The various eras of human history are defined by the culture and technology that made each one unique. Old-timey Japan was rife with samurai dicing one another into stew meat, the strength of your navy was once determined by how many sails your wooden boats had, and humanity once thought that flying around in gargantuan sacks of flammable gas was the greatest idea ever.
But as we've discussed a few times before, sometimes things you assume were relegated to museums back when your grandparents were still riding tricycles to school stuck around much longer than you realize. For example ...
5 A Woman Was Convicted Of Witchcraft In 1940s Britain
Witch trials are a relic of the 17th Century, when mass hysteria ruled and every single problem in the world could be traced back to fact that women possessed vaginas (okay, this sounds suspiciously like the modern-day internet).
"Actually, it's about ethics in crop blight journalism."
But these weren't just unwashed mobs rising up to improve their personal outlook on life by hosting a good ol' witch-b-que; they were state-sanctioned affairs backed by the highest echelons of government. Hell, King James I literally wrote the book on witch hunting. Thankfully, reason eventually prevailed, and that's all in the distant, shitty past.
But Actually ...
The last witch trial in Britain took place in 1944, at a time when the U.S. was hell-bent on developing some potentially world-ending magic of its own, and the Brits were preoccupied with planning a little thing called D-Day.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Loosely inspired by the Spielberg classic.
Helen Duncan was sort of the Long Island Medium of her day. She traveled the UK holding seances, offering her patrons closure, and probably only swiping the occasional pocket watch. During one such divination in April of 1944, she told a pair of worried parents that two British battleships -- including their son's, the HMS Barham -- had sunk. Military authorities, fearing a leak of state secrets in such close proximity to the Normandy landings and completely oblivious to the fact that Duncan could have garnered the information from a strikingly un-supernatural source known as "the newspaper," picked her up and charged her with conspiracy, fraud, and, to top it all off, violation of the Witchcraft Act of 1735. Only the black magic charge stuck, and Duncan was sentenced to nine months in prison. For black magic. In 1944.
Now, we'd be misleading you if we implied that people didn't find this utterly ridiculous even at the time. Winston Churchill himself visited Duncan in prison and, in a powerful act of British solidarity, declared the entire affair "tomfoolery." Still, Duncan served out her time, and her conviction stands to this day, despite the fact that Churchill repealed the sorely outdated act under which she was convicted in 1951.
4 People Still Killed Each Other (And Themselves) With Swords in 20th-Century Japan
Ancient Japan was all about the sword, according to a bunch of movies we've watched. But while the art of the samurai will forever live on in museums, anime, and Tom Cruise movies, in the real world, swords became obsolete right around the time the first guns hit the market. If you're bringing a blade to a gunfight, you'd better hope your opponent has really terrible aim.
Really terrible aim six times in a row, that is.
But Actually ...
If you're not familiar with the logistics of seppuku, allow us to enlighten you on its full-on goddamn gnarliness: As a means of preserving their honor, men would disembowel themselves, and then jam the blade into either their neck or their heart like the punctuation mark at the end of the most hardcore sentence ever written.
Far from vanishing into history hundreds of years ago, this practice held sway well into the 20th Century. In 1912, following the death of Emperor Meiji, General Nogi Maresuke literally spilled his guts after years of sending polite requests to honor his death wish. You see, the general first requested permission to commit the act after losing a flag in battle 25 years earlier, and then again after losing scads of his men during the Russo-Japanese War.
National Diet Library
"They wouldn't fire me, so I quit."
And Maresuke was far from the most recent to rock out with his colon out. Many Japanese soldiers were known to chop themselves down rather than face capture during World War II, and we've already told you about Yukio Mishima, the popular Japanese author who committed seppuku in fucking 1970 after organizing a failed government coup powered entirely by his gleaming pectoral muscles.
For an even more public display of anachronistic Japanese swordplay, let's turn to the case of 17-year-old Otoya Yamaguchi, a member of the ultra-right nationalist group Uyoku dantai. Much as a modern teenager might fetishize dubiously aged anime girls, Yamaguchi idealized Japan's former isolationist glory. Yamaguchi's worldview came to a megalomaniacal head on October 12, 1960, when he rushed the stage during a speech by socialist politician Inejiro Asanuma and stabbed him with an actual motherfucking samurai sword on live television:
Warning: extremely graphic
In a turn of events that made the janitorial staff more thankful than ever for the prison's strict "no samurai swords" policy, Yamaguchi hanged himself in his cell a few weeks later.