History is full of assassinations that changed the outcome of events. Most people; however, only know of a few dramatic assassinations.
The killings of Mahatmas K. Gandhi, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Julius Caesar, President Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois), Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and President John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), for example. Yet, there are other assassinations that probably had a greater impact on events that only history buffs are aware of.
A few history-changing assassinations that you are probably unaware of include:
1. Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin
The most disruptive assassination of the 20th Century was probably the killing of Russian statesman Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin. I think Stolypin was the one man who could have reformed the Russian Empire and prevented World War I.
As President of Russia’s Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) Stolypin pushed through a program of radical reforms designed to redistribute land to poor peasants. Stolypin also ruthlessly suppressed left-wing terrorists and revolutionaries.
In fact, Stolypin hanged so many leftists as interior minister, Russians called the hangman’s noose “Stolypin’s necktie.” Given, the slaughter that occurred after the Russian Revolution; when leftists led by Lenin and Stalin murdered tens of millions of innocent people, Stolypin’s repression seems farsighted.
Stolypin was a strong advocate of peace who tried to arrange a detente between the German and Russian empires. Additionally, Stolypin foreign adventures such as Russia’s support of the aggressive Serbian government. A policy that led to World War I.*
Finally, Stolypin was the one Russian leader strong enough force Czar Nicholas II to reform the empire and make a permanent peace Germany. Thus, Stolypin could have become the Russian equivalent of Otto von Bismarck.
Bismarck was the powerful and autocratic conservative chancellor who forced a successful program of radical reforms on the German Empire. Interestingly, Bismarck created the world’s first welfare state and invented both Social Security and single-payer health insurance.
There is a conspiracy surrounding Stolypin’s death, legend has it that Russian police admitted Bogrov to the opera. Whether Russian police; or the Czar, himself conspired to kill Stolypin is unknown. Some historians theorize the Tsar was planning to fire Stolypin before the assassination.
*See The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 By Christopher Clark pages 187-189 for an account of Stolypin’s peace efforts.
2. Walther Rathenau
Rathenau was the greatest German statesman of the first half of the 20th Century. Rathenau; an industrialist and philosopher turned politician, helped Germany survive and nearly win World War I by reorganizing its economy.
After World War I, Rathenau worked tirelessly to rebuild his country’s economy; and end the imbecilic program of reparations that was impoverishing Germany.
In addition, Rathenau championed democracy and founded the German Democratic Party after World War I. Furthermore, Rathenau tried to bring peace to Europe; and restore Germany’s role in international politics, through the Treaty of Rapallo with the Soviet Union.
Despite all his accomplishments self-proclaimed “German nationalists” assassinated Rathenau on 24 June 1922. The nationalists killed Germany’s greatest leader because Rathenau was Jewish.
Rathenau was the one German democratic leader who could have been strong enough to resist the rise of Hitler and Nazism. Had Rathenau lived it could have spared the world World War II and the Holocaust.
Likewise, Rathenau could have negotiated a settlement that peacefully restored Germany’s role as a great power. However, we will never know because antisemitic bigots murdered Rathenau.
Ultimately, history proved Rathenau right and his nationalist critics wrong. The nationalists became the Nazis and eventually took over Germany and led the country to destruction in World War II.
After World War II; however, the new Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) successfully adopted Rathenau’s policies of peaceful coexistence and economic growth. Germany is now the most powerful nation in Europe, the leader of the European Union, and the fourth largest economy in the world.
Thus Germany could have enjoyed a resurgence; and become an economic powerhouse, without the bloodbath known as World War II. The so-called nationalists who murdered Rathenau nearly destroyed Germany because of mindless prejudice.
3. Admiral François Darlan
The killing of Admiral François Darlan on Christmas Eve 1942, was probably the most convenient assassination in history.
Darlan, the commander of the French Navy, joined Field Marshal Philippe Pétain in surrendering the French military to the Nazis in June 1940. From February 1941 to April 1942, Darlan served as vice premier and foreign minister in Petain’s pro-Nazi Vichy government.
By November 1942, the entry of the United States into World War II; and Allied victories, convinced Darlan to change sides. When American forces invaded North Africa in 1942, Darlan was conveniently in Algiers to welcome them.
Darlan won American support by persuading the Vichy French forces in North Africa to switch sides and join the Allies. Consequently, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) recognized Darlan as the commander of the Free French military and leader of France.
FDR’s action upset the self-proclaimed Free French Commander in London; Charles de Gaulle. However, Roosevelt had little choice; because Darlan outranked de Gaulle and was in direct command of the bulk of the French military.
The British had recognized de Gaulle as “Free French Leader;” because he was the highest-ranking French officer not to surrender in 1940. However, most of the French forces were in North Africa, where Darlan was in command.
Darlan’s reign as a leader of “Free France;” in reality a collection of colonies with almost no French inhabitants, lasted a little over a month. On 24 December 1942, a fanatic named Bonnier de la Chapelle shot Darlan while the admiral was eating lunch in an Algiers hotel.
There is speculation a shadowy conspiracy arranged Darlan’s assassination. The alleged conspiracy involved some French military officers and a Roman Catholic priest named Abbé Cordier, The Warfare History Network reports. Chapelle’s true motives are unknown because French authorities executed him a few days later.
A popular conspiracy about Darlan’s death involves FDR, Winston Churchill, and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor to the CIA. Conspiracy theorists think Roosevelt and Churchill ordered Darlan’s death, because the admiral had become a political embarrassment to them.
To explain, politicians, the press, and members of the public in the United States were mad at FDR for working with a “collaborator” Darlan and betraying the heroic de Gaulle. However, de Gaulle’s fan club ignored all the British and American lives Darlan saved by ending Vichy resistance in North Africa.
Another possibility is that de Gaulle and his “Free French” killed their rival Darlan. Additionally, the British could have wanted Darlan; an American ally, dead to ensure that their client de Gaulle became “leader” of France. Finally, the Nazis and their Vichy puppet regime, could have assassinated Darlan for betraying them.
There is one certainty, Darlan’s death changed French history. Without the Admiral de Gaulle became the undisputed “Free French leader,” and followed the Allies into Paris in 1944. Afterwards, de Gaulle headed the French government for two years from 1944 to 1946.
After World War II, de Gaulle had the prestige to overthrow France’s Third Republic and organize a new French government in 1958. Had Darlan lived there is a strong possibility he; and not de Gaulle, would have led France through the war and become its greatest hero and President of the Republic.
So yes, assassinations can change history. Yet we ignore some most interesting and important assassinations.