Amazon UK link The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History
Amazon.com link The Hinge Factor
From the wooden horse at Troy to a harrowing photograph snapped in Vietnam, from Robert E. Lee’s lost battle plans to the evacuation of Dunkirk, world history has been shaped as much by chance and error as by courage and heroism. Time and again, invincible armies fall to weaker opponents in the face of impossible odds, when the outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion. How and why does this happen? What is it that decides the fate of battle?
The Hinge Factor is an instructive, fascinating look at how the unpredictable, the absurd, and the bizarre have shaped the face of history in war.
What is the ‘hinge factor’? Basically, it is the pivotal event that led to a particular outcome of battle – from generals despising each other and not coming to one another’s aid, to the weather, to misunderstood orders, to a war-journalist capturing an iconic shot – which turned a nation against a war. It’s a ‘what if’. What if it hadn’t rained at Agincourt? What is it had been cloudy when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb? What if the Trojans hadn’t fallen for the ruse of the Wooden Horse? In many cases, the outcome and possibly history itself would be very different.
The accounts are fairly lengthy but taken from reliable sources (relatively). Yet each and every one reads like a tale of heroes, courage and, often, sheer bloody stupidity. The author is a correspondent – and it shows. He knows his stuff, and he knows what makes a good story and what is important. (check out his Wikipage Erik Durschmied).
The Vietnam account is actually the author’s own account of what happened in those terrible years, and how news coverage changed the tide of that particular conflict.
The accounts make one wonder how many lives would have not been lost if only the General’s hadn’t behaved like morons, if only it had been cloudy, or hadn’t rained, or the retreating soldiers had spiked their own guns. I found it quite a moving book – history does indeed repeat itself first as tragedy and then as farce (Karl Marx).
The account I found most interesting was the Berlin Wall. I remember seeing that on TV – something many people would never believe could happen. Within a few hours the tide that had been building suddenly erupted and flowed inexorably towards freedom for East Germany (as it was then). It was the only revolution and ‘battle’ in history where no blood was shed. But what if the border guards had started firing at the crowds? What if the orders had come to stop the tide of humanity? There would have been a bloodbath.
As usual, I am meandering into history, so back to the book. It’s well written, well researched, thought-provoking and a must for lovers of history, fate and military history.