It was Vladimir Lenin that once remarked: “there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen”. Our political realities can change in an instant and nothing is certain. Processes and traditions that have endured for centuries can be upended in a single moment, should the conditions be right for a revolutionary change.
This is perhaps best illustrated in the places where epoch-defining events have taken place. A continent can be defined by what occurs in a train carriage, while the apocalypse can almost occur on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Here are three surprising locations where world-changing events have taken place.
Compiègne Wagon: The Fall of France
This rather standard train carriage was home to not one but two of the defining events of the 21st century. The first was in 1918 when it was converted into a command centre for French forces general Ferdinand Foch during the height of the European conflict in WW1. It was this same carriage where Foch accepted the German surrender just a few months later.
After this, the carriage was transported to a museum. However, a mere two decades later, it would be removed and transported by rail to the exact same location as in 1918 so that Hitler could accept the French surrender there. The Fall of France was considered to be one of the pivotal events of the Second World War, one which increased British resolve to lobby for American intervention, whilst also closing off much of the European continent to the allies for several years.
The carriage was put on display in the Berlin Cathedral for a week afterward, before being destroyed by the SS.
Las Vegas Desert: The Cold War Kicks Off
The Cold War and the accompanying anxiety over pending nuclear annihilation defined the culture and politics of the mid to late twentieth century. It was the only period in global history before or since in which two superpowers dominated global affairs.
While there were many flashpoints for this tense period of time, the casino mecca of Las Vegas was one of the most significant. It was here where the so-called Nevada Test Site was located, where American forces tested the most destructive nuclear weapons ever made, much to the alarm of the Soviets.
Nonetheless, these tests proved to be instrumental in the development of Las Vegas as a global centre for gambling. Tourists would flock from across the US to get a view of the mushroom clouds from the roof terraces of the rapidly-growing casino resorts, before stepping inside to play a little bit of blackjack and poker. Cautious gambling fans who would rather avoid the extraordinarily high radiation levels that still exist in Nevada might prefer to stay at home and play their blackjack online online rather than risk a trip to the USA.
Mount Washington Hotel: The Modern Financial System is Established
The Bretton Woods Conference, also known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, is one of the great forgotten events of world history. The three-week conference took place in an unassuming resort hotel in New Hampshire and is where much of the modern world of finance was established.
It was here where the International Monetary Fund was established and where the idea of a truly global rulebook for global trade and finance was written up. The main dining hall is where it was agreed that currencies would be pegged to the US Dollar, while the infrastructure for the globalized economy and free movement of capital, goods, and people that define our modern way of life was established within the gloomy conference halls.
As these examples demonstrate, it’s not always grand palaces and state buildings where important events take place. Chances are you’ve visited places of great historical importance without even realizing it, as history truly is everywhere.