Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the category “Military History”

History Is Written By The Victors

Have you ever wondered what our world history would look like from the loser’s perspective?

I often wonder what our interpretation of the world would look like now if history had turned out a little differently.

Alternative history TV shows are not new. The Man in the High Castle is the most recent example, with an alternate world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan win World War 2. Although the concept is not new, there are many aspects of our world history today that has been directly shaped by who has told the story.

Have you ever noticed that the most commonly used world map has Europe at the centre?

This is due to European colonisation and subsequent dominance.

pexels-photo-592753.jpeg

All Roads Lead to Rome

What’s more, is that a lot of our understanding of world history comes from the writing of mostly western elites. The Ancient Romans are particular perpetrators of this. My favourite example of this is The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, which is a scandalous account of the lives of Rome’s 12 Emperors (starting with Julius Caesar and ending with Domitian).

Ironically, this is where we get most of our most famous Roman Emperor stories:

  • Caligula making his horse a senator
  • Nero playing the lute while Rome burned
  • Domitian’s tyrannical rule

Although it is an amazing source material it’s important to remember that Suetonius was personal secretary to the Emperor Hadrian and had worked for Trajan before that.  This would have been decades after most of these emperors had died and they were probably written with an agenda.

And yet its content is often cited as true fact. Would it have been written differently under Caligula or even Constantine, the last Roman Emperor of the west?

18rome

All credit goes to Twisted Cartoons

Telling a Story

You can also see it in movies and textbooks when a certain re-telling of a historical event can be interpreted in different ways. As an American living abroad, it’s always strange to see what what other countries call the American Revolution.

Here’s an interesting article about how other countries learn about the American Revolution in school if you’re interested.

World War 2 also has a hotly contested narrative. Each country involved tends to tell the outcome differently. A great example of this on the TV show, The Americans (which I LOVE, by the way). There’s a scene between in Episode 5 of Season 6 where the daughter, Paige, is told what World War 2 was like from the perspective of the Soviets. A different image entirely from red, white, and blue patriotic narrative that is often told in the U.S.

wold-war-2-ends

Similarly, I’m sure that schools in Japan tell a much more sobering story on the outcome of the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945 than above.

Alternative history or not, it’s always interesting to think about what might have been!

Bonus video:

From Zero to Hero: The Birth of Superheroes

superheroes-characters

In the era of the superhero franchise, many don’t seem to know the historical backdrop that led to the stardom of some of the world’s most iconic characters.

Prepare for your minds to be blown!

The truth is that some of these guys became superhero giants for a reason. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s due to content or just good timing.

Holding Out For A Hero

Let me take you back to 1933, a year many high schoolers may know as the year of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. It was also the year the character of Superman was created by two young men from Cleveland Ohio, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

What do these two events have to do with each other?

funny-cartoon-logic-superman-glasses

Well, this may surprise you, but I can make a direct connection between the rise of Hitler and the popularization of Superman. The main ingredient? The need for hope!

Picture the scene – Adolf Hitler, practically a nobody, blitzes through Europe and manages to create an entire doctrine based on fear…successfully.

By the time 1939 came around, no one had managed to stop him. He was the ultimate villain who had yet to face his superhero arch nemesis. A fact which may have been troubling to the children of the U.S.A whose only interaction with the man was through the radio news bulletins.

In fact, some may argue that if Hitler had successfully taken over Europe that his next stop would have been the U.S.

BONUS : If you want an idea of what a Nazi controlled U.S. would have looked like then I would definitely check out the mini series “The Triangle.” It’s about the Bermuda Triangle and although it is a mediocre show I would watch it for the one scene with the alternate universe of Nazi America – Super trippy and scary!

Thankfully, Superman comes onto the scene as a comic book in 1938. A natural superhero, his mighty powers and caring heart make him the perfect specimen of American creativity to defeat the evil Hitler – well, the idea of him at least!

Thus hope was born once again!

Although it is not said explicitly, I truly believe that the reason why Superman became as popular as he did was because he managed to bring hope to children and adults alike during a dark time in world history.

Captain America 

Much like Superman, quite a few people dislike Captain. His backstory isn’t dark and he gains his strength in hope – not in revenge.

Once again I will shatter your illusions and tell you that he is a dirScreen Shot 2014-04-17 at 13.45.32ect response to World War 2. When the character first appeared in 1941, he was an instant success. Mostly because he symbolized the troops still fighting.

If Captain America could defeat the Axis villains then so could the fathers/brothers/husbands out there now.

To prove my point, check out this great cartoon from Dorkly that could say it better than I ever could.

This is all to say that there is more to these “bland” characters than meets the eye – at least from a historical perspective.

The Aftermath

So what happened after World War 2?

Well, people got more cynical. They were disillusioned by their government through easily accessible information via television and a propaganda free press. The Vietnam War changed the way Americans saw warfare forever.

Children and Adults were no longer looking for their perfect warrior. They wanted heroes that were more like them – with flaws and all.

tumblr_mvxqgzDLMA1r5mbvpo1_400

This paves the way for characters like Batman, Spiderman and even Iron Man. These were superheroes they could relate to. “Normal” guys who had to rise from the ashes after great tragedy. There is also a moral ambiguity to these characters that show that they’re human.

Except for the fact that both Batman and Iron Man were billionaires, I see their point.  I think one of the reasons Batman is still so popular today is that he lives in a world that’s not so different from our own, but with gadgets and crazy villains!

In the same way, Spiderman is about a teenage boy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider. His story is the fantasy of every bored high school student. Thus the popularity of spidey grew!

spidey-meme-master-disguise

Bottom line, we like to feel connected to fictional characters, and after World War 2 we no longer aspired to the super soldier.

We were looking for the hero we deserve 😉

Do you think we’ve found it?

Bonus

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, A History : A Pirates Life For Me!

With the release of the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Unity, the new game set at the time of the French Revolution, I decided to delve back into my series on the history behind the Assassin’s Creed Franchise.

This time, we travel to the golden age of piracy in the early 1700s with stories of buried treasure and debauchery.

NOT.

The truth is, pirates were not as exciting as we make them out to be, but they do have some interesting stories and backgrounds that should be shared with the world.

It takes a particular type of person to lead a life of piracy so let’s discover who these people really are.

Note : Most of the information below will be in the video above, but there will be some extra facts that didn’t make it so if you’re really interested – Read on!

DISCLAIMER

All of this information is based on a book called “A General History of Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates” by one Captain Charles Johnson.

Some historians believe that Captain Johnson is actually Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Therefore, there’s a fair chance that some of this is made up.

If that’s the case, then he should be applauded for his expansive imagination.

Blackbeard 

blackbeard_1154584c

Real name : Edward Teach

He terrorized sailors on the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1716 – 1718.

As a privateer, his patroness was Queen Anne of Britain. This gave him leave to plunder and destroy any French or Spanish ships in his way. It was also why he named his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Now it’s important to know that these three countries (Britain, France and Spain) were constantly at odds with each other over disputed territory in the new world. Sailors who knew the regions well were often hired out to serve on behalf of their country.

Thus privateers were born! To sweeten the deal, privateers were allowed to keep any plunder they “found.”

As you can tell, the line between pirate and privateer is thin.

Black beard had a very specific technique when he boarded an enemy ship. It was his signature. He would kill the man behind the wheel first, from far away, then board the ship up close. This would stop the ship, and the plunder, from getting too far away once they were locked in battle.

He was one of the most feared pirates during the golden age with many different conflicting rumors on how evil he was. Some said it was all artifice, with him putting rope in his hat to look demonic. Others swore that he cut off the fingers of those captives who refused to give over their loot.

Finally, he died in battle after the Governor of the Bahamas crashed his retirement party.

Benjamin Hornigold 

images

He began his career, as a privateer, as second in command under Blackbeard. He was a British pirate from 1715 – 1718.

After that, he changed sides and became a pirate hunter, betraying his friends and mentor.

In a weird turn of events,  he died in 1719 after he was shipwrecked against a reef during a hurricane.

Some may say karma, but who really knows….

Jack Rackham a.k.a Calico Jack 

bios_rackam

He was Quartermaster under Charles Vane before he got a ship of his own.

After years of piracy, he was pardoned by the Governor of New Providence. While he was there, he managed to find time, in between trips to the brothel, to lure the young Anne Bonny away from her sailor husband.

Thus begins the greatest love story ever told!

He was the only pirate captain to have two females on board, but that’s an other story.

An other interesting fact about Calico Jack is that the modern symbol for piracy, the Jolly Roger, was his flag.

750px-Flag_of_Edward_England.svg

Each pirate had their own recognizable symbol to strike fear and recognition in the heart of their enemies.

Supposedly, when Blackbeard raised his flag. Everyone surrendered.

Charles Vane 

Early_18th_century_engraving_of_Charles_Vane

He was infamous for being cruel, reckless and ignoring the pirate code.

There’s not much more to say about him, but there is one funny story.

Charles Vane was shipwrecked on an abandoned island, left to die.

A Royal Navy ship happened to pass by and Vane asked for passage to the closest port, but the captain immediately recognized him and chose to leave him on the island to die as punishment for his crimes.

Soon after, a second ship passed and saw the wreckage. This time, he was not recognized and managed to get on board. Unluckily for him, ship number 2 bumped into ship number 1, revealing his true identity.

He basically had the worse luck in the world.

Anne Bonny

Bonney,_Anne_(1697-1720)

She was the bastard daughter of the maid and master of the house. To save her family from embarrassment, she was dressed as a boy and introduced as a cousin.

Due to her odd upbringing, she became sort of the wild child, sleeping around and hanging around sailors. This is how she met her husband and later her lover Calico Jack.

She apparently tore apart mannequins and used animal blood to stage murder. No wonder the merchants were terrified of her!

We must take a step back, however, and remember that history is often written by men. This means that women are often characterized as either pure matrons or wild succubi. There is no middle ground, but as a woman I can say that most of us are more complicated than that.

When Calico Jack was sentenced to be hanged, his last wish was to speak to Anne Bonny. Ever the sentimentalist, Anne Bonny’s last words to Calico Jack were : “If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

I think that really sums up her state of being : fierce

James Kidd / Mary Read 

MaryRead

As a kid, Mary Read was dressed as a boy and rented out to rich households as a servant to help her family make ends meet.

At the age of 13 she secured herself a position as a gun powder boy on a ship, starting her career on the high seas. From then on she went by the pseudonym James Kidd.

Nobody suspected her because she “swore like a sailor” and was always the first to volunteer for dangerous tasks.

She was so convincing that Anne Bonny developed a crush on her. Scared of being found out, Mary Read was forced to reveal her sexe to Anne. She supposedly revealed her breasts as proof.

The two women became even closer as a result and according to some (male) historians they became lovers *rolls eyes.* This sparked the jealousy of Calico Jack to the point of murder. To stop an incident from happening, Mary was forced, once again, to reveal herself.  She supposedly revealed her breasts a second time.

Despite the sexism of the time, both women thrived in this environment, becoming part of a legacy of strong women in history.

Just for fun 

Happy Pirating 🙂

Did Mulan Really Defeat the Huns?

With the popularity of Frozen I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and look at one of the most badass Disney Princesses out there: Mulan.

Mulan

Is she real?

Well, unfortunately the only “proof” we have that she existed was an ancient Chinese ballad/poem that we think was written sometime between 386 and 533 A.D. (Wei Dynasty).

Since it is a folk tale, there are countless interpretations of the story. In simplistic terms you can say it’s China’s version of the story of the fall of Troy.

No one knows if it really happened, but it’s a nice story with a moral lesson.

So what is the Legend of Mulan trying to teach us?

Like any good folk tale, the story of Mulan is meant to impart an important moral lesson. In this case, honor your family and your country, preferably at the same time. Not everyone will have the courage to join a war to save their father, but it does make it clear what the values were at the time.

Mulan2

The original poem has an obvious sexist tinge to it that isn’t as present in the Disney movie, which is a good thing. For one, Mulan’s name is rarely used in the poem. She is referred to as “daughter” most of the time. The story also opens with her weaving and ends with her doing similar female approved activities, returning to her role as female of the household.

This wouldn’t have upset as much if it weren’t for the fact that she supposedly spent 12 years in the army without being caught – yes, 12 years and was only discovered because her old army buddies came to visit her later.  You would have thought that she would have had issues with re-adapting to female life, but it was as if she were unchanged by the experience.

I don’t know about Mulan, but when I hang around guys a lot I develop similar mannerisms and habits – as you would with any group of friends.  So, excuse me as I suspend my disbelief for a second.

That being said, in the legend, Mulan is already versed in martial arts and horseback riding thanks to her father. So she didn’t really need to be whipped into shape like in the Disney version, but it did produce a kickass song!

Of course, this is meant to tell little girls that you can bring honor to your family, as long as you go back to your assigned gender roles once you’re done.

I think the big draw of the Disney movie is that it gives a positive role model for young girls without being preachy. Mulan chooses to go to war to protect her father, but she also grows as a person through this experience.

The poem is obviously revolutionary, telling the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy and is successful, but the character feels fairly static. A vessel to teach a moral lesson. It’s a common storytelling tool from the past, mostly because this was the only way to really ram in a point. Most people wouldn’t have had enough education to be able to read so ballads were an effective way to spread stories and create popular culture.

In the end, I hope it’s true and if it’s not…

5e7bff788e2d19441b9449c85b5dddbe

Battleships: Better than the movie

And arguably slightly better than the board game. What I mean to say is that although many of us have played Battleship ….

Battleship Board Game

Slightly sexist cover for much loved board game

…. very few of us take the time to actually look at these monster contraptions used for wars in the last 200 years.

The truth is that they really revolutionized naval warfare. The term was originally used in 1794, referring to the wooden warships during the Age of Sail .

Over the years it just became the description for the most powerful type of ship in any fleet. What we consider a battleship today is based off the Dreadnought model, which kicked things up a notch during World War 1.

h63367

Although what we see today is much better armed.

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to see two different types of ships, both from the WW2/Cold War era that proves that burial at sea will never be a defunct term.

HMS Belfast 

HMS Belfast

The HMS Belfast is a WW2/Cold War era battleship that has been turned into a museum in the heart of London. I actually volunteered there in the conservation department for over a year and so I got to know the ship quite well.

It was originally built in 1939, just in time for WW2 and then was re-equipped  for the Cold War.

I personally helped maintain and restore Bofors anti-aircraft machine guns and one of the 4-inch guns. On my last day of volunteering I was lucky enough to be able to fire one of the 4-inch guns already restored.

If you have a spare afternoon in London one day I would definitely suggest you check it out. They really do a good job at keeping the history alive.

U.S.S Intrepid 

Over on the other side of the Atlantic lies a ship that is also a museum. The U.S.S. Intrepid is an aircraft carrier, docked on a pier in New York City.

Not only did it serve in WW2 and the Vietnam War – it also was the recovery ship for the Gemini and Mercury space missions.

I decided to visit it while I was living in New York City and so recorded my journey through the ship, comparing it to my experience on the smaller HMS Belfast.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience on the U.S.S. Intrepid because you understood what role naval power truly had in the last century.

The Napoleon At Toulon in 1852 by Lauvergne

The Napoleon At Toulon in 1852 by Lauvergne

In conclusion, don’t believe everything you read.

Old Battleships are cool too because they show how our society has progressed over the centuries with technology.

Think of it this way – 100 years ago we could only travel by boat!

More than meets the eye

Everyone pretty much knows the events of World War 2, but your basic education often skips over some of the more interesting parts of warfare.

So I’ve decided that this important time in history deserves more than your basic high school treatment.

Here are 3 things that they haven’t told you about the war and its legacy – guaranteed most likely to impress the people in your life.

The Ghost Army 

During the war, being artistic wasn’t always a bad thing. In fact, the U.S. army encouraged artists to join up for the 23rd HQ Special Troops a.k.a The Ghost Army. Their job was to practice the art of deception.

You may ask, how would you do that? Well they had many tools at their disposal:

– Inflatable army vehicles

– Fake radio transmissions/ sounds

– Material to impersonate other U.S. army divisions

Image

Inflatable Tank during World War 2

They successfully carried out 20 staged deceptions and were involved in some of the most important moments of the war. They even helped revolutionise warfare.

If you think it sounds interesting (and I certainly did!) then I would suggest checking out The Ghost Army documentary. It can give you more details than I ever could with the bonus of some funny stories from Ghost Army veterans.

Russia and Japan are still fighting a war?!

Neither Russia or Japan have actually signed an official peace treaty between them, ending World War 2.

The reason? The Kuril Islands

ImageThese Islands off the coast of Japan, but close enough to Russia, were disputed then and are still an issue to.this.day

NB: Researching this felt like reading a really poorly written soap opera where they continue the story, but replace the actors.

Maybe they should try following the saying: Let bygone be bygones?

The secret to winning a game of Monopoly 

The never ending board game actually served a purpose during the war. It allowed Red Cross workers to get escape tools to the Prisoners of War in German camps.

ImageThis was in your basic kit:

  • European currency was hidden within the Monopoly money. As in Francs (FR), Lira (IT) and Deutschmark (GER)…they didn’t have euros yet!
  • A metal file was hidden in the board to help them escape
  • There was a compass hidden in a piece, like the shoe or thimble.
  • Silk maps of the camp were hidden in the hotel pieces

For added effect, please use this fact during a game of Monopoly to Wow your friends 😉

*Sigh* why couldn’t we just all get along?

Post Navigation