6 Historical Figures That Pop-Culture Got Pretty Wrong

The dead, like the living, need a little image boost to keep them relevant.
6 Historical Figures That Pop-Culture Got Pretty Wrong

Truth hurts. Like the yellowing, tattered porn stash of a dead family member, some facts we prefer discreetly buried, preferably in the backyard at 3 AM. Pursuit of truth be damned, Nana doesn't need to learn Gramp's secrets or what yiffing is. 

A lot of famous people celebrated as humanitarians, social pioneers, or tortured geniuses are nothing like we think either. Sometimes the dead, like the living, need a little image boost to keep them relevant ... 

FDR Was A Conniving Warmonger

What We've Been Told:

Pledging isolation but forced into conflict, Franklin Roosevelt declared war on December 8th, 1941, in reaction to an unexpected provocation. This while he was "looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific." Pearl Harbor had fallen victim to a sneak attack, then later a corny Hollywood schlockfest.

Still from pearl harbor film

Touchstone Pictures

An opening box-office gross that will live in infamy.

The Reality:

Never take a Michael Bay movie seriously. If you doubt FDR would have used the A-bomb, he used his own naval personnel as cannon fodder. The peace spiel was theater. Don't let the rambling fireside chats and cute dogs fool you; he was Machiavelli in a wheelchair.

FDR made every underhanded move he could to nudge the US into war. The US took Nazi POWs months before Pearl Harbor in a non-existent war, in a foreign territory (Greenland) no less. He signed a secret pact with the Dutch and British that necessitated the US would enter the war even if American soil was never attacked. Under "Rainbow 5," Roosevelt waited for war, actively trying to get the US embroiled by deceptive means. Sailing ships near Japan to annoy them, he once said, "I don't mind losing one or two cruisers."  

West Virginia was sunk by six torpedoes and two bombs during the attack

US Navy

He'd end up losing more than one or two, the lucky dog

Both an admiral and the man piloting one of the doomed ships as bait, the Lanikai, expressed outrage over the suicide mission. Declassified US Navy communications confirm it was widely known that war was imminent, so FDR set up a "training base" in the Pacific as a sitting duck. Japanese planners sought out a practical target instead, Pearl Harbor. All the better for FDR. When alerted Hawaii was a definite target by Adm. J. O. Richardson in February '41, Roosevelt did the expedient thing. He fired him

Credited with winning the war, the shady parts of FDR's biography seem to have been dropped, much to the benefit of gift shop sales.

Alan Turing Was A Charismatic Jock

What We've Been Told:

Tortured, eccentric, the geeky Alan Turing persisted in his work alone and misunderstood. He overcame mental issues to singlehandedly break the German Enigma code, as depicted in the biographic film, The Imitation Game.

imitation game promo picture

Black Bear Pictures

The script started with Benedict Cumberbatch and worked backwards from there. 

The Reality:

Friends at the Bletchley Park code-breaking department got on well with him, wrote letters to get him more funding, and defended him after his arrest for homosexuality. He didn't singlehandedly build the machine or break the code either -- the Polish contributions are frequently erased from Enigma lore. The Benedict Cumberbatch movie is rightfully deemed a manipulative, "garbled mess." 

Weirder still, the film completely omits his real hobbies. By far the best runner in his sporting club, Turing had a special fitness diet and grunted loudly -- he was always the center of attention, just like every bro at your gym. The club begged him to join up while he fended off oblivious female admirers with a stiff arm and chugged a beer with the other. 

Turing statue at Bletchley Park made with slates

Antoine Taveneaux

Alan Turing - Alpha Chad

Turing also was not autistic, nor morbidly depressed (at least not until the state began persecuting him). The idea that Turing was Rain Main probably originates from hyperbolic statements of his biographers, though he never posthumously diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Colleagues commented Turing was neither aloof nor awkward, the popular image of him taking advantage of stale stereotypes of geniuses.

Mata Hari Seriously Sucked At Spying

What We've Been Told:

Today, Mata Hari is an epithet for any duplicitous schemer or seductive spy. For espionage exploits during WWI, the exotic dancer was executed, her sex appeal extracting damaging intelligence leaks responsible for thousands of deaths. A Hollywood blockbuster, starring sex-icon Greta Garbo, cemented her legend

Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro in Mata Hari


It was so sexy, Hollywood censored all other films for the next 35 years. 

The Reality:

Mata Hari (real name Margaretha Geertruida Zelle) wasn't a master spy and probably wasn't even a spy, except under the loosest definition of "foreign agent." She was a patsy who accepted money from men out of habit. Abandoned, losing children to syphilis, beaten by her husband, forced into sex work, Mata Hari was more like a sad, gullible, codependent, aging barfly. 

"The Great War" spiraling out of control -- French soldiers executed to instill discipline, casualties piling up -- Allied intelligence men sought a juicy scapegoat to divert attention from the stalemate and dismal leadership. A globetrotting stripper living the high life was as good a distraction as any for the puritanical French government. The media published lurid photographs and spread the propaganda, regardless of their suspect's general incompetence.

Mata Hari in 1906, wearing only a gold jeweled breastplate and jewelery

France Culture

Even Wikipedia includes a nude photo of her, for reasons. 

Those allegations were an Eiffel Tower-sized pile of bullshit. Germany cleared her of being a spy in 1930, but people preferred the risque version instead -- Writers and movie stars did the rest.

Thomas More Was A Hypocritical Executioner Who Fought Against Free Speech

What We've Been Told:

After writing Utopia, Lord Chancellor Thomas More stood up to England's Henry VIII and was martyred for refusing to betray his principles and cave to political pressure and grant the king an annulment. More was rehabilitated by the Protestants and canonized by the Catholic Church as a symbol of conscience and resistance -- opposing sides united in agreement of his awesomeness. They name universities and humanitarian awards after him while also making Oscar-winning films in his honor.

Statue of Sir Thomas More

Mike Quinn

Not just any statue is honored with a pigeon-defense system.

The Reality:

The saint was a hypocrite and propagandist who threw Richard the III under the bus to curry favor with the new king. It gets worse, so much worse.

St. Thomas More criticized John Tyndale and personally hunted down illegal books, kicking in citizens' doors. Tyndale attempted to translate The Bible into English so common people could read it. This made him an enemy of the state, while More was the dickhead-in-chief. The same guy who we celebrate writing a satirical book about a peaceful utopian world ordered imprisonment, torture, and death for owning illegal religious texts. Who knew book burning had a patron saint?

Beheading of Thomas More

via Wiki Commons

You get beheaded by the king one time, and boom, you're a martyr. 

The guy got hard detailing the grisly ends of heretics burnt to a crisp on the bonfires like a gleeful psychopath. Yet to this day, More retains an army of embarrassingly delusional Stans.

Henry Ford Was An Imbecile And Proud Of It

What We've Been Told:

Extending his ambitions into grandiose social programs and city-planning schemes to craft workers to mirror the quality of his Model Ts, Henry Ford's ingenuity and vision created the modern industrial age and auto industry

Workers on the first moving assembly line put together magnetos and flywheels for 1913 Ford autos

via Wiki Commons

He invented America. He, and whoever it was who invented mountains. 

The Reality:

He was really good with machines, annnnnd ... that's it. Henry Ford was a certified moron and lacked common scientific skills. Scholars debate his literacy, a difficult matter to gauge as he ranted reading was the same as a "dope habit." A profound thinker he was not.

Time magazine, January 14, 1935


"Thyme? Why am I on the cover of a cookbook?"

When a journalist publicly ridiculed Ford, the magnate summoned a libel suit to prove he was not a boob. Ford was awarded a pittance while accidentally revealing to the world that he was undeniably dumb. On the stand, Ford made a complete ass of himself, identifying Benedict Arnold as a famous writer and placing the Revolutionary War around 1812.

Company staff was tasked with doing all the complicated work, which included repeatedly explaining to their boss how skyscrapers worked, and that they would not collapse. The whole too-cool-to-read thing wasn't as funny as it sounds. His distrust of pasteurization likely played a role in his son's death. His legacy is intact thanks to the ultimate smokescreens, philanthropy and being a rich white dude.

Martin Luther Wasn't Really Into Reform Or Tolerance

What We've Been Told:

Nailing his 95 complaints to the door of the local church for all to bear witness, the reformer Martin Luther humbly challenged the corrupt, outdated church and challenged long-held tenets and customs. Diet of Worms, excommunication, schism, the rest is history.

still from 2003 luther movie


He even settled for the obscure Fiennes brother in his biopic. Talk about humility.

The Reality:

Yes, Luther wanted religious freedom ... only so far as it applied to him. He was in complete agreement with the Vatican when it came to hating Jews. Dispelling any doubt, Luther wrote a novel-length treatise titled: The Jews & Their Lies, claiming Jewish people were unproductive, dishonest, covetous, blasphemous foreigners that have no place in Germany. He suggested ceasing the education of training rabbis, adding, "be on your guard against the Jews" because "they live ... by theft and robbery." Comparing Jews to animals, his work is practically a textbook for genocide propaganda

Title page of Martin Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies. Wittenberg, 1543

via Wiki Commons

"We are at fault in not slaying them" -- actual quote from Martin Luther

He felt all true Christians should torch synagogues so that they can prove themselves in the eyes of God, stressing Jews deserved "their due reward." To put it bluntly, Luther basically wrote the first draft for Mein Kampf, and his influence on German history is disturbingly underestimated. Also, kind of hard to cancel a guy when you named your religion after him.

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