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Who Has Shaped the World the Most? The Dozen Greatest Achievers

Politics / Education Sep 17, 2017 - 04:39 PM GMT

By: Stephen_Merrill


As tough Teddy Roosevelt famously said more than hundred years ago:

“It is not the critic who counts; …. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, …. who does actually strive to do the deeds …. who .... best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement ....”

Who have been the top movers and shakers prevailing in the global arena?

It is a lasting result that counts the most in achieving things in broad social terms. Never great style only, ala JFK. Seldom genius alone, at least in things social.

Great lasting achievement can occur in most any area of life. For instance, without the singular revolutions in music brought by the likes of Mozart and centuries later for instance, Elvis Presley, whole genres of great works would likely have never have been composed. But for the life of Jesus Christ or Socrates how different would the world be today?

A few people do leave personal legacies that last for generations and well beyond affecting millions of lives, sometimes changing the lives of most everyone in their own world in some large way.

One could never compose a credible top dozen list for the grandest personal achievements across all history. Or even across all areas of life when applied in a narrower time-frame.

So, lets just look at the past 100 years or so to address this question. Let’s also keep out areas like the arts, literature, sports and entertainment as too many and too subjective to fairly assess. This largely leaves politics, science, technology, business, academics, military, media, religion, philanthropy and philosophy.

Achievements are defined here as positive ones, not war or oppression or the other forces of the dark side of humanity. An opposite top dozen list is needed for people like Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot and Dick Cheney.

But those who prevented the dark side from succeeding in war could be included here and are.

So, who are the people who have had the most positive impact across the world since the time of World War I?

The Twelve Candidates

Offered in no particular order are the people this author would place on the list, along with some explanation of their important differences with comparable figures where needed.

The Man Who Opened the Universe

Albert Einstein was an unassuming man who just so happened to develop over time the fundamentals of physics as it works upon objects on earth and upon the millions of celestial bodies that humanity had been pondering since the beginning of time. Numerically stated: e = mc2.

Before Einstein’s intuitions, gravity was assumed to be a constant throughout the universe, though it always seemed an unsatisfactory explanation for what could be clearly seen in the stars. All things were believed to be static, beyond the orbiting of suns by planets, and destined to forever remain static.

With the confirmation of Einstein’s “general theory of relativity” in several unmistakable ways, the Universe was proven instead to be a tapestry of movement and matter that is interwoven with time and distance. Gravity was simply one large moving object affecting much smaller objects nearby as they mutually speed along a continuum in a pulsating Universe.

Einstein also developed the theory of photoelectric effect. Going down in scale to the workings of atoms, Einstein found another world of pulsating interaction between electrons and what is perceived to be light. This led to quantum advances in chemistry, engineering, photography and related fields.

Einstein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany, was even a player of sorts in WWII by warning FDR of the Nazi potential for developing the nuclear bomb. Einstein took no part in the Manhattan Project though and never endorsed the development of nuclear weapons, though he did support the peaceful creation of energy through nuclear fission. By the time of the development of the H-Bomb, Einstein regretted having warned FDR in 1941 since the Nazis never did develop the A-Bomb.

Einstein adopted philosophical positions as a humanitarian and peace activist. His global popularity proved legendary.

How long it may have taken humanity to come across the secrets of the Universe but for Albert Einstein can never be known. To jump conceptually from a static physical world to the world of space travel seems to require an impossible leap by one mind at first and then the capacity and will to prove one’s theory, lest it disappears from the minds of men forever.

Einstein’s placement on this list needs to draw no distinctions from his near peers in science. He has none. His name must be near the very top of any list of the greatest achievers of the 20th Century.

A New Kind of Political Mathematics

Another scholar of Eistein’s time was the person who revolutionized the field of economics, John Maynard Keynes, a member of British nobility. Keynes’ theory of effective central planning at the margins through a combination of fiscal spending and monetary growth as a superior model to traditional Lassie Faire economics has only grown in its application by governments worldwide since the 1930s.

Named Keynsism, today’s world economy, West and East, is managed by wizardry at national central banks, entities that operate outside any democratic controls in the creation of money, incredibly. As the issuer of the world reserve currency, Keynsism has, below the surface of things, anointed the US Federal Reserve as the most powerful institution in the world by far, bar none, short of military liquidations.

The greatest thinker and writer by far in economics during the 20th Century was Ludwig Mises, father of the Austrian School of Economics, known as Classical Economics. Mises explained the beauty of free market economics as well as Einstein explained the world of physics, a great natural intuition. To Mises, a free economy was as central to a Republic as any other individual liberty a Republic protects.

But Mises’ work was obscured and then refuted and then forgotten. Only now while nearing the fiat money “Crackup Boom” of all time, does Mises’ poetry return to the public square in numbers. Mises was a man who truly understood human motivation, a Machiavelli without the dark implications.

The main competitor for top 20th Century economist for Keynes, Milton Friedman, was the intellectual head of the Chicago School of Economics. Friedman pushed back against the Keynesian idea of an ever-changing rate of monetary expansion based on the business cycle. Friedman prescribed a monetary policy of slow, steady growth, not unlike the way the gold standard operates. This Friedman ideal inspired the Carter/Volker cleansing of the US economy that led directly to the last great American free-market boom.

Friedman’s doctrine is best characterized as a retrenching of Keynesian policy, not a return to Classical Economics.

Friedman was also a lonely activist for free choice in education and the eventual breakup of the public-school monopoly. Had be been tremendously successful in creating school choice, Friedman’s name would be the near the top of a list like this. But Friedman was not successful in those efforts to any great degree.

Friedman was successful though in achieving Jimmy Carter’s deregulation of the transportation, communications and energy sectors in the United States.

A greater mover and shaker in the field of economics that Friedman and even Keynes was the chameleon career of Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve for 20 years.

Greenspan went from a Lassie Faire acolyte as an academic to the engine of runaway monetary policy while in power, in the process blanketing financial markets in fiat currency conjured from nothing at his whim. Today’s horrific wealth divide, unpayable debts and declining growth across the world can largely be attributed to Greenspan and his imitating successors in office. Even the Bank for International Settlements now accepts this fact.

Once known as the great Oracle, Greenspan’s cycle of endless billionaire welfare has now reached the point though where Greenspan belongs not on a list of achievers, but one of destroyers. This is the firm direction Keynes’ reputation is headed also. Maybe Ludwig Mises can still make a comeback. Even Milton Friedman would be better as a starting point, though not for this list.

Nonetheless, the ideas on economics and governance still accepted so far in the 21st Century across the world are those of John Keynes, a 90-year accelerating run.

Winning the Greatest of Wars Against All Odds

There are untold military moments and men that occupy the turning points of history. The moment of the Battle of Britain in 1940 was one.

Winston Churchill was more of a politician than a military man, though he always practiced both professions. Another member of British nobility, Churchill served in high office for nearly fifty years across two world wars.

After the military disaster of the Gallipoli campaign engineered by Churchill in World War I, he redeemed himself in a way by being instrumental in bringing the US into the war on Britain’s side. One historical account has Churchill directing the USS Lusitania into the gun scopes of German U-boats.

When Germany invaded Poland to begin WWII Churchill was first called on to resume his role as the Lord of the Admiralty. When Hitler seized Norway and invaded Holland and France six months later, Churchill was promoted to British Prime Minister largely with the votes of the Labor Party he always opposed. His first speech promised “to never surrender”.

The Brits knew instinctually who to call upon when total war became a reality again.

As in the sufferings of Russia, victory came only for Britain after the nation faced down in blood Hitler’s plan of invasion and total defeat.

Though twice the leader of the greatest Navy fleet in the world, Churchill also earned his wings in the RAF and served in the Army front-line in WWI after the Gallipoli disaster. He appreciated early on the coming dominance of aerial warfare.

But the kind of combat where Churchill proved to be the world master of was military intelligence. The British radar systems fostered by Churchill were crucial to the RAF’s ability to knock down Nazi warplanes at a near two-for-one clip. Over the four months of the aerial Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe losses were 1,827 warplanes with the RAF losses at 1,023 warplanes.

But for Churchill’s defeating the Nazi air blitz in 1940, Hitler would have held all of Europe in his vice before invading Russia. Without battles in Italy and North Africa for Hitler to fight as well, Stalin’s Russia also could well have fallen to the Nazi blitzkrieg, sealing a truly horrible fate for Eurasia and humanity.

Then America’s FDR would have faced the challenge of defeating Hitler and To-Jo in a two-sided invasion of the Western Hemisphere, WWII’s likely end stage had Churchill never rose to power in Britain at its greatest moment of need.

Presumably, Europe would today still be ruled by Hitler’s heirs to power if the RAF had not blown the Luftwaffe from the skies.

Spreading Peaceful Change through Kind Religion

John Paul II was an accidental pope, elected on the eighth vote of the papal conclave to succeed a pope who died weeks after his election, John Paul I.

Yet, John Paul II was the most consequential religious leader of the 20th Century and of the millennia all the way back to the times of Mohammed and Jesus.

The first non-Italian pope in five centuries, more importantly, John Paul was the first pope to speak an abundance of languages, one who traveled the world always spreading the gospel, but also the stern will to nonviolently oppose oppression in their own nation. This new pope became an icon for mega-millions of new believers and old believers, especially across Latin America and Africa.

John Paul is credited with leading the nonviolent fall of Soviet style communism across Eastern Europe. The pope’s central role in the liberation from communism of his home nation of Poland is legend. Miraculously, the injustice of communism across nations was pushed over with hardly a shot being fired in most instances. More on the fall of communism later.

John Paul was instrumental in varying degrees to the fall of evil dictators in Chile, Haiti and Paraguay. He instructed his bishops to take up the cause of liberation from oppression.

Pope John Paul apologized for the many excesses of the Vatican from the past. He greatly improved the understanding and cooperation between Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Christian Protestants, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.

This writer first considered Mahatma Gandhi as the most consequential religious leader of his time. Gandhi was central to the “voluntary” liberation of India/Pakistan from British colonial rule.

But Gandhi’s philosophy and idealism is found in short supply in India and Pakistan today, including his central belief in nonviolence.

But there is another religious leader of an entirely different sort who shaped Gandhi’s and John Paul’s message into a revolution of conscience that has lasted and seemingly always will.

Climbing the Mountain to Liberation

The human psyche is prone to xenophobia at times, extreme fear of all things unknown. This inclination often takes on a sinister character when fear turns to the exploitation of people who are radically different when the opportunity to oppress them arises. Nothing differentiates other peoples more than their racial appearance.

The modern world has struggled against racism and exploitation for centuries now. However, this immoral conduct incredibly remained firmly the law of the land in the United States as of 1950. Nothing much had changed in the 85-years since slavery was finally abolished in the United States following the War Between the States.

The struggle to end racial segregation and institutional racism in the United States of the 1950s and 1960s had many actors and scenes, many, many heroes to cheer.

One stands atop all of the rest though in this struggle, Preacher Martin Luther King, Jr.

Demonstrating personal bravery often, MLK for thirteen almost magical years poked and prodded the American conscience into coming to terms with a central issue of modernity the country still had failed to overcome.

MLK moved people to boycott segregation, to go to jail for their beliefs in the face of injustice and to seize the modern microphone to preach the gospel of racial equality before the law. MLK remained fearless while always rejecting violence. Greatly aided by the newest revolution in communications, television, MLK’s public crusade for justice won a smashing success contrary to all past experience for nearly a century.

In 1955 when MLK began his public career by leading the boycott of Birmingham, Alabama buses the law in every Southern State and most Northern States provided for racial discrimination and segregation, often in a very comprehensive way, almost uniformly so in the South.

What MLK and his brave supporters already had by then though was the sudden revival of the importance of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. With the most courageous and probably best ruling in the history of the US Supreme Court, a unanimous opinion struck down the practice of racial segregation in a single stroke in 1954. Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education If MLK’s movement ever lost an important case in an appeals court thereafter, this writer has not found the decision.

For the next ten years the racial segregationists in power in statehouses battled over the legal and practical import of the newly revived 14th Amendment. It became MLK’s mission to now bring the philosophy of racial equality into the reality of life in the United States.

A popular perception is that the civil rights movement became energized mostly by the policies of President Kennedy and later President Johnson. The reality is that the Freedom Fighters and Crusaders for Children of the civil rights era seized their own liberty by winning the public debate hands-down in most corners of the United States and in the wider Western world.

For one of the first times it was the United States being held up on television news across the world as a bastion of grave social injustice. Jails full of child protesters rightfully became the last straw delivered shortly after King’s “I have a Dream” speech at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial.

By 1965 the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Right Acts had been passed by Congress with good majorities from both political parties. The legendary veto power of a Southern filibuster in the Senate was vanquished by the sudden rush of history led by MLK and maneuvered by LBJ.

There have been no serious encroachments on legal racial equality since MLK’s revolution and his tragic death at the hands of a racist. There has only been affirmation in the public’s view on the subject of racial equality. The “N” word is the most vilified one in the American lexicon. The KKK is the most hated group of all, its continued vitality in considerable doubt.

Few nations in the world now premise their law on the basis of racial discrimination. One last 20th Century figure was as consequential to that development as even MLK was.

A Long Torturous Journey to Justice

Nelson Mandela walked in the shoes of Martin Luther King, Jr. battling the common enemy of racism. Though Mandela’s life ended in victory and celebration with the new Republic in South Africa, few people endured a harder road to justice than Nelson Mandela.

Born to royalty and a lawyer admitted to the South African Bar, Mandela chose to endure 27 years in prison as a prisoner of conscience, always resisting becoming a tool of Apartheid to gain his freedom.

While MLK was organizing public protests and boycotts across the American South, Mandela also went along the path of peaceful disobedience to unjust laws.

But in 1956 Mandela and his African National Congress compatriots and many others, a total of 156 people including certain whites, were indicted by the Apartheid government for the highest crime of all, treason. The case would prove to be as astonishing in a way as the decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.

The Treason Trial proceeding would last for four years always with a fluctuating cast of characters. Mandela’s role in undermining the rule of Apartheid was a frequent focus.

By 1960 the list of defendants at the Treason Trial had been paired down to 30, including, of course, Mandela. Mandela boldly admitted in his testimony that he would continue on his path of passive resistance to Apartheid.

When the Treason Trial verdict was finally entered by the judges it was an acquittal of all of the remaining defendants. There was simply little evidence to prove treason or any other crime. The English judicial tradition held in a South African government already beset by international pressures against the rule of Apartheid.

But the racists in South Africa would continue to battle modernity in all of the ways they could. Along the way, Mandela even took up arms by planning a series of bombings at the symbols of Apartheid hoping for no human casualties. People did die in ANC bombings though.

Proof of Mandela’s involvement in the bombings was seized by the Apartheid government. It was not long before the United States CIA found Mandela and told the South African authorities. At this second trial for Mandela he delivered his “I am Prepared to Die” speech.

After Mandela’s conviction for trying to overthrow the State, his life-sentence became a point of political negotiation, indeed the focus of the news on South Africa.

The South Africans wished to free Mandela, but on their terms. Mandela stood firm though refusing any seeming endorsement of continued, even partial, rule by Apartheid. Mandela’s tolerance to prison outrage became legend. He became a godlike figure locked behind bars.

It would take more than forty years from the time of the Treason Trial for the rule of Apartheid to be broken by the peaceful establishment of a new South African constitution that enfranchised all citizens, Mandela’s dream from the start.

Mandela’s Truth Commissions became a cleanser for decades of hate and violence.

But for the life of Nelson Mandela, democracy for all would not have come to South Africa in a peaceful way, if at all. Mandela’s conquest of Apartheid was the first time that the collective moral outrage of the world community was marshalled to reverse great social injustice in one nation without the use or threat of arms.

A Long Torturous Journey to Independence

The freedom that MLK and Nelson Mandela sought was for the individual, the right to vote and to be free of racial barriers. Ho Chi Mihn was a man who fought long and valiantly for the freedom of his nation from foreign domination.

The peoples of Vietnam came to prominence during the Bronze Age as skilled farmers and craftsmen with a growing empire, known as the Dong Sun. Vietnam’s ancestors kept their independence for more than a thousand years until near the time of Christ when the long interlude of domination by China began. Vietnam regained its independence from China officially in 937 A.D. returning to a monarchy that ruled until the French came as imperial conquerors to Vietnam beginning in 1858.

Led by Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam officially declared its independence from French rule at the end of WWII when Vietnam was suddenly liberated from Japanese rule. But that event did not deter the French nor the British from colonial warfare in Vietnam directly and by proxy. It would be another ten years of civil war before the last European conquerors were forced out of Vietnam in 1954.

And then the Americans came reaping destruction across Vietnam on an unbelievable scale. Why the Americans came to Vietnam largely remained a mystery to the Vietnamese, a mystery that remains unsolved today.

Ho fought the global titan on uneven terms year after deathly year. Ho fostered and balanced the massive economic and military support he received from China and the USSR without becoming a puppet for global communism.

With up to 2m dead from the US war in Vietnam, the people of Vietnam finally reunited in 1975 with Hanoi as its capital. Ho did not see that day though having died in 1969.

Ho Chi Minh was a communist, more due to world circumstances than anything else. His nation proved its independence from communism and from the domination of any other nation by going to war three times with China during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The USSR was shown the diplomatic door by Vietnam shortly after national unity was won. The feared “domino effect” never got started.

Ho and his people, incredibly, defeated century long colonial rule and then the invasion of a superpower. Ho’s struggle never ended. A proud people and their noble leader would never be denied though in the long run of things.

Going from Poverty to Prosperity

Lee Kuan Yew did not win any military battles for his nation. His lifetime of work did not affect the people of other nations in any direct way. His domain was a city-state, not a great nation.

But what Lee Kuan accomplished in the day-to-day lives of his people is unmatched. It was an economic miracle like never seen before.

Singapore is a harbor city near the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. This region was subject to British colonial rule even after the chaos and displacement of WWII. As the British faded away Singapore first became an independent city-state in 1955. In 1963 Singapore happily joined the new independent nation of Malaysia.

However, only two years later in 1965 Singapore was expelled from the nation by the Parliament of Malaysia due to growing ethnic conflict and social unrest at high tariffs. As a British trading port Singapore had become a tapestry of peoples from across Asia. It has no natural resources beyond its harbor. Frankly, no great nation cared about impoverished Singapore.

Lee Kuan took up the leadership of his new nation, at first reluctantly. He decided to tie his nation’s future to the magic of free markets. It was a new experiment in a Lassie Faire economy of the kind that had already by then disappeared from the West.

The Singapore economy today remains the freest in the world. Most of the direct regulation of the economy is found in the employment law for non-management workers. It requires:

1. All employment contract to be written stating all of the duties and hours of the employee and the employee’s compensation. One is to be paid no less frequently than once a month. There is no minimum-wage requirement.

2. For those workers who earn less than $18,000/year further worker protections apply, including provisions for overtime pay, work-breaks, one day a week off and time off for national holidays.

The indirect regulation of the Singapore economy is also skeletal in comparison to other nations.

1. The income-tax rates in Singapore are progressive from 0% to 22%. The corporate tax-rate is 17%. 99% of imports are duty-free.

2. Employee payroll is also taxed to pay for Singapore’s loose version of universal healthcare. All healthcare providers are paid up to 80% of charges by the healthcare trust fund.

3. A worker’s compensation system mandated by law is privately funded.

4. Child labor laws prevent exploitation but allow for workers as young as 13.

5. Regulations beyond safety measures are few and far between.

That is largely all of Singapore’s state role in the economy.

In Singapore there are no public pensions, no unemployment insurance, and no welfare of any sort, whether for the poor, the middle-class or the rich. It is the land of no entitlements.

In Singapore the legal relationship of the family is far more paramount than the relationship of the citizen to the nation is. In Singapore a needy parent may sue for support from their adult children.

So, how has this new grand experiment in Lassie Faire turned out? The results are truly amazing again.

The GDP per person in Singapore has risen from $500/year in 1965 to over $57,000/year in 2017, near the top of all nations.

The unemployment rate in Singapore has risen to 2.2% recently, its highest in decades. This is a real number, unlike a US BLS report.

There is very little crime of any kind in Singapore. Miraculously, the ethnic mix seems to power the nation instead of splitting it apart.

Most importantly, Singapore is at the top of the rankings in the global “happiness index”.

Has there ever been a greater national success story? And from a dead-end start that appeared absolutely hopeless.

Why the life of Lee Kuan is so consequential outside of the 5m residents of Singapore is the example he set for the many other modernizing nations in Asia and beyond. Deng Xiao Peng, for instance, modeled his largely free-market revolution of China’s national economy using the example of Singapore at its core.

Lee Kuan has put the world on notice that socialism and crony capitalism are economic systems that are terribly far inferior compared to the freeing on an economy to allow citizens to work their own miracles.

That is clearly the system that is best for the human being overall, given all of its faults and strengths and their natural inner drive.

Bringing Instant World Communications to the Desktop at Home and Then Much More

When Bill Gates was born in 1955 the only mass communication in wide use was the radio and newspapers. The conversation was entirely one-sided.

By 1975 when Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to form Microsoft, mass communication has long since moved on to television. Not even junk fax messaging would come into wide use for another 12 years. Both new forms of mass communication were also one-sided.

IBM had been the dominant company in the field of office business machines since the 1950’s. In 1980 it was one of the largest companies in the world.

While IBM was a near monopolist in computers for big business and government, the company was not a leader into the home computer (or microcomputer) business. When other companies like Atari and startup Apple showed some success in the PC field, the behemoth IBM decided it was going to start dominating this new field now too.

There was one problem though. IBM did not have an operating system with a lot of functionality that would ever fit on a desktop. A brand-new design was needed. And IBM was now in a hurry.

So impressed with the microchip operating system Bill Gates and Paul Allen had developed, IBM was over the barrel. It simply had to have the best OS. But Microsoft insisted on keeping the system its own.

So, the 1981 IBM PC would have an OS that actually belonged to Microsoft. It was the best machine on the market, hands-down, sold at a competitive price.

Sold by Microsoft to the entire industry, the MS-DOS OS quickly became the industry standard to the point of a near monopoly. Even IBM could not sell a PC without the Microsoft OS, even if it wanted to. There was a good reason why.

Since computers were now beginning to talk with each other through instant messaging and email it became important for manufacturers to have a fully compatible OS to process all such communications. As a consequence, few dared deviate from the industry standard. The next update to MS-DOS could leave their machines blindfolded.

By 1990 Microsoft instead of IBM was the global giant in powering computers. The company has not looked back. It’s sudden rise to the top was due to the combination of the super computer chip with business savvy and excellent timing in a new novel marketplace.

The revolution wrought by Microsoft catapulted Bill Gates to becoming the wealthiest man in the world by far. He remains today near the very top on that score.

And that is surprising because of all of the wealth that Gates has given away since he largely retired from Microsoft in 2000 to concentrate with his new wife on greatly benefitting the world, especially the poorest peoples of the world.

The Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation is best known for its good works in Africa and Asia bringing clean water and sanitation, earthquake relief, new strains of super rice and digital modernization.

Less well known is the Foundation’s work in bringing US libraries into the digital age and in advancing school education choice. Maybe the Foundation’s most surprising success was fostering a technology that transformed fecal material into drinking water and energy.

There are other titans in American business in the past 100 years or so that eclipsed the impact of Microsoft as a new way of doing business.

Henry Ford was the biggest mover in a worldwide industrial revolution, while bringing the automobile to the US middle-class.

The Wright Brothers as technologists, businessmen and dangerous stunt artists brought the dream of humanity across the eons to fruition for all, the ability to fly.

In Gates’ time there was another name that rivaled his own in bringing new ways of communications to the world, Steve Jobs and Apple computers, cell-phones and tablets. Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook has connected almost 2b people online in a social conversation that reaches to almost every corner of the planet.

Even Gates’ personal philanthropy would only advance his overall score by so much. Henry Ford was a philanthropist too.

It is a third factor that rises Gates to the top score in this realm of achievement.

Gates has cajoled together an impressive number of the elite from the world’s new gilded age to join him in philanthropy that is kind and egalitarian. Those that make the “Giving Pledge” give away during their later years almost all of their massive wealth to the best of causes. The list of signers grows.

Instead of handing money to corrupt foreign officials or building boondoggle Third World infrastructure like most foreign aid works, the philanthropy of Bill Gates and his partners may prove the most beneficial force in the world for many years to come.

As one of only two persons on this list still living, and a man also born as this author was in 1955, Bill Gates hopefully will lead a very long and always productive life.

Working a Gender Revolution for the Ages

Prior to the 20th Century there were no large societies this author has found where a strict legal equality applied on the question of gender. In 19th Century democracies women were not allowed to vote. Women’s legal rights were inferior to those of men in a host of ways. A top education and an upscale job were, practically speaking, not available to women. Cultural norms everywhere thoroughly reduced the female gender to a subservient capacity in important ways.

That had always been true everywhere across the globe.

When American Margaret Sanger began her lifelong campaign for legal birth control it was like a person today suggesting that all illegal drug use should suddenly be legal. Indeed, suggesting legal birth control before 1960 was suggesting the immoral killing of unborn babies in the view of the vast majority of Americans.

The propriety of both abortion and drug use ask in large part the same question. Who rules one’s own body? The State or the individual? Sanger answered the question firmly in favor of the individual.

Sanger’s activism in social outrage earned the results to be expected. She was arrested eight times across her career for expressing her opinions, one time having to flee the US for Britain.

In 1917, once convicted and sentenced to thirty days of jail for opening the nation’s first abortion clinic, Sanger went on a hunger strike and was forced fed, the first American women ever to undergo it. It certainly generated the publicity. And induced serious thought on the subject for millions of Americans of both genders for the first time.

The import of Sanger’s radical views went way beyond the issue of an unwanted child birth. Sanger believed that sex should be a great joy in the life of woman. The expression of sexual love should not always be shrouded by an overriding fear of illicit pregnancy and social condemnation. Sanger also saw homosexuality for what it is; a natural way for the affected people, not a demented social outrage.

Late in her career Sanger’s cause was greatly empowered by science’s discovery of a reliable method of birth control for women even before pregnancy occurs. The Sanger forces protested in the streets, the newspapers and the halls of legislatures across 50 states for legal contraception earning mixed results at best.

Most importantly it turned out, the Sanger movement also made its case for legal contraception under the Bill of Rights, the freedom in a Republic to be left alone on such personal matters. The earth-shattering US Supreme Court decision in 1966 in Griswald vs. Connecticut, in one fell stroke, brought legal contraception to the entire nation forever.

Though Sanger would not live to see the day, in 1973 the Supreme Court brought early-term abortion on demand to the entire nation in another single fell stroke, Roe vs. Wade. A woman’s freedom to choose had miraculously succeeded everywhere in the US in a permanent way.

It must be noted that Sanger also made a grave error in her philosophy by endorsing negative eugenics as social policy. This belief though was much more in the way of words for Sanger rather than in the world of actions.

If a visitor were to compare the greatest differences in American society between 1917 and 2017 one may well say that the sudden equal role of woman in all of society’s affairs is by far the greatest change and one of the best ones. One half of the population had been legally and culturally emancipated after the eons of social domination by men. The perennial secrecy and shame surrounding sexual relationships no longer ruled the world.

Sanger was not so much of a hero in the women’s movement. She was the lightening rod and propeller though that made the leap even possible.

To largely reverse, across a lifetime, one of humanity’s most primal mindsets with very limited means to do so beyond one’s iron determination is an achievement of the highest rank across the millennium.

Saving Humanity with a Single Noble Deed

The greatest of achievers work throughout their lifetime toward goals that few dream of. Their achievements are the product of many, many untold events over a period of many years.

But there is often the exception to almost any rule. There is even one for this list of monumental achievers.

In this instance, there were three actors involved in what would have triggered the most consequential event ever, but only one person that achieved untold greatness.

Vasili Arkhipov worked diligently throughout his life, especially in his career as a Soviet Navy officer. He was destined to become as a savior.

In 1961, having risen to become second-in-command of a nuclear submarine, Arkhipov was badly radiated from a partial breakdown of the reactor cooling system. Though an explosive event was prevented through suicidal work missions, many of the sub’s crew died from the radiation exposure, but not Arkhipov. His destiny was much, much larger. Preventing a nuclear explosion was just a start.

By the next year Arkhipov was the Soviet commander of a flotilla of submarines. On 10/27/62 one of the submarines was patrolling near Cuba with Captain Arkhipov aboard. The sub had not received a communication from Moscow in two days amid the missile crisis, leaving the question of whether Moscow was even still there.

When a US fleet spotted the Soviet sub depth charges were deployed trying to force the sub to the surface for inspection, though in international waters.

The commanding officer of that sub was another Soviet Captain. There was also a political officer aboard. Under Soviet Navy protocol the CO and the political officer had to agree to any nuclear launch when the need arose. Since the flotilla commander was also onboard though, the protocol required the agreement of all three, THANK GOD.

Amid a boiling temperature and carbon monoxide slowly building, the sub Captain decided nuclear war with the US had already started. He ordered the firing of a nuclear missile to destroy the US fleet above, subject to further agreement. The sub political officer agreed to the launch quickly. Arkhipov only refused. His eminence as a military hero turned the tide that day to surfacing the sub. It turned out to be only be an inspection.

Had Arkhipov gone along with the CO’s order, civilization across the world would have been incinerated to near extinction by superpower nuclear war. Life on earth may not have survived.

When Arkhipov returned to the Soviet Union he was greeted with opprobrium for having to surface the submarine. He was faulted for sending only a diesel submarine to Cuba and for not following all parts of the secrecy protocol. Arkhipov was not disciplined though. He later rose to Vice-Admiral.

Arkhipov never enjoyed riches or celebrity due to his monumental deed.

His wife said he was a quiet but thoughtful man.

Ending the Global Divide in Peace

The “Cold War” between the East and the West began shortly after WWII. It was heralded to be wholly ideological, communism vs. capitalism. In the wider reality though it was two great empires uneasily sharing the same globe.

During the Cold War there was little thought as to how this existential rivalry between the US and the USSR would end. Nuclear war was unthinkable making conventional war also far too risky. It seemed a permanent standoff.

The USSR crazily dreamed capitalism would implode from its own excesses.

The US hoped an internal revolution would turn back communism, but had no substantial means to encourage revolution in the USSR or its empire.

Yet, over a period of only three years, the polities of the USSR and its vassal states simply disappeared from the world with hardly a shot being fired. It was the dissolution of an empire like never seen before. Not a single western soldier took a role. It was people-power without CIA money leading the way in the East.

So, how can a Stalinist global empire collapse without trying to save itself it seemed? Because the USSR was suddenly no longer Stalinist by then.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the 7th leader of the USSR coming to power in 1985, had no plans to end the Soviet empire. His plan was to turn the Soviet Union away from methods of intimidation and obvious propaganda. Gorbachev wanted, like Peter the Great, to turn greater Russia into a much more modern state.

Unlike his groupthink communist compatriots, Gorbachev recognized the way the official economy in the USSR was coming apart due to gross corruption and incompetence. He recognized the Soviet people knew full well they were being lied to by their leaders every day in almost every way. Sound familiar?

Gorbachev’s Glasnost intended for the truth to become more known to all citizens, allowing those citizens to have the right to criticize the way the country was being run.

Gorbachev’s Perestroika was to allow for small business and farms to form in the USSR outside of government ownership. The plan was to entice back into the official Soviet economy the vast underground economy built up over decades that served the everyday needs of citizens.

Both policies were complete successes and complete failures.

People did become more informed and sharply critical. This led slowly to a complete rejection of communist ideology by most people.

When it became legitimate to own a small business at first there were many entrepreneurs ready to accept the challenge and rewards. They found though the mountain of costly red tape made the opportunity illusory. This led everyone back into the untaxed black market for goods and services. It was at least free of corruption by official authority.

Of course, Gorbachev never had a chance at turning the USSR from a bloated swine into an elegant ballerina. People do not work that way. The end-stage of social collapse from suffocating collectivism had arrived for the USSR. Gorbachev came at the end like Sisyphus pushing on a continental size boulder.

So, Gorbachev does not join this list for his domestic policy success. His greatest foreign policy success was to convince war hawk Ronald Reagan that peace from the Cold War stood a good chance.

Yet, Gorbachev’s marginal successes worked the greatest miracle of the 20th Century when acting together. He softened two empires for the best crash landing for a dying empire in world history.

The miracle laid critically in the moral conscience of Mikhail Gorbachev. He may have made the biggest choice ever favoring peace over war, progress over destruction.

When the Pope John II revolution was swarming Poland, Gorbachev did not intervene with the Soviet tank columns then in the country. The same was true as all of the Eastern European satellite nations ended their tie to the Soviet Union over two remarkable years. Believing in Gorbachev’s character by then, Reagan kept the US interventionists at bay as well as did his successor, George Bush I (for a time).

When the same forces began to pull the USSR itself apart, Gorbachev did not deploy KGB death squads and weaponized riot police. He seldom jailed peaceful protesters. Newspapers were not closed. He sought dialogue and compromise always.

When the old guard in the Politburo finally staged its violent coup in 1991, Gorbachev refused the coup leaders’ demands risking his life for principle. The coup failed quickly. Quickly thereafter the Soviet Union collapsed into 15 different countries. Boris Yeltsin took power in the new Russian Republic in 1992 forever ending the flying of the flag of the Soviet Union.

Like Vasili Arkhipov, Gorbachev, after his great achievement, was criticized and scapegoated for the failure of the USSR. Gorbachev’s successor in power in Russia today still claims the fall of the USSR was the most terrible event of the 20th Century, even though that claim is so perfectly backwards. Only in recent years has Gorbachev been partly rehabilitated in the public’s view at home. Gorbachev is 86-years old now and one of the world’s great advocates for peace.

Think of what a Stalinist might have done as leader of the USSR at its end to appreciate how consequential the life of Mikhail Gorbachev was. Would any other potential leader in the Soviet Union had taken the path of peace and progress taken by a single man?

Mikhail Gorbachev handed the world the opportunity for global peace like had never been seen before. One of the worst events of the 20th Century was the West’s choice then of global domination over peace in a multipolar world.

So, it was a godless, communist tyrant, alone ironically, who spared the world the massive violence to be expected when an exhausted empire reaches its death stage.

Such is the stuff of miracles.

Great Achievers

It would be interesting to see discussion of other candidates for this list. There are names here that are surely unexpected. Send emails here.

It is difficult to conceive of such a list however that did not include some of the names given here.

This author will leave the writing of the List of the Most Awful to others though.


Mr. Merrill, a practicing attorney, served in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer.

Mr. Merrill is the editor of the Alaska Freedom News, formerly the Hampton Roads Freedom News

Publication of his recent stories appear at Market Oracle.

© 2017 Copyright  Stephen Merrill - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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