Jun 04 2010

Did it have to turn out like this?

Category: God,government,history,justice,liberty,military,national security,societyharmonicminer @ 8:00 am

The next time you get a chance to take a shot at a future conqueror, take it. No, lefty nitwits, I’m not talking about taking a shot at the next Republican president-elect. I’m talking about people whose overweening ambition makes them think they have the right to conquer the world.  By definition, no US president qualifies, because all have left office, willingly or not, without coercion, and gone home to write their memoirs, if they lived long enough. 

No, I’m talking about a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Mao, or….  well, you get the idea.  Kaiser Wilhelm, without whom World War I would probably not have occurred as it did, is one such, though that seems not to have been immediately obvious to Annie Oakley…  a dead shot if there ever was one.  Although after WWI started, she seems to have caught on quickly enough about the Kaiser’s character.

THERMOPYLAEHILLBILLY: Annie Oakley and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Where would we be today if Annie Oakley had just a little more to drink in 1889? Kaiser Wilhelm II was the Reich’s new leader and had a box seat to watch Oakley at the Berlin Charlottenburg Race Course. She was appearing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and had cleaned her Colt 45 the night before. Annie announced that she would shot the ashes off any man or woman’s Havana cigar. Normally her husband Frank Butler come out of the audience and her speech was just for show.

She never expected anyone, including Kaiser Wilhelm II to take her up on her offer and here came the Kaiser out of his box seat. Oakley had made her dare, there stood the Kaiser and she couldn’t back down. So as she measured her distance the Kaiser took out a cigar and started puffing. The German police thought it was a joke until the Kaiser took up his position. The Kaiser told the police to get out of the way.

Annie Oakley, American sharp shooter, raised her pistol, aimed and blew the ashes off Kaiser Wilhelm II cigar. Had she missed the woman from Cincinnati may have prevented the First World War 25 years later. When World War I started Annie wrote the Kaiser asking for a second chance. Silence followed……………

What If Diaries » What if Annie Oakley had shot Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1889?

One chilly November afternoon in 1889, a fur-coated crowd assembled in Berlin’s Charlottenburg Race Course to enjoy a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild Wild West Show, which was touring Europe to great popular acclaim. Among the audience was the Reich’s impetuous young ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had been on the throne for a year. Wilhelm was particularly keen to see the show’s star attraction, Annie Oakley, famed throughout the world for her skills with a Colt. 45.

On that day, as usual, Annie announced to the crowd that she would attempt to shoot the ashes from the cigar of some lady or gentleman in the audience. “Who shall volunteer to hold the cigar?” she asked. In fact, she expected no one from the crowd to volunteer; she simply asked for laughs. Her long-suffering husband, Frank Butler, always stepped forward and offered himself as her human Havana-holder.

This time, however, Annie had no sooner made her announcement then Kaiser Wilhelm himself leaped out of the royal box and strutted into the arena. Annie was stunned and horrified but could not retract her dare without losing face. She paced off her usual distance while Wilhelm extracted a cigar from a gold case and lit it with flourish. Several German policeman, suddenly realizing that this was not one of kaiser’s little jokes, tried to preempt the stunt, but were waved off by His All-Highest Majesty. Sweating profusely under her buckskin, and regretful that she had consumed more than her usual amount of whiskey the night before, Annie raised her Colt, took aim, and blew away Wilhem’s ashes.

Had the sharpshooter from Cincinnati creased the kaiser’s head rather than his cigar, one of Europe,s most ambitious and volatile rulers would have been removed from the scene. Germany might not have pursued its policy of aggressive Weltpolitik that culminated in war twenty-five years later.

Annie herself seemed to realize her mistake later on. After World War I began, she wrote to the kaiser asking for a second shot. He did not respond.

Annie Oakley, the Butterfly Effect, and You

In the late 1800s, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a dazzling display of horsemanship, gunplay and other cowboy skills. One of its acts involved the sharpshooting of the great Annie Oakley. Dubbed “Little Sure Shot,” Oakley had an amazing routine – she would shoot out lit candles, for example, and the corks of wine bottles.

For her grand finale, she would shoot out the lit end of a cigarette held in a man’s mouth at a certain distance. For this, she would ask for volunteers from the audience. As no one ever volunteered, she had her husband planted among the spectators. He would “volunteer” and they would complete the dangerous trick together.

Well, during one swing through Europe, Oakley was setting up her finale and she asked for volunteers. To her shock – and the surprise of everyone involved with the show – she got a real volunteer.

The proud young Prince (soon to be Kaiser) Wilhelm bravely stepped down from among the spectators, strode into the ring and stuck a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Reportedly out late the night before enjoying the local beer gardens, the unexpected appearance of this famous volunteer unnerved her. But the show must go on.

She took aim and fired… putting out the cigarette, much to Wilhelm’s amusement.

Thus, she also created one of historians’ favorite “what if” moments. What if her bullet went through the future Kaiser’s left ear? Would World War I have happened? Would the lives of 9 million soldiers and 6.6 million civilians have been spared? Would Hitler have risen from the ashes of defeated Germany? All sorts of questions come to mind…


Many historians think that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, leading to the Soviet Union, would not have occurred without World War I to weaken the Czar (who was made by Lenin and Stalin to seem rather a nice fellow, by comparison).  Nazi Germany is difficult to credit as a likely outcome of a Germany that didn’t fight in WWI, because no great German angst would been present about a non-existent Treaty of Versailles, and no not-quite-imperialistic Kaiser would have tolerated Hitler in the feckless way German proto-democracy did.  In any case, without the agony of the post-war years, Hitler would have been only another anti-Semite, with no way to get traction with the German public at large.

World War II is hard to imagine without World War I.  Germany simply wouldn’t have had the drive to do it, absent the peculiar circumstances of the end of WW I.  At most, Japanese imperialism might have been a problem…  but strong British Empire, not weakened by WWI, would have been in a clear position to oppose Japanese aggression in China and elsewhere, and probably given the Emperor so much to consider that attacking the USA would have been a very low priority.

So imagine a 20th century without two world wars, without a cold war, indeed, without communism, which would have meant no Korean War, no Vietnam War, etc.  Imagine a still-strong British Empire still ruling the waves, shipping around the world the incredible output of American industry.

I know that cultural trends are present in history.  But I’m also pretty sure that without specific deeds by specific people, everything would have been different.

All of which occasionally leaves me wondering, in a much more pedestrian way, what deeds or words of everyday folk can sometimes have an effect that is seemingly far disproportionate to their obvious impact?

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