4 Disasters That Couldn't Have Happened Anywhere Else
Looking back on your life, you can see how the places you've lived have shaped you into the person you are today. If, for example, you're from New York City, you might give a condescending huff anytime someone from another part of the country complains about "traffic" or mentions "fashion" or praises a "bagel." News flash, New Yorkers: Idahoans can eat bagels too!
"Search AskJeeves dot com for how to bagel."
In the same way that people are molded by their hometowns, important events can't be divorced from the places where they happened. Sometimes geography itself becomes the Overlook Hotel of history.
The Manson Murders Could Have Happened Only in California
A few world-changing events happened in the summer of '69: Hippies had their shindig at Woodstock, a man walked on the moon, 9-year-old Bryan Adams was probably a solid year or two away from getting his first boner, and in Southern California Charles Manson and his band of drug-fueled acolytes horrifically murdered eight complete strangers in the hopes of starting a pseudo-apocalyptic race war. (It didn't work.) Without getting knee-deep into the horrific, grisly details that surrounded the actual killings, the key to remember about what became known as the Tate-Labianca murders is that Manson himself didn't commit them. His followers did, under his guidance and insane instructions. The other thing to remember is that Mr. Manson couldn't pull this shit off anywhere else in the world. Not a chance.
Why Location Mattered
Take a guy like Manson and plop him down in regular ol' middle America, and he's just a crazy guy with a wonky eye and a motormouth. In fact, Manson was a run-of-the-mill screw-up his whole life -- in West Virginia; Ohio; Indiana; Washington, D.C.; and Florida. But then something happened -- he was arrested in California. And it was California that put Manson in prison for seven years in the 1960s, and California where he was paroled in 1967.
He was free only for about 33 months.
This is where things take a turn for the Satanic. California, for all its liberal leanings and laid-back vibes, has been a hub for fringe religious cults for decades. Jim Jones and his ill-fated Peoples Temple followers were headquartered in San Francisco. Children of God, the weird sex cult that River Phoenix's family belonged to when he was a kid, was started in Huntington Beach, California. Branch Davidians: California. Remember those guys who killed themselves to reach an alien ship traveling on the Hale-Bopp comet? San Diego. Scientology? Southern California. Finding a cult that didn't get its start in California is like finding a silicon breast implant that didn't end up there.
Enjoy the fresh air while you can, little pre-boob.
Not only was/is California "Cult State, USA," but in 1967 California was also home to tens of thousands of disenchanted young hippies looking for their slice of the counterculture pie. So what do you get when you mix a two-bit pimp with America's runaways in a bowl primed for fringe religious movements? Sadly, eight murders that made no sense.
After all, Manson wasn't the brightest guy on the block, as IQ tests later confirmed. And he didn't have many original ideas -- his whole message was a garbled amalgamation of other people's writings -- everything from the Book of Revelation, his weirdo interpretations of Beatles lyrics, and the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People got thrown in the Manson sermons. It just so happened that his audience was composed of young girls too naive and too drugged to notice he was spewing complete nonsense.
You'd think the flying gestures would have tipped them off.
The OxyContin Epidemic Started in Appalachia for a Reason
Quick question: What's the scariest drug in the whole world? First answer: the love of a good woman. Second answer: heroin. If you know anything about drugs, it's that anyone doing heroin is at the end of their line, and not just because Trainspotting, Breaking Bad, True Life, The Wire, Gia, Little Miss Sunshine, Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Ray, jazz music in general, and the future Janis Joplin biopic tell us so. There's "Oh, I'm sorry about your drug problem" drug addiction, and there's "I'll start writing the eulogy that will be given after your inevitable overdose" addiction, and heroin falls in the second category.
Not even fairytale heroines are immune to heroin.
Heroin was the king of Addiction Mountain until the prescribed opioid painkiller OxyContin came along in the late '90s. Suddenly, a bad back, tooth extraction, or particularly heavy menstrual cramp could get the sufferer a doctor-approved prescription for drugs so powerful that they could be compared only to heroin, especially when abusers figured out how to snort and inject them. By the early 2000s, OxyContin had a nickname: hillbilly heroin. And Oxy didn't get the "hillbilly" part of its nickname because the pills grew up in a double-wide or wore tiny overalls. That would have been awesome, though.
The nickname "hillbilly heroin" came about because the rural counties of Appalachia were the first to get eaten alive by pill addiction. By 2001, Kentucky, Southern Ohio, and West Virginia were all facing an epidemic that made the crack panic look like a whack panic. (Sorry.)
Why Location Mattered
Have you ever spent a 12-hour workday on your hands and knees? Don't answer that, down-and-out prostitutes. For the generations of men who have no other way to earn a living but to rip minerals and fuel out of the depths of Earth itself, chronic pain and traumatic injuries are inextricably linked to putting dinner on the table. So, for years coal miners relied on medication just to keep their bodies on the job. Even after the mines dried up, the pro-pill culture was already decades old. Pills were good. Pills helped. Pills kept dad working and grandpa alive until black lung took him down in the end. What choice was there? Like Tommy Lee Jones said in Coal Miner's Daughter, when you lived in Kentucky the choices were "coal mine, moonshine, or move on down the line."
Tommy Lee went with all three.
Fast-forward to 1995, when Purdue Pharmaceuticals claimed they had a new pain pill that was less addictive than anything else on the market. To get their new product into the right hands, Purdue aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors in regions where the economy ran on manual laborers -- loggers, miners, construction workers, a few fruit-pickers named Manuel.
There were two problems; once users figured out how to obliterate the drug's time-released formula by snorting it or injecting it, all promises that OxyContin was less addictive went out the window with the unattended Oxy babies. The other problem was Florida. By the time coal country had a clue that maybe Grandma shouldn't be self-treating her arthritis by injecting her hand with crushed pills, it was too late. Florida had the loosest prescription laws on the books, no oversight, and were more than happy to set up pill mills to keep everyone else medicated. Suddenly, you could pick up pills without prescriptions from the same strip mall where you get your payday loans and eat questionable Chinese food.
"I'm so high right now!"
The good news is that after the CDC declared that painkiller overdoses had hit epidemic levels, the government and the pill companies started getting their act together. Florida got a crackdown on pill mills, and Purdue changed its formula so OxyContin can't be crushed for the one-time high. The bad news? Heroin is on the rise again.
Geology Killed a Butt-Ton of Civil War Soldiers
It's been almost 150 years, but historians and laymen alike still haven't given up their study boner for the American Civil War. Whether it's uniforms, weapons, tactics, bathroom habits, or the songs that took the soldiers' minds off the living hell they were trapped in, no aspect of the conflict has been left unturned, including the actual stones that were there on the battlefield. According to two geologists, the rocks that were under the soldiers' feet during the Civil War played a huge role in who lived and who died.
Why Location Mattered
You don't have to be a graduate of West Point to know that fighting on a completely flat open plain is a boneheaded idea. Battles eventually turn into a deadly game of hide and seek, which is why you never see armies fighting in bowling alleys or on the bellies of Hollywood starlets. The terrain is too flat.
I see only one good hiding spot, and it's probably taken.
Geologists Bob Whisonant and Judy Ehlen figured out that if you plotted out the locations of the Civil War's 25 deadliest battles, you would find that a quarter of them were fought on limestone. If that doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: During the Battle of Antietam, 23,000 men were injured or died. Part of the battle was fought on limestone, and part was fought on dolomite. And the battles that were fought on limestone saw five times more casualties than the battles fought over dolomite, which isn't to be confused with Dolemite, a pimp who knows kung fu. Contrary to what you've heard, Dolemite had nothing to do with the Battle of Antietam.
So, to recap: one battleground, two different kinds of bedrock. The soldiers fighting on limestone were five times more likely to kick the bucket as the ones fighting on dolomite. Was the whole war between the states part of limestone's plan to kill humans? Was England posing as limestone to get us back after the whole Revolutionary War thing? No, both of those suggestions are stupid. Limestone is soft and erodes easily, creating a flatter terrain over millions of years. Dolomite is tougher and harder to wear away, so its terrain ends up with more hills and hiding spots.
If you want to think of Antietam as two faces, the limestone section would have been a smoothed-out, filled-in Cher face, and the dolomite section would be Dumbledore. If you were a tiny person trying to hide from a cannonball, which face would you pick?
Limestone, or ...
The Mongolian Invasion was STEPPEtacular
Sometime around 1206, the guy who would later be known as Genghis Khan began the process of swallowing the entire Earth into his cavernous mouth. At the height of the Mongolian empire, Genghis' descendants controlled land from the Korean peninsula to Central Europe. For comparison, here's a little doodle of the Roman Empire at its height.
And here's a picture of the Mongolian Empire at its height:
You obviously don't get to control this amount of land by just planting your flag and asking nicely, despite what the British Empire told you. Think of that entire Mongolian empire as an ocean of blood. On the high end, historians think the Mongol invasions slaughtered around 40 million people around the world, or about 17 percent of the planet's population at the time. While Rome pretty much absorbed the guys they conquered and Great Britain was a fussy little bossy britches, the Mongols were all about leaving the worst possible impression -- usually through murder.
Can someone from layout please do a Photoshop of 40 million of these? Thanks!
Once you get how devastating the Mongol invasions were, you start to make some assumptions about how they were able to take over so much of the world. Maybe they had a disciplined, military-minded culture, like Sparta. Or maybe the Mongols were in a territorial race with other global powers, like Great Britain. Actually, neither of the above is the right answer. The truth is that the Mongols were the most effective warriors in the history of the world specifically because of where they were from.
Why Location Mattered
The Mongols, in case you didn't pay attention during that one 10-minute lecture high school history gave you on the subject, came from the steppes of Asia. Picture a sea of grass 5,000 miles long and 600 miles wide, with desert to the south and dense Russian forests to the north. The winter can hit negative 50 F, and summer gets to 104 F, with nothing but blizzards, sandstorms, and heartache in between.
Believe it or not, this child is only 7 years old.
The only thing the steppe had to offer the Mongols was the toughest climate on earth, little short-legged horses, and the grass itself, and sometimes not even that. Which was why the Mongols became experts at surviving off of nothing. When Genghis Khan got it into his head that he was going to take over the world, he was already starting out with an army of Rambos.
Unlike other armies, the Mongols didn't need a cross-country supply chain to keep their soldiers fed. All they needed were their horses. Because the Mongols kept mostly mares, they could survive on horse milk if the hunting was bad. And each soldier traveled with three or four horses each, so they could switch off when the animals got tired, which made them the fastest army in the world. Siege machines were built on the spot so nothing would slow them down. While just about every other army in the history of ever has avoided major movements in the winter, the Mongols thrived in cold weather, thanks to the fact that they called a frozen tundra home. Even their assault techniques were shaped by the steppe: They tracked their victims like they'd track prey, stealthily creeping around your town until it was too late -- you just got Mongolized.
So what were the Mongols looking for in their invasions? The short answer is that the Mongols wanted stuff. The steppe, for all its barren beauty, gave nothing for trade. Have you ever built a house out of felt?? It sucks! You have to "borrow" timber from neighboring tribes just to get the frame for your fabric house. Mongolians couldn't grow crops or mine ore or keep silkworms alive long enough get some sweet fabric out of their butts. So they had a mess of nothing to work with, thanks to their steppe-land. That all changed when Genghis started collecting tributes from conquered enemies, which was why Marco Polo didn't write about a yurt village when he visited Genghis' grandson Kublai Khan. He wrote about a marble palace surrounded by beautiful parks and fountains and art. In other words, the Mongols went from full-time campers to mini-Liberaces in two generations. But they couldn't have done it if the steppe hadn't been such a harsh mistress in the first place.
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Also on Cracked: Turns out these aren't the only disastrous location-specific scenarios. For instance, living in China can give you semen loss syndrome. And living in brutal, colder climates can make you a flesh-eating psycho monster. With Earth being the danger zone it is, it's probably best to go live in space where you only have to worry about black holes. (Just kidding! everything in space will kill you!)