Last week we spoke of how a minor coincidence saved the life of Paul Revere, who was captured by the British on the night of his famous ride and placed in front of the marching redcoats, to be the first man killed at Lexington, a rebel spy caught in the treasonous act of alerting the countryside of troop movements.
And then, up ahead where the rebels waited, a cannon shot echoed through the night. The British major, rattled by the sound of it, asked Revere what it was. Revere told him it was to alert the countryside. And then the same major, obviously distracted, noted that the horse of one of his sergeants appeared tired or lame and told the man to switch horses with Revere.
And then — incredibly — the British just marched off and left Revere standing there in the road. Was it the fog of war? Had they simply forgotten the rebel spy? Were their thoughts so focused on what lay ahead they could think of nothing else?
It seems likely, but history just doesn’t tell us.
But what history does tell us is that small coincidences, seemingly insignificant events, have changed the path of history many times, sometimes affecting the lives of millions.
World War II changed the course of history unlike any event before or since. At least 30 million died. More millions lived out the rest of their lives in shattered bodies or in mourning for the loss of loved ones. The map of the world was changed forever.
It need not have happened.
Take out just one man — Adolf Hitler — and ...
What is amazing is the dozens of minor coincidences but for which Adolf Hitler would never have caused the horrors he visited upon the world.
Let’s look at just four of them. Early ones.
Joachim Fest, who wrote the standard biography of the monster who came to rule Germany, has this to say about Hitler when it comes to Hitler’s interest in politics: “Looking back at [the early] period [of his life] it is astonishing to see that Adolf Hitler, who was to become the century’s political phenomenon, did not feel tempted by politics until his thirtieth year.”
So what happened? What placed Hitler on the path to world destruction?
Three small coincidences, one right after the other.
One: Hitler’s goal in life was to become an artist. At that he was a failure. He couldn’t even get into art school. After WWI ended and he returned to Germany, he wandered aimlessly, still in the military but going nowhere and doing nothing, a failure, a man devoid of goals. He was working for a Captain Mayr who decided that Hitler needed a course in “civic thinking.”
Two: Back from the course, Hitler was ordered to do something he had never done before, to attend a meeting of a political party — the Nazi party. The meeting bored him. He agreed with some of what was said, but his field was art, not politics. However, disagreeing with something someone said he demanded the floor and began to speak. At that moment, history stumbled. The head of the Nazi party, Anton Drexler, turned to the man next to him and said, “Man, he has a big mouth; we could use him.”
Three: On Oct. 19, 1919, Hitler, now a lowly Nazi party recruiter, got up at a party meeting and began to talk. He spoke for 30 minutes and at the end, in his own words, “the people in the room were electrified.” He had found “what before I simply felt within me, without in any way knowing it — I could speak!”
Ordered to take a course. To attend a Nazi party meeting. Recruited by the party leader because he had a big mouth. The unexpected discovery of an ability to rabble rouse. But for those three coincidences, 30,000,000 people might not have died.
Not all coincidences are happy ones.
There are literally dozens of coincidences in Hitler’s life, but wait until you hear the next one! You may have heard of the “Beer Hall Putsch” in a history class. “Putsch” is the German word for a military takeover of the government. Hitler’s aim was to seize power in Munich, take over the Bavarian government, and go on from there to the control of all Germany.
On the evening of Nov. 8, 1923, in a beer hall of all places, Hitler held up a huge beer stein, took a swig, hurled the stein to the floor, leapt up on a table with a revolver in his hand, and fired a shot into the ceiling to silence the room.
“The national revolution has begun,” he shouted to the crowd. “The hall is surrounded by 600 well-armed men. No one may leave. Unless quiet is restored immediately I shall have a machine gun installed in the gallery.” And then he added a few more lies.
He told the meeting that both the Bavarian government and the national government had been overthrown, that police and military barracks had been occupied and the state police were approaching under the swastika flag — all BS.
He named a new prime minister and new state administrator, and announced that he was now president.
At noon of the next day, a march of several thousand Nazi party members moved toward the center of Munich with Hitler in the front rank. But when they reached city hall they found themselves faced by a line of armed policemen.
Marching on, straight at the loaded weapons, they dared the police to shoot. Bad mistake. Never dare a policeman to do his duty. He may do exactly that.
And then came another coincidence the world could have done without. Hitler happened to have his arm strung through that of a man named Scheubner-Richter. At the very first volley Scheubner-Richter fell, fatally wounded, his arm locked with Hitler’s. In falling, he dragged Hitler down and out of the hail of bullets.
But for that coincidence, Hitler would undoubtedly have died on 9 November 1923, a target of ridicule, a virtual unknown, a footnote on the pages of history. When the smoke cleared, 14 of the men around him lay dead, and many others lay wounded. Adolf Hitler suffered nothing more than a dislocated shoulder.
Imprisoned, he spent his time writing “Mein Kampf,” his plan for world domination. If I told you why they didn’t execute him, the usual penalty for high treason, it would ruin your day.