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Who was the most influential person of the 20th century?

May 1, 2014

Screenshot_20th_Century_Fox_Logo_in_1975

Who was the most influential person of the 20th century? I’ve looked at a lot of lists and the names that top them are people like Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, Mohandas Gandhi, Mao Zedong, etc. These are all very influential people for sure, but I’m currently interested in the person who had the greatest impact.

And what’s interesting is that people who have had the greatest impact historically are occasionally really insignificant people. For example, Lee Harvey Oswald, incredibly insignificant person historically, but a person who arguably was one of the 20th century’s most influential people (at least according to the Stephen King novel I’m reading right now). How would our world be different if JFK had never been assassinated by Oswald?

Which leads me to the most influential man of the 20th century, and really, I think our modern world. Here he is:

Gavrilo_Princip_cropped

Gavrilo Princip is his name. Never heard of him? Well he was the man who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary which was the event that sparked the First World War (and the story of how he ended up accomplishing this goal is fantastical in itself). WWI massively changed the world, creating the Soviet Union, ending the Ottoman, Austria-Hungarian, and German empires, and creating new significant nation states like Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. It is also widely accepted that the Second World War was largely the direct result of how WWI ended. And well there is no question that WWII greatly impacted our world. Just as one obvious example, if there had been no WWII, there probably would have been no JFK or Lee Harvey Oswald.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into WWI lately, probably because of the recent ANZAC day, and the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict. And in my research I was introduced to the thesis that Gavrilo Princip was the man who had the greatest impact on the 20th Century. I had never given the idea much thought, but as I reflect on it now, I find it strangely compelling.

So what can one take away from all this? One, don’t think you can’t change the world because you are just one individual, and two, always realize that choices have consequences, sometimes consequences you cannot even begin to imagine.

 

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3 Comments
  1. You may have a point with Lee Harvey Oswald, because he single-handedly ended what influence JFK might have had; but it seems to me that Gavrilo Princip is not responsible for WW1. It took the collective decisions of many individuals to cause the war. You could just as easily say that the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire caused the war with their ultimatum to Serbia.

    I don’t know who the second most influential person is, but the first has clearly got to be Jesus.

    • I agree that there was a whole host of background events that set the conditions for WWI. Complicated alliance systems, outdated military plans, nationalistic fervor, incompetent leadership, etc. But most historians point to Gavrilo Princip and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the trigger point for the beginning of the war. No assassination, no WWI as we know it today. Maybe (probably) a world war would have happened, but as historians also point out, a delay or acceleration in when the war happened probably would have drastically affected the whole outcome and aftermath.I could easily be wrong of course, but I think Gavrilo Princip is a reasonable candidate for most influential person (or second, as you have astutely pointed out 😉 )

  2. HI MARK. LIKE YOUI WAS A RABID ICE HOCKEY FAN IN MY YOUNGER DAYS BUT NOW, AFTER LIVING IN NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA I’M NOW A RUGBY LEAGUE FAN. THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON OF THE 20 th. CENTURY? THE GREAT GRETZKY! ( TONGUE IN CHEEK ) I SAW YOUR NAME ON FACEBOOK IN RESPONSE TO A COMMENT M ADE BY ROBERT WONG ON MY BOOK, ” THURSDAYS CHILD.” CHEERS. P.S. UP UNTIL NOW CANADA HAS ALWAYS SEEMED SUCH A CONSERVATIVE PLACE BUT WITH THE LIKES OF JUSTIN BIEBER AND ROB FORD ‘ THE TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGING.

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