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The Twisted History of The Butterfly Effect

Notes from today's episode:

The Butterfly Effect is a theory that a butterfly flapping its' wings in one part of the world - can cause devastating consequences in another part. 

Previously, the term was weather-related, but nowadays it is a metaphor for how a small and insignificant event can cause a major change in circumstances. 

The rejection of an art application lead to World War II 

This is probably the most widely known example on this list. In 1905, a young man applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but he was rejected, twice. That aspiring art student was Adolf Hitler who (after his rejection) was forced to live in the slums of the city, and his anti-Semitism grew. He joined the German Army instead of fulfilling his dreams as an artist.  


Norma McCorvey from Dallas, Texas. The lady who fought and legalized abortion in 1970 throughout the US.

In 1995, criminologist James Alan Fox and hundreds of statisticians wrote a report for the U.S attorney general that predicted the increase in crime by 15% to 100% over the next decade until 2005. 

The year 1995 saw one of the highest teenage murder rates and homicides. It potentially meant that the country would have a whole generation of violent people in the next decade. It had become a matter of national concern and Bill Clinton addressed it as an important challenge. Year 2000’s crime reports shocked all the statisticians. The crime rates dropped to less than half of that in 1995. 

The number of murders in the New York city fell from 2,262 in 1990 to 540 in 2005. 

Now, this decade had seen a great economy, proliferation of gun control laws and several new policing strategies. They are directly related since they happened in the same decade but the government had always made huge efforts on these changes through out the history of the country and that decade was not special. 

However, another factor was overlooked. Decades of studies showed that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely to become a criminal. And the millions of women who wanted to have an abortion were teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too expensive. They were the very women whose children if born, would have been much more likely than average to become criminals. But thanks to Norma, a lot of these kids weren’t being born after 1970. 

Years later, just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet. The reality that the pool of potential criminals had dramatically shrunk by 2005 has been understood only later. The government’s initiatives on policing in that decade were nothing new to the previous ones but the abortion policy changed the game significantly.

Archduke Ferdinand 

Gavrilo Princip was part of a Serbian group that tried to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, but the attack failed at first. The Archduke goes to get lunch, and Princip walks out of the sandwich shop to find the carriage right in front of him and executes them both, starting WWI.

Another Adolf Hitler Example 

Henry Tandey was in France in 1918 fighting for the British Army when he decided to spare one young German’s life. This decision would cost the world in ways no one could have ever imagined. Tandey was fighting to gain control of Marcoing, France, and saw one injured German soldier trying to flee. Because he was injured Tandey could not bear to kill him, so let him go. That German soldier was Adolf Hitler.

The Bomb 

Once the US developed the atomic bomb, they explained to Japan they had a super-weapon and demanded surrender. 

Japan’s reply was meant to be “no comment”.  However, they used the Japanese word “mokusatsu” which could also be translated into “ignore”.  One American interpreter went for that translation, and the bombing was ordered.


Might not have sunk if this one sailor wasn’t forgetful. When second officer David Blair was removed from the ship’s roster at the last minute, he forgot to hand over the key to his locker in the crow’s nest. Inside his locker were binoculars. After the ship’s sinking, a surviving lookout by the name of Fred Fleet divulged that with those binoculars, the iceberg collision could have been prevented. The ice would have been spotted on a more early time and the ship would have avoided crashing into it. 

The Civil War 

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s battle plans for Antietam were found wrapped around cigars by the union army. At Gettysburg, Confederate General Ewell didn’t attack because Lee’s orders included the words “if practicable.” Which were taken to heart. 

Later, the 20th Maine Regiment on the Union flank runs out of bullets and decides on a charge that repels the confederate advance three time. It saves the line, wins the battle, and eventually the war.

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