Listen to a podcast, please open Podcast Republic app. Available on Google Play Store.
May 25, 2021
great stories and narration
Aug 5, 2020
Enjoyable podcasts that will cover many many different topics in history
Feb 11, 2020
I mean...the content is good and rather enjoyable. My issue is hearing the same commercial ad twice before and after the introduction, during the "break", and at the end.
Aug 25, 2019
Great podcast. I really appreciated how political biases are kept out of it, as they should.
Oct 20, 2018
great programs. sticks to the facts
The Civil War Battle That Resembled Dante’s Inferno
In the spring of 1864, President Lincoln feared that he might not be able to save the Union. The Army of the Potomac had performed poorly over the previous two years, and many Northerners were understandably critical of the war effort. Lincoln assumed he’d lose the November election, and he firmly believed a Democratic successor would seek peace immediately, spelling an end to the Union. A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation’s capital.
To discuss this battle is John Reeves, author of “A Fire in the Wilderness.” At the outset of the Battle of the Wilderness, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia remained capable of defeating the Army of the Potomac. But two days of relentless fighting in dense Virginia woods, Robert E. Lee was never again able to launch offensive operations against Grant’s army. Lee, who faced tremendous difficulties replacing fallen soldiers, lost 11,125 men—or 17% of his entire force. On the opposing side, the Union suffered 17,666 casualties.
The alarming casualties do not begin to convey the horror of this battle, one of the most gruesome in American history. The impenetrable forest and gunfire smoke made it impossible to view the enemy. Officers couldn’t even see their own men during the fighting. The incessant gunfire caused the woods to catch fire, resulting in hundreds of men burning to death. “It was as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of the earth,” wrote one officer. When the fighting finally subsided during the late evening of the second day, the usually stoical Grant threw himself down on his cot and wept. What did it show about Grant and Lee?
|Jul 27, 2021|
X-Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II
The men of X Troop were the real Inglorious Basterds: a secret commando unit of young Jewish refugees who were trained in counterintelligence and advanced combat to deliver decisive blows against the Nazis. Today’s guest Leah Garrett draws on extensive original research, including interviews with the last surviving members of the X Troop unit, to share this untold story of forgotten WWII heroes. She follows this unique band of brothers from Germany to England and back again, with stops at British internment camps, the beaches of Normandy, the battlefields of Italy and Holland, and the hellscape of Terezin concentration camp—the scene of one of the most dramatic rescues of the war. We discuss the story of these secret shock troops and their devastating blows against the Nazis.
Other topics include:
● How Winston Churchill and his chief of staff convinced these mostly German and Austrian Jewish refugees, many of whom had been held in British internment camps due to their nationality, to fight for the Brits.
● The important roles these soldiers played in such major contests as D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, such as X Trooper Peter Masters' bicycle ride through occupied France, where he killed and interrogated Germany soldiers across Normandy. Nancy wake?
● The details of one of the most dramatic, little-known rescues of the war, in which X Trooper Freddie Gray drove a commandeered Jeep across hundreds of miles of German territory to free his parents from Theresienstadt concentration camp.
● The troubled legacy of the X Troop unit in England, where the commandos’ Jewish heritage has been largely ignored—and in some cases suppressed.
|Jul 22, 2021|
The 1919 Tour de France That Took Place in the Bombed-Out Ruins of WW1
On June 29, 1919, one day after the Treaty of Versailles brought about the end of World War I, nearly seventy cyclists embarked on the thirteenth Tour de France. From Paris, the war-weary men rode down the western coast on a race that would trace the country's border, through seaside towns and mountains to the ghostly western front. Traversing a cratered postwar landscape, the cyclists faced near-impossible odds and the psychological scars of war. Most of the athletes had arrived straight from the front, where so many fellow countrymen had suffered or died. Sixty-seven cyclists, some of whom were still on active military duty, started from Paris on June 29, 1919; only 11 finished the monthlong tour. The cyclists' perseverance and tolerance for pain would be tested in a grueling, monthlong competition.
To discuss this story of human endurance is Adin Dobkin, author of Sprinting Through No Man's Land. He explains how the cyclists united a country that had been torn apart by unprecedented desolation and tragedy, and how devastated countrymen and women can come together to celebrate the adventure of a lifetime and discover renewed fortitude, purpose, and national identity in the streets of their towns. Dobkin profiles competitors including Frenchman Eugène Christophe, whose commitment to finishing the race after he lost the lead while stopping to repair his bike’s broken frame captured the country’s imagination, and vividly describes arduous ascents, rubble-strewn streets, and the crowds that lined the route, waving flags and shouting encouragement. The result is an immersive look at the mythical power of sports to unite and inspire
|Jul 20, 2021|
The Apollo Program Had a Surprising Close Relationship With 1960s Counterculture
The summer of 1969 saw astronauts land on the moon for the first time and hippie hordes descend on Woodstock for a legendary music festival. For today’s guest, Neil M. Maher, author of the book Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, the conjunction of these two era-defining events is not entirely coincidental. He argues that the celestial aspirations of NASA’s Apollo space program were tethered to terrestrial concerns, from the civil rights struggle and the antiwar movement to environmentalism, feminism, and the counterculture.
With its lavishly funded mandate to send a man to the moon, Apollo became a litmus test in the 1960s culture wars. Many people believed it would reinvigorate a country that had lost its way, while for others it represented a colossal waste of resources needed to solve pressing problems at home. Yet Maher also discovers synergies between the space program and political movements of the era. Photographs of “Whole Earth” as a bright blue marble heightened environmental awareness, while NASA’s space technology allowed scientists to track ecological changes globally. The space agency’s exclusively male personnel sparked feminist debates about opportunities for women. Activists pressured NASA to apply its technical know-how to ending the Vietnam War and helping African Americans by reducing energy costs in urban housing projects. Particularly during the 1970s, as public interest in NASA waned, the two sides became dependent on one another for political support.
Against a backdrop of Saturn V moonshots and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius brings the cultural politics of the space race back down to planet Earth.
|Jul 15, 2021|
Travelers & Explorers, Epilogue – What is the Point of Exploration in the 21st Century?
What is the purpose of a dangerous journey in the twenty-first century? What is the reason
to explore when so much of the globe has been surveyed, mapped, photographed, filmed, and
catalogued? What can be gained by undertaking dangerous expeditions when little or no new
information can be obtained and Google Earth gives instantaneous photos and video feeds?
|Jul 13, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 8: Ernest Shackleton's Frozen March at the Bottom of the World
Ernest Shackleton was among the last of a group of intrepid men from the Golden Age of Discovery in the Victorian era. He sought honor for England and himself in embarking on a dangerous journey to lead a team of men to cross the Antarctic continent.
His story approaches the outer limits of plausibility. Few had his perseverance. When Ernest Shackleton's ship, Endurance, was destroyed by South Pole sea ice, the crew had to continue on three row boats, camp on ice sheets, and subsist on sled dogs and seal blubber. They were at sea for 497 days until landing on Elephant Island, which was completely deserted and isolated. Shackleton sailed a small lifeboat across 800 miles of violent sea to South Georgia Island to obtain a rescue vessel. He and the four men returned and rescued the 22 men left behind.
|Jul 08, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 7: Sir Henry Stanley (1841-1904) – “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?”
Henry Stanley was a soldier-turned-journalist-turned explorer who charged wide swaths of the Congo. He famously searched for the source of the Nile, commanded the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition (a major expedition into the interior of Africa), and, most famously, searched and found missionary and fellow explorer David Livingstone.” He was knighted in 1899
He led major expeditions there and wrote much of the early scientific literature of Sub-Saharan Africa and contributed to nearly every field of inquiry in the subject area. His accounts remained the standard work in botany, biology, zoology, geography, and anthropology of the regions treated for decades. One English writer related of his discoveries, “The fact is now generally recognized that Stanley, after Livingstone, gave greater impulse than any other man to the movement which resulted in the rapid exploration of most parts of unknown Africa.” But Stanley's legacy has its black marks, though. He was a product of nineteenth-century colonialism and the European Scramble for Africa, and as such was used by monarchs to extend their landholdings on the continent.
|Jul 06, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 6: James Cook (1728-1797), England's Poseidon
James Cook came from a humble village upbringing. But by the end of his career, he circumnavigated the globe several times, discovered Australia and explored its west coast, mapped much of the South Pacific, and was worshipped as a deity by some Hawaiian natives. He also made incredible contributions to science. Two botanists on his second voyage collected over 3,000
plant species and presented their findings to the Royal Society. His crew included several
artists, who documented the botanists' findings and completed 264 drawings. Cook even
determined the cause of scurvy and implemented a diet for his crew full of fresh produce. He
did not lose a single man to scurvy on his first voyage – an unprecedented accomplishment in
the naval exploration of the eighteenth century.
During the captain's 12 years of sailing around the Pacific, he gathered enough longitudinal measurements and depth soundings for mapmakers to produce accurate charts of the South Pacific for the first time. Many were still in use through the mid-twentieth century. Global sea travel would now be safe to nearly any location on the globe. Thanks to Cook, the world had become interconnected.
|Jul 01, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 5: Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) and His Terrifying Voyage Across an Endless Ocean
Ferdinand Magellan was ready to conquer the natives with nothing but a few loyal soldiers. He had already discovered vast new swaths of the globe and crossed the world's largest ocean. Capturing this small island in the Philippines seemed a trifle by comparison. Magellan's confidence was supreme. He faced down the islanders of Mactan with only 60 crew members, turning down the help of 1,000 natives in battle, offered by an allied Filipino leader, in order to personally avenge an insult.
It proved to be a rash call. The captain, the first to cross the Pacific and lead his crew on a voyage of starvation and death, was killed by believing that he would forever defeat the odds.
Magellan’s reputation has recovered over the centuries. His bravery, innovation, and
perseverance are now considered unparalleled during his time. He discovered and sailed
through one of the most dangerous waterways in the world, named the Pacific Ocean, and circumnavigated the globe, albeit posthumously. His pioneering spirit in an age of discovery lives on in geographic names such as the Strait of Magellan. Despite his poor reputation, he inspired Spanish and Portuguese sailors to open eastern Asia to trade. Magellan accelerated the Age of Discovery and laid the groundwork for European colonialism, which in turn created twenty-first-century globalization.
His legacy carries influence today. New discoveries are associated with this iconic explorer. His crew first spotted the Magellanic Clouds, a cluster of galaxies visible in the night sky. NASA launched the Magellan spacecraft in 1989 to map the surface of Venus and measure the planetary gravitational field. In an unintentional homage to the Portuguese explorer, the oneton probe took the long way to reach Venus, looping around the Sun one and a half times before arriving at the gaseous planet. Craters and landmarks on the moon and Mars bear his name – a testament to a man who fearlessly forged paths into the unknown.
|Jun 29, 2021|
Announcement: “Beyond the Big Screen” – a New Movie Podcast – Launches Next Week
I’m please to announce that Steve Guerra is launching a new podcast called Beyond the Big Screen that comes out next week. If you member from a few years back, Steve and I co-hosted a series called Hollywood Hates History that looked at some of the worst historical epics ever put to film, including Demi Moore’s The Scarlett Letter, and The Conqueror, starting John Wayne as Genghis Khan (the part he was born not to play). This new show is in the spirit of that series.
To celebrate the show joining forces with History Unplugged, we are doing a giveaway of Amazon gift cards so you can rent or buy the movies feature on Steve’s podcast. The first five people to enter the giveaway win automatically! Go to beyondthebigscreen.com to learn how to enter.
|Jun 28, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 4: Zheng He -- the Admiral Who Turned the Indian Ocean Into a Chinese Lake
What would have happened if China discovered America before Europe? More
importantly, what would have happened if it colonized America? It is a
plausible scenario. Prior to the nineteenth century, China was the wealthiest, most
technologically advanced civilization in the world and dominated trade along the Pacific coast. Its navy was well funded and dwarfed its rivals. Furthermore, at the height of its power it was helmed by Zheng He, the most towering figure in 4,000 years of Chinese naval history and maritime expeditions in the pre-modern world. He led seven voyages across the Eastern maritime world. He commanded a fleet of 27,800 sailors on 62 treasure ships – each with nine masts and larger than a football field, weighing 2,000 tons. The ships ferried porcelains, silks, and exotic treasures that were sold into the markets that dotted the Indian Ocean coastline or were gifted to their rulers. Each ship was twice as large as the first transatlantic steamer, built four hundred years later. They were so massive that all the combined fleets of Columbus and Vasco da Gama could have fit on a single deck of a single vessel of Zheng He. If he had ever encountered Columbus in the Atlantic, it would be like an African black rhinoceros and a meerkat eyeing each other from opposite sides of a watering hole on the savanna.
|Jun 24, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 3: Ibn Battuta (1304-1368) -- The Everlasting Pilgrim
Abu Abdullah Ibn Battuta was a 14th-century Islamic scholar who spent 20 years travelling the full extent of the Islamic world, which stretched from West Africa to the Middle East to Southern Russia to Western China down to the island of Java. All of these newly-Islamicized lands needed legal experts, and Ibn Battuta’s skills were in as high demand as an IBM mainframe engineer in the 1960s or a Java developer today.
He made an entire life travelling on religious pilgrimages, going to wealthy courts, getting highly paid positions, finding new wives, fleeing when his life was in danger (including a memorable shipwreck off the coast of India), and repeating the process over and over again. In this way he went as far south as Tanzania, as far north as the Volga basin, as far west as China, as far southeast as Indonesia, and as far west as Mali. In all, he went three times further than Marco Polo.
|Jun 22, 2021|
Travelers and Explorers, Part 2: Marco Polo (1254-1324) -- Opening the Door to the East
Marco Polo’s legacy is arguably the greatest of any medieval figure. While he was by no means the first European to reach China – his father and uncle did so a generation earlier, making the younger Polo's journey possible in the first place– his account, The Travels of Marco Polo, popularized knowledge of India and Asia across the continent. It was a massive bestseller in its first print run and defined ideas about China and the Orient for centuries to come; it has remained in print for centuries and a bestseller ever since. In it he discussed the fabulous wealth of China and the court of Kublai Khan.
While much of his account is filled with incredible exaggerations or outright fictions – mythological animals make numerous cameos in the work – it inspired a new generation of explorers to push past the extents of the known world. His book was incorporated into some important maps of the later Middle Ages, such as the Catalan World Map of 1375, which was read with great interest in the next century by Henry the Navigator and Columbus. The effects of his journey on European intellectual and cultural life were far-reaching. Accounts of the lands in the East stimulated renewed interest in discovery and helped launch the European Age of Exploration.
|Jun 17, 2021|
Explorers Who Pushed the Boundary of the Known World, Part 1: Rabban Bar Sauma (1220-1294) – the Reverse Marco Polo
This is the first in a multi-part series on the most consequential travelers and explorers in history and how their discoveries, land conquests, and diplomatic negotiations shaped the modern world.
Whether it is Rabban Bar Sauma, the 13th-century Chinese monk commissioned by the Mongols to travel West form a military alliance against the Islam; Marco Polo, who opened a window to the East for Europe; or Captain James Cook, whose maritime voyages of discovery created the global economy of the 21st century, each of these explorers had an indelible impact on modern society.
Today’s episode focuses on Rabban Bar Sauma. He and his student Rabban Markos were two Nestorian Christian monks who resided in the heart of Mongolian China. From the East, they set out on a journey of several thousand miles to reach Jerusalem. They traveled in the capacity of both holy men and official envoys from the Mongol Empire to Europe, and Bar Sauma attempted to negotiate a military alliance between Europe and Persia to fight the Mamluks of Egypt.
Rabban Bar Sauma, dubbed by historians as the “reverse Marco Polo” for his journey of
discovery from China to the largely unknown lands of Europe, embarked on an epic
pilgrimage from the Eastern region of Beijing through Rome and as far as to Gascony, a
Gaulish kingdom in what is known today as the Bordeaux region of France. This multi-year journey afforded Bar Sauma an East-to-West perspective. He was the first traveler from China to set food in medieval Europe and the first Asian diplomat to correspond with European monarchs and popes.
|Jun 15, 2021|
What Egyptian Crocodile Mummies Tell us About Life, Death, and Taxes Thousands of Years Ago
Our story begins in 1899, when two archaeologists — Arthur Hunt and Bernard Grenfell — were on an expedition in Northern Egypt in an ancient town once known as Tebtunis on a search for mummies and other ancient artifacts.
This was during a growing Western fascination with ancient Egypt that was later dubbed Egyptomania. Researchers hunted all things Egyptian — especially human mummies, partly because they represented the Western obsession with bringing the dead back to life.
While the team were excavating the town’s cemeteries, they found something unexpected: crocodile mummies. Instead of being thrilled at the discovery, the archaeologists saw the reptilian mummies as getting in the way of what they really wanted. But a new generation of Egyptologists have a different view. They see these crocodiles as a means of understand Egyptians’ views of fear, strength, pleasing their gods, and even death. But those aren’t the only secrets they contain. To hold the mummies’ shape, priests would stuff the mummies with waste papyri that had writing on it that people didn’t have a use for anymore.
This waste papyri, plus other texts that were found in Tebtunis, reveal what daily life was like for the ancient Egyptians. It’s knowledge that’s invaluable to social historians today.
Joining the show to discuss these curiosities are Rita Lucarelli, professor of Egyptology and the faculty curator of Egyptology at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and Andrew Hogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at the Bancroft Library. We discuss all the ways that the most unlikely of items can connect us to the ancient past and understand our predecessors.
|Jun 10, 2021|
The 1911 Meeting of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie that Changed Physics Forever
In 1911, some of the greatest minds in science convened at the First Solvay Conference in Physics, a meeting like no other. Almost half of the attendees had won or would go on to win the Nobel Prize. Over the course of those few days, these minds began to realize that classical physics was about to give way to quantum theory, a seismic shift in our history and how we understand not just our world, but the universe.
At the center of this meeting were Marie Curie, already a Nobel laureate, and a young Albert Einstein. In the years preceding, Curie had faced the death of her husband and soul mate, Pierre. She was on the cusp of being awarded her second Nobel Prize, but scandal erupted all around her when the French press revealed that she was having an affair with a fellow scientist, Paul Langevin.
The subject of vicious attacks in the French press, Curie found herself in a storm that threatened her scientific legacy.
Albert Einstein, already showing flourishes of his enormous genius, proved a supporter in her travails. They had an instant connection at Solvay. Curie had been responsible for one of the greatest discoveries in modern science (radioactivity) but still faced resistance and scorn. Einstein recognized this grave injustice, and their mutual admiration and respect, borne out of this, their first meeting, would go on to serve them in their paths forward to making history.
Today’s guest, Jreffrey Orens, author of the new book the Soul of Genius describes Curie and Einsteins’ relationship and uses never-before-seen correspondence and notes, revealing the human side of these brilliant scientists, one who pushed boundaries and demanded equality in a man’s world, no matter the cost, and the other, who was destined to become synonymous with genius.
|Jun 08, 2021|
Pancho Villa’s 1916 Raid on New Mexico: The Pearl Harbor Bombing of Its Time
Before 9/11, before Pearl Harbor, another unsuspected foreign attack on the United States shocked the nation and forever altered the course of history. In 1916, Pancho Villa, a guerrilla fighter who commanded an ever-changing force of conscripts in northern Mexico, attached a border town in New Mexico. It was a raid that angered Americans, and President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Punitive Expedition in which the US Army invaded Mexico and defeated General Villa's troops, but failed to capture him. This event may have been the catalyst for America’s entry into World War One and permanently altered U.S.-Mexican border policy.
Jeff Guinn, author of the new book War on the Border, joins us to discuss this critically important event in American history. The “Punitive Expedition” was launched in retaliation under Pershing’s command and brought together the Army, National Guard, and the Texas Rangers—who were little more than organized vigilantes.
The American expedition was the last action by the legendary African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.” It was also the first time the Army used automobiles and trucks, which were of limited value in Mexico, a country with no paved roads or gas stations. Curtiss Jenny airplanes did reconnaissance, another first. One era of warfare was coming to a close as another was beginning. But despite some bloody encounters, the Punitive Expedition eventually withdrew without capturing Villa.
Although the bloodshed has ended, the US-Mexico border remains as vexed and volatile an issue as ever.
|Jun 03, 2021|
How a Member of Easy Company’s “Band of Brothers” Found an Unlikely Friendship with a Former Nazi
One of the best-known screen depictions of World War 2 is Band of Brothers. This HBO miniseries followed the real-life Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, and their mission in World War II Europe, from Operation Overlord, through V-J Day. Today’s episode focuses on one of the members of this company, Sgt. Don Malarkey. He was a hero for his service in World War II, especially in the Battle of the Bulge, yet he came to the brink of suicide, haunted by the memories of the German soldiers he had killed. Across the ocean, Fritz Engelbert was shackled in shame for having been a pawn of Hitler—he too had fought in the Battle of the Bulge—but for the Germans. He could not find peace.
Today’s guest is Bob Welch, author of Saving My Enemy: How Two WWII Soldiers Fought against Each Other and Later Forged a Friendship That Saved Their Lives. It is a rare WWII story with a happy ending. In an age when we see nothing but division in the news, the public needs inspiration from stories like this: two mortal enemies coming together after 60 years to offer each other forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the touching true story of how their unlikely friendship, forged in their 80s, dissolved six decades of guilt and shame that had pushed both men to despair.
Their boyhood could not have been more different. Don grew up scrappy and happy in Oregon while Fritz was regimented and indoctrinated by the Hitler Youth Both men fought in the Battle of the Bulge; Don as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army who served a longer continuous stretch on the bloody front lines than any man in Easy Company, and Fritz as a private in the Panzer-Lerh-Division Don was welcomed home as a celebrity while Fritz returned to live years in the obscurity of a remote German village Each was plagued with immense guilt—Don for the lives he took and Fritz over his participation in the Nazi war effort They met on the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Both scarred. Both haunted. The friendship they began that day saved their lives.
|Jun 01, 2021|
U.S. Presidents and Their 160-Year Love/Hate Relationship With the Camera
John Quincy Adams was the first president of whom we have surviving photos. His picture was taken in 1843, two decades after his presidency ended. The picture was made with daguerreotype, the first photographic technique to be made available to the public.
The picture was the beginning of a stormy two-century relationship between the president and the camera. It includes Lincoln’s somber portraits, Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in, and George W. Bush’s reaction to learning about the 9/11 attacks. Photography plays an indelible role in how we remember and define American presidents.
Today’s guest is Cara Finnegan, author of the book “Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital.”She argues that throughout history, presidents have actively participated in all aspects of photography, not only by sitting for photos but by taking and consuming them. Technological developments not only changed photography, but introduced new visual values that influence how we judge an image. At the same time, presidential photographs—as representations of leaders who symbolized the nation—sparked public debate on these values and their implications.
|May 27, 2021|
Announcement: Steve Guerra’s History of the Papacy Podcast is Joining Forces with History Unplugged – Free Giveaway!
Steve Guerra is joining forces with History Unplugged. We are pleased to announce that his show History of the Papacy is a part of our new podcast network.
Steve has been on History Unplugged many times before. We discussed the myth of Pope Joan, whom legend claims reigned as pope, 855-857 A.D., by disguising herself as a man. The story is widely thought to be fiction, but almost everyone took it as fact in the Middle Ages, up to the point that the Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs.
We also did a mini-series called Hollywood Hates History and looked at some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Offenders include "The Scarlet Letter," the 1995 Demi Moore atrocity; "The Conqueror," a Genghis Khan biopic starring John Wayne; and "Kingdom of Heaven," in which Legolas the Elf successfully creates universal religious harmony in the 12th century Middle East.
His show History of the Papacy will detail the biographies and interesting facts of the Papacy of Rome. It will start in the beginning, but will not go straight through. There will be many side tracks and detours along the way.
To celebrate him joining forces with us, we are doing a giveaway where the first five entrants win a 3-month subscription to the Great Courses.
The Great Courses Plus is a streaming service brings the world’s greatest professors to millions who want to go deeper on the subjects that interest them most. No exams. No homework. No schedule. Just a world of knowledge available anytime, anywhere, via video or audio. Use this app to:
• Stream any course you have purchased
• Seamlessly toggle between video and audio versions of lectures
• Download your lectures to enjoy later when not connected
More than 500 courses available at TheGreatCourses.com.
Go to historyofthepapacypodcast.com to see how to win.
|May 26, 2021|
Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy
Abraham Lincoln’s view of the right to fulfill one’s economic destiny was at the core of his own beliefs—but some believe that he thought no one could climb that ladder without strong federal support. Some of his most enduring plans came to him before the Civil War, visions of a country linked by railroads running ocean to ocean, canals turning small towns into bustling cities, public works bridging farmers to market.
Today’s guest John F. Wasik, author of “Lincolnomics” tracks Lincoln from his time in the 1830s as a young Illinois state legislator pushing for internal improvements; through his work as a lawyer representing the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1840s; to his presidential fight for the Transcontinental Railroad; and his support of land-grant colleges that educated a nation. To Lincoln, infrastructure meant not only the roads, bridges, and canals he shepherded as a lawyer and a public servant, but also much more.
These brick-and-mortar developments were essential to how the nation could lift citizens above poverty and its isolating origins. Lincoln paved the way for Eisenhower’s interstate highways and FDR’s social amenities.
⋅ Lincoln’s championing of the Transcontinential Railroad and pivotal public works preceding it, including the Illinois Central Railroad and the Illinois & Michigan Canal;
⋅ How infrastructure both hindered and enabled the Confederate and Lincoln-led Union
Armies during the Civil War;
⋅ Lincoln’s support for land-grant colleges, the foundation for today’s public universities across the country; and
⋅ Lincoln’s true dedication to infrastructure, among them the sketch of a town he surveyed, and a design he created and patented.
|May 25, 2021|
The Gulf of Time Separating You From Napoleon III is Bridged By One Brandy Bottle
Some of the most remarkable historical artifacts found in the possession of collectors are vintage wines or spirits. A rare bottle’s journey spans continents and centuries, older than any human alive.
Today’s guest is Raj Bhakta, he’s the founder of Whistle Pig, maker one of the world’s most popular rye blends of whisky. He’s also an entrepreneur with a gift for promotion, including being a contestant on Season 2 of the Apprentice and riding an elephant across the Rio Grande in 2006, accompanied by a 12-piece mariachi band when he was running for a U.S. Congressional Seat in Pennsylvania.
During a trip to France a few years ago, by an incredible stroke of fortune, he was able to purchase 38 barrels of Armagnac vintage brandy, with some barrels dating back to 1868, right on the eve of the Franco-Prussian Wars.
He released Bhakta 50, an aged blend of 8 rare Armagnac vintages dated between 1868-1970, finished in Islay whisky casks. The youngest Armagnac is 50 years old, and the oldest in the bottle is 152 years old.
Prolonged aging imparts flavor, but also carries great risk, especially in tumultuous times. Nearly every village has been sacked time and time again, and , after its fortifications are reduced, a captured towns’ alcohol is the first thing to be consumed. Indeed, the oldest inhabitants of the Armagnac region still recall the sight of German scout planes circling the countryside, searching for the telltale black discoloration a by-product of alcohol storage that appeared on the sides and roofs of the cellars of the villagers who had hidden their brandy stocks.
In this episode we discuss how valuable items can last the test of time, the local character of brandy vs. whisky, and why craftsmanship is still needed in the twenty-first century.
|May 20, 2021|
The Japanese-Americans Who Fought Nazis in Europe
The experience of Japanese-Americans in World War 2 is almost compoletely understood through the lense of internment camps. But for 10s of thousands of them, their most important experience was fighting Nazis.
The 442nd Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment of the composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. Beginning in 1944, the regiment fought primarily in the European Theatre, in particular Italy, southern France, and Germany. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was organized on March 23, 1943, in response to the War Department's call for volunteers to form the segregated Japanese American army combat unit. More than 12,000 volunteers answered the call, even thought many of the soldiers from the continental U.S. had families in internment camps while they fought abroad
Today’s guest is Daniel James Brown From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat. He’s the author of the new book called FACING THE MOUNTAIN, a World War II saga of patriotism and courage about the special Japanese-American Army unit that overcame brutal odds in Europe; their families, incarcerated back home; and a young man who refused to surrender his constitutional rights, even if it meant imprisonment.
They came from across the continent and Hawaii. Their parents taught them to embrace both their Japanese heritage and the ways of their American homeland. They faced bigotry, yet they believed in their bright futures as American citizens. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was ransacking their houses and locking up their fathers. And within months many would themselves be living behind barbed wire.
Based on Brown’s extensive interviews with the families of the protagonists as well as archival research, FACING THE MOUNTAIN portrays the kaleidoscopic journey of four Japanese-American families and their sons—Gordon Hirabayashi, Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho. One demonstrated his courage as a resister. The three others volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team and displayed fierce courage on the battlefields of France, Germany, and Italy where they were asked to do the near impossible in often suicidal missions.
|May 18, 2021|
Meet the Four Congressmen Who Won the Civil War and Shaped Reconstruction
The popular conception of the Civil War is that Abraham Lincoln single-handedly led the Union to victory. But in addition to the Great Emancipator, we can also thank four influential members of Congress–Thaddeus Stevens, Pitt Fessenden, Ben Wade, and the proslavery Clement Vallandigham. They show us how a newly empowered Republican party shaped one of the most dynamic and consequential periods in American history.
Today’s guest is Fergus Bordewich, author of “Congress of War.” He shows that from reinventing the nation’s financial system to pushing President Lincoln to emancipate the slaves to the planning for Reconstruction, Congress undertook drastic measures to defeat the Confederacy, in the process laying the foundation for a strong central government that came fully into being in the twentieth century.
|May 13, 2021|
Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s 1897 Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night
Polar exploration of the 19th century was the space travel of its day. There were moments of glory, like Ernest Shackleton’s heroic journeys to the Antarctic. There were moments of terror, such as Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage, which likely ended in starvation, cannibalism, and death. But one journey that has been largely forgotten has one of the most important stories of all. That’s the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-1899.
The Belgica was one of the first polar expeditions to Antarctica at the end of the 19th century. The voyage was meant to bring fame to all aboard the ship—and it certainly did, but at a very steep cost and not in quite the way the crew had imagined. Today’s guest is Julian Sancton, author of Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night
The Belgica would ultimately earn its fame as a harrowing survival story after the ship and her inhabitants—thanks to the deliberate decision of their captain—became trapped in the ice of the Bellingshausen sea. Surrounded on all sides by immovable sheets of ice, which threatened every day to crush the ship, the men of The Belgica were subjected to a months-long sentence of physical and mental anguish, becoming the first humans to confront the horrors of a completely sunless Antarctic winter.
They survived the world’s most hostile environment and continue to teach the world about human extremes; those who do still remember The Belgica today are mainly the teams at NASA who study the lessons it offers on the physical and psychological limits of the human body as they look towards potential manned expeditions to Mars.
|May 11, 2021|
Teaser: Key Battles of WW2 Pacific - The Rise Of Imperial Japan
Listen to this full episode by searching for "Key Battles of American History" in the podcast player of your choice or going to https://keybattlesofamericanhistory.com
|May 07, 2021|
Gold Fever and Disaster in the Great Klondike Stampede of 1897-98.
In 1897, the United States was mired in the worst economic depression that the country had yet endured. When newspapers announced that gold was to be found in wildly enriching quantities at the Klondike River region of the Yukon, a mob of economically desperate Americans swarmed north.
Within weeks, tens of thousands of them were embarking towards some of the harshest terrain on the planet, in the middle of winter, woefully unprepared and with no experience at all in mining or mountaineering. It was a mass delusion that quickly proved deadly: avalanches, shipwrecks, starvation, murder.
Today’s guest is Brian Castner, author of STAMPEDE: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike. We discuss a number of characters who joined the Gold Rush, including Jack London, who would make his fortune but not in gold; Colonel Samuel Steele, who tried to save the stampeders from themselves; the notorious gangster Soapy Smith; goodtime girls; Skookum Jim; and the hotel entrepreneur Belinda Mulrooney. The unvarnished tale of this mass migration is always striking, revealing the amazing truth of what people will do for a chance to be rich.
|May 06, 2021|
From the River to the Sea: The Railroad War of the 1870s that Made the West
It is remarkable now to imagine, but during the 1870s, the American West, for all its cloud-topped peaks and endless coastline, might have been barren tundra as far as most Americans knew. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad had made history by linking East and West, but, relying heavily on federal grants, it left an opening for two brash new railroad men, the Civil War hero behind the Rio Grande and the corporate chieftain of the Santa Fe, to build the first transcontinental to make money by creating a railroad empire across the Southwest to the sea. Today’s guest, John Sedwick, author of FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA: The Untold Story of the Railroad War that Made the West, is here to tell that story in detail.
The railroad companies were governments on wheels: they set the course, chose the route, and built up cities and towns along their tracks. Their choices brought life to such out-of-the-way places as San Diego, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Denver, and to Los Angeles most of all: The Santa Fe turned a sleepy backwater of 30,000 into a booming metropolis of 150,000 in three years—the most explosive growth of any city in the history of the United States.
By then, the two men behind the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe had fought all across the west to lay claim to the routes that would secure the most profitable territory and the richest silver mines. But they often led through narrow mountain passes or up treacherous canyons with room for only a single set of tracks. To win them, each side turned hundreds of their train workers into private armies backed by local militia and paid mercenaries like Dodge City’s Bat Masterson. The war left one of the two lines reeling in a death spiral and sent the other on to a greatness unequaled by any other railroad in the world.
|May 04, 2021|
Lady Bird Johnson: The Most Underestimated – and Most Powerful? – First Lady of the 20th Century
In the spring of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson had a decision to make. Just months after moving into the White House under the worst of circumstances—following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—he had to decide whether to run to win the presidency in his own right. He turned to his most reliable, trusted political strategist: his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. The strategy memo she produced for him, emblematic of her own political acumen and largely overlooked by biographers, is just one revealing example of how their marriage was truly a decades-long political partnership.
Today’s guest, Julia Sweig, author of “Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight,” argues that she was perhaps the most underestimated First Lady of the twentieth century. She was also one of the most accomplished and often her husband's secret weapon. Managing the White House in years of national upheaval, through the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War, Lady Bird projected a sense of calm and, following the glamorous and modern Jackie Kennedy, an old-fashioned image of a First Lady. In truth, she was anything but.
As the first First Lady to run the East Wing like a professional office, she took on her own policy initiatives, including the most ambitious national environmental effort since Teddy Roosevelt.
We also discuss whether the office of the First Lady is a sign of vibrant American democracy or a source of neo-nepotism more fitting for the Royal Family.
|Apr 29, 2021|
American Espionage Was Born in the Dark Taverns of Philadelphia
Philadelphia is often referred to as the birthplace of a nation, but it would also be fair to say that it was the birthplace of American espionage.
Today’s guests, Keith Melton and Robert Wallace, author of Spy Sites of Philadelphia, discuss the city’s secret history from the nation’s founding to the present.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, Patriot leaders included intelligence operations as a crucial element of the new government. George Washington was America’s first spymaster, deploying his agents to overcome the advantages of the British force. After the war, spy activity centered around the city’s port facilities and manufacturing plants. As political, diplomatic, and economic activity shifted from Philadelphia to New York and Washington, DC in the second half of the 20th century, the city remained a target first for Chinese and Soviet industrial spying and, later, for Islamic jihadist recruitment operations.
Spies in Philadelphia have been putting their lives at risk to uncover enemy secrets and undertake deadly missions of disruption and sabotage for over two centuries.
|Apr 27, 2021|
The Jazz Age Tale of America’s First Gangster Couple, Margaret and Richard Whittemore
Before Bonnie and Clyde, there was another criminal couple capturing America’s attention. Baltimore sweethearts, Margaret and Richard Whittemore, made tabloids across the country as Tiger Girl and The Candy Kid during the 1920s for stealing millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds and precious gems along with Americans’ hearts.
Todays guest, Glenn Stout, author of “Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid,” discuss the Whittemore’s Jazz Age exploits. This era is typically defined in terms of its glamour. But not everyone in 1920s America had it all. In the wake of world war, a pandemic, and an economic depression, Margaret and Richard Whittemore, two love-struck working-class kids, reached for the dream of a better life. The two would stop at nothing to get rich and headed up a gang that in less than a year stole over one million dollars’ worth of diamonds and precious gems - over ten million dollars today.
Margaret was a chic flapper, the archetypal gun moll, right hand to her husband’s crimes. Richard was the quintessential bad boy, the gang’s cunning and muscle that allowed the Whittemores to live the kind of lives they’d only seen in the movies. Along the way he killed at least three men, until prosecutors managed a conviction. As tabloids across the country exclaimed the details of the couple’s star-crossed romance, they became heroes to a new generation of young Americans who sought their own version of freedom
|Apr 22, 2021|
Announcement: Next Week James Early and I Launch "Key Battles of the Pacific Theatre (WW2)"
Good news! Next week James Early and I launch a 35-part series called Key Battles of the Pacific Theater (WW2). You won't hear it on this podcast but on James's new show called Key Battles of American History. You can find it on the podcast player of your choice, or go over to keybattlesofamericanhistory.com.
|Apr 21, 2021|
For Centuries, America’s Best Friend in the Middle East Was…Iran?
As far back as America’s colonial period, educated residents were fascinated with Iran (or Persia, as it was known). The Persian Empire was subject of great admiration by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Iranians returned the favor. They thought the American model was an ideal one to copy for their own government. 19th century American missionaries helped build schools, hospitals, and libraries across Iran. Iran loved America far more than any other Western nation due to it not meddling in colonial affairs.
So what happened? What all changed to the point that the United States helped overthrow Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953, and in 1979, Iranians held U.S. embassy staff hostage? Why does it seem that the only interaction the U.S. and Iran has regards the latent fear of a nuclear war?
Today’s guest, John Ghazvinian, America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present, is here to get into the long history between the two nations. Drawing on years of archival research both in the United States and Iran--including access to Iranian government archives rarely available to Western scholars--the Iranian-born, Oxford-educated historian leads us through the four seasons of U.S.-Iran relations: the "spring" of mutual fascination; the "summer" of early interactions; the "autumn" of close strategic ties; and the long, dark "winter" of mutual hatred.
He discusses why two countries that once had such heartfelt admiration for each other became such committed enemies; showing us, as well, how it didn't have to turn out this way.
|Apr 20, 2021|
George Washington Became Great Because He Spent Years in the Political Wilderness as a Washed-Up Has-Been
By age twenty-two, George Washington was acclaimed as a hero. As a commander of the Virginia Regiment, he gave orders to men decades older than himself. He was good at most things he tried and his name was known throughout British North America and England. Yet his military career came to ashes when he was twenty-seven. He tumbled down in power and was reduced to arguing on a law in the Virginia House of Burgesses of the banning of pigs running loose. His life is a story of careful reinvention from early missteps, culminating in his unanimous election as the nation's first president. But how did Washington emerge from a military leader to the highest office in the country?
Today’s guest, David Stewart – author of George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, says that Washington has often been portrayed as less eloquent and politically savvy than peers, but his political skills were second to none. From Virginia's House of Burgesses, where Washington learned the craft and timing of a practicing politician, to his management of local government as a justice of the Fairfax County Court, to his eventual role in the Second Continental Congress and his grueling generalship in the American Revolution, Washington perfected the art of governing and service, earned trust, and built bridges. The lessons in leadership he absorbed along the way proved invaluable during the early years of the republic as he fought to unify the new nation.
We look at five treacherous political minefields that Washington navigated in his career, including:
• Bringing his army through a winter of despair at Valley Forge in 1778, while thwarting a combination to supersede him as commander in chief, then winning a crucial battle at the Monmouth Court House
• Persuading mutinous, unpaid soldiers and officers to lay down their arms and embrace peace in 1783, then playing the crucial role in resolving the nation’s political chaos with a new constitution in 1787
• Leading the new federal government as it was created from next to nothing, then guiding the bargain for a financial program that restored the nation’s credit and ensured its solvency
• Keeping the nation out of the European war that followed the French Revolution, cooling passionate American adherents of both France and Britain
• Struggling, in his final years, with human slavery, hoping to point his countrymen toward repentance and even redemption.
|Apr 15, 2021|
The Nazi’s Granddaughter -- Discovering War Crimes in Your Family's Past
This episode looks at a deathbed promise from a daughter to a mother, which leads the daughter on a journey to write about her grandfather who was a famous war hero. But this journey had a terrible destination: the discovery that he was a Nazi war criminal.
Today’s guest is the daughter -- Silvia Foti – author of the book “The Nazi’s Grandaughter." Her mother was dying and she wanted to preserve family history, so she asked Sylvia to write a book about Foti’s grandfather, Jonas Noreika, a famous WWII hero. Foti’s grandmother tries to intervene – begging her granddaughter not to write about her husband. “Just let history lie,” she whispered.
Foti had no idea that in keeping her promise to her mother, her discoveries would bring her to a personal crisis, unearth Holocaust denial, and expose an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government that resulted in an internationally-followed lawsuit.
Jonas Noreika was a Lithuanian known as General Storm. He led an uprising that won the country of Lithuania back from the communists, only to have it fall under Nazi control. He was an official during the Holocaust and chief of the second largest region in the country during the Nazi occupation, yet he became a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Foti set out to write a heroic biography about her famous grandfather. But as she dug ever deeper, she “encountered so much evidence proving my flesh and blood ‘hero’ was a Jew-killer, even I could no longer believe the lie.”
|Apr 13, 2021|
The 15-Hour Work Week Was Standard For Nearly All of History. What Happened?
There’s nothing in human DNA that makes the 40-hour workweek a biological necessity. In fact, for much of human history, 15 hours of work a week was the standard, followed by leisure time with family and fellow tribe members, telling stories, painting, dancing, and everything else. Work was a means to an end, and nothing else.
So what happened? Why does work today define who we are? It determines our status, and dictates how, where, and with whom we spend most of our time. It mediates our self-worth and molds our values. But are we hard-wired to work as hard as we do? Did our Stone Age ancestors also live to work and work to live? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like?
To answer these questions, today’s guest James Suzman, author of Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots charts a grand history of "work" from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now. He demonstrates how our contemporary culture of work has its roots in the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago. Our sense of what it is to be human was transformed by the transition from foraging to food production, and, later, our migration to cities. Since then, our relationships with one another and with our environments, and even our sense of the passage of time, have not been the same.
Arguing that we are in the midst of a similarly transformative point in history, Suzman argues that automation might revolutionize our relationship with work and in doing so usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for our world.
|Apr 08, 2021|
Low Troop Morale Can Literally Destroy a Nation. That’s Why the USO Was Formed in 1941.
A standing army is the most powerful force in a nation, but it can also threaten its very survival. That’s because you're taking a group of young men – those who are typically the core of your workforce and paying them to spend a majority of their time on bases doing nothing all day. Not only that, but you also pay them for the privilege. And if they get disgruntled or bored, riots, coups, or even revolutions can break out.
The U.S. military has always understood the importance of troop morale, and a massive organization was formed to handle it in early 1941. On the eve of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to unite several service associations into one organization to lift morale of our military and nourish support on the home front. Those entities – the Salvation Army, the YMCA, YWCA, and others, became the United Service Organizations or, the USO. It was created to offer hospitality for traveling service members and their families. The trademark USO tours bring America and its celebrities to service members, most famously comedian Bob Hope.
Today’s guest is JD Crouch, the CEO of USO. We discuss a brief history of the USO, how the organization was formed, why it was formed, and some interesting historical nuggets from WWII.
We also get into the role of the USO supporting a racially segregated military and role of women in the military and the USO, and how the USO’s programming, services and entertainment have evolved – From serving coffee on the frontlines during WWII to providing WiFi today. Other stories that come up include Robin Williams being caught off guard by troops during revelry or an anecdote about USO staff being made honorary members of the Green Berets in Vietnam.
|Apr 06, 2021|
Defining Treason – Why Are Founding Fathers Heroes But Confederate Leaders Not?
There is perhaps no other accusation as damning as ‘traitor.’ The only crime specifically defined in the Constitution, the term conjures notions of Benedict Arnold, hundreds of thousands of Civil War deaths, and our own worst fears about living in a country so starkly divided between Red and Blue. Clearly this tern needs clarification. That’s what today’s guest, UC Davis law professor Carlton F.W. Larson, author of ON TREASON: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law , is here to do. He offers an accessible look at the legal definition of treason, as opposed to the way it has recently been used for rhetorical mudslinging.
We discuss how the law has historically been applied to the famous—and infamous—actions of people like John Brown, Tokyo Rose, Edward Snowden, Jane Fonda, and Aaron Burr, as well as the largely forgotten cases of men like Walter Allen and Hipolito Salazar, the only man executed by the federal government for treason since the end of the Revolutionary War. The varied stories provide snapshots of America at moments of danger: a nation terrified of an oncoming war at Harpers Ferry; in Hanoi, during a war that caused upheaval at home; and on the banks of the Hudson during the Revolution, a group of traitors from the Crown reeling from the treasonous actions of one of their own.
|Apr 01, 2021|
“Fire Eaters” of the Confederacy: The Foot Soldiers of the South Who Made Secession Possible
The story of the American Civil War is typically told with particular interest in the national players behind the war: Davis, Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and their peers. However, the truth is that countless Americans on both sides of the war worked in their own communities to sway public perception of abolition, secession, and government intervention. In north Alabama, David Hubbard was an ardent and influential voice for leaving the Union, spreading his increasingly radical view of states' rights and the need to rebel against what he viewed as an overreaching federal government.
You have likely never heard of Hubbard, the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier who fought under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. He was much more than that stereotype of antebellum Alabama politicians, being an early speculator in lands coerced from Native Americans; a lawyer and cotton planter; a populist; an influential member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama; and a key promoter of the very first railroad built west of the Allegheny mountains.
Today’s guest, Chris McIlwain, is author of The South's Forgotten Fire-Eater. We discuss the story of Hubbard's radicalization, describing his rise to becoming the most influential and prominent secessionist in north Alabama. Despite growing historical interest in the "fire eaters" who whipped the South into a frenzy, there has been little mention until now of Hubbard's integral involvement in Alabama's relationship with the Confederacy. But Hubbard's story is a cautionary tale of radical politics and its consequences.
|Mar 30, 2021|
Witnessing The Final Destruction of Hitler’s War Machine
By mid-February 1945, the Wehrmacht had finally reached strategic bankruptcy. In January and February alone, it had lost 660,000 men. The Home Army lacked the weapons (including small arms) and ammunition to equip new divisions. In January, against a monthly demand for 1,500,000 tank and anti-tanks rounds, production fell to 367,000.
Despite this hopeless position, with Russia within seventy miles of Berlin, Hitler planned another offensive in Hungary, using the 6th SS Panzer Army, which had been pulled out of the Ardennes in January. Hitler planned to envelop a large part of the 3rd Ukrainian Front between the Danube and the Drava, sweep across the Danube, recapture Budapest, and overrun eastern Hungary. Of course it failed. Hitler committed suicide in April and the army surrendered shortly after.
How were Hitler’s forces finally defeated? What happened after the well-known Battle of the Bulge? That famed clash was not the end for Nazi Germany, yet the critical and horrific battles that followed and forced it into submission have rarely been adequately covered. Today’s guest is Samuel Mitcham, author of the new book The Death of Hitler’s War Machine: The Final Destruction of the Wehrmacht. We discuss how the once-dreaded Nazi military came to its cataclysmic end.
Hitler’s army had risked all to win all on the Western Front with its surprise winter campaign in the Ardennes, the “Battle of the Bulge.” But when American and Allied forces recovered from their initial shock, the German Army, the Wehrmacht, was left fighting for its very survival—especially on the Eastern Front, where the Soviet Army was intent on matching, or even surpassing, Nazi atrocities.
The Death of Hitler’s War Machine gives the detailed and little-known account of how the Wehrmacht—at the mercy of its own leader, the Führer—was brought to its bitter end. We discuss:
•Hitler’s disastrous foreign policy that pitted the Wehrmacht against most of the world
•How Hitler refused to acknowledge reality and forbade German retreats—essentially condemning the troops to death
•Why the Wehrmacht was slowly annihilated in horrific battles, the most brutal of which was the Soviet siege of Budapest, which became known as “the Stalingrad of the Waffen-SS”
•The loss of the air war, 1943–1944, which led to the devastation of German cities and the complete disruption of her industry and infrastructure
|Mar 25, 2021|
The USS Plunkett: The Unsinkable Navy Destroyer That Fought at Manzio, D-Day, and Southern France
The USS Plunkett was a US Navy destroyer that sustained the most harrowing attack on any Navy ship by the Germans during World War II, that gave as good as it got, and that was later made famous by John Ford and Herman Wouk.
Plunkett’s defining moment was at Anzio, where a dozen-odd German bombers bore down on the ship in an assault so savage, so prolonged, and so deadly that one Navy commander was hard-pressed to think of another destroyer that had endured what Plunkett had. After a three-month overhaul and with a reputation rising as the “fightin’est ship” in the Navy, Plunkett (DD-431) plunged back into the war at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and once again into battle during the invasion of Southern France – perhaps the only Navy ship to participate in every Allied invasion in the European theatre.
Today's guest is James Sullivan, author of "Unsinkable: Five Men and the INdomitable Run of the USS Plunkett." Featuring five incredibly brave men — the indomitable skipper, who will receive the Navy Cross; the gunnery officer, who bucks the captain every step of the way to Anzio; a first lieutenant, who’s desperate to get off the ship and into the Pacific; a 17-year-old water tender, who’s trying to hold onto his hometown girl against all odds, and another water tender, who mans a 20mm gun when under aerial assault — the dramatic story of each plays out on the decks of the Plunkett as the ship’s story escalates on the stage of the Mediterranean.
|Mar 23, 2021|
How Ex-Slaves Built New Lives for Themselves – and America – After the Civil War
After the massive devastation of the Civil War, America tried to rebuild itself, leading to the era of Reconstruction. Many hoped the South would peaceably re-enter the Union, slaves would enjoy full liberty as American citizens, and the United States would emerge stronger.
But it didn’t happen this way.Thousands of freed slaves were kicked out of plantations, lived as war refugees, and arrested on charges of vagrancy. Others died of disease or starvation. Radical Republicans sought citizenship and full legal equality of black Americans, while Southerners sought segregation and white supremacy.
But despite the challenges, many former slaves did incredible things building new lives. They opened business. They started churches. Others even began schools that became universities.
To get into the Reconstruction era, today’s guest is Kidada Williams, a historian and author. She is host of the new show Siezing Freedom, which uses first-hand accounts from diaries, newspapers, speeches, and letters. We get into the challenges and triumphs of this era but also questions of what could have been done to make the Reconstruction era go right, if anything could have been done at all.
|Mar 18, 2021|
George Washington’s Final (And Most Important?) Battle Was Uniting America By Building a New Capital
George Washington is remembered for leading the Continental Army to victory, presiding over the Constitution, and forging a new nation, but few know the story of his involvement in the establishment of a capital city and how it nearly tore the United States apart.
Robert P. Watson, today’s guest and author of “George Washington’s Final Battle” discusses how the country's first president tirelessly advocated for a capital on the shores of the Potomac. Washington envisioned and had a direct role in planning many aspects of the city that would house the young republic. In doing so, he created a landmark that gave the fledgling democracy credibility, united a fractious country, and created a sense of American identity.
Although Washington died just months before the federal government's official relocation, his vision and influence live on in the city that bears his name.
This little-known story of founding intrigue throws George Washington's political acumen into sharp relief and provides a historical lesson in leadership and consensus-building that remains relevant today.
|Mar 16, 2021|
Lessons Companies Should Learn From Mobsters' Business Practices
Every day, iconic brands like J.C. Penny, Sears, Kodak, and Blockbuster vanish. As entire lawful industries are disrupted out of existence, how have some organized criminal syndicates endured for nearly a century - despite billions of dollars of law enforcement opposition and ruthless rivals dedicated to their demise?
In Relentless, Zimmerman and Forrester combine seventy-five years of Nobel Prize-winning economics research with insights from criminal prosecutors to examine how the Sinaloa Cartel, the American Mafia, the Hells Angels, the Crips, and the Bloods survive, and even thrive, whereas legal companies that play by the rules falter and often fail.
All successful leaders—both lawful and unlawful—must follow the same fundamental economic principles: assign tasks, measure outcomes, reward performance, and cultivate corporate culture. Successful criminal enterprises construct their “Four Pillars" to create high-performance teams with a long-term focus, enduring corporate cultures, and strong brands. They attract the “right” people while purging “vampires” – individuals that take more from, rather than contribute to, an organization.
Lawful managers cannot merely copy mobsters’ four pillars, but they can follow the underlying economic principles to construct relentless organizations.
|Mar 11, 2021|
All of Human History, Civilization, and Culture Converge in One Place: Turkish Food
Napoleon once commented that if the Earth were a single state, Istanbul (nee Constantinople) would be its capital. The general clearly knew his geography: Istanbul is the meeting point of Europe and Asia to the East and West, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to the North and South, the convergence of the Silk and Spice Roads, and the pit stop for pilgrims going to Mecca or Jerusalem. The point is that in the pre-modern period, any soldier, merchant, or pious person had to pass through the city.
And with that much cultural interaction going on, it's no surprise that Turkish food is the original fusion cuisine. Since human history, civilization, and culture converge in one place, you can make the argument that Turkish food is sort of an archeological record of the human experience.
On the far eastern side of Turkish civilization, you have the Central Asian Turkic peoples who created the forefather of today's Chinese dumplings. On the far western side, you have kebabs, eggplant dishes, and other Mediterranean cuisines that many swear is actually Greek food (don't get us started on arguments that this or that dish is actually Turkish but stolen from the Greeks, and vice versa).
Today's guest is Derek Imai, host of the Youtube Channel Meet Turkey, which explores the depths of Istanbul's society, culture, and food. It's sort of a mix of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the travel writing of Rick Steves, all tied together with a good dose of Ottoman and Turkish history. You can find his channel and free cooking videos on meetturkey.io.
Here are other things we discuss:
Yogurt was originally fermented horse milk made to feed horseback mounted warriors in Central Asia (including Genghis Khan's army)
The fusion of Arabic and Mediterranean cuisine produces delights (baklava) and head-scratching curiosities that mix sweet and savory (chicken pudding).
The strange names of Turkish dishes that translate terribly into English. Women's Thigh. The Imam Fainted. The Sultan's delight.
|Mar 09, 2021|
The Forgotten Fourteenth Colony of British North America
British West Florida—which once stretched from the mighty Mississippi to the shallow bends of the Apalachicola and portions of what are now the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana—is the forgotten fourteenth colony of America's Revolutionary era. The area's eventful years as part of the British Empire form an overlooked but important interlude in our American history which is corrected with the publication of the new book "Fourteenth Colony" by today's guest Mike Bunn.
For a host of reasons, including that West Florida did not rebel against the British government, the colony has long been dismissed as a loyal but inconsequential fringe outpost, if it was considered at all. But the colony's history showcases tumultuous politics featuring a halting attempt at instituting representative government; a host of bold and colorful characters; a compelling saga of struggle; perseverance in the pursuit of financial stability; and a dramatic series of land and sea battles that ended its days under the Union Jack. In Fourteenth Colony: The Forgotten Story of the Gulf South During America's Revolutionary Era, historian Mike Bunn offers the first comprehensive examination of the colony, introduces readers to the Gulf Coast's remarkable British period, and restores West Florida to its rightful place in the lore of Colonial America.
|Mar 04, 2021|
How to Recover Family Treasure The Nazis Plundered in the 1940s
Today's guest recently went on a quest to reclaim his family’s property in Poland and found himself
entangled with Nazi treasure hunters. He is Menachem Kaiser, author of "Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure."
Kaiser’s story is set in motion when the author takes up his Holocaust-survivor grandfather’s former battle to reclaim the family’s apartment building in Sosnowiec, Poland. Soon, he is on a circuitous path to encounters with the long-time residents of the building, and with a Polish lawyer known as “The Killer.” A surprise discovery—that his grandfather’s cousin not only survived the war, but wrote a secret memoir while a slave laborer in a vast, secret Nazi tunnel complex—leads to Kaiser being adopted as a virtual celebrity by a band of Silesian treasure seekers who revere the memoir as the indispensable guidebook to Nazi plunder.
In our discussion, we get into questions that reach far beyond Kaiser's personal quest. What does it mean to seize your own legacy? Can reclaimed property repair rifts among the living?
|Mar 02, 2021|
How 9 Former Slaves Started a Proto University in Alabama in 1867
Alabama State University is well known as a historically black university and for the involvement of its faculty and students in the civil rights movement. Less attention has been paid to the school's remarkable origins, having begun as the Lincoln Normal School in Marion, Alabama, founded by nine former slaves. These men are rightly considered the progenitors of Alabama State University, as they had the drive and perseverance to face the challenges posed by a racial and political culture bent on preventing the establishment of black schools and universities. It is thanks to the actions of the Marion Nine that Alabama's rural Black Belt produces a disproportionate number of African American Ph.D. recipients, a testament to the vision of the Lincoln Normal School's founders.
Today's guest is Joseph Caver, author of the book "From Marion to Montgomery: The Early Years of Alabama State University, 1867-1925." He discusses the story of the Lincoln Normal School's transformation into the legendary Alabama State University, including the school's move to Montgomery in 1887 and evolution from Normal School to junior college to full-fledged four-year university. It's a story of visionary leadership, endless tenacity, and a true belief in the value of education.
|Feb 25, 2021|
The Pen or the Sword? How Lincoln and John Brown Disagreed on Achieving Emancipation
John Brown was a charismatic and deeply religious man who heard the God of the Old Testament speaking to him, telling him to destroy slavery by any means. When Congress opened Kansas territory to slavery in 1854, Brown raised a band of followers to wage war. His men tore pro-slavery settlers from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Three years later, Brown and his men assaulted the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to arm slaves with weapons for a race war that would cleanse the nation of slavery. He wasn't the only one using strong methods to free slaves, but many questioned his violent methods.
Today's Guest, H.W. Brand, is author of the book "The Zealot and the Emancipator," an account of how two American giants shaped the war for freedom.
Brown’s violence pointed ambitious Illinois lawyer and former officeholder Abraham Lincoln toward a different solution to slavery: politics. Lincoln spoke cautiously and dreamed big, plotting his path back to Washington and perhaps to the White House. Yet his caution could not protect him from the vortex of violence Brown had set in motion. After Brown’s arrest, his righteous dignity on the way to the gallows led many in the North to see him as a martyr to liberty. Southerners responded with anger and horror to a terrorist being made into a saint. Lincoln shrewdly threaded the needle between the opposing voices of the fractured nation and won election as president. But the time for moderation had passed, and Lincoln’s fervent belief that democracy could resolve its moral crises peacefully faced its ultimate test.
|Feb 23, 2021|
How States Got Their Shapes
Why do Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states share a boxy, sharp-edged shape while East Coast state borders look like the fever dream of an impressionist painter? Much of it has to do with when these states came into existence, and whether their borders were set by an 18th century land surveyor, a 19th century committee that wanted to balance the size of free states and slave states, or a 20th century government panel basing their decisions on aerial photography.
|Feb 18, 2021|
Great News! Frequent Guest James Early Has Launched His Own Podcast - Key Battles of American History.
Frequent History Unplugged guest James Early (co-host of Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WW1, and Presidential Fight Club) now has his own podcast! It's called Key Battles of American History, and you can find it by going to keybattlesofamericanhistory.com. This episode has a short snipped of one of his most recent episodes on the great WW1 film "All Quiet on the Western Front." Check it out on the podcast player of your choice.
|Feb 17, 2021|
When to Let the Past Die: The Case of Obersalzberg and Denazification
In this episode, we’ll look at Obersalzberg--a region that became a secret headquarters for the Nazi Party in WW2 that was later completely destroyed by the Allies and Germany to denazify it--and what it means to cleanse a region from its past. For example, Is it right to destroy monuments or should they be kept no matter what, even if they celebrate a regrettable history?
|Feb 16, 2021|
The Mountain Man Was Once Considered To Be The Purest Distillation of the American Spirit
For a 100-year period, from the 1880s to 1980s, if you asked an American which profession was the purest expression of the nation's spirit, they wouldn't answer with soldier, baseball player, or astronaut. Rather, they would answer with "mountain man." That's because American history taught that the nation's identity developed from the friction between civilization and the frontier. And nobody did more to conquer the frontier then mountain men, a group of trappers who went out into th American wilderness after the Lewis and Clark expedition, but before it was settled by pioneers in the 1830s. In this episode we look at the background of these mountain men and why they play such an outsized role in American History.
|Feb 11, 2021|
Sally Rand Was America's Sex Symbol, From the Roaring 20s to the Apollo Era
She would be arrested six times in one day for indecency. She would be immortalized in the final scene of The Right Stuff, cartoons, popular culture, and live on as the iconic symbol of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. She would pave the way for every sex symbol to follow from Marilyn Monroe to Lady Gaga. She would die penniless and in debt. In the end, Sammy Davis Jr. would write her a $10,000 check when she had nothing left. Her name was Sally Rand. Until now, there has not been a biography of Sally Rand. Today's guest, William Hazelgrove, has set out to follow her life in his new book "Sally Rand: American Sex Symbol."
You can draw a line from her to Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Ann Margret, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. She broke the mold in 1933, by proclaiming the female body as something beautiful and taking it out of the strip club with her ethereal fan dance. She was a poor girl from the Ozarks who ran away with a carnival, then joined the circus, and finally made it to Hollywood where Cecil B Demille set her on the road to fame with silent movies. When the talkies came her career collapsed, and she ended up in Chicago, broke, sleeping in alleys. Two ostrich feathers in a second-hand store rescued her from obscurity.
Overall, Sally Rand is a testament to endless resourcefulness, tenacity, and never giving up.
|Feb 09, 2021|
If the 1700s American Fur Trade Had Turned Out Differently, Californians Would Be Speaking Russian Today
Today's guest is David Bainbridge, author of "Fur War 1765-1840," which focuses on the catastrophic - and previously overlooked - elements of the Western fur trade in North America.
We discuss how the many First Nations fought to maintain their communities and local ecology while Russia, Great Britain, America, France, Spain, Mexico, and Hawaii contested for furs and power. With just a few minor changes in government response or markets - the North Americans on the west coast might speak Spanish or Russian and how Tlingit, Haida, and Mowachat Nations might dominate the North Coast.
|Feb 04, 2021|
The Most Giant Leap in the Evolution of Modern Warfare was...the Jeep?
The 1940-41 era was a bleak time in American history. The country was still in the midst of a recession within the Great Depression. Resources were limited. The German Army rolled out its powerful Blitzkrieg quick-strike capability and had begun to take over Europe. The American military knew war was coming, millions of lives would be at stake, and the future of democracy was hanging in the balance. In order to fight on equal ground, the Army realized they had to develop a vehicle for mobile warfare.”
They needed to replace the mule as a key transport for troops and weaponry across rough terrain,
In 1940, three companies competed to develop America’s first all-terrain, ¼-ton 4x4 vehicle, the Jeep, helping the allies emerge victorious in World War II. Paul R. Bruno, the author of The Original Jeeps, is the guest today. He discusses the true story of the challenges, emotions, strategy, and competition to design it, building a prototype in about 2 months. There were three competing companies, American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors, and Ford Motor Company, all in pursuit of the sole-source government contract to build the Jeep.
Bruno adds, “What is truly amazing is that three firms produced prototype models, each overcoming unique challenges and circumstances to do so. Anyone who knows anything about manufacturing realizes it took a real production miracle to get that done on very short notice.”
“General George C. Marshall called the Jeep ‘America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.’ President and General Dwight Eisenhower said the Jeep was a key tool that helped win the war.
|Feb 02, 2021|
Abraham Lincoln Survived and Thrived in the Anarchy of Antebellum America
“Some 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln,” Gordon Wood writes in The Wall Street Journal, “more than any other historical figure except Jesus.” So why should you read one more? Because “there has never been one like this one.” In Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, David S. Reynolds has written “a marvelous cultural biography that captures Lincoln in all his historical fullness”:
Abraham Lincoln grew up in absolutely wild times. It was divisive, partisan, and violent. Government in antebellum America was weak and unstructured. The economy was in chaos. Gordon Wood notes thousands of different kinds of paper-money notes flew about, and risk-taking and bankruptcies were everywhere; even some states went bankrupt. There were duels, rioting and mobbing. Americans drank more per capita than nearly all other nations, which provoked temperance movements. Fistfights, knifings and violence were ordinary affairs, taking place even in state legislatures and the Congress.
But Abraham Lincoln survived and thrive in this environment. David Reynolds, today's guest and author of "Abraham Lincoln in his Times, said that far from distancing himself from the wild world of antebellum America, Lincoln was thoroughly immersed in it. After he assumed the presidency, he was able to redefine democracy for his fellow Americans ‘precisely because he had experienced culture in all its dimensions—from high to low, sacred to profane, conservative to radical, sentimental to subversive.’
“Much of Lincoln’s greatness, writes Mr. Reynolds, came from his ability to tap into this culture. He was able to respond thoughtfully to the teeming chaos of antebellum America. Lincoln was less a self-made man than an America-made man. He told his law partner, William Herndon, ‘Conditions make the man and not man the conditions.’ But, according to Herndon, Lincoln also ‘believed firmly in the power of human effort to modify the environments which surround us.’ Indeed, his capacity to shape the world around him was crucial to his life and to the life of the nation.”
|Jan 28, 2021|
The Cuban Missile Crisis Was Horrifyling Close to Becoming a Nuclear Holocaust
The Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s nearly led to a full-scale nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union. It thankfully didn't happen, but we came much closer than many realize.
Today's guest Martin Sherwin is author of the book Gambling with Armageddon. He gives us a riveting sometimes hour-by-hour explanation of the crisis itself, but also explores the origins, scope, and consequences of the evolving place of nuclear weapons in the post-World War II world. Mining new sources and materials, and going far beyond the scope of earlier works on this critical face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union–triggered when Khrushchev began installing missiles in Cuba at Castro’s behest–Sherwin shows how this volatile event was an integral part of the wider Cold War and was a consequence of nuclear arms.
We look in particular at the original debate in the Truman Administration about using the Atomic Bomb; the way in which President Eisenhower relied on the threat of massive retaliation to project U.S. power in the early Cold War era; and how President Kennedy, though unprepared to deal with the Bay of Pigs debacle, came of age during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here too is a clarifying picture of what was going on in Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.
|Jan 26, 2021|
Atomic Bombs, Ancient Women Warriors, and Alien Conspiracy Theories of WW2
This episode is a 3-in-1, in which Scott answers a trio of questions from listeners.
First question: Did ancient female warriors exist, and if so, how common they were on the battlefield? The answer is yes, but in all but a few situations, they were involved in wars in ways that didn’t involve physical combat. They were strategists – like Eleanor of Aquitaine, figureheads (like Joan of Arc), or possibly legendary – like Shieldmaidens. If they were actually involved in combat, the place where they were most strongly represented were defending their cities during sieges. I’ll explain why so few women are involved in combat, then I’ll give examples where we know they do exist.
The second question has to do with arguments for and against the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was it unfortunate but justified, or (what critics claim) a war crime?
The last topic is the Philadelphia Experiment. On October 28, 1943, the U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge was claimed to have been rendered invisible (or "cloaked") to enemy devices. More specifically, it was made invisible, teleported to New York, teleported to another dimension where it encountered aliens, and teleported through time, resulting in the deaths of several sailors, some of whom were fused with the ship's hull.
This is the famed Philadelphia Experiment. And it's the perfect example of how conspiracy theories start. They rely on third or fourth-hand accounts. They make reference to scientific principles but are really built on half-baked theories that are poorly understood. Most importantly, they reference classified events so independent investigators can't confirm or deny them.
|Jan 21, 2021|
How Ancient Egypt Lives On
A nasty historical myth that won’t die is that aliens created the ancient pyramids. If you watch the show ancient aliens on the history channel you’ll see Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the crazy hair guy.
Nevertheless, The enigmatic nature of the burial for these otherwise poor laborers is one of many reasons that these builders are a source of considerable speculation today. We have almost no information about them, except that they accomplished feats of engineering considered beyond the abilities of technology in the ancient world.
In today’s episode we’ll solve the myster of how the pyramids were built. But we’ll also talk abouthow they created or developed things like: mathematics, bowling, the alphabet, wigs, cosmetics, and centralized bureacracy, paper and writing, medicine, and primitive surgery. And of course, engineering – with the pyramids – and our understanding of how to commemorate the dead.
|Jan 19, 2021|
In 1813, a Shawnee "Prophet" Launched a War to Conquer the Great Lakes Region
Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh's life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader--admired by the same white Americans he opposed--it was Tenskwatawa, called the "Shawnee Prophet," who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Native American society and customs provide a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways.
Today’s guest, Peter Cozzens, author of the book “Tecumseh and the Prophet,” brings us to the forefront of the chaos and violence that characterized the young American Republic, when settlers spilled across the Appalachians to bloody effect in their haste to exploit lands won from the British in the War of Independence, disregarding their rightful Indian owners. Tecumseh and the Prophet presents the untold story of the Shawnee brothers who retaliated against this threat--the two most significant siblings in Native American history, who, Cozzens helps us understand, should be writ large in the annals of America.
|Jan 14, 2021|
Millions Were Left Homeless After WW2. What Happened To Those Who Were Permanently Exiled?
In May 1945, German forces surrendered to the Allied powers, putting an end to World War II in Europe. But the aftershocks of global military conflict did not cease with the German capitulation. Millions of lost and homeless concentration camp survivors, POWs, slave laborers, political prisoners, and Nazi collaborators in flight from the Red Army overwhelmed Germany, a nation in ruins. British and American soldiers gathered the malnourished and desperate refugees and attempted to repatriate them. But after exhaustive efforts, there remained more than a million displaced persons left behind in Germany: Jews, Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans who refused to go home or had no homes to return to. The Last Million would spend the next three to five years in displaced persons camps, temporary homelands in exile, divided by nationality, with their own police forces, churches and synagogues, schools, newspapers, theaters, and infirmaries.
Today’s guest, David Nasaw, author of “THE LAST MILLION: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War “ discusses the fate of these people.
The international community could not agree on the fate of the Last Million, and after a year of debate and inaction, the International Refugee Organization was created to resettle them in lands suffering from postwar labor shortages. But no nations were willing to accept the 200,000 to 250,000 Jewish men, women, and children who remained trapped in Germany. In 1948, the United States, among the last countries to accept refugees for resettlement, finally passed a displaced persons bill. With Cold War fears supplanting memories of World War II atrocities, the bill granted the vast majority of visas to those who were reliably anti- Communist, including thousands of former Nazi collaborators and war criminals, while severely limiting the entry of Jews, who were suspected of being Communist sympathizers or agents because they had been recent residents of Soviet-dominated Poland. Only after the controversial partition of Palestine and Israel's declaration of independence were the remaining Jewish survivors able to leave their displaced persons camps in Germany.
By 1952, the Last Million were scattered around the world. As they crossed from their broken past into an unknowable future, they carried with them their wounds, their fears, their hope, and their secrets. Here for the first time, Nasaw illuminates their incredible history and, with profound contemporary resonance, shows us that it is our history as well.
|Jan 12, 2021|
The Mafia Was the Glue That Held Entire American Cities Together in the 20th Century
The Mafia and many political machines ran entire American cities in the 19th and 20 centuries. But some mobsters claim that it went much further than that. Chicago-area Sam Giancana claims that he and the mafia "owned" Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and then Harry Truman, whose career they promoted; that they had all-star athletes in their pocket, including Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays; and that Giancana conspired with other top Mafia bosses, as well as Hoffa, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, top CIA officials, top military officials, top Dallas police officials, top Texas oilmen etc. etc. to assassinate John F. Kennedy.
How much of this is true and how much is fiction? We will never know completely, but the roots of the mafia run deep in the soil of American politics.
|Jan 07, 2021|
Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America
Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook are just a few of today’s business pioneers who have succeeded in disrupting older existing business models, and whose motives and methods are constantly scrutinized by the government. They, in fact, resemble the robber barons of the 19th century.
Today's guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, author of the book "Iron Empires." He explores the aftermath of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad—how the country’s new railroad network expanded and was consolidated over the next four decades, and the incredible impact this had on the nation.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Edward H. Harriman are the men responsible for driving the country into the twentieth century and almost derailing our nation’s economy and society in the process. Additionally, the railway tycoons are responsible for creating the big business playbook that today’s big tech business leaders still use.
Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook are just a few of today’s business pioneers who have succeeded in disrupting an existing business model and whose motives and methods are constantly scrutinized by the government, much like the robber barons back in the day.
|Jan 05, 2021|
An Army Without a Country: Prussia’s Cult of the Military and the Road to World War One
Almost no society worshipped its military as much as the German state of Prussia in the 1700s-1800s (outside of ancient Sparta). Prussia was famously described as not a country with an army but an army with a country. That's because during the 18th century when other European states spent 20-30 of their annual budget on the military, the Prussian army regularly accounted for as much as three-quarters of public expenditure — even in times of peace. And this expenditure was widely accepted in all levels of Prussian society.
In this episode we will look at:
• How Prussia was a hinge point between medieval and modern armies
• How militaries evolved from aristocratic officers who treated enlisted men like slaves into the army being a great equalizer that unites a nation.
• Why Frederick the Great was a military genius that Napoleon worshipped.
• Why the Prussian military was the forge that created Germany and created a militaristic society that led to World War One.
|Dec 31, 2020|
William Miller Predicted Christ’s Return in 1844. Here's What Happened After His Prophecy Failed
In October 1844, tens of thousands of people in New England believed the world would soon end. They followed William Miller, a man who claimed that through his study of the Bible to know the exact day of Jesus’s return to earth. His followers sold everything they had in preparation for Christ’s second coming, in which he would gather them into heaven, and cleans the Earth in fire. The “Millerites” donned white garments called ascension robes. They climbed trees or mountains to speed up their ascension.
But Christ never came. The followers sat in confused disappointment. What happened to them after they gave up completely in their lives on earth? Moreover, what made them believe in Miller in the first place? Was he a particularly charismatic speaker, or was something happening in the United States that made belief in the apocalypse ripe? If so, what are those conditions and can they happen again?
|Dec 29, 2020|
This Civil War-Era Luke Skywalker Destroyed an Ironclad Death Star
One of America’s greatest but little-remembered Civil War heroes was Commander William Barker Cushing, who sank the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in a spectacular mission in 1864.
Regarded as erratic and insubordinate, Midshipman Cushing was drummed out of the Naval Academy in March 1861. But with the outbreak of war, the Union needed every trained officer it could find— and whatever his flaws, Cushing was an extremely talented naval officer. Ferocious, uncompromising, courageous, and loyal, he became a U.S. Navy commando and at the age of twenty-one was sent to destroy the South’s ultimate naval weapon—the Albemarle, an unsinkable vessel with a devastating iron ram.
Todays guest, Jerome Priesler, is author of "Civil War Commando." We discuss the death-defying mission that succeeded in sinking the Albemarle, helped reelect President Abraham Lincoln, and earned Cushing a hero’s grave in the Naval Academy’s cemetery.
|Dec 24, 2020|
The Greek Triple Agent: Alcibiades, The Strategist Who Fought On 3 Sides of the Peloponnesian War
Imagine if Benedict Arnold defected from America, went to England, then conspired against England with France during the Napoleonic Wars. During the War of 1812, America asks for him to come back but because his military skills were so desperately needed. He then is granted the position of general and wins the entire war of 1812 against the British. We would admire him as a smooth operator – like a James Bond and Loki the god of mischief – but never look up to him like an Abraham Lincoln.
We have that in the Ancient Greek character of Alcibiades. He was called the chameleon by Greek and Roman writers and for good reason.
Alcibiades, (born in 450 BC) was a brilliant but unscrupulous Athenian politician and military commander who provoked the sharp political antagonisms at Athens that were the main causes of Athens’ defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.
Alcibiades was intertwined with the conflicts in Athens between democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. Depending upon the circumstances, he could be said to be a proponent of each form of regime. Those shifting allegiances became even more complicated with Persia, as all of the parties within both Athens and Greece sought Persian support.
Learn how this Benedict Arnold of the ancient world played all sides and managed to stay alive far longer than anyone expected... until fate finally caught up with him.
|Dec 22, 2020|
America’s Worst President Can Teach Us Much About Writing Raunchy Poetry and Dying Suspiciously
The common view of Warren G. Harding is this: a likable affable fool from Ohio who was chose as Republican presidential candidate at a deadlocked national convention because he was the lowest common denominator. His cronies—the “Ohio Gang”— plundered the government while Harding pursued his vision of “a return normalcy,” which involved little more than writing raunchy poetry to his mistresses (which the Library of Congress made available to the public in 2014). Harding died in 1923, possibly at the hand of a political rival or a jealous wife. Historians agree with this assessment – in every poll of the president, Harding comes at the very bottom.
But what if this view is wrong? After all, Harding was beloved by Americans during his life and mourned deeply at his early passing. He was the first president to require a budget from Congress, improved relations with Latin America, and pushed for the inclusion of Black Americans into civic life.
In this episode, we’ll look at the legacy of America’s most hated president and if he deserves that distinction. Other topics include:
• Theories about his death There are lots and lots of theories about how he was murdered and they have to do with the belief he was always involved in scandals and womanizing.
• lurid poetry he sent to his mistress
• theories he might have been black (CSPAN episode from 1999 had lots of callers bout this)
• Whether Warren G. Harding’s reputation deserves to be rehabilitated.
|Dec 17, 2020|
The Eternal Legacy of the First World War
World War One was the most consequential social event in centuries. 10 million soldiers died, creating 3 million widows and 10 million orphans. Many Europeans felt disillusionment and even anger about the war. They questioned earlier notions of honor, duty, and bravery. Europe lost its economic centrality. New York replaced London as the financial capital of the world., and the US and the USSR emerged as proto-superpowers. But positive changes happened. The notion of what roles women could take on changed. Women proved themselves capable of doing much of what men came. Four empires were gone. Many new smaller nations were created from the Empires’ former territories.
|Dec 15, 2020|
The Sad Afterlives of WW1's Leaders: The Humbling (and Exiling) of Generals, Emperors, and Sultans
From 1914-1918, the leaders of World War One were generals who commanded millions of men, emperors who inherited dynasties with centuries of accumulated wealth, and Sultans who claimed a direct line of connection to the Prophet Muhammed. After the war, many of them lost all their money and power, and were forced into lonely exile. British Chief of Staff Henry Wilson left the army after the war and became a Member of Parliament. He was murdered on his doorstep by the Irish Republican Army in 1922. Kaiser Wilhelm II went into exile in the Netherlands and died in 1941 at the age of 82. When he died he was putting pins in a map to mark the progress of the German army. Enver Pasha fled to Germany after the war. Then he fled to Moscow and then Turkmenistan, where he took command of anti-Soviet rebels and was killed in the fighting in 1922.
|Dec 10, 2020|
The 1919 Paris Peace Conference Laid The First Bricks of the Road to World War Two
The Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919. Its task was the writing of five separate peace treaties with the defeated separate powers: Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, and Hungary (now separate nations). The defeated Central Powers were not allowed to participate in the negotiations. The terms would be dictated to them. Russia was also not allowed to come. The world had been remade. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson faced a daunting task. Even as they and all the other delegates sat down to their deliberations, borders and governments were being decided in tumult, anarchy, and armed conflict. Most of the crowned heads of Europe had been deposed. The Czar and his family had been murdered. The Kaiser was in exile in the Netherlands. Bavarian king Ludwig III had given way to a socialist revolt. Austria and Hungary had declared themselves republics, making Charles I an emperor without an empire (he would eventually go into exile in Switzerland, and later Madeira). The states of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland were reemerging from the past. Communist red flags popped up, however briefly, at points in the heart of Europe. German mercenary armies, the Freikorps, fought Bolsheviks in Germany, saving the secular, socialist Weimar Republic—and even tried to annex the Baltic States, in secular emulation of the Teutonic Knights.
|Dec 08, 2020|
WW1 Ends with Armistice: The Moment of Silence That Sounded Like the Voice of God
After Germany's' failed spring offensive, realized the only way to win was to push into France before the United States fully deployed its resources. The French and British were barely hanging on in 1918. By 1918, French reserves of military-aged recruits were literally a state secret; there were so few of them still alive. The British, barely maintaining 62 divisions on the Western Front, planned, in the course of 1918 – had the Americans not appeared – to reduce their divisions to thirty or fewer and essentially to abandon the ground war in Europe. But with the Americans, it renewed the fighting chances for the Allies. They decisively overtook the Germans at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September. In November, Kaiser Wilhelm, visiting Spa, was advised that he had no real control over much of the army. While there, he received a telegram from Berlin that read “All troops deserted. Completely out of hand.” Wilhelm decided to go to the Netherlands. There, he abdicated on November 9. The war officially came to an end on November 11, where all troops kept a moment of silence.
It was a religious experience. Here's what novelist Kurt Vonnegut says about it: "I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind."
|Dec 03, 2020|
The 1918 Battle of Meggido Shattered the Ottoman Empire and Created the Modern Middle East
The Battle of Megiddo was the climactic battle of the Sinai and Palestine campaign of the First World War, with Germans and Ottomans on one side, and British and French forces on the other (with Arab nationalists led by T.E. Lawrence). The actions immediately after it were a disaster for the Ottomans. They now had permanently lost control over their Middle Eastern possessions. Historian Edward Erickson writes “The battle…ranks with Ludendorff's Black Days of the German Army in the effect that it had on the consciousness of the Turkish General Staff. It was now apparent to all but the most diehard nationalists that the Turks were finished in the war. In spite of the great victories in Armenia and in Azerbaijan, Turkey was now in an indefensible condition, which could not be remedied with the resources on hand. It was also apparent that the disintegration of the Bulgarian Army at Salonika and the dissolution of the Austro–Hungarian Army spelled disaster and defeat for the Central Powers. From now until the Armistice, the focus of the Turkish strategy would be to retain as much Ottoman territory as possible.”
|Dec 01, 2020|
The Pilgrims and Native Americans Were Both On the Verge of Death Upon Meeting. Here's How They Saved Each Others' Lives.
For thousands of years, two distinct cultures evolved unaware of one another’s existence. Separated by what one culture called The Great Sea and known to the other as the Atlantic Ocean, the course of each culture’s future changed irreversibly four hundred years ago. In 1620 the Mayflower delivered 102 refugees and fortune seekers from England to Cape Cod, where these two cultures first encountered one another. The English sought religious freedom and fresh financial opportunities. The Natives were recovering from the Great Dying of the past several years that left over two-thirds of their people in graves. How would they react to one another? How might their experience shape modern cross-cultural encounters?
Today's guest, Kathryn Haueisen is the author of the book “The Mayflower Chronicles." Being descended from Elder William and Mary Brewster, Haueisen grew up knowing the English version of the story. She learned it both in school and at home. Once her life included grandchildren with Native American heritage, she became more curious about the Native side of the story. Her curiosity took her on a seven-year journey to England, the Netherlands, Plymouth, MA, and numerous museums, libraries, books, websites, and interviews with historians and descendants of the Native communities connected to the story
|Nov 26, 2020|
Thanksgiving Owes Its Existence To The 19th Century's Biggest Social Media Influencer
Thanksgiving today is now a commercially driven holiday with Black Friday following closely at its heels, celebrated with a department store parade, football, and at one point in time, masked costumes. But the holiday originally came into existence all thanks to a 19th-century widowed mother with no formal schooling. She eventually became one of America's most influential tastemakers.
Sarah Josepha Hale worked at the helm of one of the most widely read magazines in the nation, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Hale published Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others, while introducing American readers to such newfangled concepts as “domestic science,” white wedding gowns, and the Christmas tree. A prolific writer, Hale penned novels, recipe books, essays, and more, including the ubiquitous children’s poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But one theme ran throughout her life, from her first novel published in 1827, to a mission accomplished 36 years later; Hale never stopped pushing the leaders of her time to officially recognize and celebrate gratitude. She finally got her wish by personally petitioning Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Today's guest is Denise Kiernan, author of "We Gather Together." Alongside the story of Hale, Kiernan brings to the fore the stories of Indigenous peoples, immigrant communities, women’s rights activists, abolitionists, and more, offering readers an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies.
From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, festivals resembling Thanksgiving have been celebrated the idea of gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday.
|Nov 24, 2020|
The Empire Strikes Back: Germany's Final Push to Win WW1 in Spring 1918
Many thought that Germany was capable of winning World War One until the very end. Unlike World War 2, in which the Allies believed that victory was inevitable as early as 1943, this was not the case with the Great War. It is also easy to assume that German defeat was inevitable at the hands of an Allied coalition richer in manpower, weapons and money. Yet Germany nearly captured Paris in 1914, crushed Serbia and Romania, bled the French Army until it mutinied, drove Russia out of the war, and then came oh-so-close to victory on the Western Front in 1918. One should not underestimate the power of Imperial Germany. Until the armistice was signed in a French railway carriage on November 11, 1918, Germany's enemies didn't.
|Nov 19, 2020|
Tank Warfare--How Military Tech Took a Quantum Leap at the Battle of Cambrai (1917)
The British developed the tank in response to the trench warfare of World War I. In 1914, a British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and William Hankey, secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defense, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with conveyor-belt-like tracks over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. The men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. It all came together at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. The British saw it as their greatest victory. Church bells tolled throughout great Britain, the first time this had happened in the entire war.
|Nov 17, 2020|
The Yanks Are Coming -- America Enters World War One
Most Americans are indifferent about the nation's involvement in World War One (under half say the U.S. had a responsibility to fight in the war; one-in-five say it didn't). Many figure it entered the conflict too late to claim much credit, or intervention was discreditable. Some say the U.S. had no compelling national interest to enter the Great War; worse, U.S. intervention allowed Britain and France to force on Germany an unjust, punitive peace that made the rise of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party inevitable. But others argue that America's involvement saved Europe from a militaristic dictatorship that would have resulted in a worse 20th century. We look at all these aspects of America's involvement in the war in this episode.
|Nov 12, 2020|
The Slog of War -- the Passchendaele Campaign of 1917
The best way to describe the Third Ypres (Passchendaele) Campaign of 1917. It’s ‘slog.’ When you think about a drudging act that seems to accomplish nothing, this battle is it. Mud. Mud to your waist. Everything sinks down several feet into mud. Tanks, Cars, guns, horses, everything stuck in mud. Images of a battlefield landscape with pockmarked holes and mist rising from the plains with shattered trees is characterized by the third battle of Ypres.
The battle took place on the Western Front from July to November 1917 over control of ridges near the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders.
Private R.A. Colwell described the scene in 1918 as follows: "There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.”
|Nov 10, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 6: The Newly-Minted Cowboy
This is a preview of an episode in a members-only series on Teddy Roosevelt's years in the Dakota Badlands called Forging a President. Subscribe today for access to all premium episodes! https://patreon.com/unplugged
|Nov 06, 2020|
The Russian Revolutions of 1917-1923--A Bigger Threat Than the Kaiser?
We’ve looked at many battles in this series, but we’ve only tangentially touched on how this war fundamentally altered European society. The Great War is the watershed between the pre-modern and early modern era. As an example, all we have to do is look at Russia. Before World War One, it was an autocracy, very conservative, very religious, and only a few decades away from serfdom, which the rest of Europe abandoned in the Middle Ages. After the war, it was officially atheistic, communist, rapidly industrializing, and becoming one of two superpowers that dominated the 20th century. To Churchill, the Bolsheviks represented a greater threat to civilized Europe than did the reeking tube and iron shard of the Kaiser’s Reich. Bolshevism, he declared in the House of Commons, was “not a policy; it is a disease. It is not a creed; it is a pestilence.”
|Nov 05, 2020|
The Election of 1800 Was Worse Than 2020 in Every Way Imaginable
The election was perhaps the nastiest election the country has seen. It had horrible partisan rancor, personal insults, and a politicized media. But we aren't talking about the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Rather it was the 1000 presidential election, where President John Adams faced his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson.
Adams was decried as a ‘repulsive pedant’ and ‘gross hypocrite’ who ‘behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.’ Jefferson was said to be ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow’ who would create a nation where ‘murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.
Today's guest, Jeffrey Sikkenga, Executive Director of the Ashbrook Center and Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, believes that the election of 1800 has more parallels to today than any other election, but it also can give us hope.
Only 24 years after the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that the Americans were ‘one people,’ it looked like America could be torn apart. The Constitution was only 12 years old and the great unifying figure of George Washington — who was unanimously elected twice as president — had died the year before, in 1799. Even though Washington warned about the dangers of parties in his farewell address, two competing parties had formed — the Federalists of Adams and the Democratic-Republicans of Jefferson. Power had rarely been transferred peacefully between rival parties, and never in the new country.
Sikkenga argues that nevertheless, America surprised the world. Jefferson won, and Adams, despite personal bitterness at what he regarded as Jefferson’s betrayal, followed the Constitution and stepped aside peacefully. For his part, in his inaugural address Jefferson implored his ‘fellow-citizens’ to ‘unite with one heart and one mind’ and ‘restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.’
Jefferson wasn’t just mouthing platitudes. He believed that during the election Americans may ‘have called by different names,’ but above all they were ‘brethren of the same principle.’ The truths they shared in the Declaration and Constitution — equality, liberty, consent of the governed, the rule of law — were stronger than the differences of opinion dividing the parties.
|Nov 03, 2020|
Why WW1 Was the Graveyard of Empires (Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian)
World War One shattered the empires of Russia, the Ottomans, and the Austro-Hungarians, which had all existed in one form or another for centuries. That's because it broke the fragile alliances that kept these Empires alive. In this episode, we explore the Southern Fronts of World War One in 1916-1917. Starting with Italy, since Italy’s entry into the war, Italy and Austria had fought several battles along their border in the Alps. Neither side was able to make headway until May 1916, when Austria launched the “Punishment Expedition,” which pushed the Italian army back. In the winter of 1915-16, the Serbian army, with many civilians along fled Serbia into the mountains of Albania toward the coast. 200,000 died along the way. By mid-January 1916, the Allies were taking thousands from the Albanian coast to the Greek island of Corfu. Also in January, Austria-Hungary invaded Montenegro. Within 2 weeks, the government surrendered, although the army retreated into Albania. The Austrians followed them there, occupying Albania. Things were no better in the Ottoman Empire. It was due to divisions between its Turkish-speaking populations and Arabic-speaking populations. The same centrifugal forces that pulled apart the Austro-Hungarian empire were affecting the Ottoman Empire.
|Oct 29, 2020|
The Battle of the Somme Caused 1 Million Casualties But Was a Turning Point for WW1
The 1916 Battle of the Somme caused a total of 1 million casualties on all sides. the total is over a million casualties. The Allies had gained very little ground. At the end of the battle, they had gained only 7 miles and were still about 3 miles short of their goal from the first day of the war. The Somme, along with Verdun and the Brusilov Offensive, were among the bloodiest in world history up to that point. According to John Keegan, the Battle of the Somme was the greatest British tragedy of the twentieth century: “The Somme marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.” For many, the battle exemplified the ‘futile’ slaughter and military incompetence of the First World War. Yet a more professional and effective army emerged from the battle. And the tactics developed there, including the use of tanks and creeping barrages, laid some of the foundations of the Allies’ successes in 1918. The Somme also succeeded in relieving the pressure on the French at Verdun. Abandoning them would have greatly tested the unity of the Entente. One German officer described the Battle of the Somme as ‘the muddy grave of the German Field Army’. That army never fully recovered from the loss of so many experienced junior and non-commissioned officers.
|Oct 27, 2020|
The Flying Aces of World War One
Since the first successful flight of an airplane, people had imagined and dreamed of airplanes being used for combat. H. G. Wells's 1908 book (The War in the Air was an example. When World War One broke out, there were only about 1000 planes on all sides. Planes were very basic. Cockpits were open, instruments were rudimentary, and there were no navigational aids. Pilots had to use maps, which were not always reliable. Getting lost was common. Sometimes pilots had to land and ask directions! At the beginning of the war, airplanes were seen as being almost exclusively for reconnaissance, taking the job formerly done by cavalry. Eventually, however, it became necessary for planes to eliminate the observation planes of the enemy, so air-to-air combat (dogfights) became common.
|Oct 22, 2020|
The Brusilov Offensive: Russia's Mortal Blow to Austria-Hungary
Russia had lost a great deal of territory to Germany and Austria in 1915, and they wanted to gain it back. Russian General Alexei Brusilov put together a plan in April 1916 to launch a major offensive against Austria. It ended up being Russia's greatest feat of arms during World War I, and among the most deadly military offensives in world history. Brusilov hoped to take pressure off France and Britain and hopefully knock Austria out of the war. The plan was to attack along a broad front, preventing the Austrians from using reserves and minimizing the distance between Russian and Austrian lines. The result of the Brusilov Offensive was a terrible Russian blow against Austria-Hungary, which took 1,000,000 casualties. Russia could not hold onto its land gains, but it demonstrated its military capability on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution.
|Oct 20, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 5: Four-Eyes
This is a preview of an episode in a members-only series on Teddy Roosevelt's years in the Dakota Badlands called Forging a President. Subscribe today for access to all premium episodes! https://patreon.com/unplugged
|Oct 16, 2020|
WW1 At Sea: The Battle of Jutland (1916)
Although overlooked today, the war at sea was a crucial part of World War I overall. The German use of the Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (in which non-military ships could be blown up by submarines without the latter surfacing, making it impossible for innocent men, women, and children to abandon ship) against commerce not only threatened the Allied war effort, but also drew the United States into the conflict. In addition, the British economic blockade of Germany afforded by the Royal Navy’s command of the sea inflicted great damage on the war effort of Germany. Finally, the naval war held great ramifications for the future since many practices employed in the First World War were those pursued in the Second World War.
|Oct 15, 2020|
Verdun - The 299-Day Battle That Killed 300K Soldiers And Still Scars The Earth With Unexploded Shells
The Battle of Verdun--fought from February 21-December 18 1916 in the Western Front of France--was horrifying and hellish even by the standards of World War One. Over a 299-day-period, there were 1 million total casualties. The French were bled white, but so were the Germans.
Of these, 300,000 were killed, which is about 1 death for every minute of the battle. The French most likely lost slightly more than the Germans. About 10% of all French war dead were from Verdun. Half of Frenchmen between 20 and 30 years old were killed. Although more men died at the Somme, the proportion of casualties suffered to the number of men who fought was much higher at Verdun than at any other battle in World War I. Also the number killed per square mile was the greatest at Verdun. To this day, the battlefield is still cratered and pockmarks. Many unexploded shells (maybe 12 million) still remain. Trenches can still be seen. Alistair Horne said, “Verdun was the First World War in microcosm; an intensification of all its horrors and glories, courage and futility.”
|Oct 13, 2020|
1915: World War One's Year of Poison Gas, Genocide, and Millions of Refugees
In 1915, the Central Powers and Allies dug in their heels and tried desperately to break the stalemate of the war, still hoping for a short conflict on the scale of a few months. Poison gas was used for the first time. Germans experimented with flamethrowers and armored shields, while the French began using hand grenades. In April, Germans began the Second Battle of Ypres and used 168 tons of chlorine gas. On the Eastern Front, Austria launched three offensives against Russian forces in the Carpathians. All three failed miserably. As many as 100,000 Austrian soldiers froze to death. Further north, Russian forces began to retreat from Warsaw and Riga. In Poland, Russian forces adopted a “scorched earth policy.” They forced Poles and other residents of Poland and western Russia to burn their crops and abandon their homes. This created millions of refugees. In December, the remains of the Serbian Army, along with several hundred thousand civilians, fled through the freezing mountains of Montenegro and Albania to the coast. 200,000 died along the way (out of 700,000 initially). Finally, the Ottomans began the forced deportation of Armenians to Syria, which was actually a death march. It became known as the Armenian Genocide in which 1.5 million were slaughtered.
|Oct 08, 2020|
The Battle of Gallipoli (1915) How Ataturk and the Ottomans Hurled the Allies (Including Winston Churchill) Into the Sea
The Allies desperately wanted to take control of the Dardanelles (the straights connecting Constantinople with the Mediterranean). They were crucial to Russia and would make it possible for Russia to (in effect) have a warm-water port. The only problem is the Ottomans had controlled the Dardanelles for five centuries and were backed by Germany and the rest of the Central Powers. The Allies wanted to open the Dardanelles, open a second front against Austria, take Constantinople, and knock the Ottomans out of the war. One of the British leaders who championed the plan was Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty). The Ottomans were led at Gallipoli by a brilliant colonel named Mustafa Kemal. He would win an incredible victory for the Ottomans, save the empire from complete destruction, and keep them in the war for three more years. In 1922-23, he would fight and win the Turkish War of Independence, become the first president of the Republic of Turkey, and become one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century.
|Oct 06, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 4, Man vs. Beast
This is a preview of an episode in a members-only series on Teddy Roosevelt's years in the Dakota Badlands called Forging a President. Subscribe today for access to all premium episodes! https://patreon.com/unplugged
|Oct 02, 2020|
World War 1 Trenches Were A Labyrinth of Rats, Disease, Decaying Flesh, and the Omnipresent Threat of Death
“Rats came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. A new officer joined the company and...when he turned in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.” The scene that Captain Robert Graves described in his autobiography was common for that of many soldiers. There were perhaps few places in the history of warfare as miserable as the trenches. Unlike most armies, which are constantly on the move, the armies of WW1 stayed locked in positions for months or even years. There they festered in disease, cold, hunger, and the fear that the whistle would blow and they would have to go "over the top" and face a hail of enemy artillery as they tried to charge No Man's Land.
|Oct 01, 2020|
The Average WW1 Soldier Was a 110-Pound Villager Who Suffered Disease, Hunger, and PTSD
This episode is an overview of the profile of an average soldier in World War One. We will look at the backgrounds, training, and provisions allotted to troops in the British, French, German, Russian, and Ottoman armies. We will look at their lives in the trenches, which were with very few exceptions absolutely miserable. We will also look at the terrible experiences that they faced on the battlefield, trying desperately to survive artillery barrages or poison gas attacks. Many suffered "shell shock" from the experienced, what we know today as PTSD.
|Sep 29, 2020|
Germany's Plans For Total French Defeat in 1914 Failed at the Battle of the Marne
The beginning of World War One was marked the breakdown of the western powers’ war plans. Leaders on both sides experienced surprises, shocks, and the failure of plans. The first few months saw shocking violence on a scale never experienced before, at least not in Western Europe. During the first few months of the war, an average of 15,000 lives were lost each day. (five times as much as the worst day in the Civil War). This happened at the Battle of the Marne, fought from September 6 to 12 in 1914. The Allies won a victory against the German armies in the West and ended their plans of crushing the French armies with an attack from the north through Belgium. Both sides dug in their trenches for the long war ahead.
|Sep 24, 2020|
Germany So Completely Annihilated Russia At the WW1 Battle of Tannenberg That A Russian General Committed Suicide
The Battle of Tannenberg was the first major battle of World War One, fought between Germany and Russia, who surprised everyone with its fast mobilization. This muddled the plans of Germany, which sought to quickly fight a two-front war against France and Russia, knock France out of the war, then focus its resources on Russia. The plan didn't work, but Germany issued a crushing blow against Russia, largely due to its fast rail movements that allowed it to focus on two Russian armies at once (and Russia failing to encode its messages did nothing to help). Germany named the battle after Tannenberg in order to avenge a defeat from 500 years earlier in which the proto-German Teutonic Knights were defeated by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The past was alive and well in the minds of these combatants. Commanding general Alexander Samsonov was so humiliated by the defeat he committed suicide.
|Sep 22, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 3, Teddy Roosevelt's First Buffalo Hunt
|Sep 18, 2020|
Europe's Pre-WW1 Alliances Were a Doomsday Machine That Pulled the Entire Continent Into War
An impossibly complex web of alliances that maintained a fragile peace in Europe (and surprisingly held it together since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815) always threatened to unravel. The 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, by Serbian nationalists, made Austria declare war on Serbia. A doomsday machine kicked into gear: Russia mobilized against Austria. Germany mobilized against Russia. France mobilized against Germany. Germany prepared long-held plans to attack France.
|Sep 17, 2020|
Introducing "Key Battles of World War One": Why Europe in 1914 Had Absolutely No Idea It Was About To Enter The Most Hellish War Ever
World War One is the watershed moment in modern history. The Western World before it was one of aristocrats, empires, colonies, and optimism for a future of unending progress. After four years of hellish trench warfare, shell fire, 10 million combat deaths, and another 10 million civilian deaths, the world that emerged in 1918 was irrevocably changed. Nation-states came out of the rubble, along with a push for universal rights. New technologies emerged, such as tanks and fighter planes. But something was lost permanently in the Great War: a sense of optimism in mankind. This episode is the beginning of a 24-part series called Key Battles of World War One. In this series, history professors Scott Rank and James Early look at the 10 key battles that determined the outcome of the war between the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire) and the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, United States).
In this first episode, Scott and James look at the state of affairs in Europe in 1914. Europe was dominated by several major powers, most of which were multinational empires. They called themselves the Great Powers. There were 5 Great Powers, as well as two other nations who desired to be, although they lacked the military and economic power of the others. Let’s go around Europe and take a look at each of these powers.
|Sep 15, 2020|
2 Announcements: Key Battles of WW1 Begins Soon; History Unplugged Launches Youtube Channel
Next week James Early and Scott Rank will kick off their massive series called Key Battles of World War One. By the end, you'll know every aspect of the Great War, arguably the most horrific event in human history. History Unplugged also has a new Youtube channel. Go check it out to see live recordings of each new podcast episode.
|Sep 11, 2020|
Dreams of India's Vast Wealth Made Everyone From Ancient Greeks to Renaissance Portuguese Risk Death To Reach It
Claims of India's fantastic wealth lead Europeans through the centuries to seek to trade with this fabled land, which existed on the far eastern reaches of known civilization.
As far back as the 500s BC, Scylax of Caryanda, a Greek explorer sailed down the length of the Indus in the service of Darius. Later Alexander's troops passed through India, and many troops stayed behind, creating an incredible East-West synthesis. Buddhism came out of this mix, as well as the early Christian heresy Manicheism. Exotic trade. For hundreds of years, Greek speakers could be found in Indian port towns.
Such legends inspired Cristopher Columbus to sail west across the Atlantic and reach a direct route, even though other navigators insisted his calculations were terrible and he and his crew would starve at sea. Yet he did reach land and traded with settlers whom he believed the rest of his life to be of India, and the name stuck, as Indians.
Today’s episode is about the impact that India had on Western Civilization and how the quest for India led to incredible long-distance travel for traders for over two millennia.
|Sep 10, 2020|
Why 1776 -- Not 1619 -- Matters More Than Ever in 2020
The American Revolution has received a burst of attention in the last two decades, with Pulitzer Prize-winning monographs from David McCullough and Ron Chernow (and the biggest Broadway musical in recent history, with Hamilton). But it’s come under attack as well, with historical revisionist projects like the New York Times 1619 Project, which says 1776 was a colossal mistake steeped in racism.
Today’s guest is Edward Lengel, editor of the new book “The 10 Key Campaigns of the American Revolution.” He argues that the American Revolution encompasses a human drama of epic proportions. At different points in time, at locations separated by hundreds and often thousands of miles, individuals—often the unlikeliest imaginable—took destiny in their hands and accomplished astonishing things that profoundly changed the course of human history. Their deeds should be unforgettable.
We discuss all sorts of things – like unsung heroes of the Revolution (Henry Knox is a favored choice), whether or not Benedict Arnold was a traitor or just misunderstood, and what the Revolution means for Americans in 2020.
|Sep 03, 2020|
A Jewish Family Couldn’t Flee Nazi Germany. So They Wrote Letters to Strangers in America Asking For Help
In 1939, as the Nazis closed in, Alfred Berger mailed a desperate letter to an American stranger who happened to share his last name. He and his wife, Viennese Jews, had found escape routes for their daughters. But now their money, connections, and emotional energy were nearly exhausted. Alfred begged the American recipient of the letter, “You are surely informed about the situation of all Jews in Central Europe….By pure chance I got your address….My daughter and her husband will go…to America….help us to follow our children….It is our last and only hope….”
After languishing in a California attic for over sixty years, Alfred’s letter came by chance into Faris Cassell’s possession. Questions flew off the page at her. Did the Bergers’ desperate letter get a response? Did they escape the Nazis? Were there any living descendants?
Today’s guest, Faris Cassell, author of the book The Unanswered Letter, discusses many things, including a previously unknown opportunity to assassinate Hitler—to which the Bergers were connected.
|Sep 01, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 2
This is a preview of a members-only series on Teddy Roosevelt's years in the Dakota Badlands called Forging a President. Subscribe today for access to all premium episodes! https://patreon.com/unplugged
|Aug 28, 2020|
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 Ended the European Middle Ages and Sealed the Rise of the Ottomans
1453 was the most shocking year in Europe since the starting of the Bubonic Plague (1347), the beginning of the First Crusade (1095), or the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800. Many called it the Year the Middle Ages ended. That’s because the Ottomans, an upstart empire less than two centuries removed from being a semi-nomadic chieftainship and vassal state of the Mongols, conquered Constantinople, the crown jewel of eastern Christendom and the “still-beating heart of antiquity”
Learn how Mehmet, the 21-year-old Sultan, conquered the city by assembling an army of 100,000, commissioned a cannon that could fire a 1,200-pound ball, and had warships hauled out of water and over hills in order to enter the enemy’s harbor.
|Aug 27, 2020|
George Washington's Dream of Eternal Harmony Between White Settlers and Indians, and Why It Failed
For George Washington, the “foreign” nation that posed the biggest threat to the survival of the infant United States wasn’t Britain, France, or Spain; it was the numerous Indian nations that still dominated large areas of the North American continent and threatened to destroy the fragile nation. Washington’s major goal as president was to secure the future of America and build the republic on Indian land.
That’s not to say that Washington wanted to trample on Indian rights. His secondary goal was to establish fair policies for dealings with Indian peoples. Washington and his Secretary of War Henry Knox believed that the most honorable and cheapest way to acquire Indian land was to purchase it in a fair treaty
This episode looks at George Washington’s dealings with American Indians, and his hope that he could grow his nation while treating the current inhabitants with justice and respect. He did not have the policies of Andrew Jackson of the 1820s or 30s, who tore up treaties and forcibly relocated Indian peoples west of the Mississippi (in fact, the Cherokee leader John Ross at this time remembered Washington so fondly that he named his son after the first president).
Washington sought a national Indian policy that might somehow reconcile taking Native resources with respecting their rights even as the nation expanded across their homelands and ignored earlier Indian treaty rights. He failed in these goals, and his failure eventually became America’s failure.
|Aug 25, 2020|
Adolf Hitler Didn’t Survive WW2 or Secretly Flee to Argentina. Here’s Why So Many Think He Did
Did Hitler die in his bunker…or not? I’m talking with Robert J. Hutchinson today to explore what really happened to Hitler. He’s the author of the book What Really Happened: The Death of Hitler.
According to official accounts and numerous eyewitnesses, the dictator of the Third Reich shot himself, loyal Nazis burned his body, and the bones were removed by the Russians. Yet, after WWII, 50 percent of Americans polled did not believe the captured Nazis who said Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun had committed suicide in their Berlin bunker. They thought the Führer had faked his death and escaped justice. Joseph Stalin himself told Allied leaders that Soviet forces never discovered Hitler’s body and that he believed the Nazi leader had gotten away. There were numerous reports of top Nazi officials successfully fleeing to South America.
Incredible as it sounds, the mystery surrounding Hitler's final days only deepened in 2009 when a U.S. forensic team announced that a piece of the skull held in Soviet archives was not actually Hitler’s.
So, what really happened? Hutchinson sifts through the mountains of primary resources and debunks urban legends to uncover the truth about Hitler’s last week in Berlin.
|Aug 20, 2020|
God's Shadow: Why A 16th-Century Ottoman Sultan Created the Modern World
Long neglected in world history, the Ottoman Empire was a hub of intellectual fervor and geopolitical power. At the height of their authority in the sixteenth century, the Ottomans, with extraordinary military dominance and unparalleled monopolies over trade routes, controlled more territory and ruled over more people than any world power, forcing Europeans out of the Mediterranean and to the New World.
Yet, despite its towering influence and centrality to the rise of our modern world, the Ottoman Empire’s history has for centuries been downplayed. But today’s guest Alan Mikhail presents a recasting of Ottoman history, retelling the story of the Ottoman conquest of the world through the dramatic biography of Sultan Selim I (1470–1520) in his book “God’s Shadow.”
Born to a concubine, and the fourth of his sultan father’s ten sons, Selim claimed power over the empire in 1512 and, through ruthless ambition, nearly tripled the territory under Ottoman control, building a governing structure that lasted into the twentieth century.
It was the Ottoman monopoly on trade routes, combined with military advances, that thrust Spain and Portugal out of the Mediterranean, forcing the merchants and sailors to become global explorers. This included Christopher Columbus, who cut his military teeth as a “Moor-slayer.” Also, Selim’s conquest of Yemen allowed his army to control the “first truly global commodity”—coffee—and subsequently made it the phenomenon it is today, a product that “energizes nearly every kind of social interaction across the world.
|Aug 18, 2020|
Teaser: Forging a President, Part 1
This is a preview of a members-only series on Teddy Roosevelt's years in the Dakota Badlands called Forging a President. Subscribe today for access to all premium episodes! https://patreon.com/unplugged
|Aug 14, 2020|
Making a Book in the Middle Ages Took Years and Was Literally Physical Torture
Making a book in the Middle Ages was extremely hard work. It took the skin of several calves to make the vellum (a writing material), an army of monks in a scriptorium, rare ink for the illustrations, and six months’ time. Writing for hours on end was torture (monks called it just that when they wrote in book margins, which read like ransom notes). Yet if not for the work of these monks, every single work from antiquity would have been lost. Almost no writing from ancient Greece or Rome survives in its original form; all of it was copied and preserved in medieval monasteries.
In this episode, we explore the arduous process of making a book. We will specifically look at the Codex Gigas, the largest medieval book in the world (it’s a yard tall, 19 inches across, 9 inches thick, and weighs 165 pounds). It is also known as The Devil’s Bible because according to legend, the author sold his soul to the devil to complete it.
Overall, we have these monks to thank for keeping ancient science and philosophy alive. If not for their punishing efforts to record these ancient documents, they would have been lost forever.
|Aug 13, 2020|
Martha Dodd: The American Soviet Spy and Hitler’s Would-Be Lover Who Dreamed of a Communist World
In 1933, Martha Dodd, a 24-year-old aspiring writer who had already had several affairs and a failed marriage embarked with her family to Berlin, where her father was America's ambassador to Hitler's regime. Within a few weeks, she was romantically involved with Rudolf Diels, the first director of the Gestapo. Dodd was so celebrated by the Nazi elite that some believed she could become Hitler's wife (the two met but nothing came of it). She soon soured on the Nazis after witnessing their brutal anti-Semitism, but became involved with Boris Vinogradov, an agent of the Soviet secret police. Over the next several decades, Dodd's life was a whirlwind of spying, communist recruitment in America, and eventually, permanent exile.
Dodd was a dreamer who believed in the power of communism to right the wrongs of an unjust. But after decades abroad (first in Mexico, then in Prague) she ended up disillusioned with the promises of the Soviet Union. Her story is one of what happens when you cast your lot with a movement that ends up losing its political and ideological battles.
|Aug 11, 2020|
America’s First Black Fighter Pilot Was Also a Boxer, Night Club Owner, and WW2 Spy in France
One of the greatest unsung heroes of the twentieth century is Gene "Jacques" Bullard, a World War One fighter pilot, boxer, spy, and overall adventurer. He was the first American-born black fighter pilot in history- and he flew for France. Bullard grew up in Georgia and ran away from home after a lynch mob forced his father to flee and leave his family. He ran away from home and lived with gypsies, then hopped on German freighter to Scotland. He then continued his sojourn as a pro boxer, then as a drummer and assistant nightclub manager in Paris during the Jazz Age. Bullard took advantage of all the opportunities in Europe that would be denied to a black man back in America. He married a white socialite in Paris, opened a successful nightclub, and joined the French Foreign Legion. After being wounded, he joined the French Air Corps during WWI and shot down two German planes. Prior to World War Two he worked a spy for French Intelligence. He rejoined the Foreign Legion in WWII but was wounded and transported on a hospital ship to New York City.
Bullard spent the rest of his life as part of the French expatriate community in New York and was a fixture of the city’s multicultural life.
Today’s guest is Jon Hagadorn, host of the podcast “1001 Heroes, Legends, Histories & Mysteries.” He shares the fascinating life of a man whose story is worth remembering.
|Aug 06, 2020|
Sam Colt's Six-Shooter Launched The American Industrial Revolution and Sped Western Settlement
In August of 1831, a 16-year-old from Connecticut named Sam Colt boarded a ship of missionaries bound for a round-trip voyage to Calcutta. Restless and rambunctious, with a particular fondness for blowing things up—he’d been expelled from Amherst Academy not long before for repeatedly firing a cannon from the top of a hill to the horror of frightened townspeople—Colt had long been a source of distress for his family, who hoped that this time at sea might prepare him for a stable career in a respectable trade. Instead, it would become the setting for an idea that would change the course of American history.
Today's guest is Jim Rasenberger, author of "Revolver: Sam Colt and The Six-Shooter That Changed America. " We explore the life of the inventor who introduced repeating firearms to the world. With Colt’s revolver (allegedly dreamed up during that long stint at sea), one could for the first time shoot multiple bullets from a gun without reloading—a revolutionary mechanism that would help spark the American Industrial Revolution and speed the settlement of the West.
|Aug 04, 2020|
The Nazi Spy Ring in America: The Third Reich's Agents, the FBI, and the Case That Stirred the Nation
In the mid-1930s, just as the United States was embarking on a policy of neutrality, Nazi Germany embarked on a program of espionage against the unwary nation. Hitler’s attempts to interfere in American affairs by spreading anti-Semitic propaganda, stealing military technology, and mapping US defenses.
Today’s guest is Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, author of the book “The Nazi Spy Ring in America.” Using recently declassified material, he shows how Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the Abwehr, was able to steal top secret US technology such as a prototype codebreaking machine and data about the latest fighter planes.
Enlisting the services of German-American fascists and anti-Semites, they resorted to ruthless methods to achieve their goals, including murdering the wife and daughter of an American industrialist. When the spy ring was busted in 1938 by FBI agent Leon Turrou, the ensuing trial caused a national sensation and played a significant role in shifting public opinion against Germany, awakening many Americans to the looming Nazi threat.
This story provides essential insight into the role of espionage in shaping American perceptions of Germany in the years leading up to US entry into World War II and sheds light on a now-forgotten but significant episode in the history of international relations.
|Jul 30, 2020|
Introducing "The Sneak: Murders at Whiskey Creek"
This episode is a preview of the new season of Wondery's "The Sneak."
World Champion surfer Jack Murphy pulled off the biggest jewel heist in American history. He became infamous as his face was plastered across the front pages of every newspaper in the country.
After a massive manhunt, Jack was eventually caught. He was sent to prison, but somehow talked his way out of jail, and headed home to the beautiful beaches of Southern Florida - a free man.
But this was only the start of his misadventures on the wrong side of the law. Jack was later arrested for the murder of two women, who were directly related to his other crimes.
From Wondery and USA Today, comes a new season of The Sneak: Murders at Whiskey Creek - a new true crime show unlike any you have ever heard. With exclusive interviews with the victims and perpetrators, The Sneak reveals secrets that have been kept for decades.
You’re about to hear a preview of The Sneak: Murders at Whiskey Creek. While you're listening, subscribe to The Sneak: Murders at Whiskey Creek today on Apple Podcasts. Or binge all 9 episodes on the Wondery App with a free trial of Wondery Plus.
|Jul 29, 2020|
In 1200 AD, This Indian City on the Mississippi Was Larger Than London And On the Verge Of Starting an Advanced Civilization
Many great Mesoamerican civilizations existed before and long after the arrival of Christopher Columbus: The Incans, Mayas, and Aztecs. But there was one civilization in North America you likely never have heard of that could have been more advanced as any of them, a reached a level of China or Mesopotamian civilization.
The Mississippian Culture of North America built a number of settlements in the centuries before Columbus arrived in the new world. The largest settlement, Cahokia, may have had up to 50,000 residents in 1200 A.D. This made it larger than contemporary London and Paris. The entire city was planned and built on a grid that matched with celestial events. In the center of the city was a mound made up of 22 million cubic feet of earth, making it nearly as impressive as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Native cultures north of Mesoamerica (in the modern-day US) on the cusp of becoming an advanced civilization? Many of the ingredients were there, and perhaps a little more mixing would have done it.
|Jul 28, 2020|
America's Hub of Global Trade and Culture Was and Is....the Midwest?
When Kristin L. Hoganson arrived in Champaign, Illinois, after teaching at Harvard, studying at Yale, and living in the D.C. metro area with various stints overseas, she expected to find her new home, well, isolated. Even provincial. After all, she had landed in the American heartland, a place where the nation's identity exists in its pristine form. Or so we have been taught to believe. Struck by the gap between reputation and reality, she determined to get to the bottom of history and myth. The deeper she dug into the making of the modern heartland, the wider her story became as she realized that she'd uncovered an unheralded crossroads of people, commerce, and ideas. But the really interesting thing, Hoganson found, was that over the course of American history, even as the region's connections with the rest of the planet became increasingly dense and intricate, the idea of the rural Midwest as a steadfast heartland became a stronger and more stubbornly immovable myth.
I’m speaking to Hoganson today, who is author of the book The Heartland: An American History. She tracks both the backstory of this region and the evolution of the idea of an unalloyed heart at the center of the land.
|Jul 23, 2020|
How Hollywood First Depicted the Atomic Bomb and the Manhattan Project
Soon after atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, MGM set out to make a movie studio chief Louis B. Mayer called “the most important story” he would ever film: a big budget dramatization of the Manhattan Project and the invention and use of the revolutionary new weapon.
Over at Paramount, Hal B. Wallis was ramping up his own film version. His screenwriter: the novelist Ayn Rand, who saw in physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer the model for a character she was sketching for Atlas Shrugged.
Today’s guest is Greg Mitchell’s, author of “The Beginning or the End,” and we discuss the first efforts of American media and culture to process the Atomic Age. A movie that began as a cautionary tale inspired by atomic scientists aiming to warn the world against a nuclear arms race would be drained of all impact due to revisions and retakes ordered by President Truman and the military—for reasons of propaganda, politics, and petty human vanity (this was Hollywood, after all).
|Jul 21, 2020|
A Time of Perfect American National Unity is a Myth, But Some US Origin Stories Are Better Than Others
The cherished idea of United States as a unified country has been long believed. But today’s guest Colin Woodard argues that this is an invented tradition. He has argued for the existence of 11 separate stateless nations within the United States, where rival cultures explain the history, identity, and voting behaviors of the United States. At least 5 explanations for American ideology have existed, from Manifest Destiny to Frederick Douglas's civic nationalism. However, there is a vision of American that can bring us all together.
In his new book “Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood,” he examines how the myth of our national unity was created and fought over by five men—George Bancroft, William Gilmore Simms, Frederick Douglass, Woodrow Wilson, and Frederick Jackson Turner—and how it continues to affect us today.
If we’ve never been one America, but several, then where did the narrative of United States nationhood come from? Who came up with it, when, and why? How did it come to be accepted and at what point did it succeed in concealing the fragmented reality? In the 19th and early 20th century, a small group of individuals—historians, political leaders, and novelists—fashioned a history that attempted to erase the fundamental differences and profound tensions between the nation’s regional cultures. These men were creating the idea of an American nation instead of a union of disparate states—but their rosy vision was immediately contested by another set of intellectuals who claimed that if we are a nation at all, it is an ethno-state belonging to the allegedly superior Anglo-Saxon race. This concept eventually morphed into white supremacy and ethno-nationalism in people like Woodrow Wilson.
The fight continues today but there are narratives that could unite all of us and that's what we'll discuss today.
|Jul 16, 2020|
40 Thieves on Saipan: The Elite Marine Scout-Snipers in One of WWII’s Bloodiest Battles
Before there were Navy SEALs, before there were Green Berets, there were the 40 Thieves: the elite Scout Sniper Platoon of the Sixth Marine Regiment during World War II.
Behind enemy lines on the island of Saipan—where firing a gun could mean instant discovery and death—the 40 Thieves killed in silence during the grueling battle for Saipan, the "D-Day" of the Pacific.
Now Joseph Tachovsky—today's guest and whose father Frank was the commanding officer of the 40 Thieves, also called "Tachovsky's Terrors"—joins with award-winning author Cynthia Kraack to transport readers back to the brutal Battle of Saipan.
World War 2 Marines were the poorest equipped branch of the services at that time, and they were notorious thieves. To improve their odds for victory against the Japanese, they found it necessary to improve their supply chains through “Marine Methods,” stealing. Being the elite of the Sixth Regiment, the Scout-Sniper Platoon excelled at the craft—earning them the nickname of the “40 Thieves” from their envious peers. Upon returning from a 1943 trip to the Pacific theater, Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “The Marines I have met around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marines.”
|Jul 14, 2020|
George Washington’s Team of Rivals: How His Cabinet Forefathered One of America’s Most Powerful Institutions
The U.S. Constitution never established a presidential cabinet—the delegates to the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected the idea. So how did George Washington create one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government?
On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries—Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph—for the first cabinet meeting. Why did he wait two and a half years into his presidency to call his cabinet? Because the U.S. Constitution did not create or provide for such a body. Washington was on his own.
Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges—and finding congressional help lacking—Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. In the early days, the cabinet served at the president’s pleasure. Washington tinkered with its structure throughout his administration, at times calling regular meetings, at other times preferring written advice and individual discussions.
Todays guest, Lindsay M. Chervinsky, author of the book The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, reveals the far-reaching consequences of Washington’s choice. The tensions in the cabinet between Hamilton and Jefferson heightened partisanship and contributed to the development of the first party system. And as Washington faced an increasingly recalcitrant Congress, he came to treat the cabinet as a private advisory body to summon as needed, greatly expanding the role of the president and the executive branch.
|Jul 09, 2020|
Lessons From James Monroe, Who Defeated a Pandemic and Overcame Partisanship
James Monroe, America’s fifth president and the last chief executive of the Founding Father generation, lived a life defined by revolutions. From the battlefields of the War for Independence, to his ambassadorship in Paris in the days of the guillotine, to his own role in the creation of Congress's partisan divide, he was a man who embodied the restless spirit of the age. He was never one to back down from a fight, whether it be with Alexander Hamilton, with whom he nearly engaged in a duel (prevented, ironically, by Aaron Burr), or George Washington, his hero turned political opponent.
Today’s guest, Tim McGrath, author of James Monroe: A life, discusses the epic sweep of Monroe’s life: his near-death wounding at Trenton and a brutal winter at Valley Forge; his pivotal negotiations with France over the Louisiana Purchase; his deep, complex friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; his valiant leadership when the British ransacked the nation’s capital and burned down the Executive Mansion; and Monroe’s lifelong struggle to reckon with his own complicity in slavery. Elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816, this fiercest of partisans sought to bridge divisions and sow unity, calming turbulent political seas and inheriting Washington's mantle of placing country above party. Over his two terms, Monroe transformed the nation, strengthening American power both at home and abroad.
|Jul 07, 2020|
Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World
At the dawn of the twentieth century, when human flight was still considered an impossibility, Germany's Count von Zeppelin vied with the Wright Brothers to build the world's first successful flying machine. As the Wrights labored to invent the airplane, Zeppelin fathered the wondrous airship, sparking a bitter rivalry between the two types of aircraft and their innovators that would last for decades in the quest to control one of humanity's most inspiring achievements. And it was the airship--not the airplane--that would lead the way.
In the glittery 1920s, the count's brilliant protégé, Hugo Eckener, achieved undreamt-of feats of daring and skill, including the extraordinary round-the-world voyage of the Graf Zeppelin. What Charles Lindbergh almost died doing--crossing the Atlantic in 1927--Eckener effortlessly accomplished three years before the Spirit of St. Louis even took off.
I'm talking to Alexander Rose, author of the new book “Empires of the Sky,” which gets into this story. Even as the Nazis sought to exploit Zeppelins for their own nefarious purposes, Eckener built his masterwork, the behemoth Hindenburg--a marvel of design and engineering. Eckener met his match in Juan Trippe, the ruthlessly ambitious king of Pan American Airways, who believed his fleet of next-generation planes would vanquish Eckener's coming airship armada. It was a fight only one man--and one technology--could win. Countering each other's moves on the global chessboard, each seeking to wrest the advantage from his rival, the two men's struggle for mastery of the air was not only the clash of technologies, but of business, diplomacy, politics, personalities, and their vastly different dreams of the future.
|Jul 02, 2020|
Nazis Nearly Assassinated Stalin, Churchill, and FDR in 1943. What If They Had Succeeded?
In the middle of World War II, Nazi military intelligence discovered a seemingly easy way to win the war for Adolf Hitler. The three heads of the Allied forces—Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin—were planning to meet in Iran in October 1943. Under Hitler's personal direction, the Nazis launched “Operation Long Jump,” an intricate plan to track the Allied leaders in Tehran and assassinate all three men at the same time. “I suppose it would make a pretty good haul if they could get all three of us,” Roosevelt later said. The plan failed, but what if it had succeeded?
Perhaps some good could have come out of it, namely a less brutal Soviet premier who killed millions. But many frightening scenarios also emerge, such as an American-Soviet pact against Europe, or a Cold War that goes hot in the 1950s. In the infinite alternate timelines that include a successful assassination of theBig Three, most of them are bad.
|Jun 30, 2020|
In the 1850s, A Mormon Renegade Started a Massive Pirate Colony in Michigan
In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect’s leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.
From this stronghold he controlled a fourth of the state of Michigan, establishing a pirate colony where he practiced plural marriage and perpetrated thefts, corruption, and frauds of all kinds. Eventually, having run afoul of powerful enemies, including the American president, Strang was assassinated, an event that was frontpage news across the country.
Today’s guest is Miles Harvey, author of “The King of Confidence.” Centering his narrative on this charlatan’s turbulent twelve years in power, Strang’s story gets into a crucial period of antebellum history and an account of one of the country’s boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.
|Jun 25, 2020|
The Good Assassin: A Mossad Agent's Hunt For WW2’s “Butcher of Latvia”
Before World War II, Herbert Cukurs was a famous figure in his small Latvian city, the “Charles Lindbergh of his country.” But by 1945, he was the Butcher of Latvia, a man who murdered some thirty thousand Latvian Jews. Somehow, he dodged the Nuremberg trials, fleeing to South America after war’s end.
By 1965, as a statute of limitations on all Nazi war crimes threatened to expire, Germany sought to welcome previous concentration camp commanders, pogrom leaders, and executioners, as citizens. The global pursuit of Nazi criminals escalated to beat the looming deadline, and Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency, joined the cause. Yaakov Meidad, the brilliant Mossad agent who had kidnapped Adolf Eichmann three years earlier, led the mission to assassinate Cukurs in a desperate bid to block the amnesty. In a thrilling undercover operation unrivaled by even the most ambitious spy novels, Meidad traveled to Brazil in an elaborate disguise, befriended Cukurs and earned his trust, while negotiations over the Nazi pardon neared a boiling point.
Today’s guest, Stephan Talty, is author of The Good Assassin, which uncovers this little-known chapter of Holocaust history and the undercover operation that brought Cukurs to justice.
|Jun 23, 2020|
Death From Above - How Paratroopers Evolved From a WW1 Pipe Dream To A Key Part of Combined-Arms Assault
“Paratroopers are about the most peculiar breed of human beings I have ever witnessed. They treat their service as if it were some kind of cult, plastering their emblem on almost everything they own, making themselves up to look like insane fanatics with haircuts to ungentlemanly lengths, worshiping their units almost as if they were a God, and making weird animal noises like a band of savages... [but] generally speaking, the United States Paratroopers I’ve come in contact with are the most professional soldiers and the finest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet.”
This unattributed quote sums up the unique role that paratroopers have played in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. With the invention of the airplane, military strategists imaged troops clinging to the wings of Wright Bros. flyers and landing in enemy trenches. Such plans never came to fruition, but technical advances made it possible to drops thousands of soldiers with reasonable safety and accuracy. During WW2, Nazi Germany's paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) had incredible success in Norway and the Netherlands and even rescued Benito Mussolini in a commando mission. Over 22,000 of them were dropped on Crete. Allied paratroopers famously landed in France on the eve of D-Day, making Operation Overlord a possibility.
In this episode, we look at the origins of paratrooping, its function in war, and how it was part of the evolution of military strategy in the 20 century, in which different combat arms were integrated to achieve complementary effects.
|Jun 18, 2020|
Want to Star Your Own Nation? That's What a Family Did in 1967 When it Created "Sealand"
In 1967, a retired army major and self-made millionaire named Paddy Roy Bates cemented his family's place in history when he inaugurated himself ruler of the Principality of Sealand, a tiny dominion of the high seas. And so began the peculiar story of the world's most stubborn micronation on a World War II anti-aircraft gun platform off the British coast.
Today’s guest, Dylan Taylor-Lehman tells us the story of Sealand, a raucous tale of how a rogue adventurer seized the disused Maunsell Sea Fort from pirate radio broadcasters, settled his eccentric family on it, and defended their tiny kingdom from UK government officials and armed mercenaries for half a century. There were battles and schemes as Roy and his crew engaged with diplomats, entertained purveyors of pirate radio and TV, and even thwarted an attempted coup that saw the Prince Regent taken hostage. Incredibly, more than fifty years later, the self-proclaimed independent nation still stands--replete with its own constitution, national flag and anthem, currency, and passports.
But Sealand is more than a quirky story. It hearkens back to the conquistadors who wanted to carve out their own sovereign nations and looks to the future of libertarian billionaires who want to build their own floating micronation of their own.
|Jun 16, 2020|
Why the Galileo Affair is One of History's Most Misunderstood Events
One of the most misconstrued events in history is the Galileo affair. It is commonly understood as a black-and-white morality play of science vs. religion. Galileo proves the Sun is the center of the solar system but the reactionary medieval Catholic Church is scandalized by somebody questioning their geocentric model. They imprison and torture the “heretic.” Other scientists are afraid to speak up against this oppressive regime.
The real story is much more complicated. There were churchmen on both sides of the geocentric/heliocentric debate. Galileo did not conclusively prove the heliocentric model (that didn’t come until long after his death). And much of the reason that the Catholic Church ordered his house imprisonment (not torture) was that Galileo slyly made fun of the pope in one of his writings.
Today’s guest is astrophysicist Mario Livio, author of the book “Galileo and the Science Deniers.” We get into the trial, the immediate aftermath, and the legacy that the trial has today. Livio began researching the life, ideas, and actions of Galileo; his life is filled with lessons relevant for today—whether with respect to trusting the advice given by scientists in relation to COVID-19 or any other matter of public importance.
|Jun 11, 2020|
Henry Knox's Noble Train: How a Boston Bookseller’s Expedition Saved the American Revolution
During the brutal winter of 1775-1776, an untested Boston bookseller named Henry Knox commandeered an oxen train hauling sixty tons of cannons and other artillery from Fort Ticonderoga near the Canadian border. He and his men journeyed some three hundred miles south and east over frozen, often-treacherous terrain to supply George Washington for his attack of British troops occupying Boston. The result was the British surrender of Boston and the first major victory for the Colonial Army.
William Hazelgrove, author of “Henry Knox’s Noble Train,” joins us today to discuss one of the great stories of the American Revolution, still little known by comparison with the more famous battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. At this time, the ragtag American rebels were in a desperate situation. Washington's army was withering away from desertion and expiring enlistments. Typhoid fever, typhus, and dysentery were taking a terrible toll. There was little hope of dislodging British General Howe and his 20,000 British troops in Boston--until Henry Knox arrived with his supply convoy of heavy armaments. Firing down on the city from the surrounding Dorchester Heights, these weapons created a decisive turning point. An act of near desperation fueled by courage, daring, and sheer tenacity led to a tremendous victory for the cause of independence.
|Jun 09, 2020|
Dewey Defeats Truman: The 1948 Election and the Battle for America's Soul
On the eve of the 1948 election, America was a fractured country. Racism was rampant, foreign relations were fraught, and political parties were more divided than ever. Americans were certain that President Harry S. Truman’s political career was over. “The ballots haven’t been counted,” noted political columnist Fred Othman, “but there seems to be no further need for holding up an affectional farewell to Harry Truman.” Truman’s own staff did not believe he could win. Nor did his wife, Bess. The only man in the world confident that Truman would win was Mr. Truman himself. And win he did.
How did he do it? A confluence of factors that resemble those of today. According to A.J. Baime, today's guest and author of Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948 was a fight for the soul of a nation. We discuss some of most action-packed six months in American history, as Truman not only triumphs, but oversees watershed events—the passing of the Marshall plan, the acknowledgment of Israel as a new state, the careful attention to the origins of the Cold War, and the first desegregation of the military.
Not only did Truman win the election, but he also succeeded in guiding his country forward at a critical time with high stakes and haunting parallels to the modern day.
|Jun 04, 2020|
History’s First Global Manhunt: The Search for 18th Century Pirate Henry Every
Most confrontations, viewed from the wide angle of history, are minor disputes, sparks that quickly die out. But every now and then, someone strikes a match that lights up the whole planet.
That idea applies to Henry Every, the seventeenth century’s most notorious pirate. The press published wildly popular—and wildly inaccurate—reports of his nefarious adventures. The British government offered enormous bounties for his capture, alive or (preferably) dead. But today’s guest Steven Johnson argues that Every’s most lasting legacy was his inadvertent triggering of a major shift in the global economy. He's the author of the new book "Enemy of All Mankind," which focuses on one key event—the attack on an Indian treasure ship by Every and his crew—and its surprising repercussions across time and space. It’s the tale one of the most lucrative crimes in history, the first international manhunt, and the trial of the seventeenth century.
Johnson uses the story of Henry Every and his crimes to explore the emergence of the East India Company, the British Empire, and the modern global marketplace: a densely interconnected planet ruled by nations and corporations. How did this unlikely pirate and his notorious crime end up playing a key role in the birth of multinational capitalism?
|Jun 02, 2020|
History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 5: Ludwig II of Bavaria
Ludwig II of Bavaria was a dreamer, above all. The king famously built fairy-tale style castles that adorned the Alps but were completely useless for defensive or social reasons (the king held large balls there where he was the only attendee and dined alone, maintaining conversations with his imaginary friends, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette).
Lesser known about him, but equally odd, he went on high-speed midnight sleigh rides through the Alps, with him and his party dresses in full costume. His nocturnal behavior became legend among Alpine villagers. He woke up each evening at seven o'clock, lunched at midnight, ate his supper in the early morning, and went on strange adventures in the interim. Ludwig sometimes spent the entire night riding around the Court Riding School in Munich. At the halfway stage he would dismount and have a picnic, even in the foulest weather. Once he stopped in the middle of a blizzard, telling his servants that they were in fact at an ocean resort beneath the shining sun. Other times he dressed as French King Louis XIV, wore the state crown, and carried a scepter. The party then continued until reaching whatever goal existed in his imagination.
|May 28, 2020|
History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 4: George III
Americans might have been tempted to schadenfreude after learning the fate of British King George III. The villain of the American Revolution spent the final years of his life insane, having long arguments with imaginary figures who had died long ago (and often losing those arguments). He experienced five extended bouts of madness in his life, with the final one lasting until his death in 1820. They consisted of anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, and manic and depressive periods. During this time George suffered from poor medical care designed to cure his madness but only worsened it. Medicine was in a primitive state at the time, and his physicians did not know that treatments such as blistering, binding him in a straight jacket, chaining him to a chair, or prescribing high doses of arsenic would damage his mental state.
|May 26, 2020|
History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 3: Ibrahim I -- The Sultan Who Loved Fur and Drowned His Harem
Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim (1616-1648) believed he was the sort of ruler that came out of legend, so he ordered a massive tax to fund the decoration of his palace in sable fur. He also preferred full-figured women and commissioned his advisers to find for him the largest woman in his realm. Such a woman was found; she weighted over three hundred pounds, an enormous size in the seventeenth century. How did somebody like this become sultan? Because he was born a prisoner.
Ibrahim spent the first two decades of his life in “The Cage,” a harem quarter of the palace designed to imprison Ottoman princes and prevent them from scheming to capture the sultanate. Ibrahim never left the palace grounds until he became sultan himself in his twenties. In both periods of his life the fear of political assassination relentlessly haunted him. Paranoia and seclusion damaged his sanity, which broke completely when he ascended the throne. As a narcissistic hedonist who put his own pleasure before the needs of the empire, the harm that Ibrahim caused in his eight-year reign drained state coffers, alienated the military and political classes, led to a disastrous war with the rival Republic of Venice, and nearly brought down the House of Osman, the dynasty that had ruled the Ottoman Empire for over three hundred years.
|May 21, 2020|
History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 2: Charles VI -- The King Who Thought He Was Made of Glass
King Charles VI of France (1368-1422) suffered from a particular disorder called "The Glass Delusion." He believed himself to be made of glass and could shatter at any moment. Advisors were told to tiptoe toward him and not wear shoes. He refused bathing for extended periods so as not to fracture.
Fate was unkind to Charles VI. He began well; the king was known in his early reign as le Bien-Aimé (the well-beloved) for his generous and affable character. He cared for the welfare of France's commoners and even allowed non-aristocrats among his counselors. But France experienced the worst decades in its history during his reign. During his forty years as king, the Hundred Years War raged on, and France continually lost battles and land holdings to England; his subjects killed in massive numbers through war, disease, and civil disorder. Forced to cede power to the English, and even to members of his family, Charles managed to survive multiple assassination attempts, but many of his advisors were not so fortunate. France's decades of decline culminated in its disastrous defeat to the English at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which named an English king as the rightful successor to the French throne. Suffering through all this hardship, his sanity finally cracked and broke. No longer called le Bien-Aimé, after his death Charles was referred to le Fol (the mad).
|May 19, 2020|
History's Most Insane Rulers, Part 1: Emperor Caligula--Bankrupting Rome By Appointing Your Horse Senator
When Salvador Dali set out to paint a depiction of the infamous Roman Emperor Caligula in 1971, he chose to depict the thing nearest and dearest to the emperor's heart: his favorite racehorse, Incitatus. The painting “Le Cheval de Caligula” shows the pampered pony in all his royal glory. It is wearing a bejeweled crown and clothed in purple blankets and a collar of precious stones. While the gaudy clothing of the horse is historically correct, the Spanish surrealist artist managed perhaps for the only time to understate the strangeness of his subject matter.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Caligula) was born in 12 A.D. and reigned from 37-41. He was the first emperor with no memory of the pre-Augustan era, that is, before emperors were deified—and had no compunction about being worshipped as a god. As the object of a cultus, the boy emperor believed in his own semi-divine status and saw no reason not to follow whatever strange desire entered his mind, such as treating his horse better than royalty. The Roman historian Suetonius writes that he gave the horse eighteen servants, a marble stable, an ivory manger, and rich red robes. He demanded that it be fed oats mixed with flex of gold and wine delivered in fine goblets. Dignitaries bowed and tolerated Incitatus as a guest of honor at banquets. Caligula repeatedly mocked the system of imperial decorum in Roman upper crust society in incidents such as these. His actions led to his violent death at the hands of political rivals.
|May 14, 2020|
These Are History's Nine Most Insane Rulers
Few mixtures are as toxic as absolute power and insanity. When nothing stands between a leader's delusional whims and seeing them carried out, all sorts of bizarre outcomes are possible.
This is the beginning of a series launch in tandem with Scott's new book "History's Nine Most Insane Rulers." We will look at the lives of the nine most mentally unbalanced figures in history. Some suffered from genetic disorders that led to schizophrenia, such as French King Charles VI, who thought he was made of glass. Others believed themselves to be God’s representatives on earth and wrote religious writings that they guaranteed to the reader would get them into heaven, even if these leaders were barely literate.
Whether it is Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I practicing archery on palace servants or Turkmenistan president-for-life Akhbar Turkmenbashi renaming the days of the week after himself and constructing an 80-foot-tall golden statue that revolves to face the sun, crazed leaders have plagued society for millennia.
While such stories are amusing, this book also contemplates the addictive nature of power and the effects it has on those who cling to it for too long. It explores how leaders can undertake the extraordinarily complicated job of leading a country without their full mental faculties and sometimes manage to be moderately successful. It examines why society tolerates their actions for so long and even attempts to put a facade of normalcy on rulers, despite everyone knowing that they are mentally unstable. The book also explores if insane rulers are a relic of the age of monarchs and will die out in the age of democracy, or if they will continue to plague nations in the twenty-first century.
Finally, as many armchair psychologists question the mental health of Donald Trump and other populist politicians in the United States and Europe, all but diagnosing them with mental illness, this book sets to show that truly insane rulers are categorically different in the ways they endanger their population.
|May 12, 2020|
D-Day Girls: The Female Spies Who Armed the French Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Made the Normandy Invasion Possible
In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was on the front lines. To “set Europe ablaze,” in the words of Winston Churchill, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharpshooting, was forced to do something unprecedented: recruit women. Thirty-nine answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France.
I’m talking with Sarah Rose, author of, D-Day Girls about the stories of three of these remarkable women. There’s Andrée Borrel, a scrappy and streetwise Parisian who blew up power lines with the Gestapo hot on her heels; Odette Sansom, an unhappily married suburban mother who saw the SOE as her ticket out of domestic life and into a meaningful adventure; and Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent member of French colonial high society and the SOE’s unflappable “queen.” Together, they destroyed train lines, ambushed Nazis, plotted prison breaks, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.
|May 07, 2020|
How Economies Bounce Back From Total Collapse: The German Economic Miracle (1948-1957)
After World War II the German economy was a smoldering ruin. Scorched-earth policies destroyed 20-70% of all houses. Factories, hospitals, and schools were bomb craters. Germans only ate 1,000-1500 calories a day. There was no food in the stores because price controls disincentivized shop keepers and farmers to sell anywhere except the black market.
But something happened in 1948 that changed everything. Revolutionary market changes were introduced by Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard that overnight caused stores to re-open, factories to fire up, and delivery trucks to clog the streets. In a year, food production and domestic output skyrocketed. By 1950, journalists spoke of a Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). By the 1960s, West Germany’s economy was envied by most of the world and had surpassed struggling Great Britain.
In today’s episode, we look at how economies manage to rebuilt after total devastation. How do you rebuild a factory when the roads are blown up, there are no materials available to make it, and hyperinflation has made the money so worthless that nobody will hire you? How do you restart a nation’s economic engine when there are no parts? The example of Western Germany is a good answer to many of these questions.
|May 05, 2020|
Discovering Your Grandfather Was Joseph Stalin's Bodyguard
Delving into your family history can reveal many surprises, but for Russian-American author Alex Halberstadt, it meant learning about his grandfather's experience as Joseph Stalin's bodyguard.
As the last living member of Stalin's security revenue, his grandfather, who lives in Ukraine, spoke of the fear of coming to work every day with the possibility you could be executed in a purge. Halberstad also revisits Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home, to examine the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that remains largely unaccounted for. And he returns to his birthplace, Moscow, where his grandmother designed homespun couture for Soviet ministers’ wives, his mother consoled dissidents at a psychiatric hospital, and his father made a dangerous living by selling black-market American records
His book, Young Heroes of the Soviet Union, is an investigation into the fragile boundary between history and biography. As Halberstadt revisits the sites of his family’s formative traumas, he uncovers a multigenerational transmission of fear, suffering, and rage. And he comes to realize something more: Nations, like people, possess formative traumas that penetrate into the most private recesses of their citizens’ lives.
|Apr 30, 2020|
A Confederate Civil War Submarine Was Lost 150 Years Ago. Its Reappearance Was An Unsolved Mystery...Until Now
One of the most mysterious submarine disasters in history was the sinking of the HL Hunley, a Confederate Civil War submarine. This 40-foot-long tin can was the first to successfully attack another ship—but the results were as disastrous as they were historic. Shortly after its torpedo exploded, the Hunley disappeared off the coast of Charleston. The mystery of what happened to the Hunley and its crewmembers persisted for over a century, until the sub was finally recovered in 2000. But the discovery of the sub only led to a more puzzling mystery—the skeletons of all eight crew members were found in the cramped interior, each seated at their stations with no indication they ever tried to escape.
Those mysterious deaths piqued the interest of today’s guest Rachel Lance, the leading underwater blast trauma specialist in North America, who found the case so fascinating that she banked her PhD career on solving it. Lance, the author of the new book In the Waves, provides a definitive answer to what happened to the submarine and its crew on that fateful night. During three years of investigation, she went through archives, delved into previously unknown aspects of blast and shock science and built her own mini-submarine and explosives.
|Apr 28, 2020|
Reconstruction: America’s Terrible National Hangover After the Civil War
After the massive devastation and scorched earth wartime methods of the Civil War, America tried to rebuild itself. This era was known as Reconstruction and lasted from 1865 to 1877. Many hoped at the beginning that the South would peacefully re-enter the Union, slaves would enjoy full liberty as American citizens, and the United States would emerge stronger.
It didn’t. Reconstruction showed that many of the divisions in the United States were as wide as ever. Thousands of freed slaves were not accepted anywhere and arrested on charges of vagrancy. Others died of disease or starvation. Radical Republicans sought citizenship full legal equality of black Americans, while Southerners sought segregation and white supremacy.
But despite the challenges, many former slaves said all that mattered was freedom. Rachel Adams of Georgia summed up the feeling of many formerly enslaved people when she said she could “live on just bread and water as long” as she was free. The men, women, and children who emerged from bondage built schools, developed communities and “made a way out of no way.”
|Apr 23, 2020|
The Lincoln Assassination: Did John Wilkes Booth Act Alone Or Was it a Confederacy-Ordered Hit?
Everyone thinks they know what happened at the Lincoln assassination… but do they? After 150 years, a multitude of unsolved mysteries and urban legends still surround the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Today's guest is Robert Hutchinson, author of the book "What Really Happened: The Lincoln Assassination." He takes a new look at the case and explores what really happened at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. In those final weeks of the Civil War, Washington was boiling over with animosity and recriminations.
Among the questions Hutchinson explores are:
• Did the Confederacy have a hand in the assassination plot?
• Who were John Wilkes Booth’s secret accomplices, and why did he change the
plan from kidnapping to assassination?
• Why was it so easy for Booth to enter the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre?
|Apr 21, 2020|
Japan Developed an Atomic Bomb in WW2. It Laid the Groundwork for North Korea's Nuclear Program
Japan’s WWII development of a nuclear program is not universally known. But after decades of research into national intelligence archives both in the US and abroad, today’s guest Robert Wilcox builds on his earlier accounts and provides the most detailed account available of the creation of Japan’s version of our own Manhattan Project—from the project’s inception before America’s entry into WWII, to the possible detonation of a nuclear device in 1945 in present-day North Korea.
Wilcox, author of Japan's Secret War, weaves a portrait of the secret giant industrial complex in northern Korea where Japan’s atomic research and testing culminated. And it is there that North Korea, following the Japanese defeat, salvaged what remained of the complex and fashioned its own nuclear program. This program puts not only Japan, but also its allies, including the US, in jeopardy.
|Apr 16, 2020|
The Celebrity Power Couple Who Mapped the West and Helped Cause the Civil War
John and Jessie Frémont, the husband and wife team who in the 1800s were instrumental in the westward expansion of the United States, became America’s first great political couple.
John C. Frémont, one of the United States’s leading explorers of the nineteenth century, was relatively unknown in 1842, when he commanded the first of his expeditions to the uncharted West. But in only a few years, he was one of the most acclaimed people of the age – known as a wilderness explorer, bestselling writer, gallant army officer, and latter-day conquistador, who in 1846 began the United States’s takeover of California from Mexico. He was not even 40 years old when Americans began naming mountains and towns after him. He had perfect timing, exploring the West just as it captured the nation’s attention. But the most important factor in his fame may have been the person who made it all possible: his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont.
I’m talking with Steve Inskeep, NPR host and author of the new book Imperfect Union. He writes howvJessie, the daughter of a United States senator who was deeply involved in the West, provided her husband with entrée to the highest levels of government and media, and his career reached new heights only a few months after their elopement. During a time when women were allowed to make few choices for themselves, Jessie – who herself aspired to roles in exploration and politics – threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. She worked to carefully edit and publicize his accounts of his travels, attracted talented young men to his circle, and lashed out at his enemies. She became her husband’s political adviser, as well as a power player in her own right. In 1856, the famous couple strategized as John became the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party.
Taking advantage of expanding news media, aided by an increasingly literate public, the two linked their names to the three great national movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights, and opposition to slavery. Together, John and Jessie Frémont took parts in events that defined the country and gave rise to a new, more global America. Theirs is a surprisingly modern tale of ambition and fame; they lived in a time of social and technological disruption and divisive politics that foreshadowed our own.
|Apr 14, 2020|
Nazi Super Science: The Third Reich's Plans for Transatlantic Bombers, Atomic Weapons, and Orbital Death Rays
Fiction abounds with stories of Nazi Superscience: From Captain America's nemesis Red Skull to the B-movie treasure Iron Sky (which suggests the Third Reich established a moon base after the war). But the trope is based in some fact. Nazis did aggressively research cutting edge weapons to turn the tide of a war they were increasingly losing. Some weapons, such as the V2 rocket, did see production and terrorized the Allies. Others were advanced but impractical, such as 1000-ton tanks. Still others existed completely in the realm of science fiction, such as an orbital mirror that could focus enough solar energy to create a laser that could incinerate a city or fry an ocean.
|Apr 09, 2020|
Why Dan Carlin Believes That The End is Always Near
With the endless talk of COVID-19, many think we are facing an unprecedented threat of the collapse of our civilization. But Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History, doesn’t believe anything we are facing is unprecedented. He’s spent years looking at apocalyptic moments from the past as a way to understand the challenges of the future.
Dan joins us on today’s episode to discuss some of the biggest questions in history. Do tough times create tougher people? Can humanity handle the power of its weapons without destroying itself? Will human technology or capabilities ever peak or regress? Will our world ever become a ruin for future archaeologists to dig up and explore? The questions themselves are both philosophical and like something out of The Twilight Zone.
We go all over the place in this episode, from the collapse of the Bronze Age to the challenges of the nuclear era the issue, which has hung over humanity like a persistent Sword of Damocles. But just as he does on his own show, Dan manages to make the most complicated stories engaging and entertaining.
|Apr 07, 2020|
American Sherlock -- Meet The 1920s Forensic Scientist Who Created Modern CSI
Before the 1900s, solving a murder was done using conjectural theories or flimsy psychological notions of what makes a killer a killer. That all changed with the development of forensic techniques employed at crime scenes, but few know the origin story of these now taken-for-granted methods of solving murders and other misdeeds.
It all changed with the revolutionary contributions of Edward Oscar Heinrich who pioneered many of the forensic techniques used today. Today’s guest is Kate Dawson, author of the book American Sherlock, who gives Heinrich his due with an account of his work on some of the most perplexing and notorious cases of the first half of the twentieth century. The press at the time dubbed Edward Oscar Heinrich ‘America’s Sherlock Holmes’ thanks to his brilliance in the lab, his cool demeanor at crime scenes, and his expertise in the witness chair. He invented new forensic techniques. A CSI in the field and inside the lab before the acronym existed. And he was a nascent innovator of criminal profiling fifty years before the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit invented its methodology.
Never a member of a police force, Heinrich was brought in to consult on many high profile cases, including the legendary rape and manslaughter trial of movie comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (a case the prosecution ultimately lost when the jury neglected to accept Heinrich’s finger print evidence). Bloodstain pattern analysis, ballistics, the use of UV rays to detect blood, hair and fiber evidence, handwriting analysis—all were virtually unheard of methods that Heinrich employed to bring criminals to justice. Often the cutting-edge techniques that Heinrich engaged in the lab and brought to the courtroom as an expert witness would rile the authorities, even as they galvanized the public.
Edward Oscar Heinrich quietly and unassumingly offered a revolutionary approach—the immutable proof that science and reason could provide to the thrilling, often messy world of crime solving.
|Apr 02, 2020|
How Does a Nation Have an Identity When Its People Speak Different Languages? Ask Canada (Quebec Specifically)
A listener named Liam requested an episode looking at a deep dive into his hometown of Montreal and how it came to be a center of commerce and culture in North America. We’ll do that, but rather than talk about historical buildings and fountains (and other facts you'd find in a Frommers Guide) we’ll look way deeper and see how Montreal was a cultural powerhouse in its long history, everything from an underground railroad destination to a Prohibition-era hot spot with jazz clubs and cabarets, all the way up to its present-day status as a bilingual mecca.
|Mar 31, 2020|
Scott's Book "History's 9 Most Insane Rulers" Launch Update and Bonus Offer
Go to www.historyunpluggedpodcast.com to learn about Scott's new upcoming book "History's 9 Most Insane Rulers" and how you can get exclusive content.
|Mar 30, 2020|
How the Florida of the Roaring 20s Created Modern America and Triggered the Great Depression
The 1920s in Florida was a time of incredible excess, immense wealth, and precipitous collapse. The decade there produced the largest human migration in American history, far exceeding the settlement of the West, as millions flocked to the grand hotels and the new cities that rose rapidly from the teeming wetlands. The boom spawned a new subdivision civilization—and the most egregious large-scale assault on the environment in the name of “progress.” Nowhere was the glitz and froth of the Roaring Twenties more excessive than in Florida. Here was Vegas before there was a Vegas: gambling was condoned and so was drinking, since prohibition was not enforced. Tycoons, crooks, and celebrities arrived en masse to promote or exploit this new and dazzling American frontier in the sunshine. Yet, the import and deep impact of these historical events have never been explored thoroughly until now.
Today's guest is Christopher Knowlton, author of Bubble in the Sun. He discusses the grand artistic and entrepreneurial visions behind Coral Gables, Boca Raton, Miami Beach, and other storied sites, as well as the darker side of the frenzy. For while giant fortunes were being made and lost and the nightlife raged more raucously than anywhere else, the pure beauty of the Everglades suffered wanton ruination and the workers, mostly black, who built and maintained the boom, endured grievous abuses.
Knowlton discusses the forces that made and wrecked Florida during the decade: the real estate moguls Carl Fisher, George Merrick, and Addison Mizner, and the once-in-a-century hurricane whose aftermath triggered the stock market crash.
|Mar 26, 2020|
History Has Lots of Great Ideas About What To Do During a Quarantine
Quarantines are nothing new: they've been used since at least the Bronze Age to prevent the spread of leprosy. In this episode (rebroadcasted from a Facebook Livestream), we'll look at the various ways that humans rode out the plague and other disease.
Some panicked, like the Flagellators during the Black Death. But others took advantage of the time and bunkered down with friends, taking long walks, enjoying delicious meals, and each telling stories (like in the Italian Renaissance work "The Decameron"). Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV retreated to his rural estates and went on long hunting trips when the bubonic plague struck Istanbul. Shakespeare took the opportunity to write poetry, and Isaac Newton invented physics.
Hopefully this will give us plenty of ideas of what to do as we ride out COVID-19.
|Mar 24, 2020|
The Civil War in the American West: When Multi-Racial Armies Fought Over Gold Mines and Indian Lands
When people think of the American Civil War, specific images spring to mind—Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Scarlett O’Hara escaping a burning Atlanta in a hoop skirt, and blue and grey uniforms clashing on bloodied battlefields. The war is well researched, but there is still the little-known, yet still vastly important, history of the Civil War in the American West.
I’m talking today with Megan Kate Nelson, author of The Three Cornered-War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West. Both the Union and Confederacy had their eyes on the prize that was the American West; making up more than 40 percent of the United States landmass, the territory would give whoever controlled it access to gold and Pacific ports. For the North, it was also imperative to protect its interests in New Mexico in particular, since that territory was not only the gateway to Southern California, but it also shared a border with the Confederacy, making it vulnerable to invasion by pro-slavery forces. As Nelson explains, the battles that took place in the region “illuminate the ways that the Southwest became a pivotal theater of the Civil War and the center of a larger struggle for the future of the nation, of Native peoples, and of the West.”
The Western Theatre saw the complex interplay between the Civil War, the Indian wars, and western expansion, reframing this struggle as a truly national conflict. Today’s political conflicts over immigration have created chaos along the Southwest’s border with Mexico. This region has long been a site of contention, however—a place in which struggles for power have sparked armed conflict and determined federal policies regarding who, exactly, is an American.
|Mar 19, 2020|
St. Patrick Didn't Get Rid of Any Snakes, But He Is The Patron Saint of Exterminators
Nearly 1,600 years after Patrick arrived on Ireland (first as a slave, then as a missionary who brought Christianity to the island), he is celebrated as the patron saint of the Emerald Isle and apocryphally believed to have eliminated snakes from the island (which he didn't, but the belief makes sense if you replace snakes with pre-Christian paganistic beliefs).
But what exactly are patron saints? Why is a deceased man or woman somebody who receives prayers related to travel, taxes, marriage, and telling a joke? To sort out these questions, we are joined by Michael Foley a three-time guest and a Professor of Patristics in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University in Texas.
But more than tell us about the history of patron saints, Michael includes his stories with mixology, making drinks dedicated to these men and women of the cloth. Michael is author of the new book Drinking with Your Patron Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to Honoring Namesakes and Protectors. Have a problem with the IRS? Pray to St. Matthew and mix up a classic Income Tax cocktail to toast the tax collector apostle. Afraid of a snake in your basement? Imbibe an Irish whiskey and ask St. Patrick for his extermination advice. Wish there were better choices for political candidates? Plead with St. Thomas More, who presides over statesmen, as you sip on cognac to honor his nobility.
|Mar 17, 2020|
COVID-19 is Nothing Compared to the 1918 Spanish Flu
COVID19, aka - the coronavirus, has triggered mass quarantines and spooked markets across the globe. To date, over 3,000 have died and over 100,000 infected. But however dangerous this virus ends up being, it doesn't belong in the same galaxy as Spanish Flu, which killed up to 100 million in 1918, which was 5 percent of the earth's population.
Today's guest is Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care at the National Institute of Health and author of Influenza: The 100-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History. He notes that great strides have been made in medicine the last century, and whatever happens next, it won’t be a second 1918.
We discuss the quarantine methods used in the ancient and medieval worlds during epidemics and pandemics; how the Spanish Flu pandemic began; what it was it like for an average person in 1918 and whether there was an omnipresent fear of death, or were people mostly resigned to their fate; how the Spanish flu pandemic ended; and finally, lessons from 1918 we should heed today.
Here's the bottom line: with coronavirus, you will definitely have it much, much better than your great grandpappy did with Spanish flu.
|Mar 12, 2020|
The Lost History of James Madison's Black Family
“Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president”
This was Betty Kearse's family motto; a way to remember that they were descended from James Madison, but also Coreen, a slave who worked on the Montpelier plantation whom her descendants believe had a child with the fourth president.
Kearse, a pediatrician and author of the book “The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family” talks to us today about her family's 200-year journey from a slave-holding fortress in Ghana, to New York City to a brick walkway at James Madison’s Virginia plantation. In it she tries to reconcile a past that includes Madison, a giant of early America who authored the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with the abuses of slavery and rape. It's a complicated story but a critical one to hear to understand the complex origins of the United States.
|Mar 10, 2020|
The Cold War -- Not WW2 -- Was Arguably the Defining Event of the 20th Century
The Cold War existed vaguely in a fifty-year stretch and lacked the defining moments of a major military conflict. However, there is a strong argument to be made that it defined the 20th century. While most point to World Wars One and Two as the most important events of the century, the institutions that dominate today's nations are by-products of the Cold War: the military-industrial complex, their political systems (whether capitalist, socialist, or something in between), funding for scientific research, and even space programs.
Fundamentally at stake was a question of whether the world would accept the political beliefs of Soviet Union of collectivism and communism, or the principles of economic and political democracy supported by the United States. The Cold War established America as the leader of the free world and a global superpower. It shaped U.S. military strategy, economic policy, and domestic politics for nearly 50 years.
In this episode, we recount the pivotal events of this protracted struggle and explain the strategies that eventually led to its end. This includes the development and implementation of containment, détente, and finally President Reagan's philosophy: "they lose, we win."
|Mar 05, 2020|
Fight House: Cutthroat White House Rivalries From Truman to Trump
Some American presidents appear to do their jobs in a more organized way than others, but the White House has always been filled with ambitious people playing for the highest stakes and bearing bitter grudges. There is a myth that staffs all compromise and put aside petty differences for the greater good. But behind the scenes, staff members leaked stories to gain an upper hand in policy fights, tried to get each other fired, all while seeking the favor of the president.
Today's guest is presidential historian Tevi Troy, a former White House staffer and author of the new book Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. We discuss the dramatic clashes within both Republican and Democratic administrations as their heavyweight personalities went head-to-head.
|Mar 03, 2020|
How An American Tank Gunner Successfully Dueled with Panzers in World War Two
When Clarence Smoyer is assigned to the gunner’s seat of his Sherman tank, his crewmates discover that the gentle giant from Pennsylvania has a hidden talent: He’s a natural born shooter.
At first, Clarence and his fellow crews in the legendary 3rd Armored Division—“Spearhead”—thought their tanks were invincible.
Then they met the German Panther, with a gun so murderous it could shoot through one Sherman and into the next. Soon a pattern emerged: The lead tank always gets hit.
After Clarence sees his friends cut down breaching the West Wall and holding the line in the Battle of the Bulge, he and his crew are given a weapon with the power to avenge their fallen brothers: the Pershing, a state-of-the-art “super tank,” one of twenty in the European theater.
But with it came a harrowing new responsibility: Now they will spearhead every attack.
In this episode I'm speaking with Adam Makos, author of “Spearhead.” It's the story of an American tank gunner’s journey into the heart of the Third Reich, where he will meet destiny in an iconic armor duel—and forge an enduring bond with his enemy.
|Feb 27, 2020|
New York Has Been America's Capital of Spying Since the Beginning of the U.S.
If you visit New York, your waiter, your cabbie, or the lady on the train playing Candy Crush could very well not be who they appear to be. That's because there are more spies working in New York City today than ever before, according to H. Keith Melton, the espionage advisor on The Americans, and Robert Wallace, the former chief of the CIA’s Office of Technical Service. But, as today's guests and the authors of the new book Spy Sites of New York City argue, the city has always been a hotbed of international intrigue.
From George Washington's downtown spy ring to Alger Hiss meeting his handler in a Park Slope movie theater to the hundreds of agents using the UN as a cover at this very moment. Espionage is as much a part of the city as honking horns and delayed subways. In this episode we discuss centuries of spying in the five boroughs and beyond, walking the reader through surprising meeting places, secret drop-sites, and the everyday bars, hotels, and park benches where so much shadowy history has been made.
|Feb 25, 2020|
The 1881 Expedition to Reach Farthest North Led to Starvation, Madness, and Glory
In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made.
Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge―vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness―as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came.
250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission.
Today I’m speaking with Buddy Levy, author of “Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition.” We look at this story and what came after: Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice—he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters. After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely's expedition clung desperately to life.
We discuss the story of the heroic lives and deaths of these voyagers hell-bent on fame and fortune―at any cost―and how their journey changed the world.
|Feb 20, 2020|
The Terrifying Conquests of Hannibal of Carthage
Hannibal ad portas! The phrase was enough to terrify anyone in the Roman Republic and became an adage for parents to scare their children at nights: “Hannibal is at the gates.” The Carthaginian commander nearly destroyed Rome in the 3rd century BC and posed the republic's greatest threat until the empire collapsed in the fifth century AD. What made the general such a formidable foe? His genius for military strategy, willingness to use any level of violence necessary (Hannibal's religion called for child sacrifice), and clever use of resources.
|Feb 18, 2020|
The Negro Leagues Made Baseball a Global Sport and Kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement
Many people think the Negro Leagues as a sad, somber part of America's legacy of racial division. In many ways it is, says Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum. But on the 100th anniversary of its founding, he stresses that it is moreover a triumphant story about what came out of segregation, and the result was a much richer, stronger country.
It was the Negro Leagues that introduced baseball to Japan and Latin America when black players played in exhibition matches at those places (they went on a goodwill tour to Japan in 1927, years before Babe Ruth and others came, winning the hearts of locals). And, he says, it was the Negro League that kickstarted the Civil Rights Movement by its players breaking the baseball color barrier of the Major Leagues with Jackie Robinson in 1947. This was years before the Birmingham Bus Boycott (1956) or the Freedom Riders (1961).
Today I'm speaking with Kendrick about the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which were formed on February 13, 1920, in Kansas City, Missouri. For the next several decades, black players competed on Negro League teams every bit as competent as their white counterparts (Hank Aaron got his start in the Negro Leagues; Joe DiMaggio called Satchel Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I have ever faced.”)
We discuss legends of the sport, such as Buck O'Neil, a first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs, who became the first black scout for Major League Baseball and was a major player in establishing the museum itself (he was also a fixture on Ken Burns' documentary on baseball).
|Feb 13, 2020|
The Royal Touch: When British and French Kings Were Thought to Have Healing Powers
“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer” -- this phrase appears in the Lord of the Rings, referring to how Aragorn was identified as the king of Gondor by his healing powers. Tolkien likely based this ability on an actual ceremony in England and France where thousands would gather to be touched by the king and be healed of their illnesses.
From the eleventh to nineteenth centuries, it was believed that a monarch could heal scrofula – called “The King's Evil” – by laying hands on the infected area. The belief of the Royal Touch began in the Middle Ages but survived, and even thrived, well into the Protestant Reformation, when other types of sacramental ceremonies were erased. It was enormously popular with the public. Charles II touch nearly 92,000 during his reign – over 4,500 a year. So many wanted the royal touch that officials demanded the afflicted produce a certificate to prove they had not already received it and were coming back for seconds.
The ritual persisted through very different eras and religious periods because kings and queens all used it to claim that God supported their reign.
|Feb 11, 2020|
The Worst Gambling Scandal in NCAA History Led to an Unlikely Story of Redemption
The 1949-50 City College Beavers basketball team were incredible underdogs who experienced an incredible rise and subsequent fall from grace. At a time when the National Basketball Association was still segregated, the Beavers team was composed entirely of minority players – eight Jews and four African Americans. In 1950 the City College Beavers became the only basketball team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year. But one year later the team’s star players were arrested for conspiring with gamblers to shave points. Overnight the players went from heroes to villains.
Today's guest is Matthew Goodman, author of the book “The City Game.” He argues these players were actually caught in a much larger web of corruption that stretched across major social institutions from City Hall to the police department, sports arenas, and even the universities themselves. It’s a historical story of duplicity and cynicism that’s all too relevant to big-money college sports today.
But it's also a story of redemption, particularly Floyd Layne, one of the players implicated in the scandal. Floyd Layne was raised by a single mother in the Bronx, an immigrant from Barbados. He was a popular, talented, cheerful kid who loved basketball and jazz. Time and again he resisted the urgings of his teammates to take money from gamblers, but finally he relented because he wanted to buy his mother a $110 washing machine for Christmas. After he was arrested, he and the other players were blacklisted from the NBA – but unlike the other players, Floyd spent years trying unsuccessfully to join the league. Eventually he gave up and began coaching youth basketball in the Bronx, where his mentees included the future Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald. In 1975 the job of head basketball coach of City College became available, and Floyd applied and got the job – after a quarter century, he was back at City College.
|Feb 06, 2020|
The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020
Civil War historians have asked if the South could have won the Civil War (or at least fought to a stalemate) since 1866. If they would have won, then what then? What would a divided states of America have looked like? Would a USA and a CSA have a happy peace and maintain a cooperative co-existence, like North and South Dakota, or maintain a cold war that threatened to go hot at any moment, like North and South Korea?
In this episode, we look at an alternate timeline of the Confederate States of America, whether emancipation would have happened, which foreign alliances would be forged, and how the two Americas would react to World War Two and the rise of Hitler. Suffice it to say, in the infinite timelines that exist, there is a large number that includes the CSA, and nearly all of them are bad.
|Feb 04, 2020|
An Admiral's List of the 10 Greatest Admirals in History
Today's episode features a special guest, James Stavridis, a four-star U.S. Navy Admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He joins us to discuss the ten greatest admirals in history and looks at their examples of leadership and resourcefulness. Case studies include Themistocles, English Sea Captain Francis Drake, Chinese explorer Zheng He, Horatio Nelson, WW2 Pacific Theatre Commander Chester Nimitz, and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Most of all, we get at what it's like to look down on a carrier strike group (made up of 7,500 personnel, an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, a flotilla of six to 10 destroyers and/or frigates, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft) and know that you have absolute command over the fates of everyone and everything below you and how that feeling would affect the lives of these people.
|Jan 30, 2020|
Pearl Harbor May Have Been Avoided If a Lone US Diplomat Had Gotten His Way
Could one American diplomat have prevented the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? The answer might be yes. America’s ambassador to Japan in 1941, Joseph Grew, certainly thought so. He saw the writing on the wall—economic sanctions were crippling Japan, rice was rationed, consumer goods were limited, and oil was scarce as America’s noose tightened around Japan’s neck. Japan and the U.S. were locked in a battle of wills, yet Japan refused to yield to American demands.
In this episode, I speak with Lew Paper, author of "In the Cauldron: Terror, Tension, and the American Ambassador’s Struggle to Avoid Pearl Harbor." He describes how the United States and Japan were locked in a cauldron of boiling tensions and of one man’s desperate effort to prevent the Pearl Harbor attacks before they happened.
Through "In the Cauldron," Paper reveals new information—mined from Grew’s diaries, letters, official papers, the diplomatic archives, and interviews with Grew’s family and the families of his staff—to present a compelling narrative of how the militaristic policies of Imperial Japan collided with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s determination to punish Japanese aggression in the Far East.
We look at Pearl Harbor attack inside the ambassador’s perspective through Paper’s revelation of:
• Grew’s personal diaries detailing the events leading up to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor
• Personal interviews with Grew’s family and staff, giving the inside look into Grew’s struggle to prevent the attacks
• Detailed accounts of the correspondence between Grew and other State Department officials about the warning signs leading up to the Pearl Harbor attacks
• An in-depth look into the fast-depreciating lives of the Japanese people and how their struggles and cultural ideology contributed to the fatal attacks
|Jan 28, 2020|
How 20K Marines Held Out Against 300K Chinese Soldiers At The Chosin Reservoir, The Korean War's Greatest Battle
On October 15, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of UN troops in Korea, convinced President Harry Truman that the Communist forces of Kim Il-sung would be utterly defeated by Thanksgiving. The Chinese, he said with near certainty, would not intervene in the war.
As he was speaking, 300,000 Red Chinese soldiers began secretly crossing the Manchurian border. Led by some 20,000 men of the First Marine Division, the Americans moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, toward the trap Mao had set for the vainglorious MacArthur along the frozen shores of the Chosin Reservoir. What followed was one of the most heroic--and harrowing--operations in American military history, and one of the classic battles of all time. Faced with probable annihilation, and temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero, the surrounded, and hugely outnumbered, Marines fought through the enemy forces with ferocity, ingenuity, and nearly unimaginable courage as they marched their way to the sea.
Today I'm speaking with Hampton Sides, author of the account On Desperate Ground a soldier's eye view of this conflict that chronicle of the extraordinary feats of heroism performed by the beleaguered Marines, who were called upon to do the impossible in some of the most unforgiving terrain on earth.
|Jan 23, 2020|
Dragons Never Existed. So Why Are They Found in Absolutely Every Ancient Folklore?
You don't have to read the ancient folklore of China, Sumeria, or anywhere else long before you encounter a dragon. Sometimes they guard treasure. Sometimes they kidnap local maidens. Sometimes they are the primary antagonist for a hero to conquer. Mostly they perform all three roles. But the problem is they never existed. Outside of a handful of cryptozoologists, nobody argues that they are real. So why do cultures that had no contact with each other produce remarkably similar myths?
This episode looks into the theories of the spread of dragon myths. Perhaps there was an Ur-myth in Egypt or Mesopotamia that slowly spread across the world. Or it's an anthropological reaction to the fear that most humans have of lizards. More exotic theories claim dragons are the genetic memory of dinosaurs. Even more exotic theories claim they are the embodiment of rainbows (we'll explain that last one in more detail).
|Jan 21, 2020|
The Crusades, From Both Arab and European Perspectives
For more than one thousand years, Christians and Muslims lived side by side, sometimes at peace and sometimes at war. When Christian armies seized Jerusalem in 1099, they began the most notorious period of conflict between the two religions. Depending on who you ask, the fall of the holy city was either an inspiring legend or the greatest of horrors.
In this episode I’m speaking with Dan Jones, author of Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands. In Crusaders, Dan Jones interrogates the many sides of the larger story, charting a deeply human and avowedly pluralist path through the crusading era.
Expanding the usual timeframe, Jones looks to the roots of Christian-Muslim relations in the eighth century and tracks the influence of crusading to present day. He widens the geographical focus to far-flung regions home to so-called enemies of the Church, including Spain, North Africa, southern France, and the Baltic states. By telling intimate stories of individual journeys, Jones illuminates these centuries of war not only from the perspective of popes and kings, but from Arab-Sicilian poets, Byzantine princesses, Sunni scholars, Shi'ite viziers, Mamluk slave soldiers, Mongol chieftains, and barefoot friar
|Jan 16, 2020|
How the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda Radicalized Germany
Once the Nazi Party took power in Germany, they managed to end democracy and turned the nation into a one-party dictatorship, launching an endless propaganda campaign to mobilize the public for war. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda arranged book burnings, lists of banned literature, and the release of films that exalted Aryan values and demonized Jews.
Before the rise of the Nazis, Germany was the most educated society on Earth, producing the finest literature, film, and university programs of any advanced nation. How did it succumb to such a simplistic propaganda program? The answer has to do with the ancient story of propaganda and how the masses swallow almost any message if it's repeated enough and speaks to their deepest fears.
|Jan 14, 2020|
Star Spangled Scandal: The Antebellum Murder Trial that Changed America
Two years before the Civil War, Congressman Daniel Sickles and his lovely wife Teresa were popular fixtures in Washington, D.C. society. Their house sat on Lafayette Square across from White House grounds, and the president himself was godfather to the Sickleses’ six-year-old daughter. Because Congressman Sickles is frequently out of town, he trusted his friend, U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key—son of Francis Scott Key—to escort the beautiful Mrs. Sickles to parties in his absence. Revelers in D.C. were accustomed to the sight of the congressman’s wife with the tall, Apollo-like Philip Barton Key.
Then one day Daniel Sickles received an anonymous note suggesting his wife's infidelity. It sets into motion a tragic course of events that culminated in a shocking murder in broad daylight in Lafayette Square.
Today's guest is Chris DeRose, author of the book Star Spangled Scandal, about the biggest media sensation in Civil War America. The press couldn't get enough of the trial, which had a play based on the events hit the stage as the trial was in progress. The trial introduced the concepts of the insanity defense, challenged ideas of chivalry and masculinity, and ensconced ideas of an unwritten law, where “honor crimes” were tolerated by judges for nearly a century after the trial.
|Jan 09, 2020|
237 Years After the Revolutionary War, Some Say It Was a Mistake. Are They Right?
There are few events that would shake the world order like the success of the American Revolution. Some changes would be felt immediately. English traditions such as land inheritance laws were swept away. Other changes took longer. Slavery would not be abolished for another hundred years. Americans began to feel that their fight for liberty was a global fight. Future democracies would model their governments on the United States'.
|Jan 07, 2020|
George Washington's Spies: The Culper Ring, Nathan Hale, and the Plot to Capture Benedict Arnold
Spycraft was seen as a treacherous craft, but it was necessary to win a war. Washington knew this, as his early attempts to gather intelligence on British-occupied New York led to an execution of Nathan Hale, a young school teacher. More sophisticated networks developed, particularly the Culper Spy ring, which involved a farmer, a whaleboat captain, a tavern owner, and a slave.
|Jan 02, 2020|
The Revolutionary War Comes to an End
After Yorktown, a truce was declared in America, although some skirmishes did break out until final peace was negotiated in Paris in 1783. In this episode, Scott and James looks at what happened to the British and American generals and politicians involved in the war.
|Dec 31, 2019|
The Battle of Yorktown: Britain's Surrender in the Revolutionary War
On October 14, 1781, Washington and French General Comte de Rochambeau attacked on October 14th, capturing two British defense. British Gen. Cornwallis surrendered two days later.
|Dec 26, 2019|
The Siege of Yorktown: American and France Corner Britain
The Battle of Yorktown sealed the fate of the Revolutionary War. In late 1781, American and French troops laid siege to the British Army at Yorktown, Virginia. First, a bit of backgroun. The partisan warfare that kept occurring in the upcountry of the Carolinas made it impossible for the British to obtain supplies from there. This in turn made it necessary for Cornwallis to keep his army relatively close to the coast. Greene kept his army far enough from Cornwallis to avoid a major pitched battle while constantly trying to lure Cornwallis away from the coast. Greene’s strategy was (in Allen Guelzo’s words) “dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” In this, he was assisted by a cavalry commander named Col. Henry (“Light Horse Harry”) Lee, as well as Francis Marion and Daniel Morgan. Skirmishers of the two armies occasionally fought each other, but the main armies never met.
|Dec 24, 2019|
King’s Mountain: The Revolutionary War's Largest 'All-American Fight'
The Battles of King's Mountain and Cowpens were fought in 1781, between the Continental Army under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and British forces under Lieutenant Colonel Sir Banastre Tarleton, as part of the campaign in the Carolinas. Daniel Morgan, who had been sent south by Washington, joined Nathanael Greene’s army. Greene decided to send Morgan with a force of militia and cavalry westward. This dividing of his army was risky, but Greene wrote “It makes the most of my inferior force for it compels my adversary to divide his.”
|Dec 19, 2019|
The Treason of Benedict Arnold
In 1788, the battle lines of the Revolutionary War moved from New England to the southern colonies. Lord George Germain, the British secretary responsible for the war, wrote to Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton that capturing the southern colonies was "considered by the King as an object of great importance in the scale of the war" Germain and the king believed that the majority of southern colonists were loyalists and that if the British army could take key parts of the South, Loyalists would rise up to join the British and at the very least, the southern colonies could be brought back into the empire. In September 1778, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Lincoln as the commander of Continental forces in the South. In November of that year, British forces conducted several raids into Georgia. The next month, a force of about 3000 British regulars under Archibald Campbell arrived and captured Savannah on December 29. They took Augusta a month later but soon withdrew due to the presence of American forces nearby.
Plus, we look at Benedict Arnold's treason.
|Dec 17, 2019|
How France and America Cooperated During the Revolutionary War
The Battle of Rhode Island (also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill and the Battle of Newport) took place on August 29, 1778. The battle was the first attempt at cooperation between French and American forces following France’s entry into the war as an American ally.
|Dec 12, 2019|
American Politicians Nearly Had George Washington Fired During the Revolutionary War
After the setbacks of 1777 and 1778, other American officers angled to take Washington's position as leader of the Continental Army. A conspiracy called the Conway Cable tried but failed to force him out. Washington shored up his support after victory at the Battle of Monmouth.
|Dec 10, 2019|
The Philadelphia Campaign: When Britain Took Over Ben Franklin's House
The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-8 was a British attempt to capture Philadelphia, then capital of the United States and seat of the Continental Congress, led by Gen. William Howe. They did capture the city, but British disaster loomed north in the Saratoga campaign, threatening any British gains.
Correction: The Schuylkill River was pronounced "Sky-Kill", but it is actually pronounced "School - Kill."
|Dec 05, 2019|
The Battle of Saratoga—Benedict Arnold, An American Hero
The Battle of Saratoga was incredible turn of fortunes for the United States. British , Gen. John Burgoyne thought he would cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. Instead, he lost the battle and was forced to surrender 20,000 troops. Saratoga was also Benedict Arnold's finest hour. He loathed American commander Horatio Gates, who relieved Arnold of his command. Nonetheless, at the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777, Arnold took command of American soldiers whom he led in an assault against the British. Arnold’s fierce attack disordered the enemy and led to American victory. The decisive Patriot victory compelled France to enter the war as an ally with the United States.
|Dec 03, 2019|
Rebroadcast: Turkey is Both a Bird and a Country. Which Came First?
It's no coincidence that the bird we eat for Thanksgiving and a Middle Eastern country are both called Turkey. One was named after the other, and it all has to do with a 500-year-old story of emerging global trade, mistaken identity, foreign language confusion, and how the turkey took Europe by storm as a must-have status symbol for the ultra-wealthy.
|Nov 28, 2019|
The Saratoga Campaign: Turning Point of the Revolutionary War
The Saratoga campaign gave a decisive victory to the Americans over the British during the American Revolutionary War. The battle also saw great heroics by Benedict Arnold.
|Nov 27, 2019|
The Battle of Princeton Proves George Washington Was So Lucky, It Was Almost Supernatural
Washington and his men had their work cut out for them after crossing the Delaware River. Over the next ten days, they won two battles. First, the Patriots defeated a Hessian garrison on December 26th. They then returned to Trenton a week later to draw British force south, then launched a night attack to capture Princeton on January 3rd. With the victory, New Jersey fell into Patriot hands.
|Nov 26, 2019|
19th-Century American Radicals: Vegans, Abolitionists, and Free Love Advocates
On July 4, 1826, as Americans lit firecrackers to celebrate the country’s fiftieth birthday, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were on their deathbeds. They would leave behind a groundbreaking political system and a growing economy—as well as the glaring inequalities that had undermined the American experiment from its beginning. The young nation had outlived the men who made it, but could it survive intensifying divisions over the very meaning of the land of the free?
In today's episode, I'm speaking with Holly Jackson about her new book American Radicals, which looks at this new network of dissent—connecting firebrands and agitators on pastoral communes, in urban mobs, and in genteel parlors across the nation—that vowed to finish the revolution they claimed the Founding Fathers had only begun. They were men and women, black and white, fiercely devoted to causes that pitted them against mainstream America even while they fought to preserve the nation’s founding ideals: the brilliant heiress Frances Wright, whose shocking critiques of religion and the institution of marriage led to calls for her arrest; the radical Bostonian William Lloyd Garrison, whose commitment to nonviolence would be tested as the conflict over slavery pushed the nation to its breaking point; the Philadelphia businessman James Forten, who presided over the first mass political protest of free African Americans; Marx Lazarus, a vegan from Alabama whose calls for sexual liberation masked a dark secret; black nationalist Martin Delany, the would-be founding father of a West African colony who secretly supported John Brown’s treasonous raid on Harpers Ferry—only to ally himself with Southern Confederates after the Civil War.
Though largely forgotten today, these figures were enormously influential in the pivotal period flanking the war, their lives and work entwined with reformers like Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Henry David Thoreau, as well as iconic leaders like Abraham Lincoln. Jackson writes them back into the story of the nation’s most formative and perilous era in all their heroism, outlandishness, and tragic shortcomings.
|Nov 21, 2019|
Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling, and Other Historical Villains—When is Someone Misunderstood vs. Truly Bad?
Do historical “villains” like Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling, and Emperor Caligula deserve their terrible reputations, or are they victims of biased accounts? In this rebroadcast of a live event in the History Unplugged Facebook Page, Scott gets into what makes somebody a true bad guy in the past (unsurprisingly, Hitler makes this list), somebody best described as misunderstood, and somebody who deserves a rehabilitation.
|Nov 19, 2019|
When Does A Scorched-Earth Policy Work? A Look at the Civil War's Final Year
Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Over 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army. And most of all, William Tecumseh Sherman launches his scorched-earth March to the Sea. Other events include the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
Today I'm talking with S.C. Gwynne, author of Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War. We discuss unexpected angles and insights on the war. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers.
|Nov 14, 2019|
Medic! First Aid in Combat, From WW1 Trenches to Operation Iraqi Freedom
Up until the recent past, if a soldier was wounded in battle, he remained in the field where he had fallen without hope of rescue. Maybe a comrade would drag him to safety, but more likely he would remain there for days, hoping for aid (or, barring that, death). Not that ancients knew nothing of combat medicine. Alexander the Great had tourniquets applied to soldiers with bleeding extremity wounds. Stretchers made of wicker were used in medieval battles. Triage was used in the Napoleonic corps.
It was not until the Civil War that something like an ambulance service developed. Everything change in 1862 when Dr. Jonathan Letterman developed a three-tier evacuation system still used today. First was the field dressing station near the battlefield. The second was the field hospital (or MASH units). Finally a large hospital for those needing prolonged treatment.
Today, death rates in battle have plummeted, thanks to the work of combat medics, who keep soldiers from dying at their most vulnerable time.
|Nov 12, 2019|
The Confederacy Dominated the Early Civil War. So Why Did It Ultimately Lose?
The Confederacy won the early battles of the Civil War, led by brilliant generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee (to name a few) against blundering Union commanders like the endlessly dithering George McClellan. The war only turned after Lincoln found the right generals such as Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. This Civil War narrative—that Union generals improved while Confederate ones worsened—is popular and well-supported. Is it accurate, or did circumstances of the war bring out the true character of each general?
The answer isn't a simple 'yes' or 'no' but Scott will do his best to explain what makes a Civil War general a good one and how they improved or worsened over the course of the war.
|Nov 07, 2019|
Constantine's Conversion to Christianity: Opportunism or a Sincere Gesture?
History Channel documentaries and pop historians have argued that when Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he was merely following the religious demographic trends of the Roman Empire and thought paganism to be a political dead end. The idea makes sense at first glance. But the story of Constantine's conversion—and later the entire empire's—goes far beyond political opportunism (although there is plenty of that).
Constantine did not choose his new religion to chase after changing demographics in the Empire; Christianity was a lower-class religion disfavored by the pagans who overwhelmingly made up the Roman army and cavalry—the exact people that an emperor really needed to appease to hold onto power. Plus, recent studies on Constantine argue that Christianity would have spread regardless of the emperor's choice, although it would have happened at a later date.
The Roman Catholic Church did drape itself in Roman symbolism and forged fictional lines of continuity between itself and the empire, but only after the sixth century, when the Western Roman Empire had completely collapsed and become a ghost that haunted Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Any resemblance between the empire and the church came after the former collapse and was largely coincidental.
|Nov 05, 2019|
Was the US Involvement in World War One a Mistake?
Most Americans are unclear about their country’s contribution to victory in World War I. They figure we entered the conflict too late to claim much credit, or maybe they think our intervention was discreditable. Some say we had no compelling national interest to enter the Great War; worse, our intervention allowed Britain and France to force on Germany an unjust, punitive peace that made the rise of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party inevitable. Had we stayed out of the war, the argument goes, the Europeans would have been compelled to make a reasonable, negotiated peace, and postwar animosity would have been lessened.
In this episode, we explore whether American involvement in World War One led to needless slaughter or served the purpose of creating a better future for Europe and the United States than would have been the case if Germany's Second Reich had dominated the continent.
|Oct 31, 2019|
Hans Kammler, Nazi Architect of Auschwitz, Defector to the US?
Hans Kammler was among the worst of the Nazis. He was responsible for the construction of Hitler’s slave labor sites and concentration camps. He personally altered the design of Auschwitz to increase crowding, ensuring that epidemic diseases would complement the work of the gas chambers. So pleased was Hitler by his work that he put him in charge of the Nazi rocket and nuclear weapons programs. At the end of the war he had more power than SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Even among the SS he was feared for his brutish nature.
So why has the world never heard of him? Today I'm speaking with Dean Reuter, author of the new book “The Hidden Nazi: The Untold Story of America’s Deal with the Devil” he and collaborators Colm Lowery and Keith Chester spent a combined decades tracking down Kammler's trail. Long believed to have committed suicide, they discovered that he may have escaped exposure and justice through a secret deal with America.
|Oct 29, 2019|
Announcement: Mid-Season Break for "Key Battles of the Revolutionary War"
|Oct 26, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 12: Crossing the Delaware
At the end of 1776 George Washington was in a desperate situation. The Continental Army had retreated completely out of New York after losing Long Island to British General William Howe. Many of his soldiers' contracts were set to expire at years end. He needed a dramatic victory, and fast. An opportunity arose when intelligence revealed Hessian forces camped in Trenton, New Jersey that were vulnerable to a sneak attack.
|Oct 24, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 11: New York Campaign (2/2)
The New York Campaign ended in decisive victory for the British and terrible defeat for the Continental Army, which barely escaped destruction. It was completely driven out of New York fro the rest of the war, and the British used it as a base of attack against other targets for years to come.
Correction: It was claimed the Turtle (the words first submersible sea vessel) was unmanned. In fact, it was manned by a pilot named Ezra Lee, who steered it toward its destination then got out of it prior to trying to detonate it.
|Oct 22, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 10: The New York Campaign (1/2)
When the British left Boston, George Washington realized that their eventual destination would be New York City. He quickly traveled to NYC to oversee the building of defenses, organized the Continental Army into divisions, and prepared for the invasion. What happened next was the largest battle of the entire war and (if not for a miraculous stroke of good luck in the form of fog) the near-total defeat of the Patriots.
|Oct 17, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 9: Sidetrack Episode -- the Declaration of Independence
In the background of the opening battles of the Revolutionary War, an assembly of colonial statesmen issued a document announcing their formal separation from the British Empire. How did this document come about, what did the British make of it, and how revolutionary were these ideas to an eighteenth century audience?
|Oct 15, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 8: The Battle of Quebec
The Battle of Quebec, fought on December 31, 1775, marked the end of American offensive operations in Canada. General Richard Montgomery was killed, Arnold wounded, and Daniel Morgan and more than four hundred American soldiers taken prisoner. Returning forces of the Continental Army arrived ragged and nearly starved.
|Oct 10, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 7: The Quebec Campaign
The Continental Army thought they could rally the French-speaking residents of Canada in their uprising against the British. Such thinking led to the Quebec Campaign. Although a major defeat for the Americans, it showed the dogged determinism of American commander Benedict Arnold, who also showed his bravery in the Battle of Saratoga before defecting to the British.
|Oct 08, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 6: Bunker Hill (2/2)
"Dont' fire till you see the white's of their eyes!" -- famous words, and smart strategy for using terribly inaccurate muskets, but what were the conditions that gave arise to that advice? Find out in this episode, as the Battle of Bunker hill wraps up.
|Oct 03, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 5: Bunker Hill (1/2)
With the Revolutionary War turning from cold to hot, the British made plans to send troops from Boston to break the Colonials' siege of that city and occupy the surrounding hills. About one thousand militiamen fortified Breed's Hill to prepare for the coming onslaught. It was the first serious battle that pitted the fiery but inexperienced colonists against the battle-hardened British.
|Oct 01, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 4: British and Continental Soldiers
The Continental Army and the British Army were significantly different in their organizational structure, levels of experience, and funding. The Continental Army was an undisciplined, unprepared fighting force with makeshift uniforms and sloppy tactics (at least at the beginning of the war). The British Army was the world's elite fighting force and fresh of victory of the globe-spanning Seven Years War against France and her allies. What caused the Continental Army to prevail in the Revolutionary War?
|Sep 26, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 3: Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were of minor military significance but of world-historical importance in the modern era. They were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War, marking the outbreak of armed conflict between Great Britain and its thirteen colonies on the North American mainland. Fought on April 19, 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord ruin British political strategy of ending colonial opposition to the Intolerable Acts and seizing weapons of rebels. Revolutionary leaders such as John Adams considered the battle to be a point of no return: “The Die was cast, the Rubicon crossed,” he said.
Correction: Concord was pronounced "Con - cord," but locals pronounce it as "Con - Curd"
|Sep 24, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 2: Background to the War
Our series is picking up steam as we jump to the years immediately prior to the Shot Heard 'Round the World. James and Scott discuss the interregnum between the French-Indian War and the Revolutionary War, the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), then Townsend Acts (1767), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Tea Act (1773), and the Coercive Acts (1774).
|Sep 19, 2019|
Key Battles of the Revolutionary War, Part 1: The World of the American Revolution
Grab your musket and your portion of rum, Yankee, because we have a war to fight! James Early returns to the History Unplugged Podcast to kick off a massive series called Key Battles of the Revolutionary War. We get in-depth into the battles that determined the outcome of one of the most consequential wars in history. But we also go deep into the background of social, political, cultural, and theological aspects of the of the 18th century.
Scott and James kick off this episode by talking about the global-level changes in society that made the Revolutionary War possible in the 1770s, and almost impossible anytime earlier. They have to do with changes in warfare and weapons, government/society, political philosophy, British governing policy, and the American colonies themselves.
|Sep 17, 2019|
Announcement: Key Battles of the Revolutionary War Starts Next Week
Grab your tricorne hat and musket because next week we are kicking off a massive series called Key Battles of the Revolutionary War.
|Sep 14, 2019|
Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World
In 2017, over 47,000 Americans died as the result of opioid overdoses, more than died annually in this country during the peak of the AIDs epidemic, and more than die every year from breast cancer. But despite the unprecedented efforts of regulators, activists, politicians, and doctors to address the overdose epidemic, it has only become more deadly, the legion of quick fixes often falling into the very same traps that have foiled humans attempting to tame the scourge of opium addiction for centuries. To understand and combat the overdose crisis, we must understand how it came to be.
Today I'm speaking with Dr. John Halpern and David Blistein, authors of the new book “Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World.” The story begins with the discovery of poppy artifacts in ancient Mesopotamia, and goes on to explore how Greek physicians forgotten chemists discovered opium's effects and refined its power, how colonial empires marketed it around the world, and eventually how international drug companies developed a range of powerful synthetic opioids that led to an epidemic of addiction.
Opium has played a fascinating role in building our modern world, from trade networks to medical protocols to drug enforcement policies.
|Sep 12, 2019|
Eisenhower's Interstates: The Modern-Day Roman Roads
Dwight Eisenhower inaugurated the US. Interstate System, which now boasts more than 50,000 miles of roads. The idea came to a young Eisenhower in 1919 when he spent 62 days with a military convoy snaking across America on its primitive road system. But the idea for a trans-continental road network go back much further than Eisenhower. George Washington talked of the need for a vast system of roads to stitch together the nation.
But the true genesis of the U.S. Interstate system is the Roman Empire's road network. The empire in the first century constructed a network of 50,000 miles of paved roads, connecting its capital to the farthest-flung provinces. This fostered trade and commerce but most importantly allowed the Roman army to march quickly. The United States built its network for largely the same reasons.
|Sep 10, 2019|
After Watergate, Richard Nixon Created the Career Path for All Ex-Presidents
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first and only U.S. president to resign from office—to avoid almost certain impeachment. Utterly disgraced, he was forced to flee the White House with a small cadre of advisors and family. Richard Nixon was a completely defeated man.
Yet only a decade later, Nixon was a trusted advisor to presidents, dispensing wisdom on campaign strategy and foreign policy, shaping the course of U.S.-Soviet summit meetings, and representing the U.S. at state funerals—the model of an elder statesman. Kasey Pipes, author of “After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon,” tells us about surprises like this:
-- How Nixon’s advice on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) shaped Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with Gorbachev— and changed history
-- How Nixon traveled to China after Tiananmen Square to help preserve the U.S.-Chinese relations that he had opened up years earlier
-- The Saturday morning presidential radio address: a Nixon idea
-- Nixon’s surprising friendship with Bill Clinton
|Sep 05, 2019|
Women Warriors: How Females Have Fought in Combat Since History's Beginning
From Vikings and African queens to cross-dressing military doctors and WWII Russian fighter pilots, battle was not a metaphor for women across history.
But for the most part, women warriors have been pushed into the historical shadows, hidden in the footnotes, or half-erased. Yet women have always gone to war—or fought back when war came to them. They fought to avenge their families, defend their homes (or cities or nations), win independence from a foreign power, expand their kingdom's boundaries, or satisfy their ambition. They battled disguised as men. They fought, undisguised, on the ramparts of besieged cities. Some were skilled swordsmen or trained snipers, others fought with improvised weapons. They were hailed as heroines and cursed as witches, sluts, or harridans.
In todays episode I'm speaking with Pamela Toler, author of the book Women Warriors. She uses both well known and obscure examples, drawn from the ancient world through the twentieth century and from Asia and Africa as well as from the West. Looking at specific examples of historical women warriors, she considers why they went to war, how those reasons related to their roles as mothers, daughters, wives, or widows, peacemakers, poets or queens—and what happened when women stepped outside their accepted roles to take on other identities.
|Sep 03, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 8: Dracula Untold (2014)
Dracula Untold has absolutely no right being as historically accurate as it is. Made in 2014, this was Universal Studio's first attempt to use the intellectual property of their 1930s monster movies and turn it into a Marvel-esque cinematic universe. As a result, it is full of X-men type superpowers, CGI, and what Scott calls "supernatural shenanigans." Despite all this, the film accurately describes Ottoman forms of imperial expansion in the fifteenth century, shows us period accurate costumes, and even has actors speaking in passable Turkish! Why on earth did this film do its history homework when other so-called serious historical dramas not even bother?
|Aug 29, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 7: The Alamo (2004)
In the final two episodes of this mini-series, Steve and Scott talk about movies that actually do a good job of conveying history, or at least as much as possible when handled by Hollywood producers enslaved to suggestions from marketing research reports. The first film is the Alamo (2004).The purported goal of the filmmakers was to have this movie be as historically accurate as possible, or at least more so than the John Wayne Alamo film of 1960. It stars Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, Patrick Wilson as William Travis, Jason Patric as Jim Bowie, and Jordi Molla as Juan Seguin.
|Aug 27, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 8
|Aug 24, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 6: The Scarlet Letter (1995)
Demi Moore did not win any Academy Awards for her portrayal of 17th-century Puritan Hester Prynne. But she did succeed in transforming Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous moral drama into a Cinemax movie that also features Indians, deadly fights, burning buildings, flaming arrows, and a rousing speech in which Dimmsdale calls for sexual freedom. Dear listeners, this is not a good film.
|Aug 22, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 5—The Conqueror (1956)
In our second John Wayne film, we watch the Duke put on a fake fu manchu mustache and yellow face makeup to play the role he was born NOT to play: Genghis Khan. Scott and Steve discuss the infamous film that, in addition to featuring the worst casting choice in Hollywood history, has hundreds of anachronisms and, worst of all, may have killed dozens of the cast and crew from radiation poisoning due to being filmed near a nuclear test site. The sins of this movie are many and we do our best to chronicle them all.
|Aug 20, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 4—The Green Berets (1968)
John Wayne was 62 years old when he tried to portray a fit Vietnam War Green Beret colonel, but the obvious age gap isn't the only head scratcher in this film. Released in 1968, the film was Lyndon B. Johnson-approved attempt to shift American opinion on the Vietnam War. Listen to this episode to see if it worked.
|Aug 15, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 3—The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Based on Dan Brown's mega best-selling instructional manual on how to write terrible English, Scott and Steve discuss "The Da Vinci Code," the 2006 Ron Howard film that dares to ask the question: Has the secret life of Jesus been hidden by the Catholic Church and heroically uncovered by half-baked conspiracy theorists who have an extremely poor understandings of the gnostic gospels? The answer will shock you!
|Aug 13, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 2: Agora (2009)
In the second episode of this series, Stephen tells us everything he doesn't like about the 2009 film Agora, which is a lot. The movie stars Rachel Weisz (maybe the only good thing about the film) as Hypatia, a real-life 4th/5th-century philosopher in Alexandria killed by political infighting among politicians and clergy. Her actual story is very interesting and tells us much about late Roman civic life, but this movie turns her into a genius that is one part Isaac Newton, two parts Tony Stark, ready to discover a heliocentric solar system a thousand years before Copernicus; however, an ignorant mob kills her and burns her scrolls before she has the chance. To put it very mildly, the film takes liberties with the truth.
|Aug 08, 2019|
Hollywood Hates History, Part 1: Kingdom of Heaven
This episode is the first in a mini-series that Scott is doing with fellow history podcaster Stephen Guerra (History of the Papacy, Beyond the Big Screen) about some of the most historically inaccurate movies that have ever appear. We kick off this series with Ridley Scott's 2005 Crusader epic Kingdom of Heaven. Scott really did not like this movie. He considers it the worst example of screenwriter wish fulfillment to go back in time and teach horribly intolerant historical figures how to live by 21st-century values, even though they make no sense in context. The movie is so anachronistic that Orlando Bloom's knight character might as well wear a "Coexist" T-shirt during the entire film.
(originally broadcasted on Beyond the Big Screen)
|Aug 06, 2019|
Announcement: 'Hollywood Hates History' Starts Next Week
Next week an eight-part mini-series called Hollywood Hates History launches. Scott co-hosts with fellow history podcaster Steve Guerra to look at some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Offenders include "The Scarlet Letter," the 1995 Demi Moore atrocity; "The Conqueror," a Genghis Khan biopic starring John Wayne; and "Kingdom of Heaven," in which Legolas the Elf successfully creates universal religious harmony in the 12th century Middle East.
|Aug 03, 2019|
A Vote of No Confidence: How to Obliterate Your Current Government
Americans and Europeans are confused by much about each other, especially their respective governmental systems. Europeans are baffled by American elections, the powers of the president, and most of all, the electoral college (how again is the popular vote winner not the president?). Americans are even more baffled by parliamentary politics, especially how the prime minister and even the entire ruling party can be removed before election time by this mystical tool of government called a “vote of no confidence.”
What on earth does that mean? Scott's first encounter with this term was, sadly, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in which Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala removes the current chancellor for power for his failure to stop the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo by such a vote. Getting beyond bad filmmaking and Jar Jar Binks, what does a vote of no confidence actually mean? Where does it come from? And how has it been used in the past?
This episode goes over much more, especially the main differences with the British House of Commons vs. the American House of Representatives. Moreover, it looks at the differences between politicians being loyal to the nation vs. being loyal to their political party.
|Aug 01, 2019|
George Washington as Man, General, Leader, and Mule Pioneer
George Washington is nearly as famous for his character as he is a general and statesman. In this episode we look at his famed attributes for leadership and doing such things as keeping together the fragile Continental Army in the hungriest, coldest days of the Revolutionary War.
But perhaps the rarest quality of Washington was his ability not to seize power when he could. Many conquering generals – such as Napoleon – rode into the capital after great victories and took the throne. Washington was the opposite. He only assumed the presidency under great reluctance and refused to serve more than two terms – creating a status quo that lasted 150 years.
|Jul 30, 2019|
A Shred to End All Shreds: World War I Meets Swedish Metal
This episode of History Unplugged is unlike any we've ever done. Scott interviews Joakim Brodén, lead singer of Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton, whose new album “The Great War” is a concept record focused on World War 1. The album features songs about the introduction of tank warfare and poisonous gas, the Battle of Bellau Woods, U.S. Marine Alvin York, and Canadian hero Francis Pegahmagabow, a First Nation activist and sharp shooter. Interspersed in their discussion are numerous song clips from the album, which presents World War 1 in a way you've definitely never heard before.
|Jul 25, 2019|
Has The Lost Colony of Roanoke Been Found?
In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast ofNorth Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish England's first foothold in the New World. But when the colony's leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They left behind only a single clue—a "secret token" carved into a tree. Neither White nor any other European laid eyes on the colonists again.
What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke? For four hundred years, that question has consumed historians and amateur sleuths, leading only to dead ends and hoaxes. However, Andrew Lawler thinks he might have found the answer.
Lawler, author of the book “The Secret Token,” talked with an archeologist working on one of the supposed destinations of the colonists and discovered that solid answers to the mystery were within reach. He set out to unravel the enigma of the lost settlers, accompanying competing researchers, each hoping to be the first to solve its riddle. In the course of his journey, Lawler encountered a host of characters obsessed with the colonists and their fate, and tried to determine why the Lost Colony continues to haunt our national consciousness.
|Jul 23, 2019|
Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
Albert Einstein’s rise to fame was not instantaneous and easy. Rather, Einstein’s celebrity was, in large part, not his own doing. His grand ideas (ideas that would change physics forever) were formulated during a time of worldwide crises. The Great War quickly escalated into an industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918. Einstein was a victim of that war, even though, as a pacifist, he never held a rifle. Trapped behind enemy lines in Germany, Einstein suffered from wartime starvation and found himself unable to communicate with his most trusted colleagues abroad. But perhaps the most damaging crisis Einstein faced was the war against science. As enemy lines were etched deeper, the worldwide science community became fractured and prejudiced. German scientists were scorned by the Allies, Einstein included. Even in Germany, Einstein was regarded as an outsider for resisting against German nationalism.
Today I'm speaking with Matthew Stanley, author of the new book Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I. As Einstein struggled to make his theory whole, his communication with anyone outside of Germany was a dangerous affair. The fact that his theory was on track to debunk Isaac Newton’s conception of the universe made things even more difficult. So, despite the fact that Einstein’s country was at war and he was separated from his closest confidants by barbed wire and U-boats, his unlikely partnership with the Quaker astronomer A. S. Eddington proved to be the most important alliance of his lifetime. Despite the fact that other scientists seeking to confirm Einstein’s ideas were being arrested as spies, Eddington believed in Einstein and his theories and was willing to risk everything to prove their truth. He fought to showcase Einstein’s ideas to scientists around the world.
The serendipitous partnership of Einstein and Eddington, two pacifist scientists a world apart, came to fruition in May of 1919, when Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse that offered the rare opportunity to confirm Einstein’s bold prediction that light has weight, thereby confirming his Theory of Relativity. It was the result of this expedition that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Now, precisely one hundred years later, the eclipse is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can and should be defeated in the name of science.
|Jul 18, 2019|
The Forgotten Assassin – Sirhan Sirhan and the Killing of Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 seemed like it should have been an open-and-shut case. Many people crowded in the small room at Los Angeles’s famed Ambassador Hotel that fateful night and saw Sirhan Sirhan pull the trigger. Sirhan was also convicted of the crime and still languishes in jail with a life sentence. However, conspiracy theorists have used inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony and alleged anomalies in the forensic evidence to suggest that Sirhan was only one shooter in a larger conspiracy, a patsy for the real killers, or even a hypnotized assassin who did not know what he was doing (a popular plot in Cold War–era fiction, such as The Manchurian Candidate).
In this episode I speak with Mel Ayton, who profiles Sirhan and argued that his political beliefs and hatred for RFK motivated the killing. Ayton, author of the book The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and theAssassination of Robert F Kennedy, examines Sirhan’s extensive personal notebooks, revisits the trial proceedings, and argues Sirhan was in fact the lone assassin whose politically motivated act was a forerunner of present-day terrorism. Overall, we reexamine the assassination that rocked the nation during the turbulent summer of 1968.
|Jul 16, 2019|
Chief Executives in the Cockpit—When Presidents Take to the Skies
In this episode we look at all U.S. presidents who served as fighter pilots or in any sort of military combat role. We also look at the first president to fly (it was in a rinky-dink Wright Bros. flyer), the development of Air Force One, and the theory that aviators make better leaders.
|Jul 11, 2019|
George Mason: The Most Important Founding Father Nobody Remembers
If a list were constructed of the most important Virginians in American history, George Mason would appear near the top. His influence on public policy, the Revolution, and the Constitution was far greater than his modern, meager reputation allows. His close friendships with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and many others from his state allowed him to influence the direction of state and federal politics.
So why doesn't anyone remember him?
In this episode I'm talking with William G. Hyland Jr, author of George Mason: The Founding Father Who Gave Us the Bill of Rights. Hyland discusses little-known facts about this forgotten Founding Father that made him a powerful contributor to the new nation.
|Jul 09, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 7
|Jul 06, 2019|
Spies in the Ancient World, Part 2: On His Roman Emperor's Secret Service
In this episode we are looking at ancient Greek cryptography and the Roman frumentarii, a group of wheat sellers who turned into the empire's premier intelligence outfit in the second century.
In the fourth century BC, Aeneas Tacticus wrote “How to Survive Under Siege.” He goes into considerable detail on cryptography and steganography—the art of concealing a message. Methods of steganography included writing on strips of papyrus and hiding them either on the body of a person or on a horse. The strip could be hidden in a soldier’s tunic or cuirass, or under a horse’s bridle. More creative methods included a message placed on the leaves that were used to bind a wounded soldier’s leg. Most inspectors would not be so thorough in their investigation that they would want to look upon an infected wound or tear away layers of bloodied bandages.
We will also explore the Roman Frumentarii, originally collectors of wheat (frumentum), who also acted as the secret service of the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The organization was founded by Emperor Hadrian. He pictured a large-scale operation and turned to the frumentarius, the collector of wheat in a province, a position that brought the official into contact with enough locals and natives to acquire considerable intelligence about any given territory. Hadrian put them to use as his spies, and thus had a ready-made service and a large body to act as a courier system.
|Jul 04, 2019|
Spies in the Ancient World, Part 1: How a Bronze-Age Tribe Infiltrated Jericho
Spycraft is as old as civilization and just as essential to running a government as taxes, roads, armies, or schools. Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter to spy craft in his 2,600-year-old treatise The Art of War and understood that critical intelligence was impossible to gather without espionage.
This episode is the first in a two-part series on spy craft in the ancient world. We will explore the origins of spies, the ways they were used, and similarities and differences between—say—Greek or Roman spies and their 21st century counterparts. We will also look at the Old Testament narrative of the Israelite spites who scouted out Jericho and the promised land in the thirteenth century BCE. While many scholars doubt this story ever really happened in the way it was described in the Pentateuch, the story was compelling enough for the CIA to use in the 1970s as a case study of effective intelligence gathering.
|Jul 02, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 6
|Jun 29, 2019|
The Real Oregon Trail: Beyond Dysentery and the Apple II Game
If you were a middle schooler in the United States anytime after 1985 and had a study hall with an Apple II, there is a very high chance you played Oregon Trail. After setting out from Independence, Missouri, you led your pixelated wagon across the frontier, hunting bears, fording rivers, and more likely than not, dying of dysentery.
The real Oregon Trail sprang up in the 1830s, when America was going through the worst economic slump it would see until the Great Depression. A mixture of financial urgency and a sense of destiny--Manifest Destiny--convinced tens of thousands of Americans to trek over 2,000 miles from Missouri’s western edge to Oregon Country.
But how can families cross the desert? Or the Rocky Mountains? Or descend the Columbia River? And what about the British HBC’s hold on Oregon Country? Many tried this dangerous path, including fur traders, missionaries, explorers, and early wagon trains that dared to blaze this trail before its heyday of the 1840s-1860s.
Joined with us today to talk about the Oregon Trail is history professor and podcast Greg Jackson. He's the host of the show History That Doesn't Suck
|Jun 27, 2019|
How to Get Processed Through Ellis Island In 2 Hours or Less
More than 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island during its years of operation from 1892 to 1954. Those that came typically spoke no English and fled religious persecution, famine, or epidemics in their homeland.
But what was it like to actually get processed through Ellis island? In some senses it was more tolerable than we expect. Interpreters were on hand to accommodate you in almost any language. Few were turned away for medical reasons. Processing typically only took a few hours And contrary to folk legend, inspectors did not force anyone to change their name to something Anglicized.
Nevertheless, some faced challenges entering America. Two percent were held up for physical or mental illness; some were detained for weeks or months in Ellis Island's medical ward. If a child were not admitted, parents faced the unbearable choice of returning with them across the ocean or sending them back alone to live with extended family.
But for the vast majority of immigrants, they walked through the doors of Ellis Island to begin their new lives in America. Today, over 100 million are descended from immigrants who passed through this immigration checkpoint. Learn about its legacy on immigration and political life in this episode.
|Jun 25, 2019|
Special Announcement: Check Out My New Show 'Ottoman Lives'
Go to www.ottomanlives.com to check out my new show about the people who made the Ottoman Empire run. The Ottoman Empire lasted for six hundred years and dominated the Middle East and Europe, from Budapest to Baghdad and everything in between. The sultans ruled three continents. But they didn't do it on their own. This podcast looks at the cast of characters who made the empire run: the sultan, the queen mother, the peasant, the janissary, the harem eunuch, the holy man, and the outlaw.
|Jun 22, 2019|
George Armstrong Custer: Cocky Military Officer or America's Version of Leonidas at Thermopylae?
George Armstrong Custer had a storied military career—from cutting his teeth at Bull Run in the Civil War, to his famous and untimely death at Little Bighorn in the Indian Wars. But what was his legacy? Was he a brilliant desperado sadly cut down too early in his life or a foolish glory seeker who needlessly led his men to death, getting a just end for his brutal treatment of Indians?
Custer, having graduated last in his class at West Point, went on to prove himself again and again as an extremely skilled cavalry leader. But Custer’s undoing was his bold and cocky attitude, which caused the Army’s bloodiest defeat in the Indian Wars. We will look at all these aspects of his character in this episode.
|Jun 20, 2019|
An Interview with 95-Year-Old Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Harry Stewart
“Colored people aren’t accepted as airline pilots.” The “negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot.” These were the degrading sentiments that faced eighteen-year-old Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. as he journeyed in a segregated rail car to Army basic training in Mississippi in 1943. But two years later, the twenty-year-old African American from New York proved doubters wrong when he was at the controls of a P-51, prowling for Luftwaffe aircraft at five thousand feet over the Austrian countryside.
Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. In this episode I talk with him about his early life, training, and combat missions, including the mission in which he downed three enemy fighters.
He also discusses the injustices he and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen faced during their wartime service and upon their return home. Unlike white pilots, Stewart and other Tuskegee flyers faced the extra danger that if they were shot down over enemy territory they could not hide in plain sight with the population or expect to live. Tragically, one of Stewart’s friends was shot down, captured, and lynched by a racist mob. Stewart and his fighter group defied racially-prejudice expectations and won the first postwar Air Force-wide gunnery competition for propeller-driven fighters. Stewart obtained honorary captain status from American and Delta Airlines after being denied piloting jobs with those airlines’ legacy carriers (TWA and Pan Am) 50 years ago because of his ethnicity.
|Jun 18, 2019|
Vlad the Impaler is the (Partial) Inspiration for Count Dracula
Vampire lore goes back to the ancient world (revenant legends abound from Rome to China) but vampire mythology doesn't come into its own until at least the Renaissance period. Was the inspiration for it all the bloodthirsty Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes, the ruler who impaled tens of thousands in the 1400s? Was he the direct inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula? Partially yes, but it's not as clear cut as most think. In this episode we will sink our fangs into vampire lore, the reign of Vlad Tepes, and where Bram Stoker got his ideas for his most famous novel.
|Jun 13, 2019|
'A Woman of No Importance': The One-Legged WW2 Spy Virginia Hall
In 1942, as World War II was raging, the Gestapo sent out an urgent message: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” That spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman who—rejected from the Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg—talked her way behind enemy lines in occupied France and went on to become one of the greatest (and most unlikely) spies in U.S. history.
Today I talk with Sonia Purnell, author of the book "A Woman of No Importance." Virginia quickly established a network of spies to blow up bridges and track German troop movements; she recruited and trained guerrilla fighters, arming them with weapons she called in from the skies. As “the limping lady of Lyon” and later “the Madonna of the Mountains,” she became legend. Eluding the Nazis hot on her tail, her face covering WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused orders to evacuate. Finally—her cover blown and her associates imprisoned or executed—she escaped in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain. But, adamant that she had “more lives to save,” she dove back in as soon as she could, helping lay the groundwork for the Allied liberation of France.
|Jun 11, 2019|
The 4,000-Year-Old Question: Is Judaism a Religion, Ethnicity, Race, or Culture?
What is Judaism? What does it mean to be Jewish? Is it an ethnicity (being one of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), a religion (following the tenets of the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud) or a cultural experience (a common experienced developed through millenia of being ostracized, otherized, and demonized by majority groups in their homelands).
Today I tackled this enormous question by first looking at the origins of the Jewish people. There's not universally accepted answer to this question. Some say the Old Testament account of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the deportations into Assyria and Babylon tell the story. Others say the Jewish people were an offshoot of the Canaanites who developed into their own culture. We then look into the creation of the Jewish diaspora across the Mediterranean world and how Jewish identity shifted as the circumstances of this religious group changed from the ancient world to the medieval and early modern periods. There is no clear answer to all these questions, but this episode will hopefully provide plenty of historical context.
|Jun 06, 2019|
The 500-Year Story of a Gutenberg Bible And Everyone Who Owned It
For rare-book collectors, an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible—of which there are fewer than 50 in existence (and which can sell for $100 million)—represents the ultimate prize. One copy, Number 45, passed through the hands of Johannes Gutenberg, monks, an earl, billionaires, bibliophiles, the Worcestershire sauce king, and a nuclear physicist before arriving at its ultimate resting place, in a steel vault in Tokyo. Estelle Doheny, the first woman collector to add the book to her library and its last private owner, tipped the Bible onto a trajectory that forever changed our understanding of the first mechanically printed book.
In today's episode I'm speaking with Margaret Leslie Davis, author of The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey. She focuses on two protagonists in her story: the copy of the Gutenberg Bible itself and Doheny, a California heiress who emerged from scandal to chase it. We discussed the value we place on rare books, and the shifting wealth and power of those who hunt them.
|Jun 04, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 5
|Jun 01, 2019|
Hitler’s “Desert Fox”: The Military Career of Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel, a German field marshal in World War Two, was probably more respected and feared than any other figure in the Wehrmacht. He issued early defeats against the British in North Africa against vastly superior forces using a mix of cutting-edge tactics with combined arms assaults and classic Napoleonic military strategy. But who was Erwin Rommel? War hero or war criminal? Hitler flunky? Military genius or just lucky?
In this episode I talk with Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. a military historian and author of the new book Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel—offering a look at the Allies’ most well-respected opponent of WWII. He explores the complexities of the controversial Nazi leader through his improbable and spectacular military career, his epic battles in North Africa, and his fraught relationship with Hitler and the Nazi Party.
|May 30, 2019|
When Irish Vets of the American Civil War Invaded Canada in 1866
One year after the Civil War ended, a group of delusional and mostly incompetent commanders sponsored by bitterly competing groups riddled with spies, led tiny armies against the combined forces of the British, Canadian, and American governments. They were leaders of America’s feuding Irish émigré groups who thought they could conquer Canada and blackmail Great Britain (then the world's military superpower) into granting Ireland its independence.
The story behind the infamous 1866 Fenian Raids seems implausible (and whiskey-fueled), but ultimately is an inspiring tale of heroic patriotism. Inspired by a fervent love for Ireland and a burning desire to free her from British rule, members of the Fenian Brotherhood – a semi-secret band of Irish-American revolutionaries – made plans to seize the British province of Canada and hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.
When the Fenian Raids began, Ireland had been subjugated by Britain for over seven hundred years. The British had taken away Ireland’s religion, culture, and language, and when the Great Hunger stuck, they even took away her food, exporting it to other realms of the British Empire. Those who escaped the famine and fled to America were inspired by the revolutionary actions of the Civil War to fight for their own country’s freedom. After receiving a promise from President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward not to interfere with any military plans, the Fenian Brotherhood - which included a one-armed Civil War hero, an English spy posing as French sympathizer, an Irish revolutionary who faked his own death to escape capture, and a Fenian leader turned British loyalist – began to implement their grand plan to secure Ireland’s freedom. They executed daring prison breaks from an Australian penal colony, conducted political assassinations and engaged in double-dealings, managing to seize a piece of Canada for three days.
Today I'm speaking with Christopher Klein, author of the book WHEN THE IRISH INVADED CANADA: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom. He brings light to this forgotten but fascinating story in history.
|May 28, 2019|
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Today's guest David Treuer has a different take on this history. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present, Treuer argues strongly against this narrative. Because American Indians did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
|May 23, 2019|
How Industrialists Plotted to Overthrow FDR Over The New Deal in 1934
FDR launched the New Deal immediately after his 1933 inauguration, but it was not universally popular. Some hated it bitterly. Critics from the right thought it was part of a long-term plan to push America into Soviet-style socialism. Critics from the left like Louisiana Governor Huey Long thought it didn't go far enough. Long pushed the “Share Our Wealth” plan, demanding that Congress confiscate individual earnings over $1 million, using those funds for health care and college tuition. He called anyone who refused to endorse his plan “damned scoundrels” that were fit for hanging.
Perhaps the strangest episode in opposition to the New Deal came from a group of financiers and industrialists, who in 1934 allegedly plotted a coup d’état to prevent FDR from establishing what they feared would be a socialist state. Though the media regarded it as a tall tale, retired Marine Corps major general Smedley Butler testified before a congressional committee that the conspirators had wanted Butler to deliver an ultimatum to FDR to create a new cabinet officer, a “Secretary of General Affairs,” who would run things while the president recuperated from feigned ill health. If Roosevelt refused, the conspirators had promised General Butler an army of five hundred thousand war veterans who would help drive Roosevelt from office.
|May 21, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 4
|May 18, 2019|
Making Your Death Memorable: The Oldest Tombs We Can Trace To One Person
What are the oldest known tombs that can reliably be traced to a person? These are surprisingly tricky to track down. While archeologists constantly find human remains at an excavation site, there are almost never any identifying marks about the person. This is particularly true in the ancient world. Other than massive sites like the pyramids, we have little knowledge about the final resting places of famous figures. We don't even know the burial site of Alexander the Great -- the biggest celebrity in antiquity.
In this episode we talk about ancient tombs, crypts, mausoleums, and burial mounds. But more broadly, we look at how humanity's understanding of life, death, and commemorating those who passed away left behind more than tombs. It may be the reason for the rise of civilization itself.
|May 16, 2019|
The Kremlin Letters: Stalin's Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt
From 1941 to 1945, Joseph Stalin exchanged more than six hundred messages with Allied leaders Churchill and Roosevelt. The correspondence ranged from intimate personal greetings to weighty salvos about diplomacy and strategy, and they reveal political machinations and human stories behind the Allied triumvirate.
Today's guest is David Reynolds, author of a new book about the correspondence between the three. He helped edit a volume based on the correspondence among the Allied triumvirate, which illuminated an alliance that really worked while exposing its fractious limits and the issues and egos that set the stage for the Cold War.
|May 14, 2019|
The RAF Won the Battle of Britain With Strategy But Also Plenty of Luck
In the summer of 1940, Germany sent armadas of bombers and fighters over England hoping to lure the RAF into battle and annihilate the defenders. Day after day the RAF scrambled their pilots into the sky to do battle up to five times a day. Britain's air defense bent but did not break. All that stood between the British and defeat was a small force of RAF pilots outnumbered in the air by four to one. After pushing back the armada, Winston Churchill declared: "Never before in human history was so much owed by so many to so few."
But how did they do it? The answer is effective tactics, plenty of bravery, and a change in German strategy that squandered all their gains.
|May 09, 2019|
Why The Printing Press Appeared in the Middle East 400 Years After Europe
Why were there no printing presses in the Middle East until four centuries after Europe? Did it have to do with Islam prohibiting this technology? Was the calligraphy lobby too strong? Or is the answer more complicated?
The global spread of the printing press began with the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439. A few decades later there were millions of books in Europe. But there were few printing presses in the Ottoman Empire until the 1800s. Some historians say this has to do with lack of interest and religious reasons were among the reasons for the slow adoption of the printing press outside Europe. The story goes that the printing of Arabic, after encountering strong opposition by Muslim legal scholars and the manuscript scribes, remained prohibited in the Ottoman empire between 1483 and 1729, initially even on penalty of death.
However, we will see in this episode that scholars and sultans had no problems with the printing press. The real reason for the printing press's slow spread was twofold: First, the thousands of calligraphers made hand-copied books so cheap that printing presses were not needed. Second, Arabic letters are more difficult to render than Latin ones, meaning that the printing press had to become more technologically advanced before it could cheaply and easily churn out Arabic, Turkish, and Persian texts.
|May 07, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 3
|May 04, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: Conclusion
In the final episode in this series, Veronica and Scott discuss the enduring legacy of the Titanic and why a disaster that happened 107 years ago still captures our imaginations.
|May 02, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: Doctors and Con Artists
The Titanic was filled with medical professionals either working as ship personnel or traveling in a non-professional capacity. There were also plenty of con artists aboard, hoping to worm their way into the wills of wealthy widows. Learn about their stories in this episode.
|Apr 30, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Musicians
The musicians of the Titanic famously continued playing as the ship went down, a testimony to practicing one's craft until their dying breath. But did it really happen like this?
Varying accounts exist as to whether the band played until the end and also about what the band was playing. We will explore the accounts in this episode.
|Apr 25, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Trend Setters
Many Titanic passengers were known for setting the styles. In this episode we will profile the two Luciles: famed fashionistas Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon and Lucile Polk Carter. We will also look at John Jacob Astor IV, perhaps the world’s richest man at the time. He founded hotels that were ground-breaking in their day and continue to set trends long after the eponymous founder's death.
|Apr 23, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death, Part 2
|Apr 20, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Life Savers
Mr. Rogers once said, “When there is a disaster, always look for the helpers; there will always be helpers.
Many died on the night of the Titanic's sinking, but many more would have died if not for the heroic efforts of such helpers as the “unsinkable” Molly Brown and Benjamin Guggenheim, a millionaire who acted with utter calm as he gently assisted women and children to lifeboats, knowing he would die within the hour. Other helpers personally swam infants to lifeboats, using every last breath to help others before they themselves perished.
|Apr 18, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Cooks
The cooks and other support staff of the Titanic “drowned like rats” due to not being assigned a clear place in the pecking order of escapees. One who did survive was French cook Paul Mauge, who used his extraordinary wits to survive. This episode chronicles how cooks like Mauge arrived on the Titanic, how they survived (or didn't), and what it was like for the service personnel on the night the ship went down.
|Apr 16, 2019|
Sneak Peek of the New Podcast Series "Espionage"
Code Names. Deception. Gadgets. It might seem like something out of the movies, but these
are just some of the essential components of being a spy.
ESPIONAGE tells the stories of the world’s most incredible undercover missions, and how these
covert operations succeeded...or failed
Espionage is a Parcast Original podcast from the same storytelling team behind hit shows like
Unexplained Mysteries, Serial Killers, and Conspiracy Theories.
Call to Action: This is the first part of the first Espionage episode. To hear the remainder
of this episode, search for and subscribe to Espionage wherever you listen to podcasts
or visit Parcast.com/espionage to start listening now.
|Apr 13, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Writers
The sinking of the Titanic is memorable for its countless stories, and the reason that so many of them have found their way down to us today was the many writers that were onboard the ship. The first draft of history about the Titanic was written by man prominent writers. We will focus on six in this episode: Paul Danby, Adolphe Saalfeld, Edith Rosenbaum Russell, William Stead, Jacques Futrelle, and Lawrence Beesley
|Apr 11, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Popcorn Vendor
One legendary fixture on the Titanic was a gregarious popcorn vendor known as Popcorn Dan (Coxon). He was one of America's first food truck operators and a highly successful purveyor of popcorn. He was lost on the Titanic and his body was never recovered, although a NY Times article claimed it was him when it wasn't.
Coxon lived an interesting life. He resided in a Queen Anne house on the Wisconsin river, which people thought was haunted. He dressed in a fur-lined coat and loved to maintain a flashy appearance.
But he was still a working-class man. For that reason, our culinary spotlight on him is a staple of laborers in the early 20th century (now it's a delicacy)—Tripe and Onion Soup
|Apr 09, 2019|
Teaser: Rendezvous With Death
|Apr 06, 2019|
Last Night on the Titanic: The Bakers
In this episode we are looking at the life of Charles Joughin, a colorful character who has appeared in both film version of the Titanic. After the sinking, Joughin claimed he knew it was an iceberg that struck the ship because he saw a polar bear— and it waved to him (although, it should be noted, he told this story to nieces and nephews largely to mask the horror of that last night aboard the Titanic).
At around 12:15 a.m. Joughin began rousing his kitchen staff. Six of his men were already working, and the others he got up out of their beds. “All hands out. All hands out of your bunks.” He directed each of them to take four loaves up for the life boats, fifty-two loaves in all. Joughin’s staff consisted of ten bakers, two confectioners, and a Vienna baker. Of the fourteen of them, ten had worked on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, and many of them had worked together.
|Apr 04, 2019|
The Last Night on the Titanic: Overview of the 1,500 Passengers and Crew Who Lost Their Lives
On the night of April 14, 1912, in the last hours before the Titanic struck
the iceberg, passengers in all classes were enjoying unprecedented luxuries. Innovations in food, drink, and decor made this voyage the apogee of Edwardian elegance.
This episode is the first in a series I'm doing with Titanic historian Veronica Hinke called "Last Night on the Titanic." In it we look at individual accounts of tragedy and survival from the figures that made up the passengers and crew of the ship. They include millionaires, artists, fashionistas, bakers, cookers, musicians, doctors, and con-men.
To recreate the experience of what it was like to be on the Titanic before disaster was on anyone's mind, Veronica also goes into detail of the food and drink consumer on the ship, from tripe soup eaten by a third-class passenger to the fancy dessert eaten by a Edwardian lady.
|Apr 02, 2019|
ANNOUNCEMENT: Special Series 'Last Night on the Titanic' Starts Next Week
An announcement for a forthcoming series coming to the History Unplugged Podcast called "Last Night on the Titanic."
|Mar 30, 2019|
Light-Horse Harry Lee: A Founding Father's Journey From Glory to Ruin
The history of the American Revolution is written by and about the victors like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. But separating the heroes from the villains is not so black and white.
So how should we remember a man like Major General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III—the father of Robert E. Lee— who rose to glory, helped shape the fabric of America, but ultimately ended his life in ruin? He is responsible for valiant victories, enduring accomplishments, and catastrophic failures.
Today I'm speaking with Ryan Cole, author of the new book Light-Horse Harry Lee: The Rise and Fall of a Revolutionary Hero
We discuss how he was a...
Brilliant cavalryman who played a crucial role in Nathanael Greene’s strategy that led to Britain’s surrender at Yorktown
Close friend of George Washington—he gave the famous eulogy of “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” which is widely quoted today
Strong supporter of the Constitution—his arguments led Virginia, the most influential colony in the soon-to-be country, to ratify it
Victim of a violent political mob—he was beaten with clubs, his nose was partially sliced off, and hot wax was dripped into his eyes
|Mar 28, 2019|
Bad Puns and Dirty Jokes in Rome and Ancient Greece
"A student dunce went swimming and almost drowned. So now he swears he'll never get into water until he's really learned to swim." That was a decent dad joke to be sure. But it's not a joke your dad came up with. Nor your grandfather. Rather, it was a great-great- great(x)50 grandfather joke that dates back at least to the Roman Empire.
In this episode we will explore humor in the ancient world. What were the gags and jokes that made Mesopotamians, Greeks, and Romans laugh? Did they have higher or lower brow humor than us? While the argument can be made for low-brow humor (the oldest written joke has to do with a Sumerian wife farting on her husband), the humor also got arcane and sophisticated (like a New Yorker cartoon of the ancient world).
In particular we will looked at the Philogelos (meaning "Laughter Lover"), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the fourth or fifth century. From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, we see what made people laugh in the ancient world.
|Mar 26, 2019|
Wright Brothers, Wrong Story? Why Some Say Wilbur—Not Orville—Discovered Manned Flight
How did two brothers who never left home, were high-school dropouts, and made a living as bicycle mechanics figure out the secret of manned flight? The story goes that Wilbur and Orville Wright were an inseparable duo that were equally responsible for developing the theory of aeronautics and translating it into the first workable airplane.
Today's guest William Hazelgrove argues that it was Wilbur Wright who designed the first successful airplane, not Orville. He shows that, while Orville's role was important, he generally followed his brother's lead and assisted with the mechanical details to make Wilbur's vision a reality.
|Mar 21, 2019|
When Danzig Became Gdańsk: What Happens to a City When Its Demographics Change Completely
What happens to a city when its demographics change completely in the space of a few years? To explore this question, we will take a look at the case of Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk) in northern Poland. The city's population was almost entirely German from its origin in the Middle Ages to World War 2. After the war, the population became Polish. To explore this question we will zoom out and look at these big issues: 1) The centuries-long eastern movement of Germans, who spread throughout central and Eastern Europe; 2) The establishment of the Free City of Danzig by Napoleon in 1807 after he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire; 3) Why Hitler wanted to capture Danzig immediately after invading Poland in 1939, even though it held no strategic value; 4) The expulsion of Danzig's German population after World War Two and how the city transformed with the importing of Polish residents, who renamed it Gdańsk. This episode is based on a question from listener Melissa, who wanted me to talk about the history of the city/city-state of Danzig before, during, and after World War II.
|Mar 19, 2019|
The Revolution Before the Revolution: How 1776 Happened
In the 1760s, the American colonies were completely incapable of organized resistance. One's loyalty was to their state, as the idea of being an “American” was nearly empty. Few clamored for democracy, as Europe and the rest of the world believed that the highest form of government was monarchy. And most Americans considered themselves British – or at least part of the British Empire.
But in 1776 the United States formally declared itself as a new nation in which all men were equal. They formed a continental army. And within a few years they defeated the world's best military force.
How did so much change in 10 years? To discuss this topic is today's guest Michael Troy, host of the American Revolution Podcast. His show is a chronological history of the Revolutionary War, and he gets deep into details (at the time of this recording the show was 75 episodes in and only up to the year 1775).
|Mar 14, 2019|
An Active Neutrality: The WW2 Experiences of Switzerland, Portugal, and Turkey
Neutrality is not the same thing as passivity. Just ask the many nations who had to walk an extremely thin tightrope during World War 2 to stay out of the war (in which they saw nothing for themselves to gain) but not get invaded by a more powerful neighbor.
Some nations tried merely not to get invaded. Portugal had to keep up its client relationship with Britain but not anger Hitler by helping them too much. Britain claimed the right to use Portuguese ports under the terms of a 14th century treaty. But Portugal had to refuse Britain the right to use the Azores Islands as an airbase until years into the war.
Other nations profited heavily from World War Two thanks to its neutrality. Switzerland was the finance hub of 1940s Europe, as both Axis and Allied powers deposited their valuables in Swiss bank accounts and safety deposit boxes. But in recent years some have called Switzerland's actions war profiteering, especially as Switzerland laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen assets, including gold taken from the central banks of German-occupied Europe. At the war's end, Holocaust survivors and the heirs of those who perished met a wall of bureaucracy and only a handful managed to reclaim their assets. Some of the dormant accounts were taken by the Swiss authorities to satisfy claims of Swiss nationals whose property was seized by Communist regimes in East Central Europe.
Turkey was still devastated by the endless Ottoman wars from 1911-1922 and sat out World War Two. But they held vast reserves of chromite, necessary for making steel, which they happily sold to Axis powers. All the while Turkey held out the hope that Britain could use its islands to invade Europe from the Balkans in return for advanced aircraft. Turkey only entered the war in 1945 (and only to get a seat at the forthcoming United Nations) but profited well from the massive conflict.
This episode is based on a question from listener Chris Wentworth. He asked me why some nations like Turkey, were so involved with World War One but took a backseat during World War Two, which arguably did more to create our modern world than any other event.
|Mar 12, 2019|
Kangaroo Squadron: The Tip of the American Spear in the WW2 Pacific Theatre
In early 1942, while most of the American military was in disarray from the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, a single USAAF squadron advanced to the far side of the world to face America's new enemy.
Based in Australia with poor supplies and no ground support, the pilots and crew faced tropical diseases while confronting numerically superior Japanese forces. Yet the outfit, dubbed the Kangaroo Squadron, proved remarkably resilient and successful, conducting long-range bombing raids, armed reconnaissance missions, and rescuing General MacArthur and his staff from the Philippines.
Today I speak with Bruce Gamble, author of Kangaroo Squadron: American Courage in the Darkest Days of World War II. He was inspired to write this story by his uncle, a navigator in the squadron. A footlocker contained his military papers and other memorabilia, including a handwritten dairy filled with day-to-day details of his tour.
And an artifact from this story lives on today to honor its veterans. When a B-17E bomber crashed in a swamp on the north coast of Papua New Guinea in February 1942, the nine-member crew survived, escaped to safety, and returned to combat. But until 2006, the bomber nicknamed “Swamp Ghost” remained submerged in water and tall grass. It has been restored and is now a main attraction in the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
|Mar 07, 2019|
Common Knowledge About The Middle Ages That Is Incorrect, Part 5: Crusades In The Renaissance
The Crusades are typically bookended between Pope Urban II's call to reclaim the Holy Land in 1095 and the fall of Acre and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291. But two of the most notable religious figures of the 1400s—Pope Pius II and John of Capistrano—show that the lines between these periods were considerably blurred. Take the example of Pope Pius II’s famous 1461 letter to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, which he wrote following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. The humanist scholar-turned-pope called on Mehmet to convert to Christianity.
Yet behind his back Pope Pius denigrated Mehmet as barbarous due to the same Asiatic pedigree and for destroying classical Greek civilization. He simultaneously worked furiously to promote a crusade against the Ottomans. This fifteenth-century project did not come to pass, but scholars in the last two decades have shown that there was no reason to see a discrepancy between Renaissance intellectualism and Holy War. In fact, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull on September 30, 1453 (four months after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople) to urge Christian rulers to launch a crusade to save Constantinople and restore the fallen Byzantine Empire. They were called to shed their blood and the blood for their subjects and provide a tithe of their revenue for the project.
No such crusade was launched that year, but the call launched a final period of European crusading fervor that lasted until the end of the fifteenth century, what many historians consider an end point for the Middle Ages
|Mar 05, 2019|
Common Knowledge About The Middle Ages That Is Incorrect, Part 4: The Medieval Technological Explosion
The Middle Ages was not a thousand-year period of technological stagnation between the fall of Rome and Leonardo da Vinci. It was an incredible period of invention and scientific innovation that saw major technological advances, including gunpowder, the invention of vertical windmills, spectacles, mechanical clocks, water mills, Gothic architectural building techniques, and clocks so sophisticated it took years to cycle through their full calculations, resembling an early mainframe computer more than a timekeeping device.
|Feb 28, 2019|
Common Knowledge About The Middle Ages That Is Incorrect, Part 3: Witch Burnings
At the height of the witch burning craze, thousands people, largely women, were falsely accused of witchcraft. Many of them were burned, hanged, and executed, typically under religious pretense. But this phenomena largely didn’t happen in the Middle Ages, and if so it only occurred at the very end of this period.
Witch burnings did not begin en masse until the Renaissance period and did not peak until the Enlightenment period in the eighteenth century. Although executions by being burn at the stake were somewhat common in the Middle Ages, they were not used on “witches”—only heretics and other disobeyers of Catholic teachings received this ignominious death. Witch trials and their accusations of weather manipulation, transforming into animals, and child sacrifices, have no documented occurrence before 1400.
|Feb 26, 2019|
Common Knowledge About The Middle Ages That Is Incorrect, Part 2: Were Indulgences a Get-out-of-Hell-Free Card Or Something Else?
Was it really possible to buy your way out of hell in the Middle Ages? If so, how much did it cost? And what did the Catholic Church do with all this money? In this second episode in our five-part series on the misunderstood Middle Ages, we will explore all these issues and more.
Additionally, you will find out that indulgences still exist today, although not in the way that you think.
|Feb 21, 2019|
Common Knowledge About The Middle Ages That Is Incorrect, Part 1: Why the Middle Ages, Not the Renaissance, Created the Modern World
The popular view of the Middle Ages is a thousand-year period of superstition and ignorance, punctuated by witch burnings and belief in a flat earth. But the medieval period, more than any other time in history, laid the foundations for the modern world. The work of scholars, intellectuals, architects, statesmen and craftsmen led to rise of towns, the earliest bureaucratic states, the emergence of vernacular literatures, the recovery of Greek science and philosophy with its Arabic additions, and the beginnings of the first European universities.
This episode is the first in a five-part series to explore a revisionist history of the Middle Ages, starting with the Roman Empire’s collapse in the fifth century. We will march through the accounts of Charlemagne’s reign, the Black Plague, the fall of Constantinople, and everything in between. It explores social aspects of the Middle Ages that are still largely misunderstood (i.e., no educated person believed the earth was flat). There was also a surprisingly high level of medieval technology, the love of Aristotle in the Middle Ages, and the lack of witch burnings (those were not popularized until the Thirty Years War in the Renaissance Period).
The Middle Ages were not a period to suffer through until the Renaissance returned Europe to its intellectual and cultural birthright. Rather, they were the fire powering the forge out of which Western identity was forged. The modern world owes a permanent debt of gratitude to the medieval culture of Europe. It was the light that illuminated the darkness following the collapse of Rome and remained lit into the world we inhabit today.
|Feb 19, 2019|
Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, and Inventors and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation
The American Civil War brought with it unprecedented demands upon the warring sections—North and South. The conflict required a mobilization and an organization of natural and man-made resources on a massive scale.
In this episode I talk with Jeffry Wert, author of the new book Civil War Barons, which profiles the contributions of nineteen Northern businessmen to the Union cause. They were tinkerers, inventors, improvisers, builders, organizers, entrepreneurs, and all visionaries. They contributed to the war effort in myriad ways: they operated railroads, designed repeating firearms, condensed milk, sawed lumber, cured meat, built warships, purified medicines, forged iron, made horseshoes, constructed wagons, and financed a war. And some of their names and companies have endured—Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Deere, McCormick, Studebaker, Armour, and Squibb.
The eclectic group includes Henry Burden, a Scottish immigrant who invented a horseshoe-making machine in the 1830s, who refined the process to be able to forge a horseshoe every second, supplying the Union army with 70 million horseshoes during the four years. John Deere’s plows “sang through the rich sod, portending bountiful harvests for a Union in peril.” And Jay Cooke emerged from the war as the most famous banker in America, earning a reputation for trustworthiness with his marketing of government bonds.
|Feb 14, 2019|
Women Have Been Running For President Since 1872. Here Are 4 Of Their Stories
2016 was the first election in which a woman won the nomination of a major political party to be president of the United States. But women have been legally running for president as far back as 1872, decades before they could even vote. Since then several dozen women have run for president, almost all of them long shots with nearly no chance of winning. But these long odds do not negate their story and their campaigns tell us much about the times in which they lived.
In this episode I talk with Richard Lim, host of This American President Podcast. We look at the lives of these fascinating figures
-- Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 candidate who ran a brokerage firm through the patronage of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was as a 31-year-old spiritualist, radical communist, and possible former prostitute with a remarkably canny ability to reinvent herself
-- Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine and the first woman to serve in both houses of the U.S. congress (she was Senator for 24 years). Smith was an early critic of McCarthyism and a 1964 presidential candidate who fashioned herself as the female Eisenhower.
-- Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, a 1972 presidential candidate, and an unlikely friend of George Wallace(!)
-- Edith Wilson, the First Lady who essentially acted as de facto president following the stroke of her husband Woodrow Wilson in 1919 until March 1921.
|Feb 12, 2019|
War Animals: How 55 Birds, Dogs, and Horses Saved Thousands of Lives in World War Two
Did you know that in World War Two there were “para-dogs,” or dogs that parachuted along with paratroopers in anticipation of D-Day? Or that carrier pigeons were dropped into France in their bird cages so that French Resistance members could find them and attach messages so they'd be delivered to Allied command in Britain?
America’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, was awarded to four-hundred-forty deserving members of “The Greatest Generation” that served in World War II. But in 1943, before the war was even over, Allied leaders realized they needed another kind of award to recognize a different kind of World War II hero-animal heroes.
Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict. It was given to fifty-five animals who served valiantly alongside the members of the Greatest Generation.
In War Animals, national bestselling author Robin Hutton (Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse) tells the incredible, inspiring true stories of the fifty-five animal recipients of the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and the lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten.
These animal heroes include:
G.I. Joe, who flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and stopped the planes on the tarmac from bombing a town that had just been taken over by allied forces, saving the lives of over 100 British soldiers
Winkie, the first Dickin recipient, who saved members of a downed plane when she flew 129 miles with oil clogged wings with an SOS message that helped a rescue team find the crew
Chips, who served as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill conference; Ding, a paradog whose plane was hit by enemy fire on D-Day, ended up in a tree, and once on the ground still saved lives
|Feb 07, 2019|
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts, Part 5: Barack Obama
With the election of America's first African-American president in 2008, many feared that the presidency of Barack Obama would bring out the most reactionary elements in society and end his life in assassination. Did Obama's eight years as president bring out more assassination attempts than other presidents or merely those of different ideological stripes? Find out in the final part in this series on presidential assassination attempts.
|Feb 05, 2019|
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts, Part 4: Bill Clinton
Many tried to kill Bill Clinton during his presidency, including former military officers, white supremacists, and a little-known militant named Osama bin Laden. Most famously, Frank Eugene Corder crashed a Cessna onto the White House lawn. Learn about other attempts on the life of the 42nd president in this episode.
|Jan 31, 2019|
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts, Part 3: Ronald Reagan
After his presidency, a deranged man broke into Ronald Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents. This attempt on his life came on the heels on many other attempts on Reagan, the final president to serve his entire presidency during the Cold War.
|Jan 29, 2019|
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts, Part 2: JFK
The only president to be assassinated in the last century was John F. Kennedy. What caused this failure in the Secret Service's typical protection procedures? Was it a perfect storm of bad luck, a lapse in judgement in the protection detail, or something far more nefarious, as conspiracy theorists have insisted for five decades?
|Jan 24, 2019|
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts, Part 1: FDR
In American history, four U.S. Presidents have been murdered at the hands of an assassin. In each case the assassinations changed the course of American history.
But most historians have overlooked or downplayed the many threats modern presidents have faced, and survived. In this podcast series we will be looking at the largely forgotten—or never-before revealed attempts to slay America’s leaders.
Such incidents include:
How an armed, would-be assassin stalked President Roosevelt and spent ten days waiting across the street from the White House for his chance to shoot him
How the Secret Service foiled a plot by a Cuban immigrant who told coworkers he was going to shoot LBJ from a window overlooking the president’s motorcade route
How a deranged man broke into Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents.
In early 1992 a mentally deranged man stalking Bush turned up at the wrong presidential venue for his planned assassination attempt
The relationships presidents held with their protectors and the effect it had on the Secret Service’s mission
In the first episode of this series, we will look at assassination attempts against Franklin Roosevelt. He received thousands of threats on his life during his four presidential terms. The danger only increased in the World War 2 years, with his protection detail fearing an Axis assassin would take him out. There were several near-misses, with a would-be killer's bullet coming with in two feet of his head, or a torpedo nearly sinking his ship while going to the Yalta Conference to meet Churchill and Stalin.
|Jan 22, 2019|
Understanding the Rise of Islam Through Military History
How did an initially small religious movement envelope such enormous areas of the world? That is precisely what the community of believers under Muhammed did, conquering the Persian Empire and crippling the Byzantine Empire in a matter of decades, two global powers who were unable to do this to each other despite their best efforts. This episode looks at the rise of Islam, the most historically significant event of the early Middle Ages, through the perspective of military and social history.
|Jan 17, 2019|
Fugitive Slaves in America, From the Revolution to the Civil War
For decades after its founding, America was really two nations – one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this nation ultimately broke apart in the Civil War, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the “united” states was a lie.
The problem of the 1850s - how (for southerners) to preserve slavery without destroying the Union, or (for northerners) how to destroy slavery while preserving the Union – was a political problem specific to a particular time and place. But the moral problem of how to reconcile irreconcilable values is a timeless one that, sooner or later, confronts us all.”
My guest today, Andrew Delbanco, author of The War Before The War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War discusses this topic at depth in this episode. We begin in 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution – the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. But the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, instead set the nation on the path to civil war.
|Jan 15, 2019|
Moral Panics and Mass Hysteria: The Dancing Plague, Salem Witch Trials, and The Tulip Market Bubble
One person's psychosis can be easily dismissed, but how do we account for collective hysteria, when an entire crowd sees the same illusion or suffer from the same illness? It's enough to make somebody believe in dark magic and pick up their pitchfork, ready to hang an accused witch.
Sadly, such paranoia has led to many witch hunts in the past. In today's episode we look at some of the most notorious historical cases of mass hysteria and moral panics. But these cases don't only extend to Puritan-era witch panics. We will also look at cases that hit closer to home—such as economic bubbles and the housing market crash of the early 2000s.
This episode includes such cases of mass hysteria as
-- Dancing mania, in which German peasants in 1374 spent weeks dancing in a fugue state, with some toppling over dead from utter exhaustion
-- The cat nuns of medieval France, where the sisters became to inexplicably meow together, leaving the surrounding community perplexed
-- The Salem Witch trials, where 19 were executed due to claims of sorcery
-- The Jersey Devil Panic, in which dozens of newspapers claimed in 1909 that a winged creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights
|Jan 10, 2019|
How a Researcher Discovered That Her Grandparents Were in the Nazi SS
How would you react if you discovered that your family were deeply embedded within the Third Reich? Today I'm talking with Brazilian-born American Julie Lindahl about her journey to uncover her grandparents’ roles in the Nazi regime and why she was driven to understand how and why they became members of Hitler’s elite, the SS.
In a six-year journey through Germany, Poland, Paraguay, and Brazil, Julie uncovers, among many other discoveries, that her grandfather had been a fanatic member of the SS since 1934. During World War II, he was responsible for enslavement and torture and was complicit in the murder of the local population on the large estates he oversaw in occupied Poland. He eventually fled to South America to evade a new wave of war-crimes trials.
As she delved deeper into her family’s secret, Julie also found unlikely compassion from strangers whose family were victimized and ways to understand a troubled past.
|Jan 08, 2019|
Teaser: Ottoman Lives Part 7—The Outlaw
|Jan 05, 2019|
James Holman Traveled Over 250,000 Miles in the Early 1800s. He Was Also Completely Blind.
He was known simply as the Blind Traveler. A solitary, sightless adventurer, James Holman (1786-1857) fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback—and circumnavigated the globe, becoming one of the greatest wonders of the world he so explored.
Today I'm talking with Jason Roberts, author of one of my all-time favorite history books: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler. We get into all the impossible-to-believe stories that come from Holman's life, including:
-- Holman retraining his senses to use echolocation to “see” the world around him through sight and touch
- -Summiting Mt. Vesuvius as it was on the brink of eruption
-- Riding horses at full gallop
-- Negotiating peace between the British navy and islanders in Equatorial Guinea
|Jan 03, 2019|
The History of Cannabis and Its Use By Humans