My interests are many and varied. I enjoy Track and Field, Olympic Weight Lifting, the Golden and Silver Age comic book eras. For years I have been trying to complete my set of The Fantastic Four series. The first issue appeared in November 1961 and sold for ten cents. In 2010 I achieved my goal by acquiring the first five issues, the only ones I had not been able to locate at a decent price and in good condition. A Fantastic Four No. 1 graded 9.4 out of 10 will set you back $80,000. I can assure you that I did not pay anything near that amount for my issue. God has a sense of humor. My next door neighbor is a famous comic book artist.
I continue to tinker with mastering Morse Code. It’s a great way to develop concentration skills if you learn it at a relatively fast speed. Try it some time. One of these days I’ll write an article on how to do it. Your children should certainly learn Morse Code. It’s like learning a new language. The younger you are when you start, the easier it is to learn. As an added benefit, we may all need to know Morse Code if the State starts messing with talk radio and the internet.
Films have always captured my interest. It’s a form of temporal escapism. Great dialogue (e.g., Sunset Boulevard, Casa Blanca), compelling storytelling (e.g., Ben Hur, The Maltese Falcon, Red River, The Godfather I and II), and focused character development (e.g., Chariots of Fire, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sergeant York) are what I enjoy most. The subject of science, including its forward-looking cousin science fiction, has always interested me. I love magic (I can make a playing card float in the air right before your eyes) and yo-yo tricks. Model trains are another interest. I wish I had the time and skill to set up a room devoted to them. (Check out the Miniatur Wunderland if you want to see the largest model railroad in the world. Unbelievable.) Anything related to improving memorization is also high on my interest list.
When I became a Christian in 1973, I didn’t know what God was going to do with my new life. The first Christian book I purchased was C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I now have a library of more than 25,000 books dealing with all types of worldview issues. History makes up a large part of my library. I like the unusual, the controversial, the revisionist, and the “what ifs.” Some of these “what ifs” turn out to be true, and some turn out to be fables. It takes a good bit digging to separate fact from fiction. Here’s one example, “the course of history might have been irrevocably altered had U.S. major league baseball scouts succeeded in drafting Cuban leader Fidel Castro in his prime. . . . Nearly 10 years before he came to triumph in the 1959 Revolution, Castro was appraised by major league scouts, though he says no deal was ever struck.” James Blight, a former pitcher and scout for the New York Giants organization, tried to recruit Castro. He reported that he “doesn’t throw that hard but he’s got an amazing curve ball.”1 What if Castro had had a better fastball? No Cuban missile crisis; no Little Havana; no plot line for The Godfather, Part II; and a steady supply of Cuban cigars.
There’s often another side to an interesting story like the Castro fastball legend. Often myth and legend get mixed in with history. Borrowing a line from the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), many people prefer the legend to the truth. Legends can be manufactured like a wax nose to engage and intrigue audiences to elevate the status of a despotic national leader, shape public opinion, or maintain the status quo. It’s no different when it comes to the legends of history:
One of the most enduring baseball legends is the often told story that if only Fidel Castro’s fastball had just a little bit more stuff on it, he would have played for the Washington Senators and the whole Cuban Revolution would have been different. The fact of the matter is that Castro was just a mediocre athlete in high school and though he did pitch, did so only as a means to show his dominance over others. He was by most reports a far more superior basketball player and actually did not care much for baseball. He did try out for his college team at the University of Havana but did not come close to making even the JV squad. . . . Back in the forties when Castro was in college, scouts from the Washington Senators scoured the island looking for anyone with an ounce of talent and signed them to contracts so they could fill the spots vacated by American players drafted into the service. The Senators and their farm teams during the war were filled with Spanish speaking players so if Castro had any bit of talent chances are he would have been signed by the Senators. But like everything else during a Communist dictatorship the truth is hard to come by and after the Cuban Revolution and Castro’s rise to complete power his baseball career has taken on a life of its own, some due to the usual communist propaganda and some of it due to players stretching the truth in order to make a good story (source).
There are a number of what ifs upon which history turns. What if Adolf Hitler had been a better artist or had been afflicted with the family name Schicklgruber? For the first thirty-nine years of Adolf Hitler’s father’s life, he was known as Alois Schicklgruber. Because Alois was illegitimate, he was named after his mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Later, Maria married Johann Hiedler, a wandering miller. Even so, Johann never passed his name onto Alois. After Maria’s death, Johann vanished for thirty years, only to reappear at the age of eighty-four, with his name now changed from Hiedler to Hitler. How would history have been different if Johann Hiedler had stayed out of Alois Schicklgruber’s life?
There are many weird twists of fate in the strange life of Adolf Hitler, but none more odd than this one which took place thirteen years before his birth. Had the eighty-four-year-old wandering miller not made his unexpected reappearance to recognize the paternity of his thirty-nine-year-old son nearly thirty years after the death of his mother, Adolf Hitler would have been born Adolf Schicklgruber. There may not be much or anything in a name, but I have heard Germans speculate whether Hitler could have become the master of Germany had he been known to the world as Schicklgruber. It has a slightly comic sound as it rolls off the tongue of a South German. Can one imagine the frenzied German masses acclaiming a Schicklgruber with their thunderous “Heils”? “Heil Schicklgruber!”? Not only was “Heil Hitler!” used as a Wagnerian, pagan-like chant by the multitude in the mystic pageantry of the massive Nazi rallies, but it became the obligatory form of greeting between Germans during the Third Reich, even on the telephone, where it replaced the conventional “Hello.” “Heil Schicklgruber!”? It is a little difficult to imagine.2
Hitler confided to his only childhood friend, August Kubizek, “that the name Schicklgruber ‘seemed to him so uncouth, so boorish, apart from being so clumsy and unpractical. He found ‘Heidler’ . . . too soft; but ‘Hitler’ sounded rich and was easy to remember.”3 What’s in a name? Maybe more than we realize.
When President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas on November 22, 1963, the plan was for him to ride in a specially designed limousine that would take him through the streets of Dallas before throngs of people who wanted to get a glimpse of the president and his very popular wife. The car was equipped with a removable bubble top. Because it rained earlier in the day, the top was left on. Jim Lehrer of the “McNeill/Lehrer News Hour” was a reporter covering the Kennedy visit to Dallas for a local public broadcasting station. Lehrer’s news team wanted to know if the bubble top was going to stay on. Lehrer, who was friends with the agent in charge of the Dallas Secret Service office, asked if the bubble was going to stay on. Agent Forrest Sorrels asked for the weather report. It was clear. No rain in sight. “Mr. Sorrels yelled back at the agents standing by the car: ‘Take off the bubble top!’”4 Jim Lehrer recounts the events that remain vivid to this day.
Just over twelve hours later, I was part of the bedlam at the Dallas police station along with hundreds of other reporters. I went into the police chief’s outer office to await the breakup of a meeting in Chief Jesse Curry’s main office. I had no idea who was in there.
The door opened and out walked several men. One of them was Forrest Sorrels. He looked tired and sad. And bewildered. He saw me and I moved toward him. His eyes were wet. He paused briefly, shook his head slightly and whispered: “Take off the bubble top.”
He was gone before I had a chance to say. It was all right, Mr. Sorrels. It wasn’t your fault, Mr. Sorrels.
It wasn’t our fault, Mr. Sorrels.5
What if Jim Lehrer had never asked about the bubble top? LBJ’s “Great Society” would never have materialized. The “welfare state” might have become a psycho-babble slogan for people who have conquered anxiety attacks. A similar what-if scenario has been done for Robert Kennedy: “An end to Vietnam, no Watergate, a chance for liberalism.” So writes “Kennedy’s biographer on the might-have-beens” of JFK’s younger brother who had fallen to an assassin’s bullet on June 5, 1968.6
The number of historical “what-if” is staggering. Thinking about any of them will drive you crazy. Abraham Lincoln had already seen Our American Cousin. It was Mrs. Lincoln who insisted that they go to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. What would America be like today if Lincoln had not been assassinated?
Then there’s the case of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s lost orders in Maryland in 1862. They were later found by Union soldiers. James McPherson, author of the 1988 history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, outlines a historical what-if where “Lee would have been much more likely to have won a major victory in Maryland instead of suffering an embarrassing loss, and a victory surely would have led to recognition of the Confederacy by the British and French governments. And that could have resulted, ultimately, in Confederate independence.”7 Other historians, following the what-if scenario, came to similar conclusions about America’s darkest war.
Two years before the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, a group of Catholic conspirators plotted to assassinate King James I and members of Parliament by blowing up the House of Lords and the House of Commons. By destroying the government, the conspirators hoped to recapture the crown and return the country to Roman Catholicism. The conspirators rented a house immediately adjoining Parliament. Thirty-six barrels of gun powder were placed in a cellar under the House of Lords, where King James was to address Parliament on November 5, 1605. Iron bars and huge stones were placed over the mound of powder to increase the destructive force of the blast. The disastrous concoction was then hidden under coal and wood. When the fateful day arrived, the plot was never carried out. Someone had sent a letter to the parliamentary leader warning him not to attend the forthcoming session of Parliament, and the plot was exposed. Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators, was arrested as he entered the cellar before the planned explosion. Fawkes and seven others were eventually tried and executed. To this day, every year on November 5, England celebrates Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks and by burning the mad bomber in effigy.
Would America’s history have taken a different path if Fawkes had been successful in carrying out his plan to kill King James and members of Parliament? Would we be celebrating the Fourth of July, or would today’s great nation be just another Latin American dictatorship? God only knows because only God controls history. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). And, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’” (Rom. 9:17).
We don’t need to get caught up in the “what ifs” of history, whether real or manufactured. We’re seeing the world seemingly being pulled apart. There are those who don’t see a way out of the mess. Don’t you believe it. God controls history. What men mean for evil, God can and often does turn into good (Gen. 50:20).
- “Scouts often strike out in luring best ballplayers,” Atlanta Journal/Constitution (October 29, 1998), H6. [↩]
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 8. Hitler is referred to as “Schicklgruber” in the film Stalag 17 and the Bugs Bunny Merrie Melodies cartoon Herr Meets Hare (1945): “He’ll have you back here faster than you can say Schicklgruber.” [↩]
- Shirer, Rise and Fall of the third Reich, 8, note. [↩]
- Jim Lehrer, A Bus of My Own (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992), 83. [↩]
- Lehrer, A Bus of My Own, 83–84. Subsequent research has shown that it was Sam Kinney who made the decision to remove the bubble top. “[I]t was Secret Service agent Sam Kinney’s sole decision to remove the top that morning, as Kinney stated with conviction on three different occasions to the author. Sam forcefully told the author: ‘It was my fault the top was off [the limousine in Dallas]—I am the sole responsibility of that.’ In addition, Kinney’s oft-ignored report dated November 30, 1963 confirms this fact, as does the former agent’s recently-released February 26, 1978 HSCA interview: ‘… SA Kinney indicated that he felt that his was the responsibility for making the final decision about whether to use the bubble-top.’” For another view, see Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), 1243, note †. [↩]
- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “What if RFK Had Survived?,” Newsweek (June 8, 1998), 55. [↩]
- Patrick Reardon, “History that Never Happened,” Atlanta Journal/Constitution (February 22, 1998), G1. [↩]