Big and significant things that could broadly impact the course of history are planned ahead of time. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so details should be prepared ahead of time to ensure that the execution and outcome would be as desired. However, Isaac Newton also said that any action has an opposite and equal reaction. While referring to the laws of motion, the same principle could be applied in life: Every little effort could change the world, and sometimes small actions could cause massive changes that massively affect the course of history. Here were some last-minute decisions that seemed small at the time, but changed the course of history.

Queen Marie Antoinette’s Fancy Carriage

Marie Antoinette Josèphe Jeane was born an archduchess of Austria and was the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. She became the dauphine of France at 14 after her marriage to Louis-Auguste, the heir to the French throne and the reason she became a queen.

Marie-Antoinette, 1775 (After Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Known for her ignorance and sympathies for her native Austria, one of France’s perceived enemies, she became one of the reasons for the French Revolution. Not only that, but her lavish lifestyle angered the struggling working class.

When they were trying to escape from the angry mob, the Swedish Axel von Fersen urged them to use two light carriages to make it quicker for them to reach their 200-mile journey from Montmedy. There were claims that Louis and Marie-Antoinette decided to use a heavy, conspicuous coach drawn by six horses because they did not want to split the royal family up. However, some said that she wished for a fancier one. Whichever it was, the last-minute decision resulted in a slower journey, and as a result, the mob caught up to them, and they were captured and soon executed.

The Luck of Kokura

Not many of us know that Nagasaki was not meant to be the target of the United States when they dropped the atomic bombs on the two cities. After Hiroshima, it was supposed to be Kokura with 130,000 people living in the city, plus it was a site of Japan’s most enormous arsenal that manufactured chemical weapons. Japan made no attempt to separate its military production facilities from its civilian population, and Kokura had not been bombarded yet, so it was a perfect target.  In the even that clouds obscured the target from the air, Nagaski would be the alternate target.

Aerial photograph around Kokura Station (March 1975). (Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

On the day the B-29 known as “Bock’s Car” was supposed to drop its bomb on the city, bad weather in Japan brought clouds over Kokura, obscuring the ground and making it hard for the bombardier to see the target. Flown by Maj. Charles W. Sweeney with the assigned pilot Capt. Frederick C. Bock flying in the right seat as co-pilot,  the crew attempted three bombing runs, but the luck of Kokura, as they call it, persevered, and they could not find the aiming point that would allow them to release the bomb.  Japanese Flak and fighters began to appear which made things a bit warm for Sweeney flying with an atomic bomb and he decided to divert to their secondary target, Nagaski which was only 70 miles away.  Arriving overhead at 10:50 am, it too was covered in clouds. As fuel began to get low, Sweeney was about to turn again to make a landing at Okinawa and scrub the mission.  At 11:01, however, clouds parted, and Bombardier Capt. Kermit K. Beahan announced that the target was now visible. The rest is history,  “Bock’s Car” dropped the second and final atomic bomb on Japan, finally compelling the Emperor to surrender.

The B-29 “Enola Gay,” which had dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was also present. She had flown weather reconnaissance over both targets prior to the mission.

Didn’t Read the Memo

East German politician Guenter Schabowski, then the newly appointed Communist Party spokesman, threw open the Berlin Wall’s gates by announcing to the press that the East Germans now had the right to travel to the West. It was an amazing moment for those locked behind the Iron Curtain for so long, and it also signified the end of the Cold War.

Portrait of Günter Schabowski. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1982-0504-421 / CC-BY-SA 3.0CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons)

Unbeknownst to everyone, the new rules were supposed to take effect the next day. However, Schabowski didn’t know that either because he only scanned the document. He also didn’t read all the fine print of the new rules: That they were required to obtain visas. With that, the East Germans just heard the announcement that they were free to go, and the East German police, surprised and overwhelmed and without directives, acted on their own and decided to throw open the gates to freedom. That’s how the Berlin Wall fell.