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Since the dawn of mankind and through the evolution of civilization, men have connived to eliminate one another for different reasons. What these assassins rarely consider is the ripple effect created by their actions. While the initial goal is to silence a man, they often fail to realize that their singular action could end up immortalizing their adversary and triggering a chain of events that change the course of history. We take a look at famous assassinations that have altered society and changed the narrative in various ways.
12 Famous Assassinations That Changed The Course of Our History
1. Archduke And Duchess Franz Ferdinand
Assassin – Gavrilo Princip
When the 19-year-old, Gavrilo Princip opened fire at Franz Ferdinand and even his wife Sophie little did he know that his actions at that point would trigger a war that would wipe out approximately 30 million people.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had been annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 and this had left a lot of discontent in the heart of Nationalists within that region, so when Archduke Franz Ferdinand – heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, came visiting, the young Gavrilo shot him and his wife Sophie.
Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government and accused them of having a hand in the assassination. With Russia, an ally of Serbia looming large, Austria called for the support of the Germans in case Russia backed the Serbs.
On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and thus the involvement of other European heavyweights picking sides with its various allies leading to the First World War.
2. Abraham Lincoln
Assassin – John Wilkes Booth
The 16th President of the United States is also the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Abraham Lincoln has become synonymous with patriotism, freedom and exemplary leadership but in his lifetime, he wasn’t such a loved man as he is today in hindsight.
Lincoln is perhaps America’s most loved President, he succeeded in keeping the Union together through the civil war, but in the process made many enemies. If there was ever a need to guess as to who would finally extinguish one of America’s most shining light one would have thought – a military man? a paid assassin? No. he was killed by an actor at a theater in Washington.
3. Martin Luther King Jr.
Assassin – James Earl Ray
At the age of 39, Warrior of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on 4th April 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
MLK had come to public consciousness when as a 25-year-old Baptist minister he mobilized the Montgomery bus boycott in protest of racial segregation. Over the next few years, he would become the face of the Civil rights struggle.
After his assassination, riots broke out in over 100 cities and ramped up the tempo of civil rights activities culminating in the passing of the Civil rights acts of 1960 and 1964.
4. John F. Kennedy
Assassin – Sirhan Sirhan
John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States and arguably the most loved American President in recent memory. Born to an American diplomat and politician Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., JFK and his siblings were groomed for power. Their father made it his life calling to get one of his boys into the White House – a feat he achieved. What has followed has been termed The Kennedy curse – a succession of family tragedies that have befallen the family.
The most prominent of which became one of the most famous assassinations in American history, JFK as he was fondly called was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on the 22nd of November 1963.
5. Julius Caesar
Assassin – Marcus Brutus and other Roman senators
One of history’s towering figures – Julius Cesar was a Roman General and dictator whose larger than life figure loomed over the Roman republic for about two decades. His military conquests, sexual escapades, and political dexterity still remain the stuff of legend.
As his powers grew, many Senators in Rome became uncomfortable with his dictatorship as fears mounted that Ceasar was going to abolish the Senate to exert a totalitarian rule in Rome.
He was stabbed 23 times at the Theatre of Pompey. A bitter civil war ensued after his death, a war that effectively ended the Roman republic.
6. Mohandas Gandhi
Assassin – Nathuram Godse
One of history’s famous assassinations that would also turn out to be perhaps the most shocking was that of Gandhi. That a man who embodied non-violence as much as MK Gandhi would die a violent death remains one of the saddest ironies ever. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer and anti-colonialist who championed India’s independence from British colonial rule through non-violent means.
Seen as an absolute political ethicist, Gandhi’s long career in civil disobedience started in South Africa where he championed civil rights and equality. He later returned to India where he became a national icon for his non-violent resistance of colonialism.
Gandhi was shot three times in New Delhi on January 30, 1948, on his way for prayers. The assassin was a member of a Hindu extremist group that opposed Gandhi’s non-violent approach.
7. Yitzhak Rabin
Assassin – Yigal Amir
For the most part of the last century, conflicts between Israel and Palestine have become a mainstay of the ever-deepening crisis in the middle east. For a while, Yitzhak Rabin looked like the guy poised to find a middle ground between the two nations until he was shot by Yigal Amir who loathed the Prime Ministers signing of the Oslo Accords.
Yitzhak Rabin was Israel’s 5th Prime Minister, and former defense chief who oversaw the Entebbe raid and the Six-day war. In 1994, Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was shot the next year on the 4th of November, 1995.
8. Malcolm X
Assassin – Talmadge Hayer, Norman Butler, Thomas Johnson
Born in Omaha, Nebraska as Malcolm Little, he converted to Islam while in prison serving time for burglary. Upon his parole in 1952, Malcolm X became one of the most visible members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) – an African American political movement.
As the years passed Malcolm became more and more famous with his own brand of black liberty messages. He advocated violence if necessary in the struggle and also believed blacks were superior to whites.
After he fell out with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X repeatedly claimed his life was under threat by the group and on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot at a rally in New York City by three members of the NOI. His death follows a long list of famous assassinations in the history of black emancipation in the US.
9. King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Assassin – Faisal bin Musaid
King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was King and leader of Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975. One of the nation’s most loved kings, during his 11-year reign, he oversaw the outlawing of slavery and many other progressive ideas at the time. Under his guidance, the Saudi economy grew in response to his more liberal policies.
His’ became one of the famous assassinations to rock the world’s history when he was assassinated on 25th March 1975 when his half brother’s son Faisal bin Musaid fired at him at close range. Faisal had just returned from the United States and upon arriving the palace to see his uncle, the king stepped forward to hug him but was met with two gunshots, one to his chin and another in the ear, he was rushed to the hospital but died that same day.
10. Benazir Bhutto
Assassin – Unknown suicide bomber
Born into an aristocratic family, Benazir Bhutto was a two time Prime minister of Pakistan whose own father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also served as Prime minister of Pakistan. After her father was arrested and later executed by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and her immediate family were constantly harassed, arrested and threatened. After international pressure mounted, Benazir was let out of the country where she lived in exile for many years.
Benzair was elected prime minister on December 1, 1988, becoming the first female Prime Minister of a predominantly Muslim country. After giving a speech in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, Benzair lost her life after a suicide bomber blew up himself killing 28 others. Her death has had a profound impact on liberal democracy and civil liberties in Pakistan.
11. William McKinley
Assassin – Leon Czolgosz
McKinley was the 25th president of the United States and the third American President to be assassinated. McKinley was first elected President in 1897 and later reelected for a second term. He presided over economic recovery after the economic depression of 1893. His assailant Leon Czolgosz was one of those who lost their source of livelihood after the depression and subsequently became an anarchist and harbored grievance against the President. His mission was made easier because of William McKinley’s refusal to move around with any form of security. He was known to make public appearances without any security detail.
President McKinley was shot at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901. One of the immediate impacts of his death was the formation of the Secret Service and subsequently tasked with the responsibility of the President’s safety.
12. Isoroku Yamamoto
Assassin – American Navy fighters
While all the others on this list of famous assassinations in history were mostly proactive in a way, the operation to assassinate Isoroku Yamamoto has revenge written all over it. In fact, the operation was actually called “Operation Vengeance” on the orders of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese Navy Chief and commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II. He planned and ordered the attack at Pearl Harbour where the US lost 188 aircraft and another 159 severely damaged. 2,403 people lost their lives leaving a further 1,178 wounded. American code breakers intercepted signals revealing Yamamoto’s flight plans and shot down his aircraft on his way back from addressing Japanese pilots camped on the island of Rabaul. The killing of Yamamoto dampened moral and helped tip the advantage in favor of the Allies.