Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she loves museums and why she was less than pleased while visiting the famous Cold War crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie, in Berlin.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

The importance of museums

I will hold my hands up and admit that I am a museum nerd. It may seem a little niche and uninteresting, but I love museums. From a very early age, my parents took me to historical sites, castles, battlefields and museums. My love must have begun there. Not only was I learning (yes, I am that child that loved to learn), but I was also in a place where it was totally acceptable to enjoy learning what was around you. More than that, you were learning in a totally different way to sitting in a classroom being talked at for hours on end. I was interacting, I was playing with objects, I was touching things were hundreds of years old and I learning how they worked. This bought a huge amount of joy to me as a child, and thankfully it never wore off. Still to this day, I step into a museum and I feel at peace. It feels familiar, it feels safe and it feels homely. If you, like me, just love to be around knowledge and learning, you too will have a place which evokes the same kind of emotions. 

As I became older and began visiting the museums I had loved as a child in my adult years, it started to become clearer to me why these places were so important to me. They continued education and knowledge in such a way that you don’t realise you are learning. Yet days later you are still thinking about and remembering something you read or did in a museum. It then became my mission to try and get myself into these environments on a day-to-day basis and perhaps create this kind of feeling for another that could then fall in love with museums in the way I once had. 

Because of my love for these places, presenting themselves in old buildings, new buildings, caves, tunnels, rooftops and walls, wherever I go I seek out a museum. I am lucky enough to have the people closest to me sharing similar interests (or at least putting up with my interest) and so any holiday, day out or trip away can involve finding a new museum to explore. At the end of last year I travelled to Berlin. I don’t recall a day I didn’t visit a historical site or museum. It was there that I began thinking about this; a museum’s role in remembrance and commemoration, and how some places do it better than others. Yes, I can be critical of museums too!

 

Visiting Berlin

 

The first time I visited Berlin, I was eighteen years old. I was heading to university two months later still with a huge passion and love for history. The trip was with school; a bunch of us from history class and our favourite teachers. It was July and baking hot. On our school-arranged itinerary was the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I was excited and fascinated with this museum, having not had a chance in school to study the Cold War and was fuelled by my own interest and research. 

Checkpoint Charlie was, as you perhaps could guess, a checkpoint in central Berlin that during the Cold War when Germany was cut in two, allowed passing between the two sectors. West Germany, or the FRG, was controlled by the British, Americans and French. East Germany, the GDR, was controlled by the Soviet Union. This line, a crack through the country and indeed through the world, represented two very separate lives for the people that were zoned into these sectors. Checkpoint Charlie was a break in the physical wall that had been put up from August 13, 1961, and became a symbol of separation during the Cold War. After the wall came down in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany, Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. 

You will see Checkpoint Charlie featured in many Cold War films, novels, and historical articles. It is a focal point, and an incredibly important site in history. I remember being upstairs in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and from one of the windows you could look down onto the street and see the checkpoint. It remains as it was; the signs indicating the various sectors, the booth which housed the patrolling soldiers, it is all still standing. A snapshot of history preserved as it once was, hopefully forever, to remind people what happens when you build walls. I looked for a while, because to me it was captivating. Then I noticed there were ‘soldiers’ at the checkpoint. I say it like that, ‘soldiers’, because it was clear they were reproduction uniforms with an attempt to be historically accurate and failing pretty badly. Even me, aged eighteen, could see that it wasn’t right. Not only that, but they weren’t saluting correctly for the country that they were supposedly a soldier of. I remember pointing this out to my classmates, and my teacher, who all laughed along with me at how absurd the entire scene was. 

It clearly stuck in my head though, as I remember saying I wasn’t too bothered about seeing Checkpoint Charlie again as I found it over-commercialised and unnecessary. It was probably then, some five years later, that I began to consider what this commercialisation of such an important historical site actually meant for the preservation of the memory.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Image of Checkpoint Charlie in 2015, provided by and shown with the permission of Shannon Bent.

Presenting History as it was

I am what I guess you could call a ‘historical purist’ or ‘historical prescriptivist’. Basically, I believe in presenting historical fact in the purest form. Present it how you wish, in as many different forms as you wish; writing, TV, movies, plays, exhibitions, podcasts, the world is your oyster. Just make it accurate. None of this embellishment for dramatic effect. No need to change the facts to make it interesting. Trust me, present it right and the history will speak for itself. Now apply this logic to Checkpoint Charlie. You have the original signs each side of the street, making it clear to everyone standing there just how close capitalism and communism lived for the best part of 29 years. You have the booth where the soldiers would have stood, hour after hour, day after day, in freezing Berlin winters, patrolling a border that they themselves were probably affected by. Throw in a few photos of the wall, the roadblocks, the tanks and place them around they booth with a few well-written info plaques and hey presto, you have yourself a thought provoking, accurate historical site. You don’t need people dressed up, charging for tourists to have photos with them. You don’t need the visual of dressed up soldiers at all. 

Now you may be thinking ‘chill out. It’s just a bit of harmless tourist fun’. And yes, in a way it is. But here’s the way I look at it. Those soldiers they are impersonating were once real people, with real lives. In fact, the likelihood is they are still around today, perhaps even in that city. They had family, friends, lovers and enemies. They lived and breathed that city, that conflict, right off the back of the biggest war the world had ever seen. The wall went up practically overnight and the checkpoint followed. The men that had to work at that checkpoint perhaps lost family the other side of the wall or had to leave their life long friends behind. If you want to think about it in a darker manner, those soldiers being impersonated perhaps had to stop or even shoot people that were attempting to escape through the checkpoint, whether they agreed with the ethics of the wall or not. Some 136 people died between the years of 1961 and 1989 at the Berlin Wall. There are not clear numbers of how many of them were at the checkpoint in question. But chances are those soldiers had to perform violent acts that morally they were not at peace with. Do you think it is morally correct for people to then pretend to be these soldiers? I doubt it would sit well with the actors if they thought about it, and it would certainly baffle those that lived through the iron curtain.

 

Maybe that is more the point I am making. Perhaps I’m getting too hung up on the smaller intricacies of the topic. My overall point is this; people lived through the thing that is now being (badly, may I add) impersonated for money. I feel the concept to be a little weird and overall needless. There are many fantastic ways of presenting facts, of making history come to life that is accurate and respectful. And I am in no way against visual representation. There are some really good TV series and films that are as accurate as possible, for example Darkest HourDunkirk, and the absolute masterpiece that was Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old. Similarly, I have seen re-enactments, and what I believe is called in the business ‘costumed interpreters’ that have fantastic reproduction uniforms and costumes that provide a deeper and more visually impactful experience for the visitor. But it is done more tastefully, and with a far greater respect for the historical significance.

 

Recent History

There is also the question of this with regards to recent history. My parents vividly remember when the Berlin wall fell. I was born eight years later. My mum always says how when she was in school in the 1970s they didn’t teach history on the Second World War because it was too fresh and recent to make it a historical subject. While I don’t agree with that wholly, and do believe that it should be taught no matter how recent, there is a lot to be said for the way in which the topic is presented and what is respectable when there are still people living in that city that lived through a time when Checkpoint Charlie was actually operational. 

I do get angry when I think about all of this in context. When I was in Berlin last November, we were killing time before heading for food, and I said to my boyfriend ‘lets walk past Checkpoint Charlie, just so I can glare at it’. The people that are stood taking photos with the soldiers and instagramming it are entirely missing the point of, well, everything. It isn’t a place of remembrance and commemoration. To them, it’s a ‘how many likes can I get’ challenge, and the significance of the place goes right over so many people’s heads because it isn’t being presented in the right way. To me, it is beyond disrespectful. I guess you can only hope for change in the future. 

As I’m sure you can tell, this is a topic that I am very passionate about. Not just Checkpoint Charlie, but the overall controversial topic of how to present a museum, the commercial aspects of public history, and what is to be done when the topic in hand is sensitive. This series will seek to explore these different aspects of museum and heritage sites, using not only my knowledge but definitely my opinion, from the countless visits I have done to numerous places. Don’t worry, the whole thing won’t be me ranting consistently. I have some positive things to say too! I hope together we can explore and have a general discussion about this. If you love museums too, this is the place to be!

 

I hope you can come along with me on this exploration. Don’t hesitate to comment, feedback, and you could even email me for a chat about all this on s.k.bent@hotmail.co.uk. I would really love people to get involved in this. After all, history and museums are for us all! So don’t be shy! History is cool, and history is now. 

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Battle of Stalingrad from August 1942 to February 1943 was the largest battle of World War Two, and one of the largest in all history. It involved a major battle for the city of Stalingrad (modern-day Volgograd) between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Here, Joshua Potts tells us the role that snipers played in the battle.

Vasily Zaitsev, a key Soviet sniper, in December 1942.

Vasily Zaitsev, a key Soviet sniper, in December 1942.

The Battle of Stalingrad

In 1942, Hitler attempted to cut off Soviet communication and supply routes along the Volga River by launching a two-pronged attack on the oil-rich fields of the Caucasus and the city of Stalingrad. Since the previous Operation Typhoon had failed to take Moscow, the Germans decided to circumvent the Soviet expectation that they would attack the capital again and instead went for Joseph Stalin’s namesake city. Initially, the German Blitzkrieg tactic inflicted huge numbers of casualties in the city and gained Army Group South B an important advantage over the shocked Red Army. However, it wasn’t just the Wehrmacht who had tricks up their sleeves. 

Within several weeks, more and more troops were being committed to the Battle of Stalingrad and intense fighting had broken out in the streets. Both sides used underground sewers to work their way behind enemy lines, trying to eliminate resistance in the city. The 10,000 tonnes of explosive dropped by the Luftwaffe had already damaged the city and reduced its many weapons and farm-machinery factories to rubble, and the ensuing conflict within the city exacerbated the destruction.

 

Snipers

Both the Germans (and their allies) and the Soviets had deployed hundreds of professional snipers into Stalingrad, placing them behind fallen buildings and broken machinery. They picked on unsuspecting soldiers (and often civilians) from rooftops and windows, making sure to hide their optical scopes so that the sun wouldn’t reflect on the glass and give away their hiding places. 

Many of these master snipers had grown up in poor families or had previous training in their families. They were all expert marksmen, able to kill their targets with as few shots as possible. All Soviets strong enough to hold a rifle were ordered by Stalin to fight for their city. Therefore, many women and children were separated from their husbands and fathers as the men left to become snipers. By November 1942, over a million German troops were trying to defeat the Red Army in Stalingrad but the Soviets held out, continuing to reload their rifles and prime their sights, refusing to give in.

 

Vasily Zaitsev

Perhaps the Soviet Union’s best sniper was Vasily Zaitsev, who killed over three hundred Nazis during the Battle of Stalingrad. He was born into a poor family and grew up hunting wolves in the snow with his father and younger brother. Repeatedly, he was taught not to waste bullets and only use one per target, as they were expensive and precious where he lived. Zaitsev joined the Red Army in 1937 and by the time he volunteered to join the frontline, he had already reached the rank of Sergeant Major. He joined the 62ndArmy which was defending Stalingrad as part of a rifle regiment. 

His commanding officer immediately noticed his talent and tried to test his skill with a quick shooting challenge. He pointed out an enemy officer that was located about 2,500 feet away. Vasily took a single shot and killed the target using his standard-issue Mosin-Nagant rifle. 

Vasily Zaitsev’s partner was Nikolay Kulikov and his favourite tactic was a strategy called “sixes”. He would cover an area from three different directions, assigning both a scout and an experienced sniper to each post. Following the correct rules of a sniper – hiding in a variety of places and changing every few shots – he managed to achieve 225 verified kills within 7 days.

 

Vasily Zaitsev and Major Konig

Perhaps the most well-known sniper story in Stalingrad is the sniper duel between Vasily Zaitsev and Major Konig. The Germans were getting increasingly concerned about this undefeatable Soviet sniper who was just impossible to locate. Nazi High Command had ordered Konig, headmaster of “Berlin’s Sniper School”, to hunt down Zaitsev and kill him. The sources and accounts of the duel are probably highly biased or contain false information as they all come from either Zaitsev or the Soviet Army. There is also no documentation on the German side for which sniper by the name of “Konig” was sent to Stalingrad, nor for the existence of a sniper-training school in Berlin. Thus, many speculators believe that the tale was either modified, incorrectly recorded, or even entirely fake. 

It took little time for Zaitsev to hear about Konig’s arrival. A captured German POW had boasted that he would not survive for much longer, as the Nazis had sent in their best marksman. A journalist travelled around with Zaitsev as he searched for Konig, waiting for the perfect moment to get a first-hand account of the killing. At one point, as Zaitsev was waiting for his nemesis to appear, the journalist stood up to point out a moving figure in the distance. Konig instantly fired his gun and Zaitsev’s journalist companion fell back, dead. 

From this point onwards, Vasily Zaitsev continued with his partner, Kulikov. The duo attempted to locate Konig’s hiding place, and Kulikov fired a blank shot in order to catch his attention. He then raised a helmet as bait, trying to entice Konig into shooting at it. Sure enough, a rifle shot rang out, Zaitsev’s companion drew down the helmet as if the fake target had been killed, and Konig’s muzzle flash gave a rough idea of where he was hiding. 

At this point, Major Konig raised his head above a sheet of corrugated iron he was lying behind, wrongly believing that he had shot the Soviet Union’s best sniper and that his mission was complete. In response to his enemy’s location being revealed, Vasily took his shot and killed the foolish and unsuspecting German sniper. 

Konig dies, Zaitsev lives on. 

Vasily Zaitsev taught other snipers and was decorated with numerous prestigious awards, “Hero of the Soviet Union” and “Medal for the Defence of Stalingrad” to name a couple. The sniper duel was depicted in the generally-inaccurate 2001 film, Enemy At The Gates.

 

Female Snipers

It was not just the men who fought as snipers at Stalingrad. Hundreds of female snipers were trained to fight on the Soviet side, being taught how to aim and fire a rifle. One notable example is Tatiana Chernova. A character based upon her profile featured in Enemy At The Gates. Finding her parents dead in Belarus – killed by the Germans – after visiting to warn them of the danger, she furiously joined the Russian resistance. She was trained by the legendary Vasily Zaitsev and trekked through sewers to reach her post at Stalingrad. Although she had 24 confirmed kills, she never actually admitted to killing anyone. Instead, she preferred to use the phrase, “breaking sticks” or “I snapped X twigs”.  She left service when she stepped on a landmine which seriously injured her.

Another notable female sniper is Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who was often called “Lady Death”. She left her work at Kiev University when the Germans launched their invasion. When given an audition and told to target two enemy Romanians, she took out both with ease.

Both male and female snipers played a crucial role in the defence of Stalingrad and inspired others to follow suit. They were the courageous, unrelenting, merciless killers of the Soviet Union that refused to give in until the end. The Battle of Stalingrad came to a close on February 2, 1943, after over five months of desperate conflict, with a Russian victory. The disastrous defeat for Hitler, drained the morale and supplies of his troops. Undoubtedly, the Soviet victory owed in part to the efforts of the brave Red Army snipers.

 

What do you think of the Red Army snipers? Let us know below.

Joshua Potts writes at The Augustus blog here.

The Spanish Empire first came into contact with Native American in Northern California in the 16thcentury – and that contact was to be the primary European contact for centuries. Here, Daniel L. Smith (site here)looks at early encounters between the Spanish and Native Americans – and considers how they impacted later 19thcentury settlers to the area.

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval jesters (here), and How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here).

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, a 18th century Spanish naval officer who visited Northern California.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, a 18th century Spanish naval officer who visited Northern California.

Not So Positive of Encounters

Northern California is a scene of majestic redwood forests, beautiful rocky coastlines, and lush inner-landscapes that can only be imagined today. The land known to us today as Humboldt County, for example, had been home to indigenous peoples for some time prior to the arrival of Europeans.[1]In pristine Humboldt, over a dozen tribes made up the encompassed swath of land from Klamath to the Eel River on the coast, which ranged inland to include Weaverville and Shasta. All tribes of Northern California, like all civilizations, have cultural tendencies that are all based around religion, resources, customs, and family (religion and family – which surprisingly many intellectuals tend to leave out of contemporary texts in terms of historical importance to events).[2]

To understand California’s beginnings is to understand that according to Europe and the rest of the non-indigenous world, California was a Spanish territory.[3]It was in 1587 that Conquistador Pedro de Unamumo was given orders from the Spanish monarchy to explore the coasts of California. At the time, however, the Spanish crown believed that California was its own unique island.[4] Some centuries later, on June 11, 1775, two Spanish Naval conquistadors, Bruno de Heceta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, landed on Trinity Head Point where they placed the Catholic cross and immediately his landing party was rained on by native arrows.[5]

Back to Unamumo, who would end up pulling into the area of Morro Bay where he led an armed landing party of 12 men, accompanied by a priest. When attempted contact was made, the landing party was showered on with arrows and spears. Five of the men were wounded – two were killed.[6]It was at this point Spanish officials ordered explorers not to leave the safety of their ships, or cargo. Colonizing Spaniards were in California for economic as well as political and religious purposes; however, it seems that Spanish explorers at the time were there for the Spanish monarchy’s intentions.

 

Culture Shock

Leaders such as Christopher Columbus or William Bradford are a polarized example to the opposite of the Spanish conquistadors personal intentions at that time. There was a lot of complicated quasi-relationships between the Spanish and the indigenous natives of California. Due to policies implemented by Spanish authorities, the ultimate result of the Spanish Empire would be a general cultural oppressionto the indigenous tribes of California. This oppressionwas the result of the Jesuit Catholic missions, including political officers appointed by Spain and their policies towards the indigenous natives of California.[7]These natives were not asked to convert; they were forced into the Catholic mission system. 

Once on mission grounds, it became a cultural shock to the indigenous people who had the unfortunate chance of being pushed into this system. To get a better inside look at the reality of Spanish California missions is to understand their goals. It was to create temporary institutes to ‘civilize’ the natives by giving them a proper education, as well as providing experience in European skillsets of labor, and knowledge of their political and social customs. The next phase of the process was ‘gente du razon’or – a civilized people of mixed native and Spanish ethnicity. In the end, the Spanish would dissolve the missions after the natives were civilized, allowing the native converts to manage the mission lands. Further, the natives would become tax-paying Spanish citizens.[8]

The Spanish authorities would then secularize (remove the religious purposes of the institute) the lands the mission was on – ultimately forming a “vassaled-in,” but unincorporated part of Spanish-colonial society. The intended Spanish plan for the mission systemwould end up collapsing on itself. When the natives of the missions did not renounce their customs and traditions for strict Catholicism, they were punished with intensity. Anytime a native broke any religious, work, or fleshly rules laid out by the mission, Catholic authorities would administer punishment for even a minor incident. [9]

 

Just Before The Rush For Gold

Extra manual-labor, less food provisions… or worse: shackled in chains, whipped, and held in prison-like confinement. As time moved forward, the economic policies of the mission would etch out a permanent mark on the landscape of Northern California. This showed the threat of native defiance that would put a “brake” on further Spanish exploration… a certain evidence of substantial native hostility;both during Europeans’ first contact and during the American pioneer-renowned westward expansion. Indeed, the Catholic missions’ economic and religious purposes would serve to negatively affectthe early-settlers of Northern California from the mid-nineteenth century.[10]

Now, some historians would argue that because there was no “official” established Catholic mission in Northern California, that it did not affect the regional native populations. I claim to rebuke that theory with this theory: Native American tribes were notoriously quick to relay important societal events via intertribal communication; such as word of mouth and messages.Indigenous tribes had knowledge of Europeans and knew tribal events east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as in Southern California. 

Prior to the discovery of gold dust by James W. Marshall on January 24, 1848, there was minimum contact between indigenous Northern Californians and peoples of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, or Caucasian ethnicities.[11]They say first impressions are important; it seems the Spanish Monarchy laid out a poor impression and welcoming mat for the incoming settlers of the mid-1800s of European descent. American settlers pioneering to the West had information on what to prepare for and how to do it – and a lot of them barely had enough money to afford the wagon by itself. Being knowledgeable to surviving what was to inevitably come in their travels was the key to a successful arrival.

 

What do you think of the author’s arguments? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.org.


[1]Ziegler, Herbert, and Jerry Bentley. Bentley, Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2014. p. 34.

[2]Smith, Daniel L. Our America: Our Life & Our Culture. Eureka, CA.: Independent, 2018. p. 48.

[3]Ellison, William H. "Indian Policy in California." 21, no. 1 (Fall ), 2-3.

[4]Sedler, Kathy. "History of Humboldt County, California." Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, 1915. Ch. 5, Para. 1.

[5]Tovell, Freeman M. (2008). At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco De La Bodega Y Quadra. University of British Columbia Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-7748-1367-9.

[6]Sedler, K. "History of Humboldt County, California”  Ch. 5, Para. 6.

[7]Ellison, William H. "The Federal Indian Policy in California, 1846-1860." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 9, no. 1 (1922): p. 33.

[8]Olson-Raymer, Geyle. “The Discovery, Exploration, and Founding of Spanish California.” HSU – Dept. of History. Last modified Dec. 31, 2014. http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist383/Discovery.html. Print – p. 1-2.

[9]Ibid. p. 3.

[10]Hittell, Theodore Henry (1898). History of California; Vol. 3, Book X, Chap XII – Treatment of Indians (cont.)San Francisco, CA: J.N. Stone. Pp. 912-17.

[11]Sedler, K. "History of Humboldt County, California” Ch. 5, Para. 9

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

The Nazi Holocaust is one of the most dreadful and infamous events in history – and of the most important ways to remember it is through survivor testimonies. Here, Amy Kim discusses the importance of survivor testimony of genocide in the context of the Holocaust and her own experience of meeting a former Korean comfort woman from the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea.

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available  here .

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available here.

The dread in my heart when I listened to Holocaust survivor HannsLoewenbach recountbeing identified on the streets of Berlin byan SS officer (and formerclassmate) is a feeling no history textbook can induce. The uniqueness of each survivor’s testimony allows us to present the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust in the most compelling and lasting way, allowing readers to attempt to conceptualize its historical singularity and unthinkable horrors.Survivor testimonies provide painful but historically essential information no other sources could ever reveal. Though rightly considered “singular,” there is nevertheless an increasingly terrifying danger of a recurrence of genocidal ethnic violence, making it crucial to teach and learn the Holocaust through survivors’ accounts.

 

Loewenbach’s testimony

In his testimony, Loewenbachdescribes the discriminationthat began long before Hitler’s rule:he remembers being beaten upin publicby 10 classmates just for being Jewishwhilethe rest of the student body looked on passively. After Hitler took power and began stripping Jews of rights and then deporting them to concentration camps, Loewenbach made the desperate decision to swim across the icy Baltic waters to Denmark to plead for protection. As soon as he reached these shores, however, a Danish officer confronted him and told him to swim back to Berlin, threatening that he would otherwise be turned over to German officers - a fate that meant certain death. 

Though pedagogically, and therefore politically, indispensable, the powerful effects of survivor testimony by no means exclusively serve students. If Loewenbach had not decided to speak up, historians themselves might never have known this specific detail about life in Nazi Germany and its surrounding polities. Neither could historians have otherwise divined Loewenbach’s incredulity when a German officer asked him, “Aren’t you happy?” when offered a spot in the German Army, or similar surprise when his former classmate-turned SS officer offered to forge a passport for him instead of turning him in.

 

Survivor Testimonies

The accumulation of Holocaust survivor testimony not only fills an objective lacunae in the historical record, but also helps preserve politically necessary examples of this atrocity in order to prevent its recurrence. If revisionist historians value “official” records and secondary sources shorn of emotion over primary sources because they presume that survivor testimonies are “unreliable” and “trauma-based,” they are failing to employ the most vivid and effective method to record the Holocaust, a catastrophe whose memory must be preserved to ensure a brighter future. In addition, especially because survivors often recount feeling fearful of revealing their histories, we must be especially proactive in seeking out and preserving their testimonies. Loewenbach famously said “Evil does not need your hate, just your indifference” after first encountering Elie Wiesel, a fellow Holocaust survivor and acclaimed author of Night. In turn, Wiesel told Loewenbach that they must speak out about the Holocaust for those whose lives were taken and could not speak for themselves. 

I vividly remember therainy day in May of 2017 when I had the privilege of interviewing a former Korean comfort woman, who had beenforced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of Koreaduring the Second World War. Her name was Yi Ok-Seon. Yi had also initially hidden her past, avoidingpersonal shame (and blame)by concealingher victimizationby Japanese military officers. Like Loewenbach, however, she could not endure the possibility that victimslike her might be erased fromhistory, ultimately inspiringher to speak out at countless conferences and commemorations, in addition to me, a high schoolerworking on a humbledocumentary. I still remember the atmosphere in the room weighingdown on me and the angst in her voice as she said, “We are all over the age of 90, and all we want is for the Japanese to listen and apologize.”

In studying historical events, students often empathize with past plights using relatable personal experience, but this is rarely the case for genocide or the Holocaust. For the average student, it is difficult to understand the unique horrors of the Holocaust when our access is primarily through secondary sources - including competing popular media narratives. Only survivor testimonies capture emotions and humanity of the very people who endured those horrors and thereby facilitate an unmediated, empathetic response from students. It is time for us to realize that in considering the pedagogical and political reasons for preserving primary source testimony, we must not overlook the psychological imperativeto hear the voices of the tortured and the dead. The preservation ofsurvivor testimonynot only enriches the learningof history throughoriginal accounts that offer a genuine connection across generations, but also preserve the voices of past martyrs providing, a priceless tool for building a better future.

 

What do you think of the importance of survivor testimonies of genocides? Let us know below.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Vietnam War remains probably the most important war for America since World War Two. In the battle to contain communism, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers went to Vietnam – and many nurses were closely involved with them. In the concluding article of the ‘Nurses in War’ series, Matt Goolsby tells us about trauma nurse Deanna McGookin.

The previous articles in the series are on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), World War One nurse Julia Catherine Stimson (here), World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle (here), and the Chief Nurse for the US in the Korean War, Eunice Coleman (here).

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

The Years before a ‘Police Action’

After the Korean War had ended, an unstable peace existed in Asia. America was reeling from the McCarthy probes that seemed to take place under every nook and cranny, the purpose of which was to expose potential communists.

The United States had helped stop the communist aggression in South Korea. Now there were two independent countries on the Korean Peninsula, and an uneasy truce.

The threat of nuclear war was also very real as the Soviet Union possessed radioactive material and had built, as well as detonated, multi-kiloton platform devices. 

As China and the Soviet Union were expanding their territories, the United States was highly concerned about the potential fall of nations to Marxist doctrines. 

The heightening tensions of a further ‘Red Scare’ increased both locally and globally.

Americans were not ready for another declaration of war, so a looming ‘Police Action’ was on the horizon.

 

French Occupation in Southeast Asia

During World War II the Japanese had met with strong resistance from the Viet Minh when they invaded Southeast Asia. The Viet Minh had been assisted by China, the Soviet Union, and the United States with arms and military training since they had a shared purpose.

Once the war had ended, the Viet Minh set their sights against the French occupying forces. Ho Chi Minh, himself a communist, was the leader of these guerilla armies.

French Indochina, which was largely comprised of modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, had been a French colony since the late 19thcentury. As many countries learn the hard way, nations often don’t want to be under the rule of a foreign occupier.

From 1946 until 1954, the French battled the ever-strengthening forces of the Viet Minh, who had been trained by the People’s Republic of China from 1950. This was called the First Indochina War.

American involvement with Vietnam had started back in 1946 to thwart the ever-expanding communist influence.

The French forces had been bruised and battered by the Viet Minh for almost a decade and finally surrendered at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7th, 1954, negotiating peace as well as granting sovereignty to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Vietnam was still considered two independent nations by this time as the Geneva Accord signed by the belligerents split the country at the 17thparallel for 300 days with the guarantee of a ‘free’ election being held.

This sounds eerily reminiscent of the Korean peninsula. The oft-quoted words that Winston Churchill said in a 1948 speech to the House of Commons: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”, has been demonstrated repeatedly in East and Southeast Asia. 

 

America’s ‘Police Action’ Begins

On November 5th, 1955, the United States’ conflict, or what is known as the Second Indochina War, began. 

Just two years after the Korean War ended, America was again involved in an armed ideological conflict with communism. Many Americans were highly concerned and tense because of nuclear proliferation and the growing ‘commie’ scare.

The belligerents on the communist side were: North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union along with their allies. The allies involved on the anti-communist side were: South Vietnam, South Korea, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and several others.

Since this war was never officially declared by the United States Congress, it remains a military ‘police’ action that has caused much angst and a continued rift to this day.

History will eventually render a judgment as to whether or not this conflict was necessary, but in my opinion, as somebody who has met many people who participated in the war, it has left an indelible scar permanently on America’s national psyche.

As an example of the wounding it caused, many veterans either became mired in drug abuse to escape the pain or took their lives because of the moral conflict it caused.

America as a nation must continue to help and wisely counsel those who fought in this war so that they can experience some level of healing.

 

United States’ involvement escalates

In December of 1960, the Viet Cong or what was officially called the National Liberation Front, was created to be the anti-government disrupter of South Vietnam and to disrupt and render ineffectual American military advisors. Their aim was also to drive out foreign influence with the eventual goal of uniting the North and South under communist rule.

The Republic of South Vietnam at this time was being governed by Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been appointed Prime Minister during the 1954 Geneva treaty. Mr. Diem was a Roman Catholic, anti-communist, nationalist, and social conservative.

The Vietnamese people were mostly followers of Buddha and had a deep suspicion of Diem’s government. Unfortunately, many of their suspicions were proved correct as Diem governed with more of an autocratic bent and whose administration was rife with corruption.

In 1961, after the election of John F. Kennedy, who decided to draw a ‘line in the sand’ against communism, troops began to be authorized for the increasing conflict between the North and the South. 

By 1963, there were 16,000 U.S. troops in Southeast Asia. This was in contrast to the 900 ‘advisers’ that President Eisenhower had sent starting in 1955.

Also in 1963, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) established Operation Nightingale to recruit nurses for the ever-increasing conflict.

 

The Nursing Field expands

Deanna McGookin was born on February 1st, 1941 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Samuel and Violet McGookin. She was the oldest of three girls, which included Violet and Judith.

The family immigrated to the United States through Detroit, Michigan in June 1950

They settled in Phoenix, Arizona where she went to West Phoenix High School, graduating in 1958.

By 1965, Deanna had become an Assistant Head Nurse in the local Phoenix hospital emergency room. This experience helped her learn how to take care of traumatic injuries and assist with the associated shock.

She joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in 1968 and was given an assignment to Vietnam because of her Emergency Room experience. 

Deanna, like many women during the Vietnam War era, felt an obligation to serve others who may not have had a choice as to whether to go to war or not.

The Vietnam War had more than 5,000 American nurses who served during its entirety. For the first time, 21% of them were men serving as officers in the ANC.

Of these more than 5,000, most had less than 2 years of practice in their profession. The average age of a nurse during the war was 23.6 years. 

The horrors of war must have compounded the already difficult task at hand, especially for those who hadn’t experienced traumatic injuries.

Deanna’s experience was the exception: “. . . I spent my year in Vietnam at the 67th evac in Qui Nhon, which was the headquarters of II Corps. The conditions were pretty much what I expected - but not the bulk, the quantity of the wounded. In Phoenix [Arizona, hospital emergency room], we were used to seeing one or two come in at a time. Now you were talking 50 or 60 at a time, with a wide variety of traumatic wounds. I had seen traumatic amputations of extremities from cotton-picking combines in Arizona. So that was not a horrendous sight for me, as it was for some others. The bulk . . . that there were just so many of them coming in at once . . . that was the issue for me. You had these helicopters land and there could be 60-70 casualties with various stages of injuries. Some of them might not have been as serious as others. It depended on the season. In Tet of '69 we were getting 200-300 patients coming in a day.”

As her tour progressed, Deanna, like so many others had before, began to question the sanity and morality of the Vietnam War: “We all had questions as to what we were doing in Vietnam, why we were there. We didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Day after day, things seemed to be pretty much the same . . . they'd take a hill, lose a hill, take a hill, lose a hill. Being in the age group where motherhood and children were a big factor, I think you do think: "What are we doing to the future generations of this country? What sort of genius would this blond young man have been had he been allowed to go about his life and do his own thing?" Most of the time you were so busy, just literally, physically busy that--although these thoughts stayed with you for awhile--you soon forgot about them, because it always seemed like there was someone else coming in to take the previous patient's place.”

 

In salute to the ‘Nightingales’

American nurses found different ways to deal with their pain and the emotional wear and tear they experienced. Some found solace in sex, drugs, or alcohol. Most of them just suppressed the pain until they could deal with it later. 

One of the more positive ways of dealing with pain was the way Deanna handled it: “It wasn't so depressing all the time, I must admit. We went on medcaps, medical missions to remote villages, places where there was no regular medical care. We did reconstructive surgery on children, gave them false limbs, and taught them how to get around. These kinds of things helped relieve some of the frustrations I was feeling.”

After her tour had ended, Deanna came back to the states and settled back in Phoenix, Arizona. As with all veterans of war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) haunted her. 

She describes the affects PTSD had on her: “the young boy down the block had a car that backfired all the time. Every time it backfired, I was on the floor and under the bed."

Deanna would go on to serve in Afghanistan and attain the rank of Colonel in the Army Nurse Corps. There’s no evidence that she ever married, a common thread with the other nurses researched for these articles. 

Colonel Deanna McGookin passed away on September 14th, 2013 at the age of 72, having served her country for many years. 

She represents the best of what America has to offer and her life is a tribute to the sacrifices that so many made to help the men and women who’ve faithfully served our country.

May they never be forgotten.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

References

Dan Freedman and Jacqueline Rhoads, editors, “Nurses in Vietnam: The Forgotten Veterans.”, Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, Inc., 1987.

“The Vietnam War and its timeline”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

“Nursing and Medicine in the Vietnam War”, https://ceufast.com/blog/nursing-and-medicine-in-the-vietnam-war

“Find a Grave: Deanna McGookin”, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119126532/deanna-mcgookin#source

“Deanna McGookin on Family Search”, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5MV-9S4Y?i=5451&cc=1916040

“Women and War”, http://issues.texasobserver.org/pdf/ustxtxb_obs_1987_07_17_issue.pdf

“Winston Churchill 1948 House of Commons speech”, http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/those-who-fail-to-learn-from-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-it-sir-winston-churchill/

James Buchanan was US President from 1857-1861. He is often considered one of the worst presidents of the US, with his presidency leading up to the US Civil War. Here, Ian Craig takes a look at Buchanan’s presidency. He starts by arguing that, in spite of his Democratic Party generally favoring slavery, what are often seen as pro-slavery actions during the Bleeding Kansas crisis (1854-1861), actually led to Kansas becoming an anti-slavery state.

1859 portrait of President James Buchanan. Painting by George Peter Alexander Healy.

1859 portrait of President James Buchanan. Painting by George Peter Alexander Healy.

Of all the presidents in the history of the United States, none have been as ridiculed as the man who became the fifteenth president on March 4, 1857. Having secured the Democratic nomination in 1856, James Buchanan had little trouble defeating the Republican Party’s first candidate John C. Frémont and former president Millard Fillmore. At the time of his election, Buchanan was the nation’s most qualified person to hold the office of chief executive. Having been a lawyer, state legislature, U.S. representative, U.S. Senator, minister to both Russia and Great Britain, and Secretary of State, Buchanan remains one of the only presidents in U.S. history to have an extensive public service background.  The question then remains is, why he is considered the worst president in history and why is he blamed for the Civil War? These questions will be answered over a series of articles sequencing key events in Buchanan’s presidency.

 

Kansas-Nebraska Act

In his last message to Congress on January 8, 1861, Buchanan stated that, “I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country.”[1]Since that time, over one hundred and fifty years have past since he left office and the Civil War concluded. However, his legacy remains plagued by the questions posed above.  To really understand the actions taken by Buchanan leading up to the outbreak of Civil War, one must look into the political climate of the time as well as the personal beliefs that shaped Buchanan’s governing style.

One particular event that would have a direct impact of Buchanan once he became president was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  This allowed for Kansas and Nebraska to create governments and decide for themselves the slavery question while also repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820.  Pro-slavery settlers from neighboring Missouri crossed the border illegally into Kansas, heavily influencing the election of a pro-slavery government in Kansas. This led to violence in the territory as both pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups fought for control.  It also led to the creation of two governments, one at Lecompton (pro-slavery) and one at Topeka (anti-slavery).  This series of events later became known as “Bleeding Kansas” for the violence and death that occurred.  Even the United States Senate was not spared from the violence. In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner was beaten over the head with a cane by Congressman Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate.  Sumner had called out a relative of Brooks regarding the slavery issue offending his honor. Lecompton was also recognized as the legitimate government despite hostilities.

 

Dealing with Bleeding Kansas

Upon assuming office, Buchanan had to deal with the crisis in Kansas left to him by his predecessor Franklin Pierce.  Pierce had signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act believing that territories were “perfectly free to form and regulate their institutions in their own way.”[2]However, Pierce would come to favor the pro-slavery legislation over that of the anti-slavery actions.  James Buchanan’s views of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were not favorable. He wrote that “Congress which had commenced so auspiciously, by repealing the Missouri Compromise…reopened the floodgates of sectional strife.”[3]The governing style of James Buchanan was one based on that of a diplomat.  Having an extensive background as a negotiator, he used his prior experience in his many diplomatic and legislative roles as chief executive.  He also heavily relied on his days as a lawyer and his knowledge of constitutional law to formulate his opinions.  This is how he dealt with the crisis in Kansas.

As president, Buchanan believed that he did not have the authority to interfere in the elections which took place in Kansas despite the fraud that had occurred there.  He wrote that “it was far from my intention to interfere with the decision of the people of Kansas wither for or against slavery.”[4]Essentially, Buchanan felt that the people of Kansas could settle the matter themselves without government intervention. Despite his intentions, Buchanan took military action in sending federal troops to Kansas in 1857 to secure the legitimacy of a state constitution without fraud or violence.  His justification for this was that it was his duty to protect the recognized government and the people’s wishes as President of the United States.  Buchanan recalls, “under these circumstances, what was my duty? Was it not to sustain this government (in Lecompton)? To protect us from the violence of lawless men, who were determined to ruin or rule? It was for this purpose, and this alone, that I ordered a military force to Kansas.”[5]

In doing this, Buchanan was criticized for appearing to support the pro-slavery party in creating a slave state.  This, however, was not the case as he attempted to perform his duties in executing the laws and by preserving and protecting the Constitution.  He states in a broad question to such people, “would you have desired that I abandoned the Territorial Government, sanctioned as it had been by Congress, to illegal violence…this would, indeed have been to violate my oath of office.”[6]Standing firm on his beliefs, Buchanan was convinced that his action would help to support a positive and legal result at the next election.  To him, it was still up to the people to decide on the manner.

 

1858 Kansas Election

In early 1858, a new election was held to elect state officials based on the passage of the constitution in November.  This election for governor, lieutenant governor, and other officials, resulted in the election of several members of the anti-slavery Topeka Convention.  The balance of power shifted towards them and they were more determined to vote in the creation of a constitution with some aspects of the Lecompton Constitution.  James Buchanan took this as a victory because he had wished that the anti-slavery party would take part in the elections.  Buchanan, writing in the third person, states that “it had been his constant effort from the beginning to induce the Anti-Slavery party to vote.  Now that this had been accomplished, he knew that all revolutionary troubles in Kansas would speedily terminate.  A resort of the ballot box, instead of force, was the most effectual means of restoring peace and tranquility.”[7]Buchanan, keeping to his constitutional beliefs, used force only to enforce the rights of the people to vote under the Constitution. Essentially, Buchanan gave the anti-slavery party the tools to vote in a free and fair election without fear of violence.  It only took them a while to take him up on his efforts before they would vote in the government.  James Buchanan recognized that they were in effect the majority of the population and in accordance with the law, it was up to them to decide the slavery question.  

On February 2, 1858, James Buchanan gave a message to Congress regarding the constitution of Kansas.  The newly elected government (with a large majority of anti-slavery supporters) had sent the Lecompton Constitution (with slavery elements) to the president for Congressional approval.  In Buchanan’s message he stated that “slavery can therefore never be prohibited in Kansas except by means of a constitutional provision, and in no manner can this be obtained so promptly.”[8]Although this may be interpreted as pro-slavery, to Buchanan it was not, because the people of Kansas had elected their leaders and had submitted a constitution in forming a state legally.  It was his duty to ensure that their wishes were carried out. He warns that, “should Congress reject the constitution…no man can foretell the consequences.”[9]In Buchanan’s eyes, the admittance of Kansas into the Union in a timely manner would “restore peace and quiet to the whole country.”[10]  In closing his message to Congress, he admits that he had been forced to act in Kansas on behalf of the people to ensure fair elections and opportunities for both sides. He states of the matter, “I have been obliged in some degree to interfere with the expedition in order to keep down rebellion in Kansas.”[11]

 

Buchanan and the Constitution

Although Congress would reject the Lecompton Constitution due to the slavery elements, James Buchanan could not interfere as it was not in the powers of the executive granted in the Constitution.  In 1861, Kansas became a free state. In looking at the situation in Kansas, James Buchanan’s actions were in accordance with the Constitution and his role as chief executive.  Since the Lecompton government was established by Congress it was the legal government in Buchanan’s eyes.  He recognized that voter fraud and violent intimidation had elected pro-slavery delegates that did not speak for the majority of Kansas.  It was for this reason that he urged them to have new elections which were fair.  When that advice fell on deaf ears, he sent federal troops to defend the rights of the people at the ballot box.  This action was taken as his support of the pro-slavery election results.  However, it gave the anti-slavery party the ability to vote in unbiased elections which would lead to their control of the government.  In the words of James Buchanan, “I have thus performed my duty on this important question, under a deep sense of responsibility to God and my country.”[12]

 

What do you think of James Buchanan’s actions during Bleeding Kansas?


[1]Irving Sloan, James Buchanan: 1791-1868, (New York: Oceana Publishers, 1968): 84.

[2]Michael F. Holt, Franklin Pierce, (New York: Times Books, 2010): 77. 

[3]James Buchanan, Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, (Scituate: Digital Scanning Inc, 1866/2009): 13. 

[4]Sloan, 35. 

[5]Buchanan, 18. 

[6]Buchanan, 18. 

[7]Buchanan, 24. 

[8]Sloan, 47. 

[9]Sloan, 47. 

[10]Sloan, 48. 

[11]Sloan, 49. 

[12]Buchanan, 26.

Queen Elizabeth I of England is often seen as one of England’s greatest monarchs. The last of the Tudor monarchs, she strengthened England and her reign became known as a Golden Age. But, despite being the last in the Tudor line, Elizabeth never married. In an extended article, Casey Titus focuses on the life of Elizabeth before she became Queen, including her relationship with her father Henry VIII’s wives, and how this influenced her decision to never marry.

See past Tudor history writing from Casey on King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI (here), the person who could have been king instead of Henry VIII (here), and on whether the reign of Mary I was a failure (here).

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

“Good Queen Bess,” “Gloriana,” or most controversial of all, “The Virgin Queen,” was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor but also one of the most famous and influential. Her 44-year reign oversaw a glorious transformation of a politically and religiously unstable nation into one of the Great Powers in Europe and was subsequently referred to as England’s Golden Age. 

Yet, behind her achievements and beneath her façade, Elizabeth Tudor is a woman we still know little of in personal regards. One of the greatest questions pertaining to her personal life is why this great queen never married. Historians have debated and speculated the reasons why this is with conflicting answers. 

The closest reasons lay most clearly in her early life from her ill-fated mother, her quick-tempered father, and a predatory stepfather. Reasons both personal and political may have disenchanted Elizabeth from a tender age to defy centuries of English history’s expectation of a married monarch, even more so of a female monarch.

 

The unwelcome birth

The birth of a girl, Elizabeth, in September 1533 was a disappointment to her father, King Henry VIII of England, possibly the “worst” disappointment of his life according to Tudor historian Heather Sharnette of Elizbabethi.org. Henry had done the unthinkable in contemporary times by breaking from the Church of Rome and defying the Pope that had refused to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry his mistress, the dazzling Anne Boleyn. In his defiance, he had destroyed monasteries and abbeys and put to death loyal friends for defending their faith, only to be given what he already had, a daughter. There was little celebration for her birth and the magnificent Christening that had been planned for the longed for baby prince went ahead anyway.

As long as Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was Queen of England, Elizabeth was treated as the most important person in England, only second to her father and was even proclaimed “princess,” the title to the heiress to the throne. However, this was only short-lived as Queen Anne could not produce any more surviving children. Henry’s passionate love for her had died down. Her sharp tongue, fiery intelligence, and stubbornness that had initially appealed to him began to irritate him. After Catherine of Aragon’s death in January 1536 and the subsequent miscarriage of a boy, Henry was free to dispose of Anne without facing petitions to return to Catherine. Only four months later, Anne was arrested and faced trumped up charges of witchcraft, adultery, and incest. Not surprisingly, she was found guilty and sent to the Tower of London where she was to await her penalty: death. 

The decision to die via burning or decapitation was up to Henry who chose the latter and showed a single streak of mercy towards the woman he once loved by granting her request to be executed by sword instead of the customary axe. Anne was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on Tower Green. Elizabeth was only two and a half years old.

 

After her mother’s death

The death and disgrace of her mother left little Elizabeth’s lifestyle greatly changed. She was probably far too young to be emotionally affected by her mother’s execution. The marriage between her father and mother was annulled and Elizabeth was declared a bastard with her title of Princess stripped from her. From a young age, Elizabeth took after her mother’s shrewd intelligence and remarked on the change upon her: “How haps it governor, yesterday my Lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?” 

Just eleven days after her mother’s execution, Henry married her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. With Elizabeth’s new status, her governess found that the little girl’s needs were being ignored even writing to the king to ask him to send for more clothes as Elizabeth had grown out of everything. 

In October of 1537, after twenty-eight years and two wives, Henry finally sired the longed for son, Prince Edward VI. Only a few days later, Jane Seymour died and the king was crushed at her loss. Now Edward, like Elizabeth, would grow up motherless and the two would share a close bond grounded on age proximity, religion, and their mutual passion for learning. Though Elizabeth was on friendly terms with her half-sister, Mary, the sisters were never close. This relationship would dangerously sour for Elizabeth in later years. 

Following the death of Jane Seymour and Henry’s emergence from seclusion, marriage negotiations began once again on behalf of the king’s fiercely Protestant advisors, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, who maneuvered Henry to marry the mildly Protestant Duke of Cleves’ sister, Anne. They were married in January 1540 after an awkward, disastrous first meeting. Elizabeth now had a second stepmother and according to Italian historian, Gregorio Leti, who wrote the following account two centuries after the event occurred of Elizabeth writing to her father for permission to meet her new stepmother, Anne of Cleves. Anne, upon giving the letter to her husband, Henry “took the letter and gave it to Cromwell” ordering him to write a reply: “Tell her,” he remarked. “that she had a mother so different from this woman that she ought not to wish to see her.” There is controversy as to whether this is true but Elizabeth was eventually brought to Court from Herford Castle to meet Anne. 

Anne, in turn, was reportedly “charmed by her beauty, wit and… that she conceived the most tender affection for her,” and to have Elizabeth “for her daughter would have been greater happiness to her than being queen.” Henry, on the other hand, was not sharing the sentimental atmosphere; as soon as he endured a wedding he could not evade, he become resolute on obtaining a divorce. Six months later, he finally achieved this upon the discovery of a previous marriage contract (but no marriage) to the Duke of Lorraine and on the grounds of non-consummation (the reason being her cruelly remarked appearance). 

King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was his shortest and least influential marriage but no doubt it may have had the most profound impact on young Elizabeth by this time. She was probably too young to be deeply affected by the deaths of her mother and first stepmother, but by the time Anne of Cleves appeared into her life, she was almost seven years old and better able to comprehend the functions of Court life and her father’s effect on them. Anne was the first stepmother Elizabeth had formed a notable bond with and upon the king’s second divorce, Anne had requested of the king permission to still see Elizabeth which the king agreed to. This bond would remain strong between the two ladies until Anne’s death in 1557. Anne of Cleves was considered the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives.  Anne’s influence of her stepdaughter’s unmarried state was once supposedly referenced by Queen Elizabeth herself to Count Feria, the Spanish Ambassador, who said that she had “taken a vow to marry no man whom she has not seen, and will not trust portrait painters.”

 

Catherine Howard becomes Queen

Almost immediately upon her father’s second divorce, he wed the dazzling and witty Catherine Howard. Historians debate on how old she was when she wed the 49-year old Henry. Most calculate that she was about 15 years old and according to Charles de Marillac was “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature, etc.” Personality-wise, Catherine was described as charming, sensual, and obedient which proved a welcoming contrast to her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. Many observers noted that he showed the most generosity and affection to her than his other wives. De Marillac noted, the “King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough and caresses her more than he did the others.” 

Once Henry acknowledged her as queen, “she directed that the princess Elizabeth should be placed opposite to her at table, because she was of her own blood and lineage.” At marriage festivities, Catherine “gave the lady Elizabeth the place of honour nearest to her own person.” Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Boleyn was a sister to Edmund Howard, Catherine’s father. The young new queen reached out to Elizabeth to formulate a bond with her kinswoman by arranging for her to be taken from Suffolk Place to Chelsea where Catherine joined her. As of November 1541, Catherine presented the eight-year old Elizabeth with a jewel as a kind gesture. 

The fall of Henry VIII’s fifth wife came after John Lascelles revealed to Archbishop Cranmer the Queen’s promiscuity during her years at the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s estate, her step-grandmother. Many young women residing there “entertained” men after hours and Catherine was among them. When she was 13, Catherine engaged in physical relations with Francis Dereham after being earlier involved with her music teacher, Henry Manox.

Cranmer and Lascelles were both ardent Protestants while Catherine came from a conservative Catholic and undoubtedly powerful and influential English noble family. Cranmer launched a full-scale investigation that resulted in allegations of Catherine’s intimacy with Thomas Culpeper, a member of the king’s privy chamber, after her marriage to Henry.

Under interrogation (possibly torture), Culpeper admitted being in love with Catherine and “persisted in denying his guilt and said it was the Queen who, through Lady Rocheford, solicited him to meet her in private in Lincolnshire, when she herself told him that she was dying for his love.” Culpeper rebuffed claims that they had committed adultery despite their secluded time together. 

Regardless, the Council felt there was enough evidence because Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, confessed to helping them arrange their meetings and implied there was a physical relationship between them. The most damning evidence against the queen was a letter from Catherine found in Culpeper’s belongings.

When the King was informed of the accusations by a document left for him in his church pew, his quick temper exploded.  Supposedly, he demanded a sword to slay her himself as she would never have “such delight in her inconstancy as she would have torture in her death.” Catherine was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. On the night before her execution, Catherine asked for a block to be brought to her so that she could practice placing her head on it. 

On February 13, 1542, the fifth teenage Queen of Henry VIII was executed, “in the same spot where Anne Boleyn had been executed. Her body was then covered [with a black cloak] and her ladies took it away,” recounted Ambassador Chapuys to Charles V. No records survive of Elizabeth’s reactions to the execution of her stepmother and cousin or the loss of any of her stepmothers for that matter. We can, though, infer her reaction through the text of Larissa J. Taylor-Smither’s article, “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile” that states that the “shock of Catherine Howard’s execution (at the impressionable age of eight) would have been more immediate, for even if Elizabeth had not been especially close to her young stepmother, Catherine’s sudden extinction must at the very least have had a powerful effect on her subconscious.”

 

Henry VIII’s sixth wife

Following the execution, Henry VIII passed a law requiring all future queens of England to disclose any ‘indiscretions’ and possess chaste pasts. That certainly narrowed the list for Henry’s next selected wife. A notable candidate by the name of Katherine Parr seemed ideal; she was charming and cordial, pleasant to both nobles and servants and possessed sensibility and was a skilled conversationalist. She was also experienced with stepchildren through her two previous husbands. 

It is certainly remarkable that she was the only one of Henry’s brides that did not want to marry him. Historians surmise that reasons range from her competence to see the pattern of dangers in marrying him to falling in love with Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral. Despite her reluctance to enter a marriage she couldn’t back out of, this was her chance, she believed, to promote the Protestant Reformation in England and the promotion of her family. As Queen, Katherine used her influence with the King to bring his children to Court to see their father more. Katherine was already well acquainted with Henry’s eldest child, Mary, as Katherine’s mother was a lady-in-waiting to Mary’s mother. Katherine “greatly admired her [Elizabeth’s] wit and manners.” A letter survives of the 10-year old Elizabeth writing with gratitude and praise at Katherine’s gesture to bring them to court. An excerpt from the letter reveals Elizabeth’s warmness towards her new and fourth stepmother: “…So great a mark of your tenderness for me obliges me to examine myself a little, to see if I can find anything in me that can merit it, but I can find nothing but a great zeal and devotion to the service of your Majesty.”

Between the summers of 1543 and 1544, historians speculate that Elizabeth offended her father in some way that led to her banishment to Ashridge near the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. Katherine still kept in contact with her stepdaughter and Elizabeth conveyed her belief that the young girl was “not only bound to serve but also to revere you with daughterly love…” Henry was abroad fighting against France and left Katherine as Regent in his absence. This was the first time Elizabeth witnessed firsthand a woman’s ability to rule on her own and revealed Henry’s confidence in his wife. Katherine successfully convinced the King to let Elizabeth join her at Hampton Court again, signifying their mother-daughter bond.

However, Katherine’s place and life was almost stripped from her upon two men attempting to arrest the Queen on the King’s orders. They were Thomas Wriothesley, 1stEarl of Southampton, Lord Chancellor and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who convinced Henry that she concealed radical religious leanings and increased his irritation with her recently expressed views. Wriothesley arranged for forty yeomen of the guard to accompany him with the arrest warrant and crept upon the Queen while she was in Henry’s company at Whitehall gardens.

Unbeknownst to Wriothesley, Katherine had been warned and hurried to her husband to explain herself and apologize. She assured him that she had not discussed theological meanings to lecture him but to learn from him and to distract him from the pain in his leg. Henry forgave her and upon Wriothesley’s arrival to arrest her, the King severely reprimanded him and sent him off. Barely escaping Henry’s wrath that claimed his previous wife, Katherine never again spoke out against the religious establishment. Katherine’s deep love of learning was shared with Elizabeth and she took charge of her education, employing Protestant and humanist tutors.

 

After Henry VIII

Following the King’s death in 1547, Katherine married the love of her life, Thomas Seymour. Thomas Seymour was shrewdly ambitious and the new king’s uncle and set his sights on Elizabeth as a possible wife and closer step to the throne. Finally catching onto her husband’s inappropriate advances on the 14-year old Elizabeth, Katherine removed her from her household at Chelsea in 1548 to the household of Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt. Katherine was to go into confinement as the time for giving birth drew near, which would have allowed Seymour unlimited access to the vulnerable girl. It is likely Katherine removed Elizabeth for her own safety rather than to punish her. Katherine gave birth to a baby girl, Mary, in August 1548 and died eight days later of puerperal fever. 

With Katherine now dead, Thomas Seymour’s attempts at wooing Elizabeth became more aggressive. Thomas, envious of his brother’s title as Lord Protector of the 9-year old Edward VI, also grew more serious in his quest for power. In 1549, Thomas was caught attempting to break into the King’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace and was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. His associates were arrested, including Elizabeth and her governess, Kat Ashley. She was interrogated for weeks and the flirtatious incidents between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour were revealed but there was no evidence of Elizabeth conspiring with Thomas against the King. Thomas was convicted of treason and beheaded on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth narrowly escaped conviction.

From the time of her mother’s execution to the death of her most influential stepmother from childbirth, Elizabeth had witnessed the disposal and unstable position of her father’s many queens. The seventeen-year old Henry had begun his reign in 1509 as a popular, pleasant and seemingly sensible monarch. His later years however were marked by violence and tyranny with a formidable quick temper, with theories behind this sudden change in personality ranging from a jousting accident in 1536 to mental deterioration at his wives’ repeatedly failed pregnancies. Henry’s constant mood swings no doubt had an effect on the position of the young Elizabeth and like her half-sister Mary; her illegitimate status had prevented a marriage negotiation as long as her father lived.

 

From Edward to Mary

In 1553, King Edward VI was fifteen years old and, despite a relatively healthy childhood, had contracted a form of consumption, possibly tuberculosis. When it became clear that the boy would not survive, the new Lord Protector, John Dudley, schemed with the dying king to name a Protestant successor instead of his half-sister, Mary who was an ardent Catholic and would have reversed Edward’s Protestant reforms. An heir(ess) was named – his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, an equally committed Protestant. To John Dudley’s advantage, Jane was also his daughter-in-law. Edward died on July 6 1553, just six years into his reign. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen three days later. However, just nine days into Jane’s “reign,” she was deposed by Mary and her army of supporters. Mary was proclaimed Queen of England on July 19, 1553 in London. John Dudley was arrested and later executed along with Jane Grey and her husband. At first, Mary I viewed Jane as a mere pawn of her husband’s and father-in-law’s treasonous ambition, but after the Protestant Wyatt’s Rebellion, Mary was left with no choice but to put her cousin to death lest she become a figurehead of the Protestant movement that Mary had means to crush. 

Upon Mary I’s start as Queen of England, relations between the two half-sisters remained cordial despite their religious differences. It would only sour after Wyatt’s Rebellion which was in reaction to Mary’s planned marriage to Philip II, the son of her cousin Charles V, and heir to the Spanish throne. Aside from opposing the marriage, the plans were not known in great detail, but one scheme was to have Elizabeth marry Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to ensure a native born succession to the throne. Elizabeth was once again under suspicion of treason. She denied any involvement or knowledge of Wyatt’s plans though several of Mary’s Councilors were determined to be rid of her. She was taken as prisoner to the Tower of London on Mary’s orders. Many had never returned from this place, including Elizabeth’s mother, and Elizabeth desperately declared her innocence. 

Elizabeth was in a delicate and dangerous situation, where her life depended on the Queen’s orders. Her existence was a threat to her Catholic realm and Mary’s advisors urged her execution. The queen was reluctant, although this was not enough, as she had already succumbed to pressure to execute Lady Jane Grey against her will. Powerful persuasion would have led Mary to sign her sister’s death warrant, but multiple factors led to Elizabeth’s survival: lack of evidence against Elizabeth, Wyatt’s assurance that Elizabeth was innocent, and Elizabeth’s increasing popularity in the country. Instead of execution, Elizabeth was taken to the manor of Woodstock, near Oxfordshire, still as prisoner. Soon after Mary’s marriage to Philip, the queen believed she was pregnant, much to the joy of her Catholic supporters. A Catholic heir to the throne of England diminished hopes of a Protestant England and Elizabeth succeeding to the throne. A discouraged Elizabeth even reputedly considered escaping to France to avoid an imprisoned life.

 

Queen Elizabeth I

As the months passed, however, Mary’s pregnancy turned out to be nothing more than a phantom pregnancy and no baby would arrive. Philip left England for Flanders to attend to other political matters, leaving his devastated wife behind. The marriage of Philip and Mary was intended as a political match though Mary was reputed to have fallen in love with her husband. It was once again an opportunity for Elizabeth to observe a husband’s unloving treatment of his wife. Philip had departed in the summer of 1555 upon the abdication of his father’s throne and did not return until the spring of 1557, undertaking and flaunting his extramarital affairs before English diplomats in the meantime. At one point, Mary had removed one of her husband’s portraits from her sight and publicly declared “God sent oft times to good women evil husbands.” King Henry II of France even remarked from across the Channel, “I am of the opinion that ere long the king of England [as Philip was styled during their marriage] will endeavor to dissolve his marriage with the queen.”

Within months of his return, Mary believed herself to be pregnant again. However, no baby appeared a second time and this time, Mary was seriously ill. Without a natural heir, Elizabeth was still next in line for the English throne. Though she was Protestant, Philip was concerned that the next claimant after Elizabeth was the Queen of Scots, who was betrothed to the Dauphin of France, and so would fall into French hands. He even persuaded his wife that Elizabeth should marry his cousin to secure the Catholic succession, but Elizabeth refused to be a pawn for political gain.

Mary died on November 17, 1558, either of ovarian cancer or the influenza epidemic that plagued England at the time. Philip was already away when he heard of his wife’s passing and wrote, “I felt a reasonable regret for her death.”

 

No marriage

Elizabeth was now twenty-five years old and Queen of England. She was the last of the Tudor dynasty and therefore the pressure to marry and produce an heir was focused on from the moment of her succession. If Elizabeth died without a natural heir, many feared rival claims of Henry VII’s distant relatives would propel the nation into bitter civil war that had only ended upon the accession of the first Tudor monarch. The court was abuzz with suitors eager for her hand. European ambassadors busied themselves with marriage negotiations. Queen Elizabeth received offers from the King of Spain, Prince Erik of Sweden, The Archduke Charles, the son of John Frederic Duke of Saxony, The Earl of Arran, and Earl of Arundel, and Sir William Pickering. Only Elizabeth seemed uninterested in the subject of marriage. Over the years it was clear that the queen would never marry, instead “calling England her husband and her subjects her children.” 

Political reasons begin with the complicated matter of a married female ruler as opposed to a male ruler. With the risk of childbirth that had already claimed the lives of two of Elizabeth’s stepmothers, the potential danger of a husband wanting to rule the country rather than being content with consort, a bitter struggle would ensue against various claimants. If Elizabeth married the heir to Spain or France, as already offered, England could have been absorbed into the Spanish Empire for example, losing English identity in the process. Her close relationship with the only man she ever loved, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was immersed in controversy and prevented a marriage from ever taking place. Protestant nations were generally poorer than Catholic ones at the time and alliances with other Catholic nations would have been a conflict of religion and very unpopular with her subjects and Council. Under English common law, a woman who married was the property of her husband and the possibility of sacrificing power to him must have appalled her.

From an early age and into her reign as Queen of England, Elizabeth had witnessed the subservience of women expected in Tudor times and the established pattern of bad marriages that plagued her family. By the time of her death in 1603, Elizabeth had ruled for 44 years and proved that a woman could rule as well as any man. Because of her, England started to become one of the most affluent and powerful countries in the world - and would remain so for centuries. 

Sources

C. N. Trueman "Women In Tudor England"
historylearningsite.co.uk. The History Learning Site, 17 Mar 2015. 5 Mar 2019.

Ayers, Jessica. “Why Did Elizabeth I Never Marry?” The York Historian, The York Historian, 25 Feb. 2016, theyorkhistorian.com/2015/10/23/why-did-elizabeth-i-never-marry/.

Larson, Rebecca. “Why Queen Elizabeth I Never Married.” Tudors Dynasty, 20 June 2018, www.tudorsdynasty.com/why-queen-elizabeth-never-married/.

“Queen Elizabeth I.” Queen Elizabeth 1, www.elizabethi.org/contents/earlyyears/childhood.html.

“The Fourth Step-Mother of Elizabeth, Katherine Parr.” Elizregina, 4 June 2013, elizregina.com/2013/06/04/the-fourth-step-mother-of-elizabeth-katherine-parr/.

“The Second Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Anne of Cleves.” Elizregina, 23 May 2013, elizregina.com/2013/05/23/the-second-step-mother-to-elizabeth-anne-of-cleves/.

“The Third Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Catherine Howard.” Elizregina, 28 May 2013, elizregina.com/2013/05/28/the-third-step-mother-to-elizabeth-catherine-howard/.

Erwin Rommel had been a military man for decades by the time that World War II broke out. Having fought in World War I for Germany, he was a key general for Nazi Germany by the time of World War II. During the war, Rommel was to play a major role in North Africa, and even tried to remove Hitler from power. Samuel Mitcham Jr., the author of a new book on Rommel (Amazon USAmazon UK), explains.

Erwin Rommel in 1942. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-013-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Erwin Rommel in 1942. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-013-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

The Desert Fox. The words conjure up an image of a dust-covered, sunburned military genius, making quick and incredibly brilliant decisions against overwhelming forces. He is seen as a Godlike and almost infallible figure, winning victory after astonishing victory over his numerically superior but less astute opponents, yet fighting a war without hate and even with a degree of chivalry. This myth is not entirely accurate, of course, but there is a great deal of truth in it.

 

EARLY LIFE

Erwin Rommel was born in Heidenheim, Wuerttemberg, in the southwestern region of Imperial Germany known as Swabia, on November 15, 1891. His father, Erwin Rommel, Sr., was the headmaster of a secondary school, and young Rommel grew up in a stable, comfortable middle-class German environment. In many ways, he was a typical Swabian: self-reliant, pragmatic, thrifty, with a strong work ethic and a streak of stubbornness. He was a simple, practical young man and would remain so until the day he died.

Despite the lack of military background in his family, he decided to become a soldier. With his father’s help, he gained an appointment as a Fahnenjunker(officer-cadet) in an infantry regiment in the isolated garrison town of Weingarten. Here, lonely and away from home for the first time, he had an affair with a woman who was a fruit seller. He was shocked when she turned up pregnant. In the class-conscious world of the Second Reich, however, she was not considered officer wife material. He decided to marry her anyway; then his father pointed out that he would have to resign his commission if he did so. It was 1913, and many could see what was to become World War I on the horizon. If he left the army now, Professor Rommel pointed out, everyone would think he was a coward. That settled the issue for Lieutenant Rommel. He broke up with his girlfriend, although he provided financial support for his daughter for the rest of his life.

Erwin Rommel learned his lesson. He married Lucie Mollin, the daughter of a West Prussian landowner, and they remained happily married the rest of his life. He apparently didn’t even think about being unfaithful.

 

1STLEUTENANT ROMMEL TO CAPTAIN ROMMEL

Rommel joined the army in 1910 and was commissioned in January 1912. His career was not out of the ordinary until World War I broke out. The battlefield changed him from an ordinary, if overly serious second lieutenant into a first-class warrior. As Desmond Young, who fought in the Indian Army against Rommel in Africa and went on to write the bestselling Rommel: The Desert Fox (Amazon USAmazon UK), would explain, “From the moment that he first came under fire he stood out as the perfect fighting animal: cold, cunning, ruthless, untiring, quick of decision, incredibly brave.” He fought on the Western Front until the fall of 1915, when he was transferred to an elite battalion of mountain shock troops. He served with them in France, Romania, and Italy. In October 1917, during the Battle of Mount Matajur, Rommel (now a 1stlieutenant) took charge of four companies in addition to his own and captured two Italian brigades and several smaller units, totaling 9,000 men and 81 guns. His total strength never exceeded 800 men. A couple of days later, he captured the entire Italian 1stInfantry Division at Longarone: 10,000 men, 18 guns and 200 machine guns. For this feat, he was awarded the Pour le Merite, which was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor when granted to someone so young. He was promoted to captain shortly after that.

After the Armistice ended World War I in late 1918, Rommel was selected for the Reichsheer, as the peacetime army was called. Here, he was a content family man. He took to marriage enthusiastically. At home, he was good-tempered and an excellent fix-it man. His only flaw was attempting to play the violin—apparently without a great deal of success.

Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Rommel’s political convictions and his ambivalent relationship with the Nazis have been the subject of controversy in recent years. Like many Germans, he supported Hitler at first—at least to a degree. He was pleased with Hitler’s successful economic efforts to end the Depression in Germany, as well as his public works programs (including the building of the autobahnen), his renunciation of the odorous Treaty of Versailles, his rebuilding of the military, and his reoccupation of former German areas taken from the Reich after World War I. Only gradually did this change. Sacred vows were broken, and outlandish statements which Rommel and most Germans dismissed as wild rhetoric turned out to be uttered in deadly seriousness. But all that was in the future.

 

MILITARY CAREER TAKES OFF

Rommel was a lieutenant colonel in 1935, teaching at the War School in Dresden, when he wrote a book based on his lectures and World War I experiences. It became a best seller and Adolf Hitler read it. He determined to meet the author and had Rommel attached to his escort for the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1936. The Fuehrer liked the Swabian and named him commander of the Fuehrer Bodyguard Battalion during the occupations of Czechoslovakia and Memel, and during the invasion of Poland in 1939. He promoted Rommel to major general on August 23, 1939.

In Poland, Rommel saw the blitzkrieg at first hand. Although he had no armored experience, he saw the future lay in the armored branch. After the fall of Warsaw, he asked Hitler for the command of a panzer division, and the dictator gave it to him.

Erwin Rommel had a natural grasp for mobile warfare. As commander of the 7thPanzer Division during the French campaign (1940), he captured 97,468 men and captured or destroyed 458 tanks and armored cars, 277 guns, 64 anti-tank guns, 4,000 to 5,000 trucks, tons of supplies, five French admirals, and about 20 Allied generals. He had approximately 10,000 men and 218 tanks, mostly inferior Czech T-38s.

Rommel was on occupation duty in southwestern France in early 1941 when the Italian 10thArmy in Libya collapsed under British attack. Hitler ordered Rommel to North Africa as commander of the Afrika Korps (15thand 21stPanzer Divisions) to restore the situation. Here he won victory after victory and made himself a renowned military general. In his First Cyrenaican Campaign (1941), Rommel pushed on to the Egyptian frontier and overran all of Libya except Tobruk, smashing the British XIII Corps (the former Western Desert Force) in the process. With less than one full panzer division, he destroyed the British 2ndArmoured Division. Only four of its tanks escaped.

 

RESILIENT AND RESOURCEFUL AGAINST GREAT ODDS

Rommel was forced to lay siege to Tobruk. It lasted 242 days. The British made three attempts to liberate Tobruk: Operations Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader. Rommel was severely handicapped, because the British sank 85% of its supplies, and he had only 15% of his needed petroleum and ammunition. Fighting an entire British army with only two divisions, Rommel destroyed 814 British tanks and armored cars, while losing only 167 himself. He had only about 80 tanks left when he was forced to retreat in December 1941.

“If Rommel had an outstanding quality, it was resilience,” British Brigadier Desmond Young wrote later. “He was like one of those weighted toy figures, no sooner was he knocked down than he was on his feet again.” In January 1942, when he received a shipment of 50 new panzers, he assumed the offensive again. This was the Second Cyrenaican Campaign. In five days, he destroyed or captured 299 tanks and armored cars, 147 guns, and 935 prisoners. He lost three tanks and 14 men. 

The British dug into the Gazala Line, which they enhanced with a million mines. Rommel outflanked it on May 26 and started a battle that lasted until June 21. He had 333 panzers and 228 mostly useless Italian tanks against 900 British tanks. The British 8thArmy had fewer than 100 “runners” when it retreated into Egypt. Rommel overran Tobruk and took 19,000 prisoners. Hitler was so pleased that he promoted the Desert Fox to field marshal.

After the fall of Tobruk, Rommel invaded Egypt, even though he had only about 55 runners. A heavily reinforced 8thArmy checked him at El Alamein, just 60 miles from the Nile. The British then launched a series of counterattacks against Panzer Army Afrika, aimed primarily at Rommel’s Italian units. Rommel checked them all.

The Desert Fox launched a last-chance offensive at Alam Halfa Ridge on August 30. He had 259 panzers. Montgomery had 713 tanks and absolute command of the air. Rommel lost almost 3,000 men and 49 tanks. Monty lost 1,750 men and 67 tanks. It was the turning point of the Desert War.

The decisive battle in North Africa began on October 23, 1942. When it started, Panzer Army Afrika had 104,000 men (half of them German) against Montgomery’s 195,000. The Germans were outnumbered 4 to 1 in men, 5 to 1 in tanks (excluding Italian tanks), 3 to 1 in anti-tank guns, and 3.6 to 1 in aircraft. Rommel’s forces were dangerously low on fuel, making a battle of maneuver impossible. Rommel had 293 tanks when the battle began. Only a dozen of them survived the battle. The British lost about 500 tanks.

In December 1943, Rommel’s Army Group B assumed command of the 7thArmy, 15thArmy, and Armed Forces Netherlands. They were part of Rundstedt’s OB West (Oberbefehlshaber West), the German Supreme Command in the West. OB West had 58 divisions. Hitler had 151 divisions fighting on the Eastern Front.

 

DEFEAT, CONSPIRACY, AND SUICIDE

Rommel significantly thickened the defenses of Fortress Europe. When the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, Rommel was able to check but not repulse the Great Invasion. Meanwhile, Rommel learned that Hitler and his cronies were committing mass murders in the East. He turned against the Nazis and joined the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler and his regime. 

Field Marshal Rommel was seriously wounded by an Allied fighter-bomber on July 17. Three days later, the conspirators detonated a bomb under Hitler’s table, severely injuring him. After the coup attempt failed, the Gestapo launched a full-scale investigation. They discovered Rommel’s part in the plot. On October 14, 1944, a pair of Nazi generals offered Rommel a choice: stand trial in front of the People’s Court or commit suicide. Under the doctrine of Sippenhaft—collective family responsibility—the Nazis would then arrest his family, and they would end up in a concentration camp, if they were lucky. However, if the field marshal committed suicide, they said, his family would be spared, and would even be allowed to draw his pension. Rommel declared that he would be dead in 15 minutes. He took a cyanide pill provided by the Nazis and was dead within half an hour. Thus ended the life of the military general.

On this occasion, the Nazis actually kept their word. They did not harm Rommel’s family. Lucie Mollin Rommel died of natural causes in 1971. Their only child, Manfred, died in 2013. Gertrude, Rommel’s illegitimate daughter, passed away in 2000.

Let us know what you think about the article below. 

 

Dr. Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. is the author of newly-released Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel (Regnery History; March 12, 2019 - Amazon USAmazon UK), and more than forty other history books. He has appeared on the History Channel and the BBC, been a visiting professor at West Point, and served as an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

The Wall Street Journal praised his previous title, Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege that Turned the Tide of the Civil War (Regnery History; June 4, 2018 – Amazon USAmazon UK), as a work that “thoroughly recounts the series of battles leading to the gates of Vicksburg and illuminates some underappreciated aspects of the war.”

He lives with his family in Monroe, Louisiana, where he is now devoted to writing military history books.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was one of the great men of the Renaissance. Born in 15thcentury Florence, as well as painting the Mona Lisa, he invented, or designed, a great many visionary machines that did not become commonplace until the 20thcentury. Here, Jamil Bakhtawar tells us da Vinci’s 9 greatest inventions.

Leonardo da Vinci. Painting by Salvator Mundi, c. 150..

Leonardo da Vinci. Painting by Salvator Mundi, c. 150..

Leonardo da Vinci captured the scientific foundations of Renaissance art — perspective, light, proportions, and anatomy — and extended them into every aspect of the investigation of nature. He regarded art as the ultimate form of visual knowledge, founded on an understanding of how nature works. In all his activities, he sought a core of mathematical rules that governed the operation of all things in nature. The rules dictated how humans should explore nature in art, science, and technology. Every machine can be regarded as a new kind of 'body', taking its cue from nature but not directly imitating it. All of his inventions were based on an understanding of the science of nature.

 

Inventions

In terms of technology, da Vinci's vision embraced the potential of civil and military engineering on colossal scales and involved complex levels of automation. The designs for the grandest machines were consciously visionary and lived on paper as a form of 'visual boasting' directed at patrons rather than aspiring to be actual constructions.

The inventions that Leonardo da Vinci put into practice were his expensive and massive mechanisms for the theatre, which involved such things as mountains that opened up. His most important intellectual contribution to engineering was that he was the first to insist that mechanical devices should be designed in keeping with the mathematical laws of nature. He was also the first to invent separate components or 'elements of machines', which could be deployed in various devices.

Here are nine of da Vinci’s greatest inventions.

 

1. Barreled cannon (the automatic weapon)

Leonardo was heavily preoccupied by the inadequacies of contemporary warfare, frustrated particularly by the time-lag between rounds of cannon fire, caused by the necessity to reload. Leonardo devised a multi-barreled cannon that could be rotated to fire a line of cannons whilst another was being reloaded: a primitive ancestor of the modern day machine gun.

Cannons from a late 15th century/early 16th century drawing as shown in  The Life and Times of Leonardo , Paul Hamlyn.

Cannons from a late 15th century/early 16th century drawing as shown in The Life and Times of Leonardo, Paul Hamlyn.

 

2. Helical aerial screw (the helicopter)

The 'helical aerial screw', conceived by Leonardo in 1493, consisted of a spinning linen screw designed to compress air to induce flight: a mechanism similar to that employed in contemporary helicopters. Leonardo’s design is widely credited as the vertical flight machine.

Da Vinci’s helicopter.

Da Vinci’s helicopter.



3. Anemometer

In conjunction with his studies of flight, Leonardo conceived a modern design for an 'anemometer', a device that measures the speed of wind. Adapted from an original design by Leon Batista, Leonardo’s additions made the device considerably more accurate. Habitually doing things with style, Leonardo’s anemometer is also a beautiful thing to look at.

 

4. Revolving bridge

Leonardo’s revolving bridge was not just an engineering marvel and an innovation in warfare, but also a rare early example of flat-pack design. Designed in the 1480s for Duke Sforza, the bridge allowed troops to cross rivers quickly, and could easily be packed up and transported for reuse elsewhere. In technical terms, the bridge was envisioned to a have a counterweight tank that would make the structure balanced on both sides. As for its ease of transportation, the design was contrived to have wheels and a rope-and-pulley system for effective deployment in a brief span of time.

 

5. Winged flying machine (the airplane)

Leonardo is widely considered the first engineer to be credited with designs for man-powered flight. The discoveries made during countless dissections of bird and bat wings are evident in the designs for the Ornithopter, a device that flies by flapping winged appendages. The influence of his drawings can clearly be seen throughout flight designs for the next 400 years. Arguably the most famous of da Vinci ‘hacks’, the flying machine (or the ‘ornithopter‘) was basically envisioned as a wooden frame with two extending wings that amounted to a wingspan of more than 33 feet (about 10 meters). This core frame was to be built from lightweight yet sturdy pinewood while being draped in raw silk to add to the ‘feathery’ equation. As for the powering mechanism, the conceptual design boasted a rod-and-pulley system that would have controlled the wings while the pilot placed his effort into the pedals (bolstered by a hand crank that could increase the energy output). The pilot could also steer the contraption via a headpiece – an unenviable task as demonstrated by one of the levels in the video game Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. In any case, what separated the flying machine from modern aircraft is its lack of an engine mechanism. Therefore, while the ornithopter could have flown in mid-air, it would have been challenging to get the machine off the ground.

Da Vinci’s flying machine.

Da Vinci’s flying machine.

6. Diving equipment 

Neither sky nor sea knew any bounds for Leonardo. Conceived in Venice as a sleuth weapon to strike invading ships, Leonardo’s 15th century design of a diving suit consisted of cane and leather tubes attached to a facemask and supported by steel rings to resist water pressure. The premise of the suit bares remarkable similarities to the systems that are still in use today. The diving gear was also envisaged as military equipment which could be used for marine-based surprise attacks on enemy vessels. Interestingly, the diving gear was imagined in such a manner that the mask would possess an additional inflatable balloon-like device that would aide the diver to submerge or come up above the water level.

 

7. Self-propelled cart (the car)

The self-propelled cart, allegedly designed for theatrical use, was designed to move without being pushed. Powered by coiled springs, it also featured braking and pre-programmable steering systems. Possibly a precursor to modern-day automobiles, the self-propelled cart is equally unique due to its ‘robotic’ credentials that pertained to pre-determined steering features. Once again, the self-propelled cart was re-imagined in contemporary times, by people at Italy’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science. The machine was created by basing its design on da Vinci’s initial sketches, and the outcome was remarkable. Researchers found that the furnished vehicle looked much like the Mars Rover, while its navigation system worked according to its conceptualized origins.

 

8. Parachute

Although the first parachute is frequently credited to Frenchman Sebastian Lenormand in 1783, evidence has been collected that shows Leonardo got there first. A sketch of his is accompanied by the annotation: 'If a man has a tent made of linen of which the apertures have all been stopped up, with twelve braccia across and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury'. It is unfathomable to believe something as 'modern' as a parachute could have been invented over 500 years ago. Leonardo’s parachute design consists of a sealed linen cloth held open by a pyramid of wooden poles — about 22 feet (or seven meters) long. The invention would allow any man to glide down from a tremendous height. Still, because his ideas were ahead of his time, the technology was unable to sustain his ideas, thus nobody invented a practical parachute until 1783. Like many of his monumental discoveries, Leonardo’s parachute was never tested. However, in the year 2000, daredevil Adrian Nichols actually built a parachute based on Leonardo’s designs. Despite considerable skepticism from many people, the parachute worked smoothly and Nichols even complimented its smooth ride.

 

9. The robotic knight 

The robotic knight was an early example of automation which was operated via a series of pulleys and levers that mimicked Leonardo’s anatomical observations of the human muscular structure. Clad in heavy German-Italian medieval armor, the mechanical knight was conceived in 1495 and was ceremoniously displayed at the Court of Milan during a gala hosted by the city’s Duke Ludovico Sforza. Fueled by these internal mechanisms (distributed evenly across the torso and the body’s lower-part), the robotic ‘knight’ theoretically maintained the capacity to both sit down and stand up, whilst demonstrating its ability in lifting its visor and even moving its head. And quite intriguingly, the famed roboticist Mark Rosheim (known for his contributions to NASA and Lockheed Martin) successfully constructed a version of this humanoid automaton in 2002 by making use of da Vinci’s drawings. The result aptly demonstrated the effectiveness of the original design with the robot being able to fluidly move and wave.

 

Conclusion

Leonardo da Vinci may well have been the greatest inventor during the Renaissance; however he had very little effect on the technology of his time. Da Vinci drew sketches and diagrams of his inventions, which he preserved in his notebooks, but he either neglected building them or was unable to convince his wealthy patrons to finance construction of the designs – although many of them could not have been built with the technology of the day. As a result, almost none of da Vinci's inventions were built during his lifetime; and because he never published his diagrams, little was known about them until his notebooks were discovered after his death. His inventions have continued to inspire engineers and scientists to this day.

 

 

What do you think is da Vinci’s greatest invention? Let us know below.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet of the Middle Ages. He was one of the great writers of the Middle Ages, and perhaps this is why he has remained relevant and important to many people to this day. Here, Nathan Barontini, a lecturer on Dante (find our more here), explains why many 20thcentury US leaders have found Dante’s works so important.

Dante Alighieri, by Giotto di Bondone. The work of art is in the chapel of Bargello Palace. 14th century.

Dante Alighieri, by Giotto di Bondone. The work of art is in the chapel of Bargello Palace. 14th century.

Theodore Roosevelt’s biography reads like a how-to manual for achieving great things. While he had many influences, one poet in particular fascinated him, Dante Alighieri. The sound of that name conjures up images of souls in torment, people crying in agony, and absolute horror. Roosevelt, however, didn’t read Dante as a house of horrors, but as inspiration for living the strenuous life.

Roosevelt knew Dante well enough to author an essay for Outlookmagazine entitled “Dante and the Bowery”. IN the magazine Roosevelt wrote, “Dante dealt with those tremendous qualities of the human soul.” He also included an allusion to Dante in his greatest speech, “The Man in the Arena”: 

“It is not the critic that counts… the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who… if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat (emphasis added).”

 

Here he references the first group of souls Dante encounters - those who refused to side either with God or Satan, who refused to enter “the arena.” When Dante hears the “accents of anger, words of agony, and voices high and horse,” he, both author and protagonist of the poem, asks his guide, “what folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?” Virgil responds that these are,

the melancholy souls of those

Who lived without infamy or praise….

Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,

Nor faithful were to God, but were for self. 

 

Now neither Heaven nor Hell will accept these “timid souls” who

Have no longer any hope of death;

And this blind life of theirs is so debased,

They are envious of every other fate.

No fame of them the world permits to be;

Misericord and Justice both distain them.

 

Such is the fate of the man who refuses to enter “the arena.”

Taking inspiration from Dante is not distinctive to Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt read Dante enough to mention him in his acceptance speech from the 1936 Democratic National Convention:

Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

 

The list doesn’t end there.

Robert Kennedy told reporters, “President Kennedy’s favorite quote was really from Dante, ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” This was a line that was adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1967 speech explaining his opposition to the Vietnam War. King also used the imagery of Dante in a 1968 speech on nuclear disarmament:

it is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament… may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

 

These men of action, some of the greatest in American history, when in quiet contemplation, turned to this thirteenth-century Italian poet for inspiration. 

 

We might ask why?

The answer lies in the “immortal Dante’s” life. Dante lived in what he called the most agreeable place on earth, Florence, Italy. Florence is a city we think of as a center of art and culture. In Dante’s day all of that was in the future. His Florence was embroiled in a medieval civil war, which drenched the city’s streets in blood. This century long conflict saw many victories and reversals of fortune. One side would defeat and banish the other, only to see their enemies retake the city and be banished in turn.

Dante’s party would win the war and he would ascend to the highest political office in the city, but peace would not last. The victorious party would fracture and war among themselves. Dante was on the wrong side this time. Falsely accused of taking bribes, he was banished, under threat of being burned at the stake if he dared return.

Having served at the Battle of Campaldino, he planned with his fellow exiles to take the city by force. He soon abandoned the plan realizing they were incapable of forcing their way back into Florence. Dante became “a party of one,” determined to find another path home.

It was in these circumstances that Dante wrote the poem which would inspire generations of men committed to a life spent “in the arena.” It is infused with Dante’s conception of the active life. Throughout our journey we meet the great actors of contemporary Italian life. We watch as the leader of the losing side in the civil war, Farinata degli Uberti, looks upon even Hell with scorn. We see the emperor Manfredi still bearing the sword gash that felled him in battle as he fights his way up the mountain of Purgatory. Here chosen struggle and suffering leads to final bliss. We meet Dante’s crusader great-great grandfather in the Heaven of Mars,and a cast of great warriors, popes, and politicians.

 

The Strenuous Life

Dante’s treatment of these men represents his view of the “strenuous life.” A life of striving for the good, even when falling short of the ideal is certain. This is why the poem doesn’t end with the sight of Satan, of the active life gone horribly wrong, but in triumph. In one of Dante’s last visions of paradise, he sees the saved seated in a heavenly Roman arena. 

Reading “The Comedy,” in a superficial way, as a tour of tortures, is a grave mistake. Like the great men of the past, we must pick up the poem as a roadmap leading us from the selva oscura(dark forest) of cowardice to the celestial paradise of those who refused to give up.

Dante said the aim of his work is to “remove those living in this life from a state of misery, and to bring them to a state of happiness.” The poem shows us the way to do this is to fight the battle of virtue. Will we fall short time and again? Dante tells us yes, we will. Is refusing this fight worthy of damnation? Dante tells us there is no worse fate.

This is why a man born over 700 years ago, more than 5,000 miles away, has inspired the great men of our past. More importantly, it is a poem that can change your life.

 

What do you think of Dante? Let us know below.

 

Nathan Barontini has dedicated years of study to European history with a special emphasis in late Medieval / early Renaissance Florence, especially the works and life of Dante Alighieri. More information can be found at his personal website, www.nathanbarontini.com, and on his blog, www.adoroergosum.blogspot.com.