This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
CA
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Canada version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2017 > 50 Decisions that Changed the World

50 Decisions that Changed the World

To celebrate our 50th issue, we asked some of our favourite historians, writers and broadcasters to join us in selecting the key moments that shaped history. Read on to find out what they chose…
ALAMY X10, ARCANGEL X2, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X1, GETTY X22, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS X1, NASA X1, REX/SHUTTERSTOCK X1 XXXXXX

1941: HITLER DECIDES TO INVADE RUSSIA

CHOSEN BY MAX HASTINGS HISTORIAN, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST

Adolf Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of Russia defined World War II. If the Führer of Nazi Germany had instead concentrated upon finishing off the British – by seizing Gibraltar through Spain and reinforcing Rommel in North Africa – he could almost certainly have overrun the Middle East. In such an event, it is highly doubtful that Winston Churchill could have retained the premiership, and any plausible successor in Downing Street would have made terms with Germany that would have reduced Britain to the status of Philippe Pétain’s halfoccupied France.

German troops descend on Stalingrad, in a move that turned the tide of World War II in the Allies’ favour

As it was, Hitler’s foremost ambitions lay in the east – despite his generals always fearing that defeating Russia would be beyond the means of the German war economy, which was much weaker than the wartime allies ever understood. Many of the tanks leading the panzer divisions into Russia were captured French or Czech models, while Hitler’s armies were dangerously dependent on horses for transport. It is narrowly possible that, if he had done as his Wehrmacht planners urged and concentrated on a single thrust for Moscow instead of committing large forces south to drive for Joseph Stalin’s oil fields, Hitler might have prevailed.

All that is certain is that from June 1941 onwards, the Russo-German clash was the main event of the war, to which all else was subordinate. By the time the British and Americans belatedly landed in Normandy in June 1944, the victorious Red Army could almost assuredly (although nothing is absolutely certain in war or peace) have got to Berlin on its own. The US and Britain were both fundamentally sea powers, contesting mastery with Germany, a land power. They were extraordinarily fortunate that Russian mass spared them from the many ill-consequences, and huge casualties, that might otherwise have fallen to their lot.

Max Hastings’s new book Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975 will be published in 2018

1762: CATHERINE THE GREAT REFUSES TO FLEE THE COUNTRY

The death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia in 1761 led to the Grand Duke succeeding as Peter III, with his wife Catherine becoming empress. But theirs was a strained, unconventional relationship and, when rumours began to circulate that Peter was imminently to divorce her (or worse), Catherine’s advisers suggested she leave the country.

ALAMY X2, GETTY X6

The advice fell on deaf ears and Catherine stayed put. Then six months after Peter ascended to the throne, she mobilised the troops in St Petersburg and had her estranged husband arrested (and possibly assassinated). She anointed herself as Catherine II and spent the next 34 years expanding the Russian empire, laying the foundations for its future status as a superpower.

1532: ATAHUALPA WRONGLY ACCEPTS AN INVITATION TO DINNER

Atahualpa was the newly installed head of the Inca Empire, having defeated his half-brother Huascar at the Battle of Quipaipan. Within months, however, he faced another threat in the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro who, with a modest 180 or so troops, was marching on the Inca capital of Cusco. Atahualpa, with 80,000 men at his disposal, felt no reason to be too worried so accepted an invitation from Pizarro to a large feast. The Inca emperor took the bait – after refusing to convert to Christianity, he was captured and 7,000 of his men slaughtered. Atahualpa was executed the following year and the Spanish takeover of the Inca Empire began in earnest.

1066: HAROLD GODWINSON SENDS HIS TROOPS NORTH

In January 1066, the death of Edward the Confessor left a power vacuum, with several different pretenders to the throne. Harold Godwinson took the crown, but faced opposition from both his own brother Tostig and from William, Duke of Normandy. Believing the threat from the latter not to be too severe, Harold sent his troops north to defeat the invading Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This left the south coast of England relatively unprotected, and William the Conqueror took full advantage. The first Norman king of England had arrived.

1961: JFK PLEDGES TO PUT A MAN ON THE MOON

“ This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon.” With these words, newly elected US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy revealed to a packed Congress his intentions to edge ahead in the Space Race. The following year, he famously set out his motivation: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Just before the decade was up, an American flag had indeed been planted on the lunar surface (although JFK was not alive to witness it).

1492: SPAIN FUNDS THE VOYAGES OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

Having already approached, and been rejected by, the kings of Portugal, France and England to secure funding for his planned voyage to discover a westward trade route to Asia, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus travelled to Spain where he met King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Córdoba. At the third time of asking, they agreed to underwrite his first voyage. It proved to be a shrewd move. Although he didn’t reach Asia, Columbus landed in the Caribbean and the Americas, triggering the 300-year-long spread of Catholicism and the Spanish language across the region.

1947: INDIA IS SPLIT IN TWO

CHOSEN BY ANITA RANI TV AND RADIO PRESENTER

The Partition of India was the largest mass migration in human history – 15 million people were displaced and one million killed. It was an immense moment in history, when the great Indian subcontinent became two countries, and later three.

It wasn’t just a nation deciding to split apart. This was the end of the empire, a time of turmoil for the whole world. It was so significant for everybody, and particularly Britain. But if you’ve ruled a country for 200 years, you have a duty to make sure the exit strategy is thought-out. Instead, it was a case of cut and run. That anyone could think there wouldn’t be violence is hard to believe, especially as clashes had already started the year before in Calcutta. I think Britain just wanted to get the heck out of there.

Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India (second from right) reveals his plans for partition

Their work was done. Let India and Pakistan deal with the mess.

The Partition was dealt with in such a crazy way. The man who drew the line of divide, Cyril Radcliffe, wasn’t a geographer and had never set foot in India before. This poor lawyer had been given the burden of drawing the boundary, ensuring it split territory and people equitably, and was given just five weeks to do so. And they left the gaping hole of Kashmir in the north, a massively open wound that India and Pakistan still deal with today. Tere have been wars over Kashmir and it continues to fuel enmity, animosity, suspicion and fear between the two countries. It’s tragic that a nation that was one – and people who were one – can overnight start hating each other.

READ MORE
Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of History Revealed - Christmas 2017
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - Christmas 2017
$5.49
Or 549 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.68 per issue
SAVE
71%
$3.99
Or 399 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.85 per issue
SAVE
45%
$49.99
Or 4999 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.84 per issue
SAVE
40%
$24.99
Or 2499 points

View Issues

About History Revealed

When we began thinking of how best to celebrate our 50th issue, we thought it would be great to look at the turning points in history, to pick which decisions had the greatest impact on the world. But as we started to come up with a list of key moments, it soon became clear that this was a herculean task; we were going to need some help. A few phone calls and emails later, we had assembled a panel of experts including some of the most respected and popular historians, writers and broadcasters in the land. We quickly realised it’s not possible to define the single biggest decision in history – how could anyone? – but the variety of responses we had illustrated the vast richness of history. So, from Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, to Decca Records choosing to pass on the Beatles, we present 50 decisions that, for better or worse, have shaped our world. Before I let you go, I’d like to thank all of our readers most sincerely for your support since we launched – here’s to the next 50 issues!
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points