The former special operators who responded to Benghazi’s 2012 attacks on the US State Department in Libya didn’t hesitate, they just reacted. They are not alone. Military personnel are known to be trained to “move with purpose” at all times. This means they learn to think fast, move fast and act fast. It’s just good practice – who knows when you might need to have a quick reaction time. Sometimes we just have to make a quick judgment and accept the consequences. These consequences can be serious. That’s the nature of the job we’re in.
For better or worse, the following six examples illustrate the need for decisive action.
The Confederates needed new shoes.
In 1863, things were not going well for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Despite their early success, time was not on their side. The North was increasing war production and outfitting its men with clothing, food and, most importantly, footwear. In an effort to resupply his forces at Union expense, Robert E. Lee decides to send a team north to search for railroad depots that could store supplies for the Union army. They did not find as many as they had hoped, and the entire Army of Northern Virginia halted at a town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.
Before the entire massive army could arrive, the Confederate cavalry began skirmishing with the Union troops until it turned into an all-out fight. Lee was forced to send piecemeal reinforcements before he could use his full strength. By the time he was ready, a Union army had already arrived. What began as a search for shoes became the turning point of the entire war.
Ulysses S. Grant turned down a trip to the theater.
Only days after accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, a Union victory was all but assured. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia would undermine the Confederates’ will to continue fighting and lead to the Age of Reconstruction. There was nothing that would revive the hopes of the Confederate States…unless the entire Union leadership was wiped out in one fell swoop – and it almost was.
The night President Lincoln was assassinated, Secretary of State William Seward was brutally attacked in his home by John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators, and Vice President Andrew Johnson was targeted but not attacked. Another person was to be targeted in the plot: General Grant. Lincoln had invited the general to the theater with his wife, but too tired from the Civil War years, Grant declined. He later recounted in his memoir seeing Booth follow him to the train station.
A Russian officer decides not to blow up the planet.
In September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system used to detect nuclear missile launches from the United States suddenly began to trigger. There was a good chance that the Americans had just launched a first strike against Soviet missile sites, precipitating full-scale nuclear war. This required the duty officer to retaliate using the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. The computer showed that the American officer had launched five nuclear weapons and was forced to retaliate using more than 35,000 USSR weapons.
The officer on duty that day was Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, and he was not as concerned about the nuclear exchange as other officers might have been. Instead of launching an attack that would have turned into an American counterattack and potentially killed hundreds of millions of people. He did not do anything. For his troubles, the Russians interrogated him mercilessly.
The United States and the USSR decide not to blow up the planet.
Even though the entire course of events lasted approximately 13 days, the entire course of events could have precipitated a nuclear exchange at almost any time. When the United States discovered that the Soviet Union was setting up a nuclear missile site in Cuba, it was too much for the Americans. President Kennedy told the Russians to move them away and set up a total blockade around the island. The next move belonged to the Soviet Union, and their response was uncertain. The United States mobilized for World War III.
It was later revealed in the documentary fog of war that Fidel Castro recommended a full nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union, but Nikita Khrushchev was apparently much smarter than that. The White House received two messages from Moscow, the first was written very cordially and offered a peaceful solution. The second was written by a “gang of diehards” who threatened to destroy the United States. President Kennedy was forced to choose which message to respond to and which to ignore. Of course, he chose diplomacy.
The Kaiser changed the course of the 20th century.
It is a well-known fact that the First World War was entirely preventable. With that, World War II, the Cold War, the nuclear arms races, communism, etc. Everything that happened in the 20th century dates back to Germany’s war push in 1914. The whole thing: Kaiser Wilhelm II.
As the German and Russian allies declared war on each other, the Kaiser and the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, exchanged a flurry of personal telegrams aimed at stemming the tide of war days before the start of what would become the ” Great War”. . Reading what “Nicky” wrote, the Kaiser (referred to by the Tsar as “Willy”) was confused about whether to attack or not and almost called it all off. Instead, the German General Staff convinced him that their plans were already underway and could not be stopped for any reason. With that in his ears, he let the attacks continue, and the rest is history.