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

Written by Josh Harding, posted on 23 December 2005. Josh is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.
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