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The Men That Might Not Have Been

Retired Article • Written by Josh Harding

In a recent Damn Interesting Article, the villian of the Bath, Michigan Massacre left a sign stating "Criminals are made, not born." The same could possibly be said of the worst that man kind has to offer. What makes a man (and to be p.c., a woman) who his is? There are many deciding factors in life that influence the path chosen. Well, these are the stories of three men who might-not-have-been.

Hitler the Artist
Before he decided to become a mass murder and generally well-hated throughout the globe (except by strange people with a strong affinity for razors and leather), Hitler’s true love was painting. After the death of his father, he lived off of an orphan's pension, mom's help, and the paintings he sold, mostly copying scenes from postcards and selling them to merchants and tourists. Unfortunately, he was twice denied entry into the Academy of Arts for “lack of talent”. When his mother died, he gave his pension to his sister and was unable to support himself. He ended up in homeless shelters and poor houses. His antisemitism was born around that time and he eventually joined the army at the beginning of WWI. The rest is history. So what would have the world been like, had he been admitted to the prestigious school? I bet those snobby nose-in-the-air art directors felt bad after he was responsible for several million deaths. Of course, who knows…even the struggling artist may have developed anti-Semitic views and joined the war in 1914 and ended up in exactly the same place. One of the admirers of his work is the infamous Dr. “Death” Kavorkian which just goes to show there is no accounting for taste.

Lenin the Gymnast
Before he took part in massively bloody revolutions, became one of the founders of a major world power, and signed the death order for the disposed monarch , Nicholai II and his family, Vladimir Ilich Lenin was a student and a gymnast. In fact he was an excellent student. His father was a teacher and was quite liberal in his thinking; promoting democracy and universal education. Things came crashing down on poor Vova's head when his father died and the next year, his older brother (also a superb student and also a gymnast, though they were not particularly close). was executed for participation in a plot to kill Alexander III. The family was shamed. Vova the gymnist was no more. Vladimir Ilich was born. His brother's crime shadowed him later when he was arrested and expelled from the Kazan University for participation in student protests. Although he and his mother wrote various authorities and royalty pleading to be let in, he was denied the second chance because of his brother. Allegedly when after his brother's death, he told his sister that, "We will not take that path." Indeed he didn't. His fate as a revolutionary lay in the directing and slaughter of the masses.

What would have been the fate of this smart, atheletic young boy had his destiny not led him down this path. Had his brother not been mixed up in terrorism, had he kept a low profile and not been booted out of school, what would he have been? Would he have been one of the aristocracy rounded up and shot by the revolution that would have happened at one point or another anyway? Would the communist Russia have lived so long? Would it have survived longer with Trotsky as the founder? Without Lenin, there would have never been a Stalin. Or would he have taken the same path eventually, on his own?

Stalin the Priest
Joseph (Soso) Stalin was born in Georgia to poor parents. His mother was 16 when she was married. She was the daughter of a serf and deeply religious. His father was a boot maker and worked in a factory making military boots. He was also a mean drunk. Once when Stalin was a baby, he threw young Soso to the floor with such force that he urinated blood for several days. Soso's mother finally got wise and drove her husband away. Soso was her third child, the first two dying in infancy. From his birth, Soso's mother had decided he was to become priest. She worked long, hard hours doing anything possible to pay for books and studies. Soso finished a spiritual college and entered into the seminary. It was there he was caught up in the revolutionary wave, left the seminary and became eventually Stalin.

What if Stalin had learned the trade of his father? What if his father had not been a nasty mean drunk? What if he had stayed the course and become a priest like his mother wished? What if he had fallen out of favor with Lenin before he was powerful enough to become the "Chief"? I would make the supposition that Russia would have had a drastically different history. There would have been more scientists, philosophers, and other of the intelligentsiya. The red scare would not have happened. 30 million people would not have died by his orders. The outcome of WWII could have been changed.

It's mind boggling to think of all that might or might not have been had any one of these men, or countless others, taken a different path in life. For good or for evil. Would the world we know be extremely altered, or would someone else have stood in their place, a marionette of Fate? Who knows. The world is hard enought to understand without breaking my brain on this kind of jazz.

Futher information:
Wikipedia Hitler article
Hitler Art Federal Case
Wikipedia Lenin article
English translation of Volkogonov's Lenin biography

Article written by Josh Harding, published on 23 December 2005. Josh is a contributing editor for

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.

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Daniel Lew
Posted 24 December 2005 at 02:11 am

It can be argued that even if these men hadn't done what they had done, others would have taken their place. But let's not play the "what if" game.

Posted 24 December 2005 at 02:41 am

The argument on whether your environment or your genes dictates future outcome has been fought many a time with no true answer. I am a believer that both play a part but the environment more so.

Posted 24 December 2005 at 05:27 am

I agree with Arcangel that environment plays more of a part in the outcome of ones "path." However, I believe evil can be born within one; whether it is a form of mental illness or some obscure gene that has not yet been discovered.

Some evil people are all around us and sometimes are caught and justice prevails. Others, well, get away with murder.

You just cannot do what these men did without evil. Perhaps an evil artist, raping his nude models? Or an evil Priest. I don't think I have to go into that much further. An evil Gymnast? I'm thinking Tanya Harding. But environment, I believe, catapults some of these evil people into greater acts of evil even evil people cannot understand.

Hey, I took a shot at it.

Posted 24 December 2005 at 09:37 am

Here is another interesting story, from The Handy Weather Answer book, by Walter A. Lyons:

"A tornado almost changed the course of popular music in the twentieth centry. On 5 April, 1936, a devastating tornado ravaged Tupleo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 residents. One of those who survived the devastation was an infant by the name of Elvis Aaron Presely."

In addition to making you think about "what if these people had not gone down in history," it's also fun to consider "what if your neighbors had become historic figures?" Like, what if your barber almost ran for president, or your bank teller almost formed a new political party?

Posted 24 December 2005 at 10:39 am

This whole thing reminds me to the movie "The butterfly effect". Shows perfectly how relatively fortuitous "small" facts can change the whole course of a persons life.
But in the end, I have to go with "Criminals are made, not born", in case the genetics or mental disease are not involved

Posted 24 December 2005 at 10:57 am

Reading about these men has got me thinking about who was the most deadly man in history. By that I mean who was the "chief cause" of the most deaths. For example, you said Stalin ordered 30 million people killed. Hitler is more hated, but at last count the Holocaust (which Hitler was obviously the chief cause) didn't kill up to 30 million, but I don't remember how many died in the war either. Of course all of this calls into question the qualifications for chief cause in someone's death. Any chance you could write an article on "The Deadliest Man in History" detailing both the qualifications of chief cause and the resulting candidate(s)?

Posted 24 December 2005 at 08:13 pm

I think for the most part that evil people don't know they are evil. They usually have a bigger goal and sometimes they have to remove obstacles. Stalin's victims were largely enemies of the state. He was very paranoid and that is what caused his death. But I don't imagine he ever said to himself "WhadamI, nuts?"

Jeff "The chef" Dahmmer didn't really want to kill people, he just didn't want them to leave. The eating part is usually an attempt to make that person a part of you. Just looking for love.
Nazis, KKK, Al Quaida, Westboro Baptist church all think they are doing the right thing and we just don't get it.

Secret Ninja
Posted 24 December 2005 at 10:40 pm

I'm not sure of the numbers, and my 56k makes me to lazy to look it up, but I think the Germans slaughtered something like 20 million Russians alone, along with like 6 million Jews, something like 5 million gypsies, and a couple million Americans, British, etc. But I wouldn't take my word for the numbers.

Posted 24 December 2005 at 11:45 pm

Here's a site that says about 55 million people died between 1939 and 1945 as a result of world war 2.

Posted 25 December 2005 at 02:51 am

One of the admirers of his work is the infamous Dr. “Death” Kavorkian which just goes to show there is no accounting for taste.

It's spelled "Kevorkian", but regardless, I'm not sure what relevance this statement has to anything. I mean, just because Hitler was evil doesn't mean he couldn't have been a talented painter. I think it's possible to acknowledge or even appreciate whatever talent he might have had aside from his place in history. Especially if you take into consideration that his painting career, such as it was, occurred long before his career as genocidal Fuhrer.

Posted 25 December 2005 at 06:17 am

Secret Ninja said: "I'm not sure of the numbers, and my 56k makes me to lazy to look it up, but I think the Germans slaughtered something like 20 million Russians alone, along with like 6 million Jews, something like 5 million gypsies, and a couple million Americans, British, etc. But I wouldn't take my word for the numbers."

I used your quote, but not to correct you. I don't dipute the numbers, but I heard it was 20 million Polish. Maybe their were 20 million Russians also. Maybe they were Russian/Polish. I don't know; that area of the world has changed so much I don't really know what country was, now isn't or still is.

Posted 25 December 2005 at 03:36 pm

Another thing to consider is... What if the Allies lost WWII? Would we be hearing the atrocities that Hitler and the Japanese commited, No. We would be hearing about the War Criminals Winston Churchil and FDR. And how they started the war to begin with... not the other way around...

Posted 25 December 2005 at 10:41 pm

Yes...History is written by the victor.

Posted 27 December 2005 at 01:05 am

On admiration of Hitler's paintings , I submit that we should disconnect politics from art - otherwise I would never watch many Hollywood movies because of the Liberal stands taken by many actors . Same goes for music , I would not want to hear Joan Baez just because she is a leftist , and that would be my loss .

Posted 29 December 2005 at 02:56 am

What if Charlie Manson had gotten that record deal...?

Posted 01 January 2006 at 08:20 am

While this has little to do with the article on Hitler, after reading it, I would like to share what I consider to be one of the best short stories ever written. The story is "Genesis and Catastrophe" by Roald Dahl. Those of you who have read the story will know why I have added it here. For those who have not, I highly recommend it.

Alan Bellows
Posted 08 January 2006 at 12:52 am

One of Hitler's original paintings sold recently on eBay for 11,150 Euros (about $13,500 dollars U.S.)


Posted 26 March 2006 at 11:58 am

That picture of Stalin is cute, dammit. He looks like my boyfriend, but with dark hair and a goatee. A sexy goatee.
...Yeah, I'm insane.

Posted 20 July 2006 at 08:32 am

Ok - I understand talking about Hitler and Stalin as being evil (although I should note that the deaths ordered by Stalin were not primarily based on the persons' ethnicity or religion - so there is a difference), but why mention Lenin in the same breath as the two others?

I am sure that just like any other leader in history he made mistakes, ones that should be condemned, but nothing, as far as I know, on the scale of the two others.
The only thing I see mentioned about him was being the leader behind the Russian revolution. So? Russian revolution was not much bloodier than the American or the French Revolutions - but I don't see you writing in this article about George Washington or Maximilien Robespierre.
You don't get to single out leaders just because you don't like their doctrine, so how about adding some "fair and balanced" to this article.

Posted 27 September 2006 at 10:20 am

This is a fascinating manifestation of chaos theory. It seems like most people on this site won't appreciate what I'm about to say, but here goes: Several years ago I was under the influence of ketamine, a hypnotic tranquilizer commonly used in the rave scene, and I had a vision of my life path as a four-dimensional fractal, and I saw the possibilities I could achieve if I took various paths. I could be the saviour of the human race, the most evil person ever conceived, and everything inbetween. Like any drug experience, my supposed insights faded away when I came down, but it still colors my experience. Most people never think about such things, but maybe they should. Is what you're doing right now putting you on the higher path of your possible futures? Think about it.

Posted 06 January 2007 at 09:36 pm

"Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time, in the right place , they're capable of anything!".......John Huston from the film Chinatown.

Posted 12 June 2007 at 02:02 pm

Now that's pretty Damn Interesting. I new about Hitler being an artist. But the rest is new. More useless knowledge unless... I'm next to try and take over the world. Muh-ha-ha

Posted 26 May 2008 at 12:49 am

Another interesting point along this lines is how many geniuses (evil or otherwise) have died prematurely? Elvis survived the tornado as a baby but maybe the next Newton didn't. And just to add to the WWII theme Churchill was in a car accident as a young man that very nearly killed him.

Posted 07 August 2008 at 11:38 am

Lenin and his older brother Alexander never were gymnasts. I guess this is a translation error - they both attended Gymnasium( it's just a regular school, only giving much more profound education, nothing to do with sports actually) and in russian the students of a gymnasium are called gymnasists (гимназисты) not gymnasts. LOL it was kind of funny to read.

Posted 09 August 2008 at 06:16 pm

We need someone to hate, much like wedge issues, to separate what is allowable and to drive social cohesion. It's not the person we hate, it's the idea: bed bugs, sewage, homeless people, etc. Also, it's a convenient rationalization to justify treating them in any way imaginable. How ironic.

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