5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs

5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs

Ever since we began laughing at each other's misfortunes, humans have known that those who have sex will sometimes catch crotch crickets. It's not a new problem -- indeed, some of the most famous people to walk the earth have been plagued with odd discharges and strange burning sensations severe enough to change the course of history. For example ...

Blackbeard Raided Charleston For A Chest Of Syphilis Medicine

In 1718, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was sailing the Seven Seas and drinking up with his 'earties, yo ho, when he decided to pirate a bit closer to land and sailed the Queen Anne's Revenge into Charleston harbor. What prompted the most notorious pirate in the world to take a bunch of hostages and blockade the fair city? Well, let's just say he had a burning desire to visit the berg. It turns out that Blackbeard's ransom demands were very few, and the only thing he really wanted in exchange for the lives of the hostages was a chest full of medicine with which he could treat his raging syphilis.

The medicine in question was mercury, and in case you're about to do something dumb, know that it doesn't cure syphilis. They didn't know that at the time, though, and saw that it did ease some symptoms. You had to have some steel to use it, though; its application involved loading quicksilver in a handy "urethral syringe" and shooting it up one's pee hole.

5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs


While we don't know whether it was Blackbeard himself or someone on his crew who stuck his prow in an infected port, this isn't empty speculation on our part. Archaeologists recovered a urethral syringe in the wreckage of the Queen Anne's Revenge, with traces of mercury still inside. So clearly, someone was having a good time. Before having a very bad time.

STDs Probably Turned John Dillinger Into A Criminal (And Ended Al Capone's Reign As One)

Despite being one of the most notorious mobsters in history, it was tax evasion which ultimately landed Al Capone in the clink. And although Scarface deserved every day of the 11-year sentence he received several times over, he was paroled after serving a mere seven and a half years. But it seems that karma and Mother Nature were also teaming up to hand Capone a sentence of their own: syphilis of the brain.

Alcatraz wasn't known for its medical staff, but doctors on The Rock eventually realized there was some funny business going on with Capone. Doctors noted that he'd sit quietly with a "strange grin" on his face, and that he'd sometimes put on his coat, hat, and gloves while sitting in his heated cell. Left untreated for years, Capone's syphilis rendered him insane, and by the time he was paroled for (ironically) "good behavior," doctors estimated that he had the remaining mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

And while syphilis was Capone's get-out-of-jail-free card, it was the treatment for gonorrhea which led to John Dillinger's attempts to get out of jail. When he was sentenced to prison in 1924 (before he became really famous), doctors discovered that Dillinger had the clap, the treatment for which was invariably worse than the symptoms.

5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs
New York: International Journal of Surgery

There is no possible way this can be good for anything.

Because doctors are obliged to treat good guys and gangsters alike, Dillinger received 1924's top-notch clap cures, which are enough to make a frat boy celibate. Basically, they injected silver nitrate into the patient's urethra, either by straight-up squirting it into the penis or running a long, thin metal rod run up there. Fun! By the end of his first 90 days in prison, Dillinger tried to escape so many times that officials had extended his overall sentence by a year. And while we're not saying this irrevocably turned him to the life of crime that made him famous, ask yourself how many banks you thought society owed you after you had something forcibly put in your urethra. More than zero, right?

Syphilis Gave Stalin Control Of Russia

When you're the head of the Soviet Union, the first rule of having syphilis is that you don't talk about syphilis. The second rule is that you don't let other people talk about your syphilis. That's the tricky part, and is probably why there's no absolute, irrefutable proof that Vladimir Lenin ever had the disease. That being said, the evidence he did is pretty compelling, and if that was the case, the effect it had on Russian politics can't be understated.

Officially, Lenin's death was caused by cerebral atherosclerosis (a hardening of arteries in the brain), but both of Lenin's personal physicians refused to sign the death certificate. He was treated by a German syphilis specialist who wouldn't confirm his condition outright, but said, "Everyone knows for what brain disorder I am called." Additionally, in 1922, Lenin was given the arsenic-based drug Salvarsan, which was used to treat exactly one condition: syphilis. One person who had the gumption to discuss Lenin's syphilis directly was Ivan Pavlov, of dog experimentation fame. When offering his opinion on Russian politics, Pavlov said, " revolution was made by a madman with syphilis of the brain."

So what difference does it make how Lenin died? Quite a bit. Since he was only 53 when his ticket was punched, it's reasonable to assume he'd have otherwise continued leading Russia for another decade or two. Instead, Joseph Stalin was left to take command. Who knows how things would have shaken out if Lenin had lived? Perhaps Leon Trotsky, not Stalin, would have been his successor.

5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs
Russian Federation

Or at the very least, Ringo.

Prior to his death, Lenin pointed out a number of Stalin's perceived shortcomings, and even recommended that he be removed from office. But Stalin was a devious bastard and easily outmaneuvered Trotsky, even making sure he missed Lenin's funeral by giving him the incorrect date. Once Stalin was officially in power, Trotsky was dismissed, exiled, and eventually assassinated, and Stalin would stay in charge for a full 30 years, during which a bit of game-changing history was made.

The Confederacy's Invasion Of The North Was Thwarted By A Raging Case Of The Clap

If you're not a historian or a Civil War buff, we're guessing you've never heard of General Ambrose Powell Hill. But he was a fairly important figure, in that he commanded one of the infantry corps under Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Any bad decisions he made would matter. Oh, and he had gonorrhea.

5 Famed Moments In History Brought To You By STDs

Usually a dishonorable discharge means you're done serving.

Apparently, Hill's West Point education included some advanced "flanking maneuvers," and he picked up the clap while on furlough in New York City in 1844. Since there was no cure for the disease at the time, it had an unfortunate way of cropping up and affecting his performance at inopportune moments. One general described him as a "prodigy" at his best and "disappointing" and "lackluster" at his worst.

Hill spent most of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg unwell and confined to his cot, looking "very delicate" to all who saw him. Things didn't go well in his absence from his men; under strict orders from General Lee not to engage in battle, Hill's subordinates did exactly the opposite. When Lee asked Hill why there were sounds of battle coming from the east, "the obviously ill corps commander claimed ignorance and mounted his horse to investigate." Later, though his corps made up the majority of the famous Pickett's Charge, Hill wasn't placed in command of the action, and also sort of forgot to mention (or simply didn't know) how badly beaten up those troops were. His corps suffered the most casualties during the ill-fated battle, and led the retreat back into Virginia.

Would fresh troops during Pickett's Charge, or a mentally sound general, or a condom years earlier, have resulted in the South winning the Civil War? Hard to say. But we are on board with the condom thing, in case you're furloughing in New York this year.

Armies In The World Wars Had To Wage Equal War Against STDs

Regardless of where in the world they were fighting, Allied soldiers in World War I and World War II all faced another insidious threat: STDs. It turns out that soldiers, behaving like the overly hormonal teenagers they were, had a habit of sticking their bayonets into all sorts of foxholes without giving much thought to the dangers lurking therein.

A whopping 6 percent of all ailments treated in the trenches of World War I were STDs, and without antibiotics to cure the diseases, the impact was fairly grim. In the course of that war, soldiers lost seven million person-days, and the Army was forced to discharge more than 10,000 men for, again, discharge-related reasons.

By World War II, the military wasn't playing around anymore. Seeing as they couldn't eradicate venereal disease with tanks, bombs, or some kind of Dirty Dozen-esque raid, they instead deployed an arsenal of "penis propaganda." Working with the U.S. Public Health Service and the Federal Security Agency, the surgeon general created dozens of posters which featured attractive women warning soldiers about the many dangers of digging in their trenches.

U.S. Public Health Service

The male's role in spreading VD is curiously underplayed.

So did it work? Sort of. According to the U.S. Army's Office of Medical History, "the lowest venereal disease rates in the U.S. Army occurred during 1943 and the rates began to rise in 1944, further increased in 1945, and showed marked increases after the cessation of hostilities." So not a raging success story. But speaking of things which weren't raging any more, thanks to advancements in treatment and the STD atom bomb known as "penicillin," by the end of the war, days missed due to illness hit an all-time low.

Yeah! Now who's the "great" war, World War I?

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