44 Important Parts of History You're Picturing Wrong
History! For many of you, it was probably the second most boring class in school -- beaten only by math. If you didn't have a satisfying history education, it's not because the past was boring. Your teachers -- and generations of their predecessors -- have conspired for years to keep all the REALLY fun stuff out of your textbooks. It's total bullshit, and Cracked has spent years fighting to bring the balls-out insanity of our shared past to light. Collected below are the craziest examples of hidden history we've found so far. It's time to get re-educated.
Ancient Christians Weren't Biblical Literalists
Ah, creationism! The age-old belief that everything in the Bible is literal, up to and especially Genesis. Its believers insist that God created the world literally in seven days, about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. As such, things that don't fit the idea -- like evolution and dinosaur bones and tons of scientific proof -- can freely and vigorously suck it.
"You're just putting random bones together to make random bullshit. I can do that with LEGOs."
The rabid anti-evolutionary school of religious thought that most people picture when they think of creationism is actually a recent and radical subset called Young Earth Creationism. Based on a long-standing fringe theory about the Earth being merely a few thousand years old, the idea of a "young Earth" was popularized in the early 20th century by a man called George McCready Price, a Canadian wannabe geologist and anti-evolutionist who made up for his total lack of scientific training with an unbridled enthusiasm for ignorance. Seriously, he was proud of the fact that he never caught "the disease of Universityitis."
"You know, except for the times I tried to write textbooks for them."
Even in ancient times, Christian scholars didn't buy that bunk. Take St. Augustine of Hippo, who was extremely clear that no one should view the Book of Genesis as a documentary. St. Augustine, it should be mentioned, lived in the 5th century. For centuries, it was understood that the Genesis was an allegory: The "days" of creation weren't actual 24-hour periods, but metaphors for a really long time, which in the eyes of an eternal, omnipotent, time-transcendent God just seemed like an average work week. That's not just the stance of one surprisingly progressive Hippo; this very view was and remains the Vatican's (and therefore the Catholic Church's) official stance on the subject.
If the Nazis Had Just _________, Germany Would Have Won the War
Just about everybody.
The idea is that Nazi Germany was a military juggernaut for a brief period in the '40s, and that the entire planet would have collapsed if it wasn't for one or two minor blunders.
If only he remembered to put oxygen in that helmet ...
Why It's Bullshit:
To say that Hitler sleeping late decided the war ignores the fact that he needed supernatural good luck to do as well as he did in the first place. For instance, it was blind luck that he avoided assassination in 1938, before he could even get his war plans off the ground. And it's a pretty safe bet he never would have gotten very far if his father hadn't changed his name from the far less catchy Schicklgruber.
But the major reason Hitler was never this close to making your grandparents goose-step through Times Square: the Soviet Union. Today, it's widely believed that Hitler's, or really anyone's, chances of winning a war against the Soviet Union were on par with a snowball in a cage match with a chainsaw-wielding Mike Tyson in hell.
What 11 time zones of Joseph Stalin looks like.
Yes, Hitler plowed through Europe and had the U.K. on the ropes, and could have done more. It didn't matter. Stalin was waiting on the other side, and Hitler was never going to win that war. It was just a matter of how much of Europe he would control at the moment Stalin eventually crushed him.
But had it been through a nuclear bombardment of Berlin or through a continued war of attrition, Stalin was going to be in the winner's corner of WWII, no matter what.
Behind all those trucks is a battalion of motorcycles to ramp them.
If all of this makes it sound like we think Hitler was kind of an idiot, well, that brings us to our next myth ...
Albert Einstein Had Most of His Big Ideas at 26
If you don't know who Albert Einstein is, we're afraid we really can't help you. Who doesn't know the famed 16-time bobsled champion and world-renowned professional wrestler?
To say nothing of his three consecutive spelling bee titles.
But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Right now, we're more about Einstein's more boring endeavors -- namely, the theories of general and special relativity that cemented his reputation as one of the most brilliant minds in history. Now, because every single photo you've ever seen of Einstein looks like the above -- wild white hair, gray mustache, lines around his eyes -- you have to assume all of that work was the culmination of a long life spent doing math stuff. But he came up with all of that shit when he was just 26. That is, right around the time when many of us are realizing our hip-hop career probably isn't going to take off.
The year was 1905, and Albert had just completed his thesis at the University of Zurich, and found employment as a patent examiner, because, fuck you, a paycheck is a paycheck. Being a deeply inquisitive young man, he used his off hours to dabble on theories on physics and matter. You know, every 20-something needs a hobby. But where we lovingly draft fanfic erotica featuring Betty Rubble and Mogo the Living Planet, his after-work endeavors actually plopped out a total of four theories that would become the bulk of his -- and modern science's -- legacy.
He also invented a car door lock that still opens if someone lifts the handle; but, unfortunately, it was lost to the ages.
He started his streak in January and February, casually proving Newton wrong and saying that space and time are not absolute, thus coining the theory of special relativity. In March, Einstein came up with quantum theory, a.k.a. the one about light being all about tiny particles that would eventually become known as photons. Finally, between April and May, he published a couple of papers that proved the thus far impossible-to-verify existence of the atom.
At that point, most of us would have whipped out our sunglasses and ridden into the sunset. Einstein, on the other hand, just pushed on, adding more layers to his theories about light and, finally, creating a little formula regarding the equivalence of energy and matter that you might have heard about:
As made famous by the Animaniacs.
For no-shit-related reasons, the year is now known in physics circles as Annus mirabilis, the Miracle Year. But really, the most impressive thing about it was that Einstein somehow managed to pull this all off at an age, when most of us still can't say with any certainty what we want to be when we grow up.
America Never Went Crazy Over War of the Worlds
Oh, how gullible we used to be.
In 1938, Orson Welles' radio production of the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds played out as a massive prank on the nation, reporting a Martian invasion as if it were real. The broadcast plunged millions of Americans into mass hysteria, as frightened listeners overloaded phone lines, fled cities, rushed to warn their loved ones, rioted and even attempted suicide for fear of the alien attack.
Life Magazine even ran a photo of a farmer defending his land against the Martians, shotgun in hand:
Newspapers happily jumped on reporting the panic in the days and weeks afterward, and even Adolf Hitler commented on the supposed hysteria. Something to the effect of, "An army of futuristic war machines trying to take over the planet?! Ha! You people are crazy to think such a thing could happen. If it did, you'd damn well know about it."
But in Reality ...
That photo up there, of the farmer with the shotgun? Life Magazine just had the guy pose for it. Most of the War of the Worlds freak-out was exactly as fake as that photo.
There's no doubt that some people thought the broadcast was real. Radio was still new and a fake news broadcast had literally never been done before. But virtually all of them reacted in exactly the way you would have: flipped to another station, or called somebody to ask what was going on.
Reports of people immediately flying into a panic -- attempting suicide, hallucinating alien death rays or fleeing to the countryside with guns in hand -- were almost all anecdotal stories told second hand with no names attached. And although the phone lines to the studio were unusually busy that night, mixed in with the people asking for information, were people praising or complaining about a show that seemed like it was clearly designed to create a mass panic.
"This broadcast is terrible!"
"Wait till you see the movie!"
There were also the people who tuned in late, and only caught the part about an "invasion" and "poison gas" (the Martians' main weapon) and assumed they were hearing reports of the Nazis invading, which wasn't ridiculous at all in 1938.
It's true that a few people probably actually did stupid shit, but keep in mind there were 6 million listeners that night. In any group of 6 million people, you'll find a certain number of them doing stupid things anyway, probably because they're stoned.
You know how they keep trying to tie terrible crimes or trends to the Internet? Some teenager dies due to "cyber bullying" or gets jailed due to "sexting" or somebody loses everything on a Craigslist scam, and the story somehow implies it's the technology that's making people evil?
It happens all the time.
Radio was the scary new technology once. The old media at the time (newspapers) was eager to jump on anything that made the new media seem dangerous and irresponsible.
Of course, the story stuck after that because it gives us the chance to do the thing we love doing most: look down on people. They fell for it, we didn't, therefore we're smarter than our grandparents. We're the enlightened generation, and don't believe in stupid bullshit. Oh, on an unrelated note, here's a website about how Lady Gaga is a puppet of the New World Order.
The Most Impressive Empires in History, Weren't
And while the Persian Empire may have boasted a ton of people, it also took a punch like a syphilitic flood victim:
The Ancient Olympics Were About Tests of Physical Ability, Not Endorsements and Fame
Sure, today's Olympics are corrupt, rife with cheating, and riddled with scandal, but at least today's games aspire to the noble ideals of the ancient Greeks -- amateurism, fair play, and peace. For one brief moment in history, those cherished virtues were upheld. It's inspiring stuff, really.
Not a CCTV camera in sight.
Literally all the worst aspects of the modern games -- cheating, corruption, commercialism -- were present almost from the very beginning of the ancient Olympiad. Hell, the ancient Greeks couldn't even pay lip service to the spirit of sportsmanship, because the idea of "fair play" didn't even exist. And that other righteous Olympic ideal, amateurism? There was no place for that shit in the ancient Greek games -- not with "riches and bitches" (we're fairly certain that's an ancient phrase) up for grabs.
Oh yeah, mad bitches.
"For love of the game" certainly didn't exist two millennia ago. Ancient Greek athletes were just as motivated by material gain and glory as today's -- hell, the word "athlete" even means "one who competes for a prize." Technically, the Olympiad itself only awarded its victors laurels and olive wreaths ... but, bring home some of those laurels and prepare to be showered with the aforementioned riches and bitches. The city of Athens paid its Olympic winners literal fortunes. Pensions for Olympic athletes were common, too, with some athletes winning free meals for the rest of their lives -- which was a big deal in a time when a huge chunk of the population was subsistence farming. Popular winners were paid to make public appearances and attend other games, and appearance money was serious dough: Unlike the loose change ex-Real Worlders collect to show up at bar openings, a great athlete might make a hundred times the annual salary of a soldier for a single day's appearance.
Naturally, with political appointments, wealth, personal statues, and celebrity on the line, performance enhancement was a given and cheating was bound to happen. Athletes attempted spells, potions, herbs, oils, and alcohol. Even if the benefits were somewhat ... ethereal, the desire to get one over on competitors was very much real. Also, the ancient Olympics elevated cheating to an art form -- mostly because the punishments ranged from flogging to death. Despite the risks, athletes bribed judges and competitors, and as the Olympics progressed, various events could all be had for not-so-reasonable prices.
"This 100 meter naked shield race is fixed!"
At least the ancient host city never changed, which meant no host city selection committee scandals. Instead of fighting to have their city host the games, ancient Greeks simply fought for control over the one city that did host the games, Elis. Just like today, hosting games meant profits from tens of thousands of spectators and hundreds of vendors jostling for the right to sell their kebabs, tchotchkes, and poorly made souvenirs. The ancient games were just as highly commercialized as today's Olympics, although as far as we know the ancient Greeks went several centuries without a single sperm-shaped mascot.
So they've got one up on us in that regard.
Medieval Monks Hid Filthy Jokes on Their Scrolls
Medieval monks were even more dedicated than medieval painters. They would literally spend years hunched over their work in dimly lit scriptoria, slaving away to produce stunning illuminated manuscripts, painstakingly reproducing and illustrating the world's knowledge so it wouldn't be lost. Being the keepers of recorded human history combined with their devotion to religion tends to make us think of them as infinitely wise and spiritual, sort of like if Jesus and Morgan Freeman teamed up to open a library.
They're basically the same person.
With all the limits their work and their religious vows put on them, the monks needed a way of entertaining themselves, and what they came up with was marginalia. Marginalia are little doodles at the edges of manuscripts, and they are not only irrelevant to the text, but also completely and utterly fucked-up beyond anything that could be mistaken for rational thought. We can only assume that the monks either thought nobody would ever notice (since pretty much the only people who could read and write back then were other monks), or they just didn't give a shit. Here we have a stork with a man-ass and a giant dangling scrotum shitting out Ernest Hemingway:
You describe it better.
And here's a goat farting diarrhea at a squire:
There are hundreds of these drawings, and each one does its best to defy any kind of explanation.
They're essentially the medieval equivalent of a Monty Python cartoon.
Nobody Dressed How You Think They Dressed
So already it's pretty clear that if we don't have photos laying around of the historical period in question, we're basically just guessing. And that's interesting considering how many figures from the distant past we think we have a perfectly clear image of. For instance, ninjas looked like this:
Vikings looked like this:
And as anyone who's ever attended a Thanksgiving event at an American grade school knows, pilgrims looked like this:
The ninja outfit is ridiculous, if you think about it. If you're an assassin and your job is to blend in, you don't do that by dressing in a black bodysuit that screams "ninja" from a mile away. So, they dressed like normal people -- workers, monks, merchants, basically anything that looked as un-ninja as humanly possible was the perfect disguise. This way, they could sneak around unnoticed, day or night.
Hidden inside those bushels are like a million katanas.
On rare occasions when they needed to move through the dark undetected, they still didn't wear black. Dark blue is the color you want if you want to blend in at night; someone in all black would stand out like a silhouette.
Or if you'd prefer we make it clearer:
As for the Vikings, the one single thing we know them for -- wearing huge horns on their helmets -- isn't true. They just wore regular helmets, not anything fancy. Here's some advice: If you want a career in something that requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat, don't wear anything that's easy for people to grab onto. This is why when cops wear ties, they wear clip-ons. It's also why you don't want something on your hat that is essentially a giant set of handlebars.
Viking helmets: built for sensible pillaging.
As for the pilgrims, they were simple, farming folk, and as such wore clothes that made sense for the job. Do you really think someone would toil in the field or chop wood for hours on end dressed in a heavy coat and shiny shoes? If you're gonna have a long, hard day of stealing Indian land, you gotta at least have a shirt that breathes.
Therefore, it was more common to see guys in baggy shirts and pants, and gals in simple dresses. Hats were floppy and buckle-free, and boots were made of beat up leather and tied with bows. On top of that, the image of the demure, black and white puritan is also a myth, as people owned clothes in a range of colors including bright yellows, blues, reds, and greens.
The ninjas can thank the theater. In Edo period theater (which came about 100 years after ninjas were around), playwrights needed a trick to show how sneaky ninjas were on stage, as well as a way to make them into "invisible" assassins. The stage hands already dressed in all black, so the audience had long been used to ignoring them since they weren't part of the play. So, actors playing ninjas started dressing up in all black too. Then the whole audience would jump when one of them would leap out of nowhere and kill a dude. Also, it looks totally badass.
As for the Vikings, Greek and Roman historians wrote about warriors from the North with horned helmets, which was just an exaggeration used to make them sound like scarier bad guys for their stories. Also, it looks totally badass.
And the pilgrims, with their black hats and brass buckles on everything? Well, in the early 1600s, there were people who dressed that way, but those were the urban puritans back in England --precisely the people who decided not to become pilgrims and instead stay home in the first place. The reason we have the image of pilgrims dressing the same is because all the existing portraits of people from the era come from England. Also, it looks totally badass.
No matter how well we think we know them today, our conception of historic figures is almost always wildly off:
Osama bin Laden's Management Style Was Straight From The Office
For over 20 years, Osama bin Laden ordered and organized al-Qaida attacks on the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and a whole slew of other countries, because nothing draws attention to the monstrosity of your Western adversaries like pointlessly killing thousands of innocent people. He has since moved on to other things.
For a long time, bin Laden seemed like the ultimate supervillain, an unbeatable mastermind who skillfully led his organization while running circles around the coalition forces, occasionally busting out his $40 camcorder to make a gloating video. However, recently recovered al-Qaida documents show bin Laden in a very different light. Instead of being a ruthless Bond villain slash evil genius, bin Laden's management tactics made him a lot closer to The Office's Michael Scott.
We've talked before about how bin Laden wanted to change al-Qaida's name because he felt people had a negative view of the brand. Well, it turns out that's the sort of "writing memos just to have something to do" task that bin Laden was all about. Seized letters show that a huge chunk of bin Laden's time was wasted on useless micromanaging usually reserved for managers with way too many buzzword seminars under their belt -- by the end, bin Laden was even forcing his top terrorists to turn in a freaking job resume so that he could pore over them and decide who to promote and demote.
"Where do you see yourself in five yea- ... three ... one month?"
This is when you realize how much of al-Qaida's war was apparently fought via documents that were mailed back and forth, to be revised and updated. One of bin Laden's final letters includes paragraphs like this:
Enclosed is a statement to the nation in regard to the revolutions. Please review it and if there are remarks on parts of it by the brothers then there is no problem in revising it. Then send it to al-Jazeera Network, noting that I have enclosed a copy of it in a new card with nothing else on it.
Enclosed is a file titled "Suggestions Toward Resolving Crises in Yemen," if you could rearrange the ideas in it and reshape them and publish it under your name, or if you do not see that as appropriate, put my son Khalid's name on it and direct the article to the scholars and dignitaries of Yemen.
Letters from other al-Qaida members included endless revisions to speeches and press releases, including one addressing an al-Qaida statement that mistakenly referred to Ben Franklin as an ex-president, adding the disclaimer:
... plenty of the Americans may also think that (Franklin) a president, because of his picture on the currency that usually carries the photos of the presidents.
It's the sort of dedicated, behind-the-scenes work that goes into terrorism that most people just don't understand.
That same letter also referred to an apparent debate about whether bin Laden's future video releases should be in HD, or artificially made to look grainy:
Accordingly, a high quality speech (HD) may receive some interest by some channels in the 10th anniversary. If the quality of the new speech is high, relative to the two previous speeches, you may think to compress it or take some measures to decrease the quality, to be similar to the previous ones, and I am talking seriously.
Yeah, it was pretty much just another office job.
What is strangest about all of this is that it's not actually clear to experts if bin Laden was even in charge of al-Qaida at that point or if he just thought he was, drafting his endless memos and letters while his underlings rolled their eyes and humored him. Yeah, we're starting to think that bosses are the same everywhere.
Ancient Rome Was Not Lily White
If we asked you to picture a coliseum full of ancient Romans, chances are you'd picture a sea of red mohawk helmets. And beneath those helmets? Scads of white, European-looking fellows in togas.
All stuffed to the gills with oily $5 pizza.
It's not that you're racist. It's that almost every filmmaker in cinematic history has made that same assumption about the ancient Romans, with logic along the lines of: "Rome's in Europe. Europe's white-ish, so ancient Romans were white-ish." What difference could 2,000 years possibly make?"
Here's a picture of the Roman Empire. Notice that a goodly chunk of the empire is in what some might refer to as "Africa" or "the Middle East."
Making it roughly as white as the cast of Lawrence of Arabia.
Based on that alone, it should be pretty obvious that Romans would've been a bit tanner than we tend to imagine. The Roman Empire would have been a pretty colorful place, considering it was a mix of North African, Semitic, West Asian, Latin, and Greek peoples -- although you'd never know it from modern cinema.
"He's laughing at my helmet, isn't he?"
But despite Hollywood's near-complete refusal to acknowledge it, ancient Rome was the original melting pot. See, back then, color and prejudice weren't linked -- unlike racism and stupidity today. Rome even had at least two African emperors, Severus and Macrinus. Rome was unique in the ancient world for its inclusive citizenship. In the past, a city-state like Sparta might have conquered a people and enslaved or slaughtered them all. Rome, on the other hand, blew ancient people's minds by assimilating or even naturalizing the conquered. The ancient Romans didn't even force conquered peoples to give up their own languages or customs.
The important thing for the Romans was that people followed the law, paid taxes, and, oh yeah, fought in the Roman army. The Romans were no dummies: Little old Rome was never going to be able to populate the world it conquered, let alone defend it, so absorbing other peoples like a giant legionary sponge was the only way to keep enough bodies in the military and on its farms. Rome enrolled northwest Africans, Moors, Gauls, Celts, Jews -- pretty much anyone who could swing a sword or throw a spear -- which is how an Ethiopian soldier could find himself fighting in Britain (maybe that's why every film Roman speaks with a British accent).
There are no exact numbers on ancient Roman diversity, but given Rome's constant contact with Africa and the Near East, the coliseum we asked you to imagine earlier should look more like Ellis Island and less like a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Hitler Was Not an Evil Genius
Hitler, in addition to being the go-to example in every bad debate, has sort of become history's supervillain. Hitler was the Lex Luthor to the non-Aryan Superman.
Since there are no cheap shots when it comes to Hitler, let's get this out of the way: do you have any idea how hard it is to get rejected by an art school? Chris Ofili got into art school, and he painted a Virgin Mary using fecal matter.
Yet Hitler failed his entrance exam. Twice. And his cognitive failings continued long after academia. The guy was like the polar-opposite of Charlie Brown: shitty at everything, yet unbelievably successful.
His Munich Beer Putsch was basically one enormous "let's get arrested!" day event, yet he somehow got away with serving only a few months for "high treason." While in jail, he wrote a book so shitty that it makes Stephen King's Christine look like Wuthering Heights, and yet it made enough money that Hitler was able to buy a Mercedes from the royalties while he was still imprisoned.
As a politician, he was a famous speaker despite his silly accent; had trouble breaking 40 percent in the polls despite "thinning" (assassinating) opposition. We'd accuse him of witchery were we not so sure he would have fucked that up too.
His contributions as a military tactician included allying Germany with a living cartoon character.
Benito Mussolini: this dude existed.
Hitler simply gets too much credit for the decisions made by people around him. Germany's successful invasion of France, for example, had nothing to do with Hitler's planning. His contribution was the part where he let 300,000 Allies escape at the Battle of Dunkirk, and where he singlehandedly blew The Battle of Britain with every advantage going for him, canceling the invasion of Britain in what would be the first real turning point of the war.
In short, Hitler was that asshole who knows absolutely nothing about Texas Hold 'Em, yet kept winning every round because the bastard had more luck than brains. You never hear about the bumbling shenanigans he lucked his way out of for the same reason they never used Forrest Gump as a Bond-villain: It doesn't make for a good story.
Christians Weren't Fed to Lions and Martyred in the Colosseum
Whenever the ancient Romans needed more trident-stabbing fodder for the pleasure dome's gladiators or more kibble for the Colosseum's big cats, Roman authorities simply rounded up another group of Christians and herded them into the arena. Reserve your seats now! Bring the kids!
Splatter guards available for the first three rows.
There are zero authentic accounts of Christian martyrdom in the Colosseum until over a century after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In fact, not a single legitimate record exists of the Romans executing any Christians in the Colosseum. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
"Those Christians wish they were cool enough to get into our lion parties."
But how do we know not one lion picked his teeth with the bones of a faithful believer in the Colosseum? Because back when Emperor Nero was busily persecuting early Christians as arsonists, the Colosseum hadn't even been built yet. And by the time construction was completed decades later, Imperial Rome had reverted back to its standard policy of "Jesus, Yahweh, Zeus -- whatever, just pay your taxes, K?"
But there's an entire tradition of martyrs, saints, and apostles who were eaten by lions, burned at the stake, or murdered to appease the crowds of the Colosseum! So where did all those pleasant bedtime stories come from? Brace yourself for a touch of deja vu, because the short answer is: early Christian writers.
So the Left Behind books are really a step up.
In the 2nd century, a whole new genre of fiction cropped up. The "Martyr Acts" were stories about the church's beginnings, when heroic men and women professed their faith in spite of terrible torture and suffering. This "sacred pornography of cruelty" was hugely popular -- if you were a literate Christian living in Imperial Rome, the Martyr Acts were your Harry Potter. With symbolism even less subtle than Dan Brown's novels, the Martyr Acts told stories of good and pure Christians being trampled to death or decapitated by violent Roman officials. The Martyr Acts satisfied the desire of early Christians to: 1) read faith-affirming literature filled with heroes exemplifying pacifism, love, and forgiveness and 2) read faith-affirming literature overflowing with the violence, death, and destruction that made a story readable to Romans.
Instead of blaming the Christian writers for creating a millennium's worth of misconceptions, though, we should really be thanking those guys for helping to preserve a historic landmark. That's because, starting in the 18th century, various popes used this spurious history to declare the Colosseum a site sanctified with the blood of martyrs in order to stave off its destruction.
The fake memory of their not-sacrifice is worth preserving.
John Lennon Was an Abusive Asshole Who Hit Women
The Beatles were all about love: they used the word 613 times in their songs, and like 300 of those are probably from John Lennon's "All You Need Is Love" alone. In his solo career, Lennon continued singing about love, but also about peace -- he even spent money putting up billboards with pro-peace messages in cities like London and New York.
OK, they didn't spend a lot of time on the design.
Many of his fans treat Lennon like a modern day Jesus: he preached peace and love, dressed like a disheveled hippie, died tragically young, and came back four years later with a posthumous album. Just like Jesus.
Lennon was a real asshole, especially to the people he was supposed to love the most. While he did write classic peace songs like "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance," keep in mind that he also wrote "I Am the Walrus," so he did not possess the soundest of minds. Lennon admitted in a Playboy interview that when he was younger, he basically went around punching women: "I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women."
He flashes the peace sign a lot because it's the easiest way to go for the eyes.
His attitude didn't change much when he hooked up with Yoko Ono and started shouting about peace. People gave Ono a lot of shit for following Lennon to band practices (a taboo in the music world known as "being a Yoko Ono"), but Ono only did that because Lennon demanded that she come out of fear she would leave him. He even made her go into the bathroom with him, afraid someone would snatch her away while she waited in the lobby. At the same time, he was openly unfaithful to her, just as he was to his first wife.
In the end, though, the biggest target of Lennon's cruelty was his son Julian. Lennon was absent for most of Julian's life, and the time he spent with him often led to yelling, insults, and very uncomfortable situations.
"But Dad, I'm afraid of bears."
"I know, child. I know."
Lennon stated in an interview that Julian was unplanned and "came from a bottle of whiskey." Lennon did admit his failings near the end of his life, but he added, "I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster." Sadly, that didn't happen, so he died an asshole.
No Stock Brokers Jumped Out of Windows When the Market Collapsed
After the Wall Street crash of 1929 that eventually led to the Great Depression, ruined investors jumped en masse from the windows of their towering buildings. They plunged to the ground in a fatal metaphor for the value of their stocks, leaving the streets below covered with splattered puddles of failed capitalism.
Knowledge of this historical event is so widespread that references to it can be found everywhere, from RoboCop to modern protests against the Wall Street bailout:
Unfortunately for the angry guy in that picture -- and fortunately for the people whose job it is to clean up the sidewalks in New York -- the legendary string of dramatic Wall Street suicides never actually happened.
The sweet relief of used condoms and vomit.
A popular comedian at the time made a quip about speculators needing to "stand in line to get a window to jump out of." The myth grew from there, until the "suddenly bankrupt stockbroker leaping from a window" became a stereotype.
Failed early attempts at jetpack commuting didn't help.
In reality, only two suicides by jumping occurred on Wall Street between the crash and the end of 1929, and one of those was that of an elderly female clerk named Hulda Borowski -- not really the image that comes to mind when you hear "corporate fat-cat."
So why do we believe it? First of all, we love a good dramatic symbol. An oil tanker spills a million gallons of oil on a beach? Ah, that's just a number. But show us a picture of an otter coated in oil? Holy shit! It's a disaster.
Likewise, saying the market lost 12 percent doesn't quite stick to the mind as well as the idea of stock brokers splattering their brains on the sidewalk rather than face another day of losses.
Also, take another look at the dude's sign up there. We root for this sort of thing to happen to the Gordon Gekko types who play Blackjack with billions in other people's money. They're the ones to blame. So when we lose our jobs or retirement accounts due to a crash, it makes us feel a little better to know the guys with gold watches and slicked-back hair got a face full of concrete.
Rome During the Renaissance Was Not a Magnificent Cultural Center
Renaissance Rome must have been a spectacular sight indeed. If science would only hurry its ass up with that chrono-phonebooth, we'd all travel straight back there to snap ourselves some pics of it in all its artistic glory. Then we'd run them through a shitty filter and fill them with misspelled hashtags, because that's how the future rolls, bitches.
Want to see what Renaissance Rome looked like? Head to modern-day Detroit. While Northern Italian cities flourished thanks to surging wealth and an influx of artisans, Rome was a depopulated, fetid wasteland with a booming outlaw population. When the pope ditched Rome in the 1300s for a way cooler castle in France, things pretty much fell apart. Rome relied on him for everything: his treasury, his guards, his stabilizing influence ... not to mention the pilgrims, tourists, and donations his holiness attracted. Rome needed him back, and bad. But thanks to dogmatic and political schisms, he didn't return until more than a century later, at the dawn of the Renaissance. By then, Rome had let herself go (and she wasn't exactly in cherry condition to begin with).
On the plus side, house cleaning was pretty straightforward.
At the height of the Renaissance, Rome's population had fallen to its lowest ever: Just 10,000 inhabitants lived in a city that had once been home to as many as a million. The city eventually bounced back, of course, but that wasn't until the tail end of the Renaissance. No, when the pope first returned, he found Rome to be a post-apocalyptic hellhole filled with the townspeople from Beyond Thunderdome. The few non-criminal citizens left grazed their cows in the Forum; the most exciting contest taking place in the Circus Maximus was seeing whose sheep could drop the biggest load. Even the holy city's churches were rotted-out shells of their former medieval glory. Worst of all, Rome's esteemed citywide sewer system had been destroyed by invading tribes during the fall of the Roman Empire and never rebuilt, so large parts of the Eternal City were now literally shit holes.
The Indians Weren't Defeated by White Settlers
Our history books don't really go into a ton of detail about how the Indians became an endangered species. Some warring, some smallpox blankets and ... death by broken heart?
When American Indians show up in movies made by conscientious white people like Oliver Stone, they usually lament having their land taken from them. The implication is that Native Americans died off like a species of tree-burrowing owl that couldn't hack it once their natural habitat was paved over.
But if we had to put the whole Cowboys and Indians battle in a Hollywood log line, we'd say the Indians put up a good fight, but were no match for the white man's superior technology. As surely as scissors cuts paper and rock smashes scissors, gun beats arrow. That's just how it works.
This is all the American history you'll ever need to know.
But there's a pretty important detail our movies and textbooks left out of the handoff from Native Americans to white European settlers: It begins in the immediate aftermath of a full-blown apocalypse. In the decades between Columbus' discovery of America and the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, the most devastating plague in human history raced up the East Coast of America. Just two years before the pilgrims started the tape recorder on New England's written history, the plague wiped out about 96 percent of the Indians in Massachusetts.
In the years before the plague turned America into The Stand, a sailor named Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed up the East Coast and described it as "densely populated" and so "smoky with Indian bonfires" that you could smell them burning hundreds of miles out at sea. Using your history books to understand what America was like in the 100 years after Columbus landed there is like trying to understand what modern day Manhattan is like based on the post-apocalyptic scenes from I Am Legend.
"They call it 'The city that never sleeps' because the only guy who lives there is a notoriously sarcastic rapper."
Historians estimate that before the plague, America's population was anywhere between 20 and 100 million (Europe's at the time was 70 million). The plague would eventually sweep West, killing at least 90 percent of the native population. For comparison's sake, the Black Plague killed off between 30 and 60 percent of Europe's population.
While this all might seem like some heavy shit to lay on a bunch of second graders, your high school and college history books weren't exactly in a hurry to tell you the full story. Which is strange, because many historians believe it is the single most important event in American history. But it's just more fun to believe that your ancestors won the land by being the superior culture.
Yay for apocalypse profiteering!
European settlers had a hard enough time defeating the Mad Max-style stragglers of the once huge Native American population, even with superior technology. You have to assume that the Native Americans at full strength would have made shit powerfully real for any pale faces trying to settle the country they had already settled. Of course, we don't really need to assume anything about how real the American Indians kept it, thanks to the many people who came before the pilgrims. For instance, if you liked playing cowboys and Indians as a kid, you should know that you could have been playing vikings and Indians, because that shit actually happened. But before we get to how they kicked Viking ass, you probably need to know that ...
Samurai Were Actually Embarrassed of Their Swords
Oh, come on. This, at least, just has to be bullshit. A quick Google image search of "samurai" returns a gazillion results, 99 percent of which depict the famed warriors with sword in hand. There are drawings about them using swords. There are photos. Hell, pajamas, katanas, and weird hairstyles were their whole thing: Samurai damn well lived by the sword. What else did they have?
Yes, the samurai did have an ancient tradition centered around a weapon. However, it sure as shit wasn't the sword. In fact, ignore every movie and video game about samurai, because they only carried swords as awkward last resort weapons.
"Only an asshole brings a sword to a bowfight."
Kyuba no michi, "the way of the horse and bow," was there centuries before any semblance of Bushido. It's exactly what it says on the tin: Samurai were all about flinging arrows at peasants from horseback. It makes sense, really -- they were professional soldiers, and in that line of business you quickly learn that only idiots fight the enemy at stabbing distance. Bows were revered over swords to the extent that many Japanese nobles actually downplayed their swordsmanship. After all, pointing out how great your sword skills were was basically announcing that you're a terrible archer. And saying "I'm a terrible archer" was more or less like saying "I'm neither a man nor a warrior."
"A real man knows how to shoot his shaft."
The introduction of firearms in the 16th century finally killed the samurai supremacy as mounted archers. As they left the battlefield and settled for a new life as bureaucrats and officials, their formerly reviled swords started taking on actual importance as elaborate status symbols. And because bows weren't really an option anymore, the sword became the go-to weapon of the honorable, sword-wielding, bushido following and completely fictional samurai they retroactively invented to feel better about their crummy desk jobs.
"Oh, and every samurai's sword is the same length as his dick too."
Great Americans Were Cooler With Nazis Than You'd Think
It's no secret that Henry Ford had a certain amount of Nazi sympathy, mainly due to Ford's belief that anyone who hated the Jews that much must have been an awesome guy. And those views are kind of hard to hide when you openly praise Hitler's ideas and receive Nazi medals for your dealings with them.
Seen here, covered in swastikas, just in case you were confused about where it came from.
Still, it's not like Ford was alone among prominent Americans who praised Hitler before the war. And although he was privately an anti-Semitic cocksheath for life, Ford had the sense to end his Reich romance by the time he realized what murderous dicks the Nazis actually were.
A little known 1998 lawsuit by a Russian slave laborer (more on that later) delved a little deeper into the whole Ford/Hitler thing, and what it uncovered was fucking terrifying. According to its papers, Ford and the Nazis were extremely tight, to the point that Ford started throwing money at the ascending Reich. Ford didn't agree to stop dealing with Hitler until late 1942 ... eight months after the U.S. had entered the war.
"Hey, Henry? Bud? Would you mind not selling stuff to our sworn-"
"IN A MINUTE!"
And whether he really severed ties with Germany at that point is open to speculation. Ford-Werke -- the German subsidiary of Ford's empire -- remained operational throughout the war, happily manufacturing gear for the German military machine and using POWs as forced labor. The company insists that Ford-Werke was confiscated by Nazis in 1941 and they lost all contact, and that whatever happened in their plant after that wasn't Ford's fault ... despite the fact that the company had used POWs as slave labor before that.
Oh, and here's a pretty poem from Ford-Werke's internal magazine that came out in 1940 -- when Henry Ford still unquestionably held the reins:
We have sworn to you once,
But now we make our allegiance permanent.
Like currents in a torrent lost,
We all flow into you.
Even when we cannot understand you,
We will go with you.
One day we may comprehend,
How you can see our future.
Hearts like bronze shields,
We have placed around you,
And it seems to us, that only
You can reveal God's world to us.
That piece is called Fuhrer, because of course it is.
All of this would probably have stayed under wraps indeterminately, if one brave ex-slave laborer hadn't sued the company for obvious reasons. Ford managed to get the charges dropped, not because the judge found them to be innocent, but because "redressing the tragedies of that period has been -- and should continue to be -- a nation-to-nation, government-to-government concern." After all, once you start holding corporations responsible for funding Hitler, where does it end?
Hey, speaking of Hitler , Gertrude Stein Supported the Nazi Movement.
Gertrude Stein, the famous Paris-based American novelist, was a hallmark of open-mindedness and experimentation. A key figure in modernist literature and an openly gay woman in a time when that sort of thing was generally frowned upon, she wrestled the world into accepting her open ideals about freedom, beauty, love, and all that other bohemian jazz. Also, she was a great big fan of fascism.
Almost as much as she liked taking portraits of herself with portraits of herself.
Archives reveal that Stein was a big fan of both Hitler's Germany and the Vichy government (the French extension of the Reich), to the point where she actively worked for them. After fascism rolled over France, Stein gleefully signed to the goose-stepping team as a propagandist, translating pro-Nazi speeches from French to English and even attempting to get them published in America. (The publisher's comment: "Over my dead body.") The hate-dripping content apparently didn't bother her at all, despite the fact that much of it revealed the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population, which she was a part of.
If that was the only thing she did, an argument could be made that Stein mainly took the gig to save her own butt -- the Vichy government wasn't exactly averse to sending its Jewish population to concentration camps. However, she had an enduring love affair with the entire concept of fascism: Stein greatly admired the cruel Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and once went on record suggesting that Hitler should totally be given a Nobel Peace Prize.
"I mean, World War II led to peace, right? And Hitler started World War II? Just sayin'..."
OK, that seems kind of bad, but it could still theoretically be just a wacky series of misunderstandings. It wasn't like she was throwing Nazi salutes at Hitler's bunker in 1945 or anything.
Wait, she did that exact thing? Never mind.
We Don't Live in Some New Golden Age of Contraception and Female Orgasms
As the theory goes, the ladies had it pretty bad in bed for most of Western history. Until the rise of modern feminism, men pretty much used sex as an elaborate form of masturbation, giving no thought to how to please their women sexually, and the art of female pleasure was about as well-known as space travel. And if this bad sex wasn't bad enough, it also inevitably resulted in at least 25 children, since reliable birth control also didn't exist at all until very recently.
"Rice paper does nothing."
It's easy to see why so many of us have this idea: after all, it was only a generation or two ago that the views of Dr. Sigmund "clitoral orgasms are a sign of immaturity" Freud were massively popular. Surely things before that must have been even worse, right?
The female orgasm not only has an extensive history but before the rise of Freudianism was even more celebrated than it is now. We've talked before about shady Victorian doctors who used their magic hands to cure uptight women, but the mystical properties of the female orgasm go back far earlier than this. In medieval times, it was believed that the female reproductive system was the same as a man's but inside-out, and they thought that babies were only made upon both partners achieving climax. And even if you weren't aiming at baby formation, a lack of orgasm in either sex could still lead to a harmful build-up of "seminal humor." Thanks a lot for ridding us of that piece of ignorance, Modern Science.
We're not sure what's going on here, but we'd bet money it's easier with Astroglide.
As for contraception, every form of it save for the pill has a long history, and we mean very long. Diaphragms and other barrier devices, made of everything from wrapped sea sponges to crocodile dung and often containing materials that melted inside the body and sealed off the cervix, have been in use since ancient Egypt, and popped up among the ancient Greeks and Jews. Women in the Roman Empire even had a morning-after pill called silphium, modern-day fennel. And if you're thinking, "So what? They probably also believed that eating blessed leeches cured stomach cancer," consider this: Modern tests in which scientists gave rats closely related versions of the herb found that it was effective almost 100 percent of the time. Oh, and the reason the scientists couldn't use the exact strain the Romans used was because the Romans relied on it so much that they drove it to extinction.
Nero ate the last piece. The neckbeard made him do it.
Elvis Presley Liked Schoolgirls, Pajama Parties ... and Dudes
Elvis Presley is considered the first true rock star, and as such he got the combined amount of rock star pussy accumulated over thousands of years of human civilization. The way the man shook his hips made ripples in the fabric of reality that are still causing spontaneous female orgasms to this day.
Admit it: You just felt something in your vagina, even if you don't have one.
His deep voice, jet black hair, and aforementioned hips turned Elvis into an immortal sex icon -- men wanted to be him, women wanted to do him, and hound dogs wanted to kick his ass for dissing them (you can't win them all).
Elvis sure loved the ladies, but he had one very specific type: They had to be young (like, school age), and if they looked like his mom, even better.
Elvis used to creep out his friends with his obsession with young girls. In fact, his wife, Priscilla, was introduced to him when she was 14 and he was 24, and according to people who were present that day, the relationship became physical right away. The fact that Elvis was grieving his mother at the time and that Priscilla sorta looked like her makes it even creepier. There are also pictures of Elvis groping a clearly uncomfortable 17-year-old Kay Wheeler, the president of his fan club, who later said, "He should have been under freaking arrest."
She got her revenge by telling him: "You'd look really cool with huge sideburns."
But the man also had a tender side. When he wasn't trying to touch their boobs, Elvis liked to throw pajama parties with teenage girls where he would start pillow fights and teach them to style their hair and put on mascara. Elvis was pretty insecure despite being, well, Elvis, so he preferred younger girls because they didn't seem as threatening to him. He was perfectly capable of seducing older women, though ... and dudes, apparently. Or at least one particular dude. According to Elvis' stepmother, Elvis had a long affair with his good friend Nick Adams, whom he met while shooting the movie Love Me Tender in 1956.
We're just gonna leave this here.
One Elvis biographer claims that the King's manager, Colonel Parker, knew about the affair and used it as a way to control Elvis. If he really wanted to ruin the guy, though, Parker could have just revealed that his trademark black hair was actually dyed, because Elvis was a natural blond.
It's like we don't even know you anymore, Elvis.
Ancient Greece Was Not a Progressive Beacon of Reason
Before the Roman Empire came along and conquered the world, reason, logic, and civility ruled in ancient Greece, where during any random late-night beer run you could run into Aristotle and Plato in line at the cash register. The whole country was a liberal arts major's wet dream. Truly, the era was a golden age for humanity.
"... and that's the best way to break your poop up with a stick so it'll flush."
Ancient Greece resembled a modern-day sectarian war zone with constantly warring bands. That's not to say there weren't bright spots, or that Western culture doesn't owe a great deal to said bright spots -- we'd just like to remind you that the ancient Greeks exiled, lynched, or executed some of the brighter among them. Ever heard of a guy named Socrates? Yep, executed.
"We wanted to let him live, but he just refused to put a shirt on."
See, the Greece of popular imagination never actually existed, because there was no one "Greece." The Hellenic peninsula was home to over 1,000 city-states. And ancient Greeks identified with their city-state like patriotic gang members. Also, each gang had its own armies, governments, customs, and religions. Oh, and they all had slaves -- enough slaves to make the antebellum South seem downright forward-thinking by comparison. Because for all that talk about lofty ideas like freedom and democracy, the ancient Greeks possessed no qualms about enslaving their fellow man. Sure, some philosophers said enslaving fellow Greeks wasn't super cool, but then city-states like Sparta and Thessaly told them to take their philosophy and get bent by enslaving the entire populations of other city-states.
Oh, and freedom-loving, democratic Athens had more slaves than anybody. And while we're on the subject of the only democratic city-state, now's probably a good time to mention that democracy lasted in Athens for less than two centuries. Almost every ancient leading mind couldn't wait to return to tyranny, or literally any form of government other than democracy. Plato and Socrates weren't buying it, while Aristotle's shining defense for it was simply that it didn't suck quite as hard as other governments.
"I guess it's better than just, like, stabbing people until they agree or something."
So, while philosophical and cultural achievements were made in ancient Greece, they didn't spread too quickly or too far. Constant warfare and rivalry between city-states was only one impediment. The other? Less than 5 percent of those living in ancient Greece were literate. Most Greeks weren't the urban intellectuals of popular imagination; they were rural farmers and herders who most likely never ventured beyond their own city-state.
See, part of the problem is that we interpret the ancient Greeks through the works and words of those who were most prominent ... and those who were most prominent also happened to be their most exceptional minds. But the average ancient sheepherder didn't give two shits about logic, literature, or the theater -- he was too busy being a sheepherder who preferred the comfort and familiarity of superstition. So, expounding that situation to modern society, we can safely assume that in 2,000 years some future culture will be trying to construct an accurate picture of the U.S. based solely off of reality TV and superhero movies. And that picture will be awesome.
"Correct, Jimmy. Explosions and spandex, as far as the eye could see."
Greek Statues Were Brightly Painted and Kind of Stupid-Looking
Quick, what do you picture in your head when we say "Ancient Greece"? If you're like most people you either picture lots of dudes standing around in togas or white marble statues with no pupils in their eyes:
"Colorful clothes are for gangbangers and homosexuals."
Those ornate statues made of pure white marble, depicting the austere beauty and power of epic gods and heroes, have made quite an impression on history. Renaissance sculptors carved their own marble statues based on the belief that that's how the ever wise Greeks did things.
Here's the reality: Ancient Greece looked more like someone crashed their LGBT pride parade into a Mardi Gras Festival.
Recent studies using the awesome powers of lasers and shit (no, seriously!) have found that once completing the iconic marble statues and buildings we know today, the Greeks covered them head to toe in bright primary colors. Greek sculptors worked together with painters to come up with psychedelic patterns and colors to make their statues and buildings pop.
So in the midst of all that theorizing and philosophizing, the Greeks were also really focused on making sure their day-to-day life looked like the album cover of Magical Mystery Tour. Oh, and you know the iconic Parthenon? Based on the way buildings were painted back then, it was most likely an eye-searing mash of bright yellow, red and blue.
Why We Picture It Wrong:
As years passed, like with the Pyramids, the primitive paint used on the statues chipped and wore off, so when they were rediscovered by later civilizations, they appeared in their all white form. And frankly people just liked the idea of the all white marble look.
Even so, archaeologists knew that the statues used to be painted, since there were ancient records showing people painting the damned things. However, people simply preferred to display the plain white statues, since they looked more like something made by the founders of Western civilization should look like, in the minds of many scholars. Pure, clean, capturing the shape and essence of scientific accuracy and artistic beauty--whereas the painted versions kinda looked like something you might have made during middle school art class.
Jesus Looked Nothing Like the Paintings
Occasionally someone will come forward having seen the face of Christ in, say, a hunk of wood or a toasted sandwich.
And always you can immediately recognize the face because of the trademark long hair and beard. It's maybe the most recognizable face in the world.
White guy, usually even with light hair and eyes. It's not just some pop culture invention; check out this image of Jesus found in the Room of The Segnatura at the Vatican:
Please, no jokes about the naked little boys at the bottom.
But as you can probably guess, Yeshua of Nazareth, the man Christians think of as "Jesus Christ" today, actually looked a lot more Middle Eastern seeing as he was ... well ... actually Middle Eastern.
That's just an artist rendering based on what the average person of the time and place Jesus actually came from looked like, but you get the idea.
For the dominant image of Jesus as a whitey, we have artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo to thank. A lot of the paintings of Jesus they made during the Renaissance became the "definitive" versions of his image, and they were just portraying him as a handsome Italian man, like everyone else in their paintings.
But the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren't the only ones to blame; European paintings from the Medieval ages did the same whitewashing, most likely because, in the age of the Crusades, the Church was better off not reminding people they were praying to a little, brown Jew.
"Wait is that the guy we're supposed to kill or worship? We might need to change our mascot ..."
Of course, this racial artistic license isn't exclusive to white people, either -- Jesus has been portrayed as Black, Hispanic, and Asian, depending on who painted the picture.
White Settlers Did Not Carve America Out of the Untamed Wilderness
The pilgrims were the first in a parade of brave settlers who pushed civilization westward along the frontier with elbow grease and sheer grizzled-old-man strength.
But in written records from early colonial times, you constantly come across "settlers" being shocked at how convenient the American wilderness made things for them. The eastern forests, generally portrayed by great American writers as a "thick, unbroken snarl of trees" no longer existed by the time the white European settlers actually showed up. The pilgrims couldn't believe their luck when they found that American forests just naturally contained "an ecological kaleidosocope of garden plots, blackberry rambles, pine barrens and spacious groves of chestnut, hickory and oak."
"We have hours of weeding ahead of us, but by the grace of God, we will persevere."
The puzzlingly obedient wilderness didn't stop in New England. Frontiersmen who settled what is today Ohio were psyched to find that the forest there naturally grew in a way that "resembled English parks." You could drive carriages through the untamed frontier without burning a single calorie clearing rocks, trees, and shrubbery.
Whether they honestly believed they'd lucked into the 17th century equivalent of Candyland or were being willfully ignorant about how the land got so tamed, the truth about the presettled wilderness didn't make it into the official account. It's the same reason every extraordinarily lucky CEO of the past 100 years has written a book about leadership. It's always a better idea to credit hard work and intelligence than to acknowledge that you just got luckier than any group of people has ever gotten in the history of the world.
"Holy crap, it's already wired for Wifii!"
Nobody's role in settling America has been quite as overplayed as the pilgrims'. Despite famous sermons with titles like "Into the Wilderness," the pilgrims cherry-picked Plymouth specifically because it was a recently abandoned town. After sailing up and down the coast of Cape Cod, they chose Plymouth Rock because of "its beautiful cleared fields, recently planted in corn, and its useful harbor."
We're always told that the pilgrims were helped by an Indian named Squanto who spoke English. How the hell did that happen? Had he taken AP English in high school? The answer to that question is the greatest story your history teachers didn't bother to teach you. Squanto was from the town that would become Plymouth, but between being born there and the pilgrims' arrival, he'd undergone an epic journey that puts Homer's Odyssey to shame.
And at the end, instead of bangin' his hot wife, he had to teach white people how to bury dead fish
with corn kernels.
Squanto had been kidnapped from Cape Cod as a child and sold into slavery in Spain. He escaped like the boy Maximus he was, and spent his better years hoofing it west until he hit the Atlantic Ocean. Deciding that swimming back to America would take too much time, he learned enough English to convince someone to let him hitch a ride to "the New World." When he finally got back home, he found his town deserted. The plague had swept through two years before, taking everyone but him with it.
when the pilgrims showed up, instead of being pissed at the people from the Continent who had stolen his ability to grow up with his family, he decided that since nobody else was using it, he might as well show them how to make his town work.
"And this is the sea. I'd recommend bathing in it, because you people
smell like the inside of my asshole."
This is especially charitable of him when you realize that, while the pilgrims were nicer than past settlers, they weren't exactly sensitive to Squanto's plight. According to a pilgrim journal from the days immediately after they arrived, they raided Indian graves for "bowls, trays, dishes and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered the body up again." And yet Squanto taught them how to make it through a winter without turning to cannibalism -- a landmark accomplishment for the British to that point.
Compare that to Jamestown, the first successful settlement in American history. You don't know the name of the ship that landed there because the settlers antagonized the natives, just like the vikings who came before them. The Native Americans didn't have to actively kill them. They just sat back and laughed as the English spent the harvest seasons digging holes for gold. The first Virginians were so desperate without a Squanto that they went from taking Indian slaves to offering themselves up as slaves to the Indians in exchange for food. Enough English managed to survive there to make Jamestown the oldest successful colonial settlement in America. But it's hard to turn it into a religious allegory in which white people are the good guys, so we get the pilgrims instead.
If this were accurate, the settlers would be shitting in bushes while the Indians told them
which leaves were safe to wipe with.
Some Famous Art Was Much Smaller Than You'd Think
The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting on earth. It's also kiiinda disappointing in person.
Meanwhile, the exact opposite is true of Rembrandt's 'The Night's Watch':
Elaborate Medieval Torture Devices Are a Myth
Quick: what pops into your mind when we say "medieval"? We bet most of you pictured some kind of torture device ("I'm gonna get medieval on your ass!").
You can just picture a man back then, led by church officials into a sinister underground chamber. He looks around, really wishing now that he hadn't written that hilarious caption about the pope's new hat. In front of him stands the famous iron maiden, a hideous vertical chamber with an interior lined with iron spikes ...
As if that weren't bad enough, there was also the pear of anguish, which would spread open and violently tear apart whatever human orifice it was pushed into ...
... and the Spanish chair, an iron seat covered in spikes which a victim was strapped into while his feet were roasted.
Ergonomics wasn't a big deal back then.
The guy's last thought before being tortured to death is, "I hope somebody makes a theme restaurant about this someday."
But in reality, despite being one of the most famous torture devices ever (and having a heavy metal band named after them), iron maidens didn't exist back then, and there's no record they were ever used on anyone. If you're saying, "But I've seen them in museums!" well, that's why they exist. These kind of "horrors of the medieval times" exhibits were hugely popular in the 19th century and it appears the iron maidens they showed off were cobbled together for the exhibit.
That terrible pear thing that they used to punish sodomy and adultery by ripping the offending organs to shreds from the inside? Also a myth. Nobody can find any reference to the device before the 17th century, and no record at all of it being used to destroy somebody's asshole.
What about the spiked chair? It's supposedly a device of the Spanish Inquisition, but once again there's no record of them using it, or anybody else.
Discovered in Spain (on the back of a fifth grade heavy metal fan's spelling test).
Oh, don't get us wrong. The medieval times sucked, and lots of people were tortured. But the torturers apparently didn't spend nearly as much time as we think gleefully coming up with diabolical devices to inflict their horrors. So why are elaborately stocked medieval torture dungeons such a recurrent trope?
As we mentioned with War of the Worlds, most of us want to believe that history is a steady march of progress towards enlightenment. The further we go back, the stupider, cruder and more brutal we want to think people were. And the Middle Ages, with fewer written records than many other periods in Western history, provide an easy target.
It's not enough that torture did take place. We need our ancestors to be creatively sadistic monsters who spent all their time coming up with new ways to mutilate people rather than inventing penicillin. Like the bra-burning myth, the fact that these torture devices involve sex and violence also makes them more likely to endure.
If you need a "medieval" article for your museum, what's going to put more asses in the seats? A faked up medieval torture instrument that was used to sodomize heretics, or the reality ...
Come see our genuine medieval bit of metal that's slightly wider at the top!
The Luddites Were Not Anti-Technology
The "Luddites" are so closely associated with their aversion to technology that the term "Luddite" today literally means "aversion to technology." Originally a 19th-century protest movement that opposed the Industrial Revolution, the Luddites went around smashing machines like some militant wing of the Amish.
"But what if these hammers, too, are machines?"
"Then we shall smash them with our thumbs!"
The Luddites were neither inept nor afraid of the technology used in early 19th-century English factories. What actually got them all worked up and hankering for some good old machine-wrestlin' was factory owners exploiting laborers. In 1811, when the Luddite uprising exploded, unemployment, inflation, and Napoleon's blockade of English ports all combined to turn staples like bread into luxury items for much of the English working class.
"Let them eat spotted dick."
The Luddites took their name from the (possibly fictional) Ned Ludd, who was said to have smashed his loom with a hammer when a supervisor criticized his knitting. Neddy clearly had some anger-management issues, but the movement named for him started as mostly peaceful protesters making outrageous demands for things like decent wages and safer working conditions. They weren't entirely keen on the use of certain kinds of machines, true, but only in the sense that the factory owners were using said machines to drive wages down and exploit their workers. You may recognize that as the exact same motivation behind every union in the world.
The whole "anti-technology" thing came about when a group of Luddites destroyed the manufacturing equipment of a few factories, not because machines are bad but because it was the surest means of forcing the factory owners to come to terms.
And colonists in Boston, contrary to popular belief, weren't crusaders against caffeine.
We saw people breaking looms and thought, "They hate those machines." That's what a baby would assume if they waddled in on you yelling into a telephone.
Islamic Fundamentalism Isn't Old
Islamic fundamentalism seems to come from another time. They rage against science, Western ideals, and the basic rights of women. That's why you hear people on Fox News claiming that the Muslim world is stuck in the Dark Ages.
"You can't use reason with these people. They only understand shadow puppets."
Actually, the Middle East's clock stopped around the same time as the one at Marty McFly's high school in the 1950s. If the Arab world was really still stuck in the Middle Ages, everyone would be a lot better off.
During the period the the Western world thinks of as the Dark Ages, when Europeans were busy murdering each other over matters of religion and superstition, Islam was cool as a cucumber. At the time, Islamic regions were actually more accepting of Judaism and Christianity than most of the Christian world was of Judaism and other types of Christianity. Long before the Italian Renaissance, the Islamic Empire realized the Greeks and Romans had been on to something with this book learning stuff, and used this realization to revolutionize astronomy, literature, physics, philosophy and architecture. Still bored, they went ahead and invented algebra and modern medicine too.
"George Washington invented numbers! We call them Arab numerals to mock them!"
The antiquated practices many Westerners associate with modern Islam are actually a relatively recent development. Reporting from Saudi Arabia for The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright interviewed an older Saudi man who reminisced about the good old days when men and women used to be able to celebrate weddings together. While it might seem weird to Westerners used to hearing stories of ankle-length hemlines following the words "Back in my day ..." in the Middle East, when grandparents miss the good old days, they're often talking about a place that was far less up its own ass.
"We had books. And the orgies! Don't get me started on the orgies ..."
It wasn't until the 1950s that fundamentalist Islam started gaining influence, and outdated, dying traditions like the veil saw a spike in popularity. That's when followers of a fringe 18th-century scholar Muhammad Al Wahhab began to take Islam back to basics, which in this case meant an imaginary past where women were treated like shit and all the pesky "progress" of the last 1,400 years never happened. During his lifetime, Wahhab was taken about as seriously as Pat Robertson is taken today in the West. But in the 1950s, Wahhabi Muslim thinkers like Sayyid Qutb started to urge total separation between Islam and the West, arguing that the outside world had "nothing else to give humanity."
Oh really, Qutb?
Qutb and his fundamentalist contemporaries inspired a new generation of radical thinkers, who took this "fuck the West" mentality a few steps further, resulting in a Middle East that is far less progressive than the Dark Ages they're supposedly stuck in.
Some people shouldn't be encouraged to "shoot for the stars."
See, as tempting as it might be to divide history into the bad guys and the good guys, civilizations tend to evolve more like the Batman franchise, kicking ass part of the time, and reaching unspeakable, ass backwards lows that would embarrass their ancestors at others. Muslim people were doing algebra while we were burning women for having funny birthmarks on their face. They just happen to be going through their Batman and Robin phase.
Need further proof of just how weirdly normal life in even Afghanistan used to be?
And here's what it used to look like to be a young woman in Iran:
Real Vikings Were a Bunch of Fussy Dandies
Quick, imagine a Viking. Even if you know your history enough to realize they didn't have horns on their helmets (which would be super inconvenient in battle), you're still imagining a hardened, filthy brute smelling of stale sweat and English corpses. These were the manliest of men, guys who fed on boiled lamb's head and treated their clothes in cow piss, for crying out loud. Vikings were grimy, gritty, poop-encrusted barbarians, and proud of it.
But the reality is less "poop-encrusted barbarians" than "the most dedicated dandies of their time." With their carefully coiffed hair and trimmed beards, history's Vikings would have scoffed at Chris Hemsworth for looking like a Nordic hobo who spent a night in a dumpster.
"What woman would have me?"
It turns out, the only thing Vikings loved more than a fine day pillaging and slaughtering was the sort of personal grooming most of us modern people wouldn't dream of bothering with. Seriously, they were way, way into that shit: Pretty much every non-slave member of Viking society wore absurdly complex hair and beard styles they freely peacocked with to display their status in the community. Most owned elaborate grooming kits that included tweezers, razors, tiny scissors, and, presumably, the new album of that bone-horn player you've probably never heard about.
The humble comb alone was such an important part of Viking society that no warrior worth his mead left home without one. Women carried their elaborate combs in a special purse made solely for that purpose (yes, Vikings had purses), while the men kept theirs in special carrying cases slung from their belts (yes, Vikings had fanny packs). Those combs saw a lot of use, too. Vikings were the Dark Ages equivalent of greasers, constantly grooming their 'dos while somehow still managing to look badass.
"Rinsing with the blood of your enemies always gives you that extra bounce and volume."
Even their famous Nordic blonde hair wasn't always natural: Vikings were pioneers in seafaring, axe-murdering, and cosmetology alike, and their lightly colored manes and beards were often the product of bleaching. This practice also had a practical element: For several months of the year, everyone's bathtub was literally a block of ice, so bleaching one's hair and beard (and regularly combing them) kept lice and other unhygienic elements at bay. Don't think for a second there wasn't a beauty element involved, though. Vikings were totally all about lookin' fine: Even their most legendary kings were saddled with nicknames such as Harald the Fairhair instead of the more common but less awesome kingly monikers like "Great" or "Magnificent."
From the standpoint of a modern "Vikings were brutal barbarians" view, the end result of all this grooming, plaiting, and (presumably) nose-hair plucking was surprising: When they were not actively pillaging and raping, Vikings were actually quite a hit with the ladies all over the place, because they were just so goddamn fabulous.
Which makes everyone's Loki boners historically accurate boners.
America Didn't Win World War II Single-Handedly
Sixty years of World War II movies and a decade of WWII video games have made one thing clear: if it wasn't for America, you'd all be speaking German right now, baby! U-S-A! U-S-A!
How America fights a two-front war.
Because it's like thinking that while many X-Men contributed in their own special way, defeating Magneto really came down to Iceman.
There are two radically different histories of WW II, the one that was actually fought, and the one where the US kicked everyone's assess. Guess which one Cold War-era classrooms were allowed to teach? Here's a hint: It's the same one Hollywood chose to film.
World War II wasn't just a clever name. It was a global conflict that included epic acts of heroism by non-Americans like the storming of Madagascar, the Battle of Westerplatte, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Kursk, the epically badass Kokoda Track, the pilots of the Polish Underground State, the details of El Alamein or the HMS Bulldog. Of course, Americans never hear about any of those unless, as in the case of the classic submarine film U-571, the characters are just straight-up switched to Americans. To quote George S. Patton: "Americans love a winner," which you know because you saw Patton, the film that portrayed Field Marshal Bernard "Rommel-killer" Montgomery like a buffoon simply because he was British.
However, there is one Zangief-sized elephant in the room that America loved to leave out of conversation until the end of the Cold War: the Soviet Union. The "Great Patriotic War" as they called it was the single largest military operation in history, and home to perhaps the biggest turning-point of the war: the Battle of Stalingrad.
Understand, the Russia versus Germany part of the war wasn't just a little more important than the part the USA was involved in. It was "four times the scale" of the whole Western front, larger than all other phases of the war put together. The Soviet military suffered 8 million soldiers dead, more than 20 freaking times the number of U.S. casualties.
Suck it up, Damon.
Sounds pretty brutal for a John Wayne movie? Try figuring in another 13.7 million dead civilians.
It's tragic how many kids in the West never heard these stories growing up. One platoon leader in the Red Army named Yakov Pavlov personally rigged a Stalingrad apartment building with enough landmines, rifles and mortars to hold off half the Nazi army. The building was under fire day and night and even had some civilians in the basement, but the fortress never fell. Pavlov himself picked off one dozen tanks from the beast.
Our history books should not have been denied such awesomeness.
The "Greatest Generation" Was Better Than Later Generations
As Tom Brokaw will gladly tell you for the low, low price of $16.95, the Americans who fought in World War II were "the Greatest Generation." The men of that era were, quite simply, special. After all, a man doesn't grow up during the Great Depression and breaststroke across the Atlantic to crotch-punch the Nazi hordes into submission just to wind up some shiftless pot-smoking hippie, like their ungrateful kids.
"They birthed the baby boomers because their balls burst with bountiful brawn."
But in reality? The Greatest Generation was just like you, had you been forced to serve in a monstrously destructive war. In other words, they were scared shitless and miserable.
Big emphasis on "forced," because no matter how many times we're told that the Greatest Generation went to war because it was "the right thing to do," it doesn't change the fact that two-thirds of the U.S. servicemen were drafted. But we're told that the Greatest Generation was different from those who've come since, and in a way that's true -- because two-thirds of the men who fought in Vietnam volunteered.
Only partly because 'Nam's such an awesome vacation destination.
World War II's draft-dodging numbers dwarf both Vietnam's and World War I's. Desertion rates between World War II and Vietnam were pretty much neck-and-neck. And when they weren't dodging or deserting, the Greatest Generation was doing the third best thing: getting completely shitfaced. Soldiers in Vietnam took a lot of heat for drug abuse, but the Greatest Generation was dying of alcohol poisoning so fast that the U.S. Army started putting up warning billboards displaying the "Deaths From Poison Liquor to Date" (G.I.s weren't picky about their booze and often drank methanol -- aka antifreeze). Not to be outdone, creative sailors sometimes swilled the alcohol that fueled torpedoes. When the U.S. Navy caught on and started putting additives in the "torpedo juice" to make the soldiers sick if they drank it, the submariners one-upped them and learned the art of distillation via torpedo engine.
The lesson here is: never underestimate the resourcefulness of a conscripted serviceman looking to drink away his misery. Drunk finds a way. Drunk ... finds a way.
Most of the Druidic Faith Was Made Up Recently
Wicca, Druidism, and other neo-pagan faiths offer a great many things to their roughly 1 million adherents. Spiritual fulfillment, friendly communities of like-minded believers, and some of the best drug-fueled sex parties you'll find this side of Lichtenstein. But it's all good; people have been wearing immense hooded robes and sacrificing goats around bubbling cauldrons since years before we had electricity, right? Most practitioners will acknowledge that Wicca, as a recognizable faith, is about 60 years old. The neo-Druidic faiths popped up around the mid-1700s. In both cases, the leaders of either movement claimed to be bringing back some ancient religions.
Ten-to-one odds these guys know where to find some kick-ass weed.
A few years younger than the con-men who popularized them. Most of modern codified Wiccan thought comes back to three people who just sort of made it all up in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. "Old" Welsh and Druidic traditions don't fare much better; they have their genesis in 1792.
Trust us when we say that the average author will write literally anything for sex, drugs, money, or all of the above. Charles Leland, Margaret Murray, and Gerald Gardner all published books that, they claimed, held the ancient secrets of witchcraft. Leland pretended to have learned the doctrines of Old Italian witchcraft from a sorceress named Maddalena. Murray is the woman who coined the term "burning times," while Gardner asserted that Wicca began in pre-history and went "underground" throughout most of recorded history. Gardner was probably the chief founder. Some people even call him the father of Wicca, as he founded the tradition from which most current blends of Wicca descend. Also, he looked like this:
Gardner claimed to have gathered traditions and beliefs from surviving covens that had "gone to ground" centuries or millennia ago. Of course, there's absolutely no way to verify any of Gardner's claims. We do know that he plagiarized quite a bit from Aleister Crowley. Also hurting his case is the approximately zero archaeological, written, or any other sort of other record of any of the practices he "brought back." Since "underground" is archaeologists' favorite place to look, that doesn't bode well.
The foundations of neo-Druidic and "ancient" Welsh cultural traditions go back a little further. In 1792 a hallucination-prone laudanum addict named Iolo Morganwg (originally Edward Williams) started to hold Druidic (Druish?) ceremonies in London. He wrote up lists of rituals and practices and set up gorseddau, or Druish sects, across Wales.
Long after his death, all of Morganwg's writings were revealed to be outright forgeries or total rewrites of older works. To his credit, he only used his newfound religion to make a ton of money selling books and (presumably) to sleep with girls in the 18th century counter-culture. Don't feel bad, latter-day druids! Yours isn't the only ancient tradition that just sprang into being:
And the Ouija board is about as old as Monopoly:
Albert Einstein Was a Horndog
Einstein, Time magazine's man of the century, is simply the most famous scientist in the history of the planet. He was the first to postulate the theory of relativity, he convinced FDR to build the atomic bomb, he was offered the chance to be the first president of Israel, and he is considered the father of modern physics. You wouldn't automatically think of a physics geek as getting more ass than a toilet seat, but ...
When he wasn't sciencing the shit out of everything, Einstein spent his time postulating his wiener into as many women as possible. Even though he was married twice (once to his cousin), he cheated on both of his wives with about 10 different women. Though in his defense, he presented his first wife with a list of rules, one of which was "expect neither intimacy nor fidelity."
"Pipes, however, are to be expected."
Before Einstein finally settled on his cousin Elsa, he apparently almost married her 22-year-old daughter instead (Elsa was his first cousin through his mother's side AND second cousin through his father's side. In addition to the theory of relativity, Einstein was the only human capable of conceptualizing the branches of his own family tree that he had sex with). Then he supposedly got some side-action from Elsa's sister when they were younger, which he defended in a letter to Elsa by pointing out, "You can't blame me; we were young and she was willing."
We imagine he used the same defense when he was caught boning his best friend's niece years later.
"See those women down there? I've just decided to pork them all."
Einstein would also write to his stepdaughter and wife to tell them which women he was currently sexifying, and sometimes had his stepdaughter act as a messenger to deliver letters to his mistresses, because if you're going to not give a fuck you might as well go all the way. Still having a little trouble picturing sex-crazed Einstein? Check this:
Gladiators Were Basically Fat Pro Wrestlers
Turn on Spartacus: Gods of the Arena or watch Gladiator and it's easy to get the impression that ancient gladiators were all either lethal bodybuilders or, at the very least, kinda-doughy-yet-vicious Russell Crowe-types. Of course they were in decent shape -- fighting to the death was their sole job description.
Well, that's what we used to think, anyway. Archaeologists recently dug up a whole pile of gladiator remains, and it seems the famed warriors of the arena would need to do some serious cardio if they ever wanted to grace the cover of Men's Health magazine.
Yes, we're saying it looks like gladiators were total fatties.
"Fuck you; it's water weight."
What we tend to forget about gladiator fighting is that it was ultimately show business. The Colosseum arena was big-time theater more than anything else, and being able to deliver a good show far outweighed sculpted abs. The Roman crowds wanted to see blood and displays of great fighting skill. And what really got the crowd going was when gladiators sustained bloody, spurty wounds, yet continued to fight. Gladiator schools were well aware of this, which is why they deliberately fattened-up their fighters so they could take (and dish out) showy, yet non-fatal flesh wounds.
The Colosseum didn't fall apart. They ate it.
If the crowd was satisfied and felt they'd seen a worthy performance -- meaning some bloodshed and gutsy swordplay -- the gladiators ran a better chance of becoming super popular instead of dying. In fact, unless you were a prisoner being fed to the lions or something, the chance of dying in the arena was only about 10 percent.
Basically, this means that fights between professional gladiators were a slightly more extreme version of modern pro wrestling: scripted fights, choreographed moves, and the occasional deliberate blading to bring on the blood.
But with a better life expectancy.
Puritans Didn't Act Puritanical
Every American schoolkid who has sat through a lesson on the history of Thanksgiving was told that the pilgrims who founded America were Puritans, a group of sexually repressed religious fanatics. In reality, the Puritans and the Pilgrims arrived separately, but since that's the only context in which most of us have even heard of Puritans, we just mentally combined the pilgrims and the Puritans into a single group of people who loved turkey but loathed sex.
Sex with turkeys presented the ultimate conflict of interest.
But those early settlers in America were part of a much larger group in the Church of England who were working to purify the world of anything relating to genitalia.
Although sex between unmarried couples was theoretically a crime in Puritan society, that hardly slowed them down. It just meant that their society was rife with shotgun weddings. According to some studies, up to 1 in 3 Puritan women were pregnant when they were married. The odds of becoming pregnant from one act of intercourse are a lot lower than that, so that's a lot of deviant behavior for a group that cheerfully crushed people to death for looking "witchy."
Look close. Ain't no rings on those fingers.
Given that they lived in such a repressive and extremist society, these dangerous criminals must have carried out their illicit affairs with discretion, right? Not even close. The Puritans had sex everywhere. They had sex in churchyards. They had sex in ditches and in hedges. They had sex in bars and in bean patches and on porches. One of the most common places for Puritan servants to have sex was in the kitchen, often while the other servants watched.
It's not even like the clergy were uptight about a little action in the bedroom or bean patch. The Puritan church not only condoned sex for pleasure between married spouses, it actually required it. Sex was mandatory not only because it produced offspring, but because the Puritans believed that sexually pleasing one's spouse was a religious duty. At least one man was excommunicated from the Puritan church for refusing to have sex with his wife. Impotency or poor sexual performance was considered grounds for divorce, and a man was not to withdraw from his wife in case he ruined her orgasm.
"The frilly neck thing is to tickle her- ... well, we don't talk about it."
So, how could the Puritans justify awesome sex for married couples but no sex for the unmarried? The Puritan church believed that because marriage was between a man, a woman, and Jesus, sex should also be between a man, a woman, and Jesus. This wasn't even a metaphor: the Puritan church sought converts by describing the "voluptuous delights" that awaited them in heaven with their "heavenly husband." Yeah, they're talking about sex with Jesus.
The Incas Did Not Believe the Spanish Were Gods
Here's what Hollywood has primed you to believe: when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Peru, they were accepted and worshiped as gods by the locals, which contributed to their downfall as they naively assumed their deities wouldn't be so materialistic as to raid their plentiful gold reserves. Ancient humans were so stupid!
Now here's the truth: the Incas had recently been conquered by a new emperor, Atahualpa. Since whole empires do not generally get conquered by gibbering idiots, when Atahualpa's spies informed him that the Spanish were on the way to mess up their shit, he accepted them as foreign ambassadors, not gods.
He put them up in a nice hotel and ordered them some call girls.
The idea that white explorers were considered deities by ancient tribes is an assumption borne by arrogant retrospective racism. In the time of the Incas, folks were so used to people with bizarre skin colors turning up to negotiate land and resource agreements that it had become exhausting routine. Far from laughing at these backward, superstitious tribesmen, the Spanish were impressed by how smart and advanced the Incas were. A firsthand account of the meeting between Spanish and Inca people by conquistador Cieza de Leon admits that this first contact wasn't so much a meeting between man and gods as it was an ordinary bureaucratic exchange. "You look really pale and sickly compared to what we are used to -- you must be gods!" was never uttered.
No god wears neck ruffles.
The discovery that unknown humans halfway across the planet were, in their own way, every bit as together as the Europeans sparked debates across the continent about whether or not foreign tribes were as deserving of human rights as everyone else. Clearly, the answer they decided upon was "Nope! Let's kill 'em." And they did. History!
You Can Be a Whistleblower AND a Sex Symbol
Bank-Robbing Outlaws Didn't Rule the West
Black Bart, the Dalton Gang, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all were famous for their daring robberies. They could take entire fortunes from banks that had slightly less security than a modern hot dog stand.
"NOW PUT THE MONEY IN MY MUSTACHE!"
And why not? Lawlessness ruled, vaults didn't exist, and criminals didn't give a shit. The banks might as well have left their big white bags of gold sitting out on the porch.
Research can find evidence of only about eight true bank heists, and that's across 15 states in 40 freaking years. Eight. As a point of comparison, bank robberies in 2010 amounted to 5,600. Hell, even if we'd never seen a Western in our lives, that would seem like a low number.
"This is a lot of work. I can't wait 'til someone invents drug dealing."
But there are several things to consider. First, towns back in those days were much smaller, with the sheriff's office, saloon, general store, and bank usually clustered together for convenience. This one-stop social-needs block usually made up the dead center of town. Being that the sheriff's office was usually no more than a few doors down, you were probably pulling your big heist within earshot of the law.
"Earshot's the last kinda shot you oughta worry about."
Second, the banks actually weren't that easy to get in and out of. Old West buildings were usually built pretty close together, meaning the bank would be flanked by other buildings, while a reinforced back wall would keep anyone from intruding from behind (you can sort through the Freudian implications of that). When you walk out the front door with the loot, there's the sheriff waiting for you. Now, the most famous robberies -- the jobs pulled by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- were actually true. But that's the point -- they got famous for a reason. They were doing what nobody else was crazy enough to do.
But for everyday criminals, common targets were often trains and stagecoaches because they were more isolated, easier to get into, and easier to escape. So why bother with a bank, which would be a suicide mission in comparison?
"C'mon, guys, no way this one's full of underpants, too!"
Guillotines Weren't an Old-Timey Thing
A guillotine execution (aka where they drop a huge blade on your neck and your severed head falls into a basket) probably ranks among the five worst things that can happen to you. It's the perfect symbol of a terrifying practice from a barbaric, primitive era.
Selling tickets to executions. That's how we can fund our schools!
It's easy to forget that the entire point of the method was that it was considered humane; the alternative execution method for French nobility was usually getting their heads chopped off with a sword or ax, which sometimes took several painful whacks. And commoners just got hanged, which sucked even harder. So even though we imagine that the walk to the guillotine was pretty nerve-racking, getting your head lopped off in one swift blow was mercifully brief compared to the torturous alternatives.
That's not to say that the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, which ended with over 16,000 heads, is up for a retroactive Amnesty International award for employing a relatively mild form of capital punishment. But hey, at least they weren't 16,000 disembowelments. And it's all ancient history anyway -- in a world where most countries have done away with executions completely, beheadings have to be the stuff of the powdered wig era.
Most of history was just folks passing time, waiting for the Internet to be invented.
Death by guillotine was the official method of execution in France until capital punishment was banned ... in freaking 1981.
The last public guillotining was in 1939. Then "morality" stepped in and ruined public murder for everyone.
No, they didn't always do it in the town square in front of a crowd -- they had the decency to switch to private executions in 1939. Between 1940 and 1977, dozens of criminals were executed by the National Razor, just in the privacy of their prisons, rather than in front of bloodthirsty onlookers. The last French execution by guillotine was in 1977. So around the same time that Star Wars was playing in the theaters and Apple Computer was getting its start, a convicted murderer could still get the old head chop.
Hamida Djandoubi, murderer, pictured here with the guillotine that ensured he never knew who Luke's father was.
And that was just in France. The Nazis managed over 16,000 beheadings during their reign. You'd think the fact that "Oh, now that's a Nazi thing" would be the end of guillotine altogether. Not if one Georgia legislator had his way. As late as 1996, Doug Teper proposed replacing the electric chair with the guillotine as the official method of execution for the state of Georgia, but only so the state could harvest criminal organs after their deaths. See? Humane.
And Georgia's not the only state to experiment with archaic methods of executing people. Check it:
Important Figures Rarely Know How to Act Important
If you're considered the smartest man in the world, do you feel self-conscious about taking off your shirt and kicking back in a lawn chair with a goofy hat?
Remember Albert Einstein getting some sun from earlier? His wild hair stuffed vertically into said hat. Still kept the slacks on, though, rather than breaking out the Speedo. And while we're on the subject of famous people doing what you'd least expect them to do:
First of all, how many of you kids thought that "Colonel Sanders" was just a drawing on the KFC logo, rather than a real person? He was a real guy, and I don't mean that in the sense that the chain had a dude dress up as him the way McDonald's has guys in Hamburglar costumes running around. He invented the KFC recipe and started the restaurant chain (at age 65, no less). And here he is talking to heavy metal legend Alice Cooper.
After hours of searching, we still have no idea whatsoever how a young rock star from Detroit and a fried chicken magnate from Kentucky wound up in the same room, or what they would possibly have had to talk about. And we really don't want to know; that's what makes it a classic in the Awesome People Hanging Out Together genre.
Seriously, you can get lost for hours in there.
What is clear is that these are two men who both knew exactly how important it is to your "brand" to maintain a unique, consistent visual presentation in public. For the last 20 years of Sanders' life, he would not leave the house without wearing the trademark white suit, black tie, and Southern-style beard that made his image so memorable on the franchise's logo. Likewise, you never saw the menacing rocker Alice Cooper in, say, a huge Hawaiian shirt and bicycle shorts. It's all just part of the game.
Not surprised enough yet? Here's Martin Luther King hustling people at pool:
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who, when seeing this photo, immediately hear "Werewolves of London" in their heads, and those who do not. That is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago, showboating in a pool match with local civil rights leader Al Raby.
And no, this isn't one of those photo ops where a public figure poses with a prop to look like regular folk. King was a hell of a pool player -- he took up the game in college almost 20 years earlier, and in the early days of the civil rights movement allegedly won the respect of local gang members by playing (and presumably beating) them at it.
Which is amazing, considering that a man who would attempt a shot like that in the middle of a match is probably something of a sore winner. "Looks like you lose again, Johnny Switchblade! Now pardon me while I do a victory lap around your pool hall while riding my cue like a horse."
Winston Churchill's Plainly Visible Dong
"I'm Prime Minister and inspirational wartime leader Winston Churchill, and this is my junk. Go ahead, take a picture, it's fine. I made the military invent Lycra just so I could show it off without getting arrested again."
What I enjoy most about that photo is how it's about 10 times more disturbing than if he were simply nude. I'm imagining an alternate history where World War II broke out and he had to be pulled off the beach to go address the nation, with no time to change clothes. So he's standing there before the press and talking about courage and perseverance and everyone is trying not to stare at his shrink-wrapped penis as he slowly becomes more and more visibly aroused.
Native Culture Wasn't Primitive
American Indians lived in balance with mother earth, father moon, brother coyote, and sister ... bear? Does that just sound right because of the Berenstain Bears? Whichever animal they thought was their sister, the point is, the Indians were leaving behind a small carbon footprint before elements were wearing shoes. If the government was taken over by hippies tomorrow, the directionless, ecologically friendly society they'd institute is about what we picture the Native Americans as having lived like.
"Our foreign policy can be summed up with one word: peyote."
The Indians were so good at killing trees that a team of Stanford environmental scientists think they caused a mini ice age in Europe. When all of the tree-clearing Indians died in the plague, so many trees grew back that it had a reverse global-warming effect. More carbon dioxide was sucked from the air, the Earth's atmosphere held on to less heat, and Al Gore cried a single tear of joy.
One of the best examples of how we got Native Americans all wrong is Cahokia, a massive Native American city located in modern day East St. Louis. In 1250, it was bigger than London and featured a sophisticated society with an urban center, satellite villages, and thatched-roof houses lining the central plazas. While the city was abandoned by the time white people got to it, the evidence they left behind suggests a complex economy with trade routes from the Great Lakes all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Contrary to what museums tell us, the loin cloth was not the most advanced Native American technology.
And that's not even mentioning America's version of the Great Pyramid: Monk's Mound. You know how people treat the very existence of the Great Pyramid in Egypt as one of history's most confounding mysteries? Well, Cahokia's pyramid dwarfs that one, both in size and in degree of difficulty. The mound contains more than 2.16 billion pounds of soil, some of which had to be carried from hundreds of miles away, to make sure the city's giant monument was vividly colored. To put that in perspective, all 13 million people who live in the state of Illinois today would have to carry three 50-pound baskets of soil from as far away as Indiana to construct another one.
"What if we built a middle finger large enough to flip off God?"
So why does Egypt get millions of dollars of tourism and Time Life documentaries dedicated to their boring old sand pyramids, while you didn't even know about the giant blue, red, white, black, gray, brown, and orange testament to engineering and human willpower just outside of St. Louis? Well, because the Egyptians know how to treat one of the Eight Wonders of the World. America, on the other hand, appears to be trying to figure out how to turn it into a parking lot.
But think of all the parking!
In the realm of personal hygiene, the Europeans out-hippied the Indians by a foul smelling mile. Europeans at the time thought baths attracted the black humors, or some such bullshit, because they never washed and were amazed by the Indians' interest in personal cleanliness. The natives, for their part, viewed Europeans as "just plain smelly" according to firsthand records.
The Native Americans didn't hate Europeans just for the clouds of shit-smelling awfulness they dragged around behind them. Missionaries met Indians who thought Europeans were "physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly," and "possessed little intelligence in comparison to themselves." The Europeans didn't do much to debunk the comparison in the physical beauty department. Verrazzano, the sailor who witnessed the densely populated East Coast, called a native who boarded his ship "as beautiful in stature and build as I can possibly describe," before presumably adding, "you know, for a dude." This man-crush wasn't an isolated incident. British fisherman William Wood described the Indians in New England as "more amiable to behold, though dressed only in Adam's finery, than ... an English dandy in the newest fashion." Or, with the bullshit removed: "better looking than any of us, and they're not even fucking trying."
"Oh yeah, this is just my walkin' around paint."
OK, now that we got that out of the way, we can tell you about the historical slash-fiction your history teacher forgot to tell you actually freaking happened. Oh, and if you're laboring under the misconception that Native Americans were any less awful on the buffalo-murdering front than the settlers?
World War II Was Not the War of Technology
If the average World War II documentary is to be believed, the Americans single-handedly crushed the Nazis under the mechanized might of our planes, tanks, and automobiles. Then, just to put the icing on the annihilation cake, we loaded up one of said airplanes with our brand-spanking-new god-bomb and ended the war with the Japanese in one fell swoop (OK, technically two).
After all, this ain't the friggin' War of 1812 we're talking about! Everything "World War II" was mechanized, motorized, and weaponized.
Despite the copious stock footage of B-17 and B-29 bombers employed by the History Channel, World War II was still largely about horsepower. Literal horsepower.
And the Howitzer was powered by trained fire mice.
The Soviet Army had at least 3.5 million horses in service and deployed tens of thousands of mounted cavalrymen. They would have relied even more heavily on horse-drawn transport had the U.S. not played the role of shady wartime used-car dealer. Now, you might expect as much from an army that famously didn't have enough guns for all its soldiers, but they weren't the only ones who relied heavily on horses.
The German "war machine" was actually less gears and sheet metal, more flesh and bone. When World War II began, horses outnumbered vehicles in the Wehrmacht by a good 3 to 1, and that figure only got worse as the war progressed and vehicles crapped out. When we think of the German army, we think of panzer and tiger tanks, but even the famous panzer armies had 15,000 more horses than motors. And here you thought those fancy jackboots were just for style.
Even as Nazi propagandists were inventing stories about Polish cavalrymen hopelessly charging German tanks, the German army was busy forming new cavalry units in an attempt to stop getting trampled by their horse-savvy enemies.
The United States had the only army that was mostly motorized, yet U.S. cavalry was responsible for one of the last mounted charges in history. And even though the U.S. was less reliant on horses, the Allied rolls contained thousands of veterinarians, veterinarians' assistants, and blacksmiths who kept animals and wagons on the road. While we firmly believe that Hawk Phoenix: Blitzkrieg Veterinarian and Flint McSteel: Wartime Blacksmith would have made excellent films, the animal-powered nature of the war got little airplay, thanks largely to Soviet and Axis propaganda efforts.
Armies really, really wanted that Humane Association label in their film credits.
Gandhi Wasn't Always Gandhi
That is "Mahatma" Gandhi in 1906, back when he was merely Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and working as an attorney in South Africa at the age of 37. We mention Gandhi a lot in our articles, but how many of you actually know who he is? That face is iconic with people mainly because of an Academy Award-winning biopic that was one of the most acclaimed and well-known films of the 1980s. He was the face of nonviolent social change in the world, but that face looked like this:
And that chest. Don't forget that chest.
Anyone over 30 can draw a rough Gandhi from memory -- bald, round glasses, emaciated, white shawl. And while I would never dream of comparing Gandhi to Lady Gaga, well ... you can see once again the power of iconography. His goal was to become a symbol, so he made himself into a symbol, with a distinct look that could not be forgotten. He created a character. The same as Macho Man Randy Savage:
They say a giant gold belt takes 10 years off your age.
And Katy Perry ...
No one is a celebrity at 7 a.m.
And, of course, Lady Gaga:
Technically, she's wearing a meat suit in both of these pictures.
So yeah, the point is: no famous person is ever the version of themselves that gets all the publicity for very long. The version of them that gets famous is a calculated decision they make with very good reason. That's not to make light of what Gandhi accomplished at all. The same means can be used to achieve different ends, and the game is the game.
"And you either play or you get played, motherfucker."