“Heʹs out there, operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the
pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field
– General Corman on Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now.
( ʹBadass of the Weekʹ )
“Ungern looked at everyone with the eyes of a beast of prey”
( a “very brave, but somewhat reckless and mentally unstable officer” )
Without a doubt, one of the single most influential men of the 20th century - for better or worse, mostly worse - was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin. Arguably the Muhammad of modern times, what he started reshaped most of the world in one way or another, and killed millions along the way… Yet his effect was itself extremely improbable. Had he been arrested instead of his brother - had he died of want in Zurich - had the Germans not found him useful, or had he not proved so - he would be entirely forgotten.
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This community has been dormant of late - part of Livejournal's slow decline - but this is a real stem-winder of a question and well worth turning the lights back on for!
The annals of history are full of fateful moments which scholars refer to as the great "what if's" of history, where if events had taken only a slight deviation the course of human affairs would have been dramatically different.
Such a moment occurred in the last moments of the Great War in the French village of Marcoing involving 27 year old Private Henry Tandey of Warwickshire, UK, and 29 year old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler of Braunau, Austria...
Private Tandey served with the 2nd Battalion in South Africa and Guernsey before the outbreak of war in 1914, he fought in the 1st Battle of Ypres in October 1914, two years later he was wounded in the leg during the Battle of the Somme and when discharged from a military hospital in England transferred to the 9th Battalion in Flanders and wounded at Passchendaele in November 1917...
Tandey was mentioned five times in dispatches and certainly earned his VC during the capture of the French village and crossing at Marcoing, his regiment held down by heavy machine gun fire Tandey crawled forward, located the machine gun nest and took it out.
Arriving at the crossing he braved heavy fire to place wooden planks over a gaping hole enabling troops to roll across and take the battle to the Germans, the day still not over he successfully led a bayonet charge against outnumbering enemy troops which helped bring hostilities to an end.
As the ferocious battle wound down and enemy troops surrendered or retreated, a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom and into Private Tandey's line of fire, the battle weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey, resigned to the inevitable. "I took aim but couldn't shoot a wounded man," said Tandey, "so I let him go."
The young German soldier nodded in thanks and the two men took diverging paths, that day and in history. Hitler retreated with the remnants of German troops and ended up in Germany, where he languished in the humiliation of defeat at wars end.
Tandey put that encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after he had won the Victoria Cross. It was announced in the London Gazette on 14th December 1918 and he was personally decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 17th December 1919, in newspaper reports a picture of him carrying a wounded soldier after the Battle of Ypres was published, a dramatic image which symbolized a war which was supposed to have put an end to all wars...
Hitler [wished] to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone him on his return to London. It wasn't until that time Tandey knew the man he had in his gun sight 20 years earlier was Adolf Hitler and it came as a great shock, given tensions at the time it wasn't something he felt proud about...
Out of the millions killed in the Great War - how could he have known the difference that just one more would have made...