told over and over that he's pushing the bounds of nature. Parsons joined the Ordo Templi Orientis, an occult belief system that largely centered around the idea that you could sorta will stuff into existence. More interesting than the theory was the practice. In order to *ahem* stimulate the arcane, Parsons and his palm-reading pals partook in sex magic, as they believed that orgasms are highly magical. And uh, yeah? But that's not, like, a thing you should base a religion on. Is it?
As the society's head sex wizard on the West Coast, Parsons bought a mansion where he held orgies (for religious purposes) and blew stuff up (for science purposes). Everyone slept with everyone and magic was in the air -- except for Parson's wife, who quickly divorced his ass.
Undeterred, Parsons started sleeping with his teenage former sister-in-law (who is her own fun mess), and blurred the lines between science and fiction even more. The sorcerer-scientist's biggest goal was to summon the ancient but very-sex-positive-for-her-age goddess Babalon through masturbating onto magical tablets. Then, we assume after some more sex magic and/or orgies, the goddess would give birth to the Moon Child, a sci-fi messiah who would be the first of a new human race, one more interested in space travel than hanging around on this boring lump of earth.
Naturally, Parson's orgasmic occultism wasn't very well-received in scientific circles, and it eventually cost him his reputation and security clearance. The daddy of rocket scientists eventually went to work in the only place where nobody cared about his weird sex stuff: Hollywood. He became a pyrotechnics consultant, and sadly blew himself up at the age of 37. But as silly as his beliefs sound, we have to remember that a mere decade after he died, a man walked on the moon and the 1960s brought on the very sexual revolution he was striving for. Pretty powerful stuff, that sex magic.
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