Yet we forget some history-changing assassinations today. Even though some of those killings had a dramatic effect on history.
Forgotten Disruptive Assassinations include:
1. U.S. President William McKinley (R-Ohio) 1901
William McKinley (R-Ohio) was one of America’s most popular and influential presidents. Yet few people remember McKinley’s assassination.
McKinley founded the American colonial empire by waging and winning the Spanish American War and annexing the Philippines. As President, McKinley created a business-friendly conservative model of government that dominated the Republican Party and American national politics for 30 years.
In private, McKinley was skeptical of big business and worried about its power. However, McKinley’s personal popularity and conservatism successfully blocked rising progressive, socialist, and populist movements.
Ironically, the conservative McKinley laid the groundwork for a progressive revolution with his second vice presidential choice. McKinley’s first vice president Garret Hobart (R-New Jersey) died of heart failure in 1899.
When he sought reelection in 1900, McKinley picked the fiery progressive reformer Governor Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York) as his successor. Roosevelt was a popular war hero, a famous orator, a critic of big business, and a corruption fighter.
Roosevelt’s radicalism upset the Republican establishment in New York. The party elevated Roosevelt to the vice presidency hoping TR could fade into obscurity in that office. In fact, Roosevelt was studying law in 1901 in anticipation that his political career would end in the vice presidency.
An unemployed radical named Leon Czolgosz made Roosevelt into a legend by shooting McKinley at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, in September 1901. The conservative McKinley died and the radical Roosevelt became president.
The impact of McKinley’s assassination on American politics was vast. Roosevelt created the modern presidency by implementing a program of radical reforms. Roosevelt, for example, implemented government management of Western lands, began a program of trust busting, founded the FBI; America’s first national police force, recognized labor unions, and increased regulation of business.
Roosevelt’s personal popularity transformed Progressivism from a fashionable notion among Northeastern elitists to a powerful nationwide movement. One result of that was to block the rise of the radical Populist movement led by William Jennings Bryan (D-Nebraska) and the growing Socialist Party led by Eugene V. Debbs (Indiana).
Another result was to make activist government a popular idea among average Americans. Roosevelt, made anti business rhetoric fashionable and acceptable. To explain, TR’s status as a war hero; and association with McKinley, made his radical ideas palatable to white middle-class Americans.
Roosevelt created the modern presidency by pioneering the notion of the president as a celebrity. To explain, TR was the first President whom the press followed and covered incessantly. Teddy took advantage of the attention by using the press to promote his pet causes.
Roosevelt, was the first president to try to shape popular opinion by capitalizing on his celebrity. TR tried to influence popular opinion through his office.
Had McKinley lived, it is probable the Republicans could have remained conservative and probusiness. That could have made both populism and socialism more popular.
In particular, Teddy Roosevelt could have never gained the bully pulpit of the presidency and a national audience for his growing radicalism. Instead, somebody else; perhaps socialist Eugene Debs (S-Indiana), could have emerged as leader of American progressivism and taken it in a different direction.
Additionally, the modern presidency; with an all-powerful chief executive trying to influence popular opinion, have never emerged. Without Theodore Roosevelt’s example, 20th Century presidents could have been weaker and less influential.
Thus, American politics could have been very different had Leon Czolgosz’s bullets missed. Czolgosz changed American and world history by killing William McKinley.
2. Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi 1932
Sometimes fear of assassination is more destructive than the death itself. For instance, one man’s murder put Japan on the road to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.
That man was Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi and his death almost killed Japanese democracy. Inukai was a veteran politician, long-time cabinet minister, and organizer of several political parties.
In 1931, Japanese troops illegally invaded Manchuria (China’s Northeast Provinces). Inukai opposed the illegal aggression and the growing power of the military in Japanese politics.
Made Prime Minister in December 1931, Inukai tried to end the war with China and revive Japan’s economy by taking the nation off the gold standard. On 15 May 1932 radical officers murdered Inukai during a coup attempt.
Inukai’s murder ended civilian government in Japan and cleared the way for military, rule After the Prime Minister’s death, most Japanese were afraid to stand up to the military or resist its growing aggression. The assassination stopped party rule and a slow march towards parliamentary democracy dead.
The political environment became so dangerous and violent; that Japan’s most prominent admiral Isokoru Yamamoto spent his time on battleships because they were the only places where he was safe from Army assassins. Most Japanese leaders followed Yamamoto’s example and laid low out of fear of being killed.
By 1941 an incompetent military man; General Tōjō Hideki, became prime minister and gave the orders to attack the United States and the British Empire. Tōjō; one of the imbeciles behind Japan’s Tripartite Pact (Axis) with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, wanted to create a New Order in Asia.
Even officers who doubted Japan’s ability to defeat the United States; such as Yamamoto, went along with Tōjō’s insane rush to war because of fear of assassination. Four years later, Japan’s cities were in ruins; the Imperial Japanese Navy was sunk, and 2.6 million to 3.1 million Japanese; including Yamamoto, were dead.
The Allies hanged Tōjō as a war criminal in 1948. However, perhaps the real cause of Japan’s march to destruction was fear of assassination.
These examples show assassination can change history. Japan’s fate; however, shows assassins need to be careful what they wish for.
Inukai’s assassins wanted to Make Japan Great Again. Instead, the killers created the political environment that led to Japan’s near destruction.