5 Iconic Resistance Movements You're Picturing Exactly Wrong
History is riddled with intriguing and dramatic stories of resistance against tyranny and the fight for equality. Unfortunately, history is also riddled with errors, accounts influenced by the author's bias, and outright lies. The end result: Half the things you think you know are wrong, and it's probably only a matter of time before the other half are proven wrong by somebody smarter than you. That's not us. We're just here to relay those smart jerkwads' thoughts on ...
In The American Revolution, "Tyranny" Under The Crown Would Have Meant Freedom For The Slaves
The Revolutionary War: Sweeping epics like The Patriot tell us it was a clear battle between good and evil. Between scrappy individualists and an uncaring empire. Between aluminum and friggin' aluminium. Why, the success of the American Revolution was a victory for freedom itself!
In reality, there were huge numbers of colonists who didn't support the American Revolution. After the initial fervor died down, just getting people to enlist proved tough. The patriots had to offer large bounties to get people to sign up for the war, and when that didn't work, most colonies resorted to conscripting men, sending the conflicting message, "Cast off the chains of oppression or we'll throw your ass in jail."
On top of Americans being far more divided than the movies would have you believe, even historians forget about the opinions of a huge population, one that the fledgling U.S. government also conveniently overlooked: the slaves. It's easy to see why many American slaves would have been on the side of the British: They didn't like being fucking slaves. And as a slave, that's probably your number one political issue.
Slavery was already outlawed in the United Kingdom and its island territories, which meant that it would likely be on its way out in the Colonies if the British prevailed. In fact, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia during the revolution, announced that any slave who joined the British against the rebellion would be granted freedom. "Tyranny" under the British monarchy meant freedom for the slaves.
As a result, many slaves fled -- or attempted to flee -- including Harry Washington (three guesses as to who his master was). Henry Washington joined the British army in Lord Dunmore's regiment, who wore uniforms embroidered with "Liberty to Slaves." Unfortunately for Henry and thousands of other slaves on the run, the British surrendered to the colonists fighting for "freedom" -- including the freedom to keep slaves. Many former slaves scrambled to make it aboard retreating British ships. Female slaves who were pregnant were especially incentivized to make it across British lines, because any baby born there would receive a "BB" certificate (which stood for "Born Free Behind British Lines").
So why isn't this aspect of the American Revolution better known? Some 19th century historians postulated that people were slaves because they didn't mind being slaves. Incredibly, Harvard scholar John Fiske actually wrote, "The relations between master and slave in Virginia were so pleasant [that the] offer of freedom [by the British] fell upon dull uninterested ears."
Sure. Apparently they missed the former slaves defecting to the other side literally wearing signs that said "Freedom to Slaves."
More plausible, however, is that 19th century abolitionists worried their cause would be hurt if anyone brought attention to the slaves who crossed over to the land of evil accents. They thought it would be better to highlight the courage and sacrifice made by black people -- both slave and free -- in the cause of freedom from the British. As Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in an introduction to William Cooper Nell's The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution:
"The colored race have been generally considered ... as deficient in energy and courage. Their virtues have been supposed to be principally negative ones. This little collection of interesting incidents, made by a colored man, will redeem the character of the race from this misconception."
That's the gentlest possible reminder that black people died fighting to establish the country that then thanked them by sending them straight back to being slaves.
The Storming Of The Bastille Was Instigated By The Marquis De Sade
The storming of the Bastille was so important that it has its own national holiday in France and, even more impressively, an Idris Elba movie. It was the day Parisians stormed the Bastille -- notorious as a prison for political dissidents and freethinkers -- to rise against the oppressive French nobility.
The Bastille was a hotbed of political oppression all right, it's just that by the time it fell in 1789, the whole "oppressive" wing had been out of commission for years. In fact, at the time of the storming, it had only seven prisoners in its sprawling complex. And it's not that these seven were cream-of-the-crop dissidents worthy of a superprison to quarantine their ideas: There were four counterfeiters and two men found guilty of the crime of being insane, and the final prisoner was just a sexual deviant -- albeit the king of sexual deviants -- the Marquis de Sade. Modern audiences may know him for literally putting the "S" in "BDSM."
We have the Marquis of Kink to thank for instigating the storming altogether. When he saw mobs start to swell in and around the city, he realized that angry peasants plus towering old prison could equal one free pervert. Thinking fast, he desperately cried to the masses: "They're massacring prisoners here! You must free them!" His plan worked, as the prisoners who remained there were freed, but only after he was condemned to the nuthouse for inciting a riot while still also totally a sexually deviant. That part didn't change.
The Arab Spring Wasn't A Fight For Democracy
In 2011, citizens across the Middle East rose up to overthrow their oppressive regimes. It was like Les Miserables -- only thankfully with less Russell Crowe hollering -- as the people took to the streets to fight for democracy. Tragically though, all but one of the original Arab Spring nations have devolved into the same despotism and chaos that preceded it.
The fact that the whole region didn't unite behind a set of democratic principles shouldn't be surprising because, well, that isn't what those people were fighting for in the first place. Despite what the white people with shiny teeth at CNN might have told you, the subjects of the protests varied from country to country.
In Syria, for example, most protesters were lobbying for freedom of speech and association, whereas in Bahrain, the primary concern was civic equality. While those are "democratic" in nature, they're substantially different goals, and they required different levels of change in their governments.
The fact that Yemenis were protesting stagnating wages wasn't going to help you forget about your mundane life in the United States, but the idea that the Arab world was finally coming around to our point of view was something that could sell Bud Light.
The French Resistance Wasn't Nearly As Large As You Assume
Throughout World War II, France boldly stood in the face of oppression. In her darkest hour, the citizens of France held true to their principles and together undermined draconian Nazi rule from within.
But despite what Charles de Gaulle would have you believe, the French Resistance didn't actually do all that much resisting. In fact, some put the number of active French resistors as low as 2 percent of the population; passive resistors around 8 percent, and something like 90 percent relatively ambivalent to the whole Nazi thing. This would have beggared our belief ... if we'd heard it before Trump won the presidency.
Meanwhile, in occupied Poland, the Polish Home Army was thought to have about 400,000 recruits -- a number the French Resistance didn't reach until after D-Day -- which made it the largest underground organization in Nazi-occupied Europe. Up to 43 percent of all the reports received by the British secret services from continental Europe in 1939-1945 came from Polish sources.
Unfortunately, the substantial contribution of the Polish to the defeat of the Nazis has been largely forgotten by France, who wanted to believe they'd freed themselves from the Nazis; by the West, who didn't want to give credit to commies like Poland; and by the Soviet Union, who we guess just hated Poland.
The Women's Suffrage Movement Wasn't Peaceful
The British women's suffrage movement was best summed up by the 1964 documentary Mary Poppins: Bored housewives dressed in quaint Edwardian frocks picketing in front of Parliament for the right to blah blah blah whatever. Quick, look at the dancing penguin!
But women didn't win the right to vote with just polite rhetoric and cartoon waterfowl. In fact, many within the movement were downright militant and engaged in active acts of terrorism: smashing windows, arson, detonating pipe bombs, sabotaging communication lines, and plotting the kidnapping of members of Parliament, to name a few. In 1912 Dublin, four suffragettes tried to burn down the Theater Royal during a performance in which British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was in attendance. The prime minister also just barely dodged a hatchet thrown at him by a suffragette earlier that same day.
By the end of 1912, nearly 250 people associated with suffragette terrorism were imprisoned. One suffragette wrote:
"Perhaps the Government will realize now that we mean to fight to the bitter end ... If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war, and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed. Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men. It is not only war we have declared. We are fighting for a revolution."
We're not saying the right to vote was only secured through violence, just that there was a not-insignificant part of the suffrage movement that loudly proclaimed: "Give us the right to vote ... or we will absolutely burn this shit to the ground." And if you don't think that's very ladylike, just step right up and say so. We hope you're good at dodging hatchets.
Think Nana and Pop-Pop's loving 60-year monogamous relationship is quaint and old-fashioned? First off, sorry for that disturbing image, but we've got some news for you: the monogamous sexual relationship is actually brand new relative to how long humans have been around. Secondly, it's about to get worse from here: monkey sex.
On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of "Sex at Dawn," onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think.
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