History can change in an instant. A wrong turn, an off-the-cuff statement, or a single shot can forever alter the course of the world and the people in it. Sometimes, history can be changed completely by accident, with observers and participants having no idea what a monumental moment they just witnessed. More commonly, however, the world changes on purpose, through intentional, measured decisions that change the course of history. Sometimes, these choices are made by world leaders or others who have been selected by their peers to make such decisions. Other times, it’s average people deciding what they think is best for the rest of the population.
In an ideal situation, these monumental decisions are made with plenty of time to consider the pros and cons. However, that’s not always possible. Sometimes, choices have to be made quickly, and everyone has to live with the consequences. These split-second decisions that changed the world are both fascinating and humbling, a reminder to everyone of the potential weight of their words and actions.
Clouds Saved Kokura From Nuclear AttackPhoto: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock
For such a monumental couple of events, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not planned in incredible detail. The US wasn't even sure they were going to use nuclear tools until not long before they were dropped, and their list of potential target cities was large. The US didn’t meditate on which Japanese cities to target as Japan's surrender was nearly guaranteed in the face of nuclear materials.
The original plan was for Kokura to be hit right after Hiroshima, but a young crewman named Kermit Beahan determined it was too cloudy to see all of Kokura, so he called it off. This was a lucky break for Kokura, but not so much for Nagasaki, the secondary option.
Gavrilo Princip And A Wrong Turn Brought On WWIPhoto: Nenad Nedomacki / Shutterstock
Gavrilo Princip thought he missed out on his shot to alter history. He was part of a Bosnian militant group that sought to oust the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that meant he had a problem with Archduke Franz Ferdinand. On June 28, 1914, Princip and others planned to take out Ferdinand as his car paraded by. They threw a bomb under the car, but the explosion was delayed, and Ferdinand escaped unharmed. A while later, Ferdinand decided to visit the victims of the attack at a local hospital, and he instructed his driver to take a different route than the one he was on before.
The driver took a wrong turn, ended up on the exact same street, and drove right by Gavrilo Princip, who was still there. Princip couldn’t believe his luck, and he walked up to take the shot that would spark WWI.
Lazy Reading Brought Down The Berlin WallPhoto: 360b / Shutterstock
The fall of the Berlin Wall, which occurred in 1989, is one of the most important moments of the 20th century. It also happened by accident. Guenter Schabowski, a spokesman for the East German Politburo, was hosting a press conference about the possibilities of East Germany allowing travel through the Wall. Here's the thing: Right before the press conference, Shabowski received a memo from Politburo updating him on what to say, but he didn't read the entire statement.
After nearly an hour of speaking, Schabowski got a bit muddled and confused about what was actual policy and what only the Politburo were discussing, and he overestimated the contents of that pre-conference memo. He mentioned opening their fortified border and travel possible for every citizen, which got the attention of the room.
When a reporter asked when the changes would take effect, and another shouted “Immediately?!” Schabowski responded with a distracted “Immediately. Right away.” This wasn’t entirely accurate, but word quickly got out, and the rest is history.
The 'Desert Fox,' Erwin Rommel, Decided To Surprise His Wife With Vacation Right Before D-DayPhoto: Everett Historical / Shutterstock
The storming of Normandy on D-Day is perhaps the single most important moment in WWII - at least from an Allied perspective. It also may have gone a completely different way if not for a surprise birthday party. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, was in charge of the defense at Normandy, but he decided on a whim to surprise his wife with a vacation for her birthday.
This caused him to leave his post for a few days, coincidentally right before the Allies attacked. Had the most skilled German military tactician been present, things could have turned out differently. The Third Reich troops were unable to gauge weather conditions without the expertise of Rommel, and the Allies took advantage of this lack of foresight.