The choices you make can change your history

Are you really certain of your choices? Some decisions can have a major impact


Are you sure about your chosen course? Really sure? Are you certain you wouldn’t rather do chemistry? Or juggling? Perhaps you’ve been wrong about this medicine thing. All the cool kids are doing millinery these days; is it too late to make the jump?

Thanks to the CAO change of mind form, you no longer have to fear spending decades in the trenches of Hollywood moviestardom, when your true love is marine biology. Maybe you’re more than happy with your chosen career, and who can blame you: leaking official secrets to the news media is the trend du jour. But even if you are, who among us has not wondered about the path not travelled? To help you clarify things in your mind, we’re going to take a look at five seismic decisions that changed history.

1 Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
George Lucas didn’t want Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. He’d already had the ex-carpenter turn up in American Graffiti and Star Wars and fancied new blood. Lucas was especially keen on the greatest moustache-wearer of the late 20th century, Tom Selleck. But CBS, who’d already hired him to wear Hawaiian shirts and drive a Ferrari for Magnum PI, was not keen to let its golden goose wander off, and Selleck had to refuse. Lucas was forced to accept his second choice and the rest is bullwhips and history.

What if Selleck had become Indy? Would moustaches have been even more popular? Would John Aldridge have been that generation’s David Beckham? Would we ever have heard of that Harrison Ford fella again?

Some questions are too shocking to contemplate, friends.

2 Tim Berners-Lee and the internet
In 1978, Tim Berners-Lee was working as an engineer in Dorset, creating type-setting software for printers. It was a quiet, normal life for a man who’d spent his childhood tinkering with model trains to learn electronics. But by 1984, he had moved to Switzerland to work at CERN, where he helped create the world wide web with Robert Cailliau, and the rest is all over our world today.

As part of the process of invention, they made one decision that continues to have a huge impact today. Berners-Lee and Caillau convinced CERN not to seek royalties from their invention. By doing so, they created the open web, allowing their version to overtake rival paid ones to become the universal standard.

There are many strong arguments why the open web is a good thing. But there are lots of problems with it too, as many of the industries affected by the shrinking of employment it has contributed to can attest. What would the world be like if the web wasn’t free? As recent headlines remind us, if information is free, anyone can have it and use it.

3 Adolf Hitler and Operation Barbarossa
In June 1941, Hitler was top of the heap in Europe. Though Germany had failed to win the Battle of Britain, it controlled most of Europe and continued to bomb Britain with impunity. The USA, yet to experience the assault on Pearl Harbour, was staying well away from the fight and a non-aggression pact had been agreed with Stalin.

Then Hitler decided to invade Moscow. Some 5.5 million soldiers headed off in summer khakis into the teeth of a Russian winter.

Barbarossa would mark the turning of the tide for Hitler. German forces, highly trained and supplied as they were, could not cope with the harsh conditions of war in Russia.

By winter 1941, the Soviet army had the upper hand and Germany was now committed to a two-front war it couldn’t possibly win. The late addition of the USA to the western front was the final straw. If Hitler hadn’t invaded Russia, he might still have lost the war, but the cost could have been even higher.

4 The man who turned down The Beatles
“Guitar groups are on the way out,” said the man from Decca Records, explaining the decision, in 1962, to sign Brian Poole and the Tremeloes over four lads from Liverpool.

In recorded history, worse decisions have been made. Someone gave Vanilla Ice a record deal, for example. But turning down The Beatles at the very beginning of the most legendary period of rock and roll is perhaps not the savviest example of forecasting. John, Paul, George and Ringo would go on to make little-known ditties such as Strawberry Fields Forever, Hey Jude, Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby, while everyone is familiar with the global success of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. Right?

5 If Rosa Parks had changed seat
The bus journey on December 1st, 1955 should have been like any other in Alabama. Segregation was still an article of faith in the southern states: blacks and whites were expected to stay in their boxes. The murder of teenager Emmet Till only months before served as a brutal reminder of the consequences of crossing the line. But for Rosa Parks, exhausted after a long day of work, that line was about to be moved for her.

She obediently sat in the “coloured section” but as the bus filled up, the driver, James F Blake, decided to reallocate seats in white people’s favour, demanding that the black people sitting in the middle section give up their seats so whites didn’t have to stand. Rosa refused, was arrested, and dragged through the courts.

Much later, in her autobiography, she wrote: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

The civil rights movement would have existed without Rosa Parks. Too much inequality and cruelty for too long was unsustainable, but sometimes one moment can bring a truth to the world’s ears. Parks’s defiant refusal to move made her an inspiration to millions and accelerated the pace of change.

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