During the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-89) the Cold War got hotter – and there were a number of major Cold War battlegrounds. Somebody who played a key role in many of these was CIA Director William Casey. Casey was to play a major role in several noteworthy and controversial events, perhaps most infamously in the Iran-Contra Affair. Scott Rose explains.

You can read Scott’s past articles about spies who shared American atomic secrets with the Soviet Union (read here), the 1950s “Red Scare” (read here), the American who supplied the Soviets with secrets in the 1980s (read here), and Cuban spies in the US in the 1980s (read here).

William Casey, CIA Director from 1981-1987.

William Casey, CIA Director from 1981-1987.

As the Cold War drew to its conclusion, President Ronald Reagan was viewed as the one individual most responsible for the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin will probably always be thought of as the beginning of the end of communism in the U.S.S.R. and its satellite states.

However, there was another American official just as responsible for the Cold War victory of the Western world. William J. “Bill” Casey was Reagan’s CIA Director from 1981-1987, and Casey pulled the strings of American Cold War policy, making it his personal crusade to bleed the Soviet Union dry. Undoubtedly, Casey was one of the most powerful CIA Directors to ever hold the position.

Instead of being remembered for his patriotism as Reagan is, Casey’s legacy is quite controversial and unclear. Most Americans who remember Casey will forever associate him with the murky episode known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

 

Lawyer, Spymaster, Writer

Bill Casey was born in New York in 1913, to a hard-working family with limited financial means. From his childhood onward, Casey was ambitious and determined to change his social status. During his grade school years, he displayed great intellect, while showing a temperamental side as well, earning the nickname “Volcano” from his classmates. The only mark he ever received less than a B grade was a C in personal conduct. He became a caddie at a local golf course and taught himself how to play golf, which would remain a lifelong hobby.

Casey’s good grades got him into Fordham University in Manhattan, followed by law school at St. John’s University. In 1938, he passed the bar exam and began working at a law firm in New York. Casey displayed a talent in business and financial law, and created what is known as the “tax shelter.”

During World War II, Casey went to work for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the pre-cursor of the Central Intelligence Agency. He served in France and helped coordinate American spying operations inside Nazi Germany. Fiercely patriotic, Casey was by all accounts very effective in his position managing spies and gleaning vital information as the Allies prepared to invade Germany, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. After the war, he would return to his legal practice in New York.

Casey wrote several books about business law during the 1950s; the books sold well, and were widely purchased by other American lawyers. He made a small fortune, which was multiplied by successfully investing his earnings into a variety of business ventures and stock holdings. He also lectured on tax law for fourteen years at New York University.

Casey was a strong supporter of Richard Nixon during the election of 1968. Nixon and Casey had common ground; both were conservative lawyers, World War II veterans, and staunch anti-Communists. In 1971, Nixon named Casey chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and three years later, Casey became Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.

 

A Partnership with Reagan

During the late 1970s, the United States looked to be losing prestige on the world stage. The Jimmy Carter Administration had failed to check Soviet influence around the world, and the Iran hostage crisis had made Carter appear soft. The American economy was in recession, compounding the nation’s problems in foreign affairs.

Ronald Reagan was challenging Carter in the 1980 election, vowing to restore America to its former glory. An unabashed capitalist and anti-Soviet, Reagan was a candidate Casey could relate to, just as Nixon had been. Upon announcing his candidacy, Reagan named the crafty and tireless Casey to be his campaign chairman. Reagan won in a landslide, and shortly after he was inaugurated, the Americans who had been held hostage in Iran were released. There has been a popular theory that Casey persuaded the Iranians to delay the release in order to weaken the Carter campaign; whether or not this was true has never been established.

Reagan asked Casey to become the new CIA Director, but initially Casey was not enthused about the prospect. He wanted to help shape American foreign policy, not merely report intelligence that had been gathered. However, Reagan promised Casey he would be given a large role in the country’s international affairs, and Casey took the job. Still well respected in the intelligence community for his OSS operations, he was a popular choice with many of the senior officials at the CIA.

During the Carter years, the CIA had been vilified in several Senate hearings. The Agency’s budget had been drastically cut, and by 1980 morale had dwindled. Upon becoming Director, Casey sought to rebuild the CIA back into the world’s strongest and most effective intelligence organization. Budgets were increased, and many new agents and administrators were hired. Casey voiced his intention to not only stop the increase of Soviet influence, but to “roll back” the Soviet world presence as well. His understanding of intelligence gathering and economics had put him in a unique position to do just that.

 

Taking on the Soviets

As the American economy recovered, Casey realized that the Soviet economic system could be damaged through long, drawn-out military operations such as the one in Afghanistan. The Soviets had invaded the country in 1979, but were now engaged in an ongoing conflict with Afghan rebels known as mujahedeen, or freedom-fighters. Casey asked Congress for financial aid for the Afghans, and received even more money than he had asked for. The CIA used these resources to furnish the Afghans with military equipment for use against the Soviets. Before long, the mujahedeenwere using American anti-aircraft missiles to bring down Soviet military helicopters. Just as Casey had expected, the U.S.S.R. poured more money and personnel into the conflict. In all, the Soviets would be bogged down in Afghanistan for nearly ten years, before withdrawing in 1989, losing billions of dollars and thousands of troops along the way.

Casey had hoped to accomplish the same objectives in Nicaragua, where the Soviets were sending $400 million per year to back the communist Sandinista government in its fight against the American-backed Contra forces. However, Congress was not as receptive to aiding the Contras, who had a less-than-stellar record when it came to human rights. Eventually, a bill was passed to limit American aid to the Contras. When the CIA mined harbors in Nicaragua, Casey was called to testify before Congress, and most of his answers were vague and indirect. By this time, Casey spoke in a slurring fashion (referring to Nicaragua as Nica-wag-wa), and there were many occasions when he spoke and left his listeners completely confused. In 1984, Congress passed a second measure, completely banning American aid to the Contras.

Neither Casey nor President Reagan had any intention of letting the Contra cause die. Before the second Congressional Bill was passed, Reagan asked his National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, to find a way to keep the Contras afloat. McFarlane and his deputy, Lt. Colonel Oliver North, were able to persuade the royal family of Saudi Arabia to send a million dollars per month to the Contras. This was a far cry from the level of assistance the Sandinistas were receiving from the Soviets, but enough to keep the war going for the foreseeable future. For Casey’s part, he went on record that the CIA no longer had any involvement in Nicaragua.

In 1984, Casey had another huge problem to deal with. William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Lebanon, had been kidnapped by Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed organization. Shortly after Buckley’s kidnapping, American intelligence operatives in Lebanon began to disappear. It was clear that Hezbollah was torturing Buckley to gain information. These fears were confirmed in early 1985 when a videotape arrived, showing Buckley being tortured. Reportedly, the tape was so graphic that several CIA officials openly wept upon watching it.

 

The Iran-Contra Conundrum

Casey ordered his subordinates to find Buckley’s location and plan a rescue mission. In spite of this, the CIA couldn’t determine where Buckley was, or if he was even still in Lebanon. With each passing day, the Agency became more desperate to find the agent.

Eventually, a shimmer of promise came in the form of an Israeli foreign agent named David Kimche. In July of 1985, Kimche visited Robert McFarlane in Washington, telling the National Security Advisor that there might be a way to get Buckley and six additional American hostages released. Kimche told McFarlane that there was a group of Iranians who wanted American support for overthrowing the anti-American Iranian government of Ayatollah Khomeini. In return, these Iranians would use their influence with Hezbollah to obtain the return of the Americans being held in Lebanon, including Buckley. The point of contact would be an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

 

McFarlane told President Reagan and other cabinet members, including Casey, about his conversation with Kimche. The President and Casey were in full support, while others in the Administration were more suspicious of what they heard. Kimche returned in August, telling McFarlane that Ghorbanifar’s group was asking for American weapons as part of the deal. Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger were opposed to the idea, arguing that it would become an “arms for hostages” situation. Undeterred, Kimche proposed to McFarlane that Israel sell the weapons to Ghorbanifar, with the United States resupplying Israel. Weinberger argued that this would be illegal, while Casey disagreed. McFarlane and Casey supported Kimche’s idea, and ultimately, so did President Reagan. However, Casey had not been forthcoming with the President or McFarlane; he was actually already aware of Manucher Ghorbanifar. The CIA had met with the Iranian in 1984, administering two polygraph tests which Ghorbanifar had failed. Afterward, the CIA issued a “burn notice” on Ghorbanifar, meaning he was not to be trusted under any circumstance, a fact Casey made no mention of.

Shortly afterward, the arms shipments began. However, after the first shipment of TOW missiles, Ghorbanifar claimed the shipment had “fallen into the wrong hands.” After the second shipment, Ghorbanifar told McFarlane that Hezbollah would release one hostage, and for McFarlane to pick the hostage. McFarlane promptly picked William Buckley, but to Casey’s horror, the captors replied that Buckley was too ill to be moved, and another hostage would have to be chosen. Within a few months, the American government would find out that Buckley had actually died of a heart attack while being tortured in June of 1985.

The arms shipments continued into 1986; in all, there were seven shipments, with only three hostages being released. Then, in autumn of 1986, the lid was blown off the entire operation. In October, a helicopter carrying supplies to the Contras was shot down in Nicaragua. The lone survivor, an American named Eugene Hasenfus, told the Sandinistas that he was a CIA operative, which Casey denied. Then, in November, a Lebanese magazine reported the arms shipments to Iran. The Reagan Administration initially refuted the allegations, promising an investigation. Later the same month, Attorney General Edwin Meese confirmed not only that the arms shipments had indeed occurred, but also that proceeds from the arms sales had been diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua.

The spotlight turned squarely on Casey and the CIA. He was called to testify before Congress in December; however, the morning before he would have testified, Casey suffered a seizure at CIA headquarters. Taken to the hospital, he suffered a second seizure the same day. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and three days later he had surgery to remove the tumor. Casey would never recover his health, and resigned as CIA Director in January of 1987.

As the Iran-Contra affair unfolded in spring of 1987, several current and former members of the Reagan Administration were called to testify before Congress, but Casey was never able to do so. Most of the American public speculated that Casey was the one person who knew the entire story. On May 5, a former Air Force officer and CIA operative named Richard Secord testified that he organized weapons deliveries to the Contras, under direction of Casey and Oliver North. The next day, Bill Casey passed away.

Legendary Washington Postreporter Bob Woodward wrote a book called Veilabout Casey and the CIA, which includes a controversial story about Casey during his final days. Whether the story is factual or simply sensationalism is up for debate. Woodward claimed to have entered Casey’s hospital room for a few minutes while Casey’s guards were away. According to Woodward, he asked Casey, “You knew about the diversion to the Contras didn’t you?” He claims Casey looked and him and nodded that indeed he had. Woodward also states that he then asked the former CIA Director why he had approved of the events that had taken place, to which Casey faintly replied, “I believed.”

 

What do you think of the Iran-Contra affair? Let us know below.

References

Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, Penguin Press, London, 2004

Robert C. McFarlane, Special Trust, Cadell & Davies, New York, 1994

Joseph E. Persico, Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From The OSS to the CIA, Penguin Books, London, 1991

Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987

James Buchanan was US President from 1857-1861. He is often considered one of the worst presidents of the US, with his presidency leading up to the US Civil War. Here, Ian Craig continues his look at Buchanan’s presidency. He argues that Buchanan had prepared for the possible secession of states in the South – and that it was almost impossible for him to avoid South Carolina’s December 1860 secession following Abraham Lincoln’s election victory in November 1860.

You can read the first article in the series on James Buchanan and Bleeding Kansas here.

President James Buchanan’s cabinet, circa 1859.

President James Buchanan’s cabinet, circa 1859.

Perhaps the most trying period in James Buchanan’s career came when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860 a month after Abraham Lincoln was electedpresident.  It has often been recollected that the nation’s fifteenth president simply let the nation dissolve under his watch - that the nation’s president was too weak and tired from age to effectively stop the secessionist threat in the South as President Andrew Jackson had thirty years prior during the Nullification Crisis. However, this was certainly not the case as President James Buchanan had prepared for such a scenario in October 1860.

 

Preparing for Succession

Before Lincoln was elected, Buchanan knew that if the Illinois Republican became president the South would most likely secede.  On the election he stated that, “throughout the presidential canvass, the cotton states openly declared their purpose to secede should Mr. Lincoln be elected.” This caused much alarm for Buchanan, who turned to General Winfield Scott, the commander-in chief of the armed forces for a review of the military and its outposts in the South. This was not the action of a weak president. At the time, the President only had sixteen thousand troops to defend against secession should the South decide to do so.  When General Scott completed his review, he warned Buchanan that many of the forts in the South including Fort Sumter and those along the Mississippi River lacked sufficient troops to defend against secession.  He writes that “Fort Moultrie and Sumter, (in) Charleston Harbor, the former with an insufficient garrison, and the latter without any…should be immediately so garrisoned as to make any attempt to take any one of them by surprise ridiculous.” General Scott also advised Buchanan to send five available companies to reinforce five of the eight forts that he mentioned in his report. However, they would still be understrength in repelling an attack against their station.  

Buchanan recognized the threat to the nation but being a man of the Constitution, realized that he had little power to move troops without the approval of Congress.  If he did so without congressional approval, he feared that he would only provoke the South and start the secession movement.  Buchanan did not want to start a war that he knew he was ill prepared for. He sent a request for Congress to raise five additional regiments that could be used to reinforce the Southern garrisons, but his request was ignored by Congress. Leaning on the advice of his Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, he did not pursue the matter to find out why. However, Floyd was being investigated by Congress for spreading troops thinly throughout the South to render the army useless if war did break out. The trial was suspended for lack of evidence.  Just before he resigned, Buchanan recalled that Floyd had ordered federal artillery sent to a Southern fort, but the President himself stepped in and revoked the order. Floyd had resigned because Buchanan refused to order Major Anderson from Fort Sumter after South Carolina seceded. 

 

Buchanan’s Dedication to the Constitution

In his December 3, 1860 annual message to Congress, Buchanan put emphasis on the impending desire of South Carolina to secede from the Union upon Lincoln’s election that November.  He stated that the “election of any of our fellow citizens to the office of president does not itself afford just cause for dissolving the Union…how then, can the result justify a revolution to destroy this very Constitution.” In a deep effort, Buchanan tried to clarify the seriousness of secession to the integrity of the Union and what the Constitution represented.  He also stated, “in order to justify secession as a Constitutional remedy, it must be on the principle that the Federal Government is a mere voluntary association of states, to be dissolved at pleasure by any one of the contracting parties.” At this point, Buchanan called out the legality of secession as unconstitutional, but his role as president gave him no power to take action against it.  This again, demonstrates his sincere dedication to the Constitution and the powers it gave.  As Buchanan explains, “apart from the execution of the laws, so far as they may be practiced, the Executive has not authority to decide what should be the relations between the federal government and South Carolina…he possesses no power to change the relations heretofore existing between them, much less acknowledge the independence of that state.”

In Buchanan’s defense he was correct, his oath of office required under Article Two Section One of the Constitution states that the president will “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of (their) ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” James Buchanan lived by the oath he took as president and executed the laws of United States as given to him by the Constitution, no powers were given against slavery and secession.  If those actions were considered acts of war, only Congress would intervene to put an end to that situation.  Buchanan urged the nation to put an end to the secessionist cry but felt as if his actions were misinterpreted. As Buchanan recalls of himself, “his every act had been misrepresented and condemned, and knew that whatever course he might pursue, he was destined to encounter their bitter hostility.  No public man was ever placed in a more trying and responsible position…without giving offence both to the anti-slavery and secession parties, because both had been clearly in the wrong.” At that point, in December 1860, only a few weeks before South Carolina officially declared its secession, James Buchanan, the Fifteenth President of the United States, felt powerless to prevent the impending Civil War.

 

What do you think of James Buchanan’s actions before South Carolina’s secession? Let us know below.

Early in his years as a stern Augustinian monk, Martin Luther rummaged through a book stack of a library and came across a volume of sermons. Reflecting upon the century-aged religious text, Luther wrote, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and school.” That man was Jan Hus, considered by historians and theologians as the first church reformer, influencing reformists John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Huldrych Zwingli. His teachings and “violent sermons” against the unbridled moral and political corruption laid the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. Casey Titus explains.

A sixteenth century painting of Jan Hus.

A sixteenth century painting of Jan Hus.

Born into poverty in Husinec, Bohemia, Hus’ year of birth is debated to be 1369. From an early age, Hus voyaged to Prague where he supported himself by singing and serving in churches. We know very little of his early personal life, but accounts state that his work ethic was satisfactory and his diligence to his studies was incredible.

In 1393, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Prague, now known as Charles University, and earned his master’s degree in 1396. Four years later he was ordained as a priest. Two years later, Hus made his radical beliefs about reform in the Church known when he began preaching inside the city. That same year he was employed as a faculty member and taught until 1412, serving as both dean of the faculty and rector at the university.

It was during this time that Hus studied the Augustinian theological works of John Wycliffe, another reformer who promoted the first complete translation of the Bible into English. Church authorities banned many of the works of Wycliffe in 1403; nevertheless, his works still traveled to Prague during the 1390s when Hus was still studying as a student. Bohemia itself possessed an extensive history of reform efforts which made fruitful ground for Wycliffe’s ideas. These ideas ingrained themselves in the impressionable Jan Hus who eventually became known for his passionate, orthodox sermons calling for reform that denounced the immoral behavior of the clergy and popular religious practices and teachings such as pilgrimages to see bleeding statues in Germany and the prohibition against unlicensed preaching. He further preached Wycliffe’s ideologies that included support for secular lordship over territorial churches free of Papal control but still held firm to transubstantiation.

 

A Growing Presence 

His sermons were endured, even tolerated, by Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc who appointed Hus a preacher at the clergy’s biennial synod. In 1405, this toleration reached its boundary as Pope Innocent VII commanded the Archbishop to rebuke Wycliffe’s teachings. In addition to religious reform, Hus became a voice and advocate of Czech nationalism. Even before Wycliffe’s writings were condemned by the German faculty at Prague, Czech Bohemians were at odds with the German Bohemians – consisting of Bavarians, Saxons, and Poles – and desired independence from them. In 1408, tensions were continuing to rise and the archbishop of Prague was once again compelled by Czech university masters to condemn Wycliffe’s teachings and suppress its influence on Czech nationalists. 

It was at this point in time Hus’ place in history was further elevated when the archbishop’s scheme backfired and resulted in further acceleration for reform of the Bohemian church with Hus as its most influential representative. In 1409, Hus and other Czech nationalists convinced the Bohemian king, Wenceslas IV, to support them against the German nations sitting on the Prague faculty. The support paid off; the Kuttenberg Decree of 1409 allowed Czechs to take control of the faculty and forced the Germans to leave for other universities. While it seemed successful for Czech nationalists like Hus, this move would have future disastrous consequences for reformers and nationalists alike. 

Over one thousand students and masters left Prague and spread accusations of Bohemian heresy. The faculty selected Hus as rector at Prague that same year. In 1409, Archbishop Zbyněk appealed to the new Pope, Alexander V, regarding the spread of heretical theology and secular encroachment on the church’s authority in Bohemia. The Pope reacted with a 1409 bull condemning Wycliffe’s theology once again and forbade preaching in Hus’ Bethlehem chapel which Hus defied. A year later, Wycliffe’s works were burned by the archbishop and Hus appealed to the new Pope, John XXIII, regarding the bull instituted by the previous Pope. Consequently, Hus was locally excommunicated by his archbishop and called to Rome for his Wycliffite teaching and disobedience to ecclesiastical superiors in August 1410. Hus refused to stand trial and was excommunicated by the Roman court in February 1411.

 

Growing Support

Attempts to crush Hus’ power and influence only fueled popular support for him, forcing the Archbishop of Prague to flee. Anti-Papal polemicists joined with Hus as he continued his support for reform. When Archbishop Zajíc died in 1411, the Bohemian Reformation entered a new phase that turned to disputes regarding indulgences, which is defined as forgiveness that has already taken place for certain sins. Pope John XXIII announced a crusade against King Ladislaus of Naples, protector of his rival, Gregory XII. The crusade was financed by authorized indulgences and priests encouraging people to give their offerings which Hus preached passionately against, as it was a sign of further corruption in the Church. Even King Wenceslas IV approved the indulgences because the profits were split between him and the Pope, along with anti-Wycliffite theologians at the university. Hus referenced the last chapter of Wycliffe’s book, De ecclesia, which asserted that no Pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church and instead should pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him as well as man obtaining the forgiveness of sins by true repentance, not money. 

Public demonstrations increased with Hus’ supporters proclaiming opposition to the Pope, whom they addressed as “Antichrist.” Consequently, three protestors were beheaded by a Prague magistrate in July 1412; they were later considered the first martyrs of the Hussite Church. The king forbade the teaching of Wycliffe’s forty-five articles and attempted to bring about peace among the mayhem - which failed. Hus reflected on the tumultuous times and his will to endure it: “Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me, I would never accept the recommendation of the theological faculty.” A conception of the Church that the doctors of the university put forth arranged that the Pope is the head, the Cardinals the body of the Church, and that Hus and his followers must approve of it – but Hus refused. 

By this time, Hus’ theological ideas were widely accepted in Bohemia and spread resentment among the Church hierarchy. Riots erupted in parts of Bohemia over the attacks against Hus by the Pope. King Wenceslaus IV took the side of Hus and the power of his allies increased daily. Hus continued to preach at the Bethlehem Chapel. The churches of Prague were put under a ban, and an interdict was proclaimed against Prague. No citizen of Prague could receive Communion or be buried on church grounds as long as Hus continued his ministry. For the city’s protection, Hus fled into the countryside towards the end of 1412 where he continued to write and preach. One of his writings argued that Christ alone is head of the church, that a Pope “through ignorance and love of money” can make many mistakes, and that to rebel against a corrupt Pope is to obey Christ. He preached in local neighborhoods and Bohemian Wycliffism spread to the nearby countries of Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Austria. He no longer put his trust in an irresolute king, an antagonistic Pope, or a useless Council. Instead, on October 18, 1412, he appealed to the highest Christian authority, Christ himself, bypassing centuries of laws and structures of the medieval Church, the final straw for the Church.

 

Hus and the Council

In November 1414, the Council of Constance assembled and Hus was urged by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, brother of King Wenceslaus IV, to attend and explain his doctrine on the promise of safe conduct and the council’s promise of significant church reforms. Sigismund of Hungary was heir to the Bohemian crown and determined to end religious dissent within the Church. The Council of Constance became the 16thecumenical council recognized by the Catholic Church, lasting from 1414 to 1418. Hus’ suspicions over his fate may have been the reason behind making his will before departing. He arrived on November 3, 1414. 

Hus was still openly defiant to the Church, violating restrictions decreed by the Church such as continuing to preach and celebrating Mass. Due to the presence of enemies and a rumor that Hus intended to flee, Hus was arrested on November 28, 1414 and imprisoned at a Dominican monastery. Sigismund, guarantor of Hus’ safety, was furious and threatened the bishops with dismissals. The prelates successfully persuaded him that he could not be bound by promises to a heretic.

The situation turned for the worse for the eccentric preacher when Pope John XXIII fled Constance to avoid abdicating. Through the Pope, Hus was in constant communication with his friends and supporters, but now was delivered to the bishop of Constance who transferred him to the castle, Gottlieben on the Rhine. Here he remained for 73 days, chained day and night, poorly fed, and ill. Hus’ supporters, including the king, were at last able to sway the council to hold a public hearing for him in June 1415. With an ongoing investigation against Hus, the reformer was not allowed to speak in his defense and instead asked to recant his views. Hus merely replied, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.” He was brought back to his cell where others begged for him to recant. On July 6, 1415, Hus has taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, and then stripped of them one by one. The Bishop of Lodi delivered a speech on the duty of eliminating heresy and read some theses of Hus and Wycliffe.

From there, a tall paper hat was placed upon his head with the writing, “Haeresiarcha” (i.e., the leader of a heretical movement), and led away to the stake under a heavy guard of armed men. At the place of execution, Hus knelt, spread his hands, and prayed out loud. He was undressed, his hands bound behind him, and wood and straw piled up to his neck. He refused to recant one last time to save his own life where he prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was reportedly heard reciting Psalms in the midst of the flames. 

His executioners scooped his ashes and tossed them into the Rhine River so that nothing would remain of the “heretic.” Despite their attempts at physically removing Hus’ remains, some Czechs collected bits of soil from the ground where Hus was executed and brought them back to Bohemia as a memorial. 

 

Aftermath

The Papal establishment’s execution of the Czech reformer was met with public outrage and horror, resulting in the Bohemian people straying further from Papal teachings rather than be frightened back into submission.

When King Wenceslaus IV died in August 1419, his brother Sigismund of Hungary was unable to institute a functional government in Bohemia due to the Hussite revolt. The rebellion was so intense that Rome was roused to declare a crusade against them on the first of March 1420, five years following Hus’ death. Pope Martin V issued a Papal bull permitting the execution of all supporters of Hus and Wycliffe.

Two Czech commanders, Jan Žižkaand Prokop the Great, were followers of Hus and after the Hussite community evolved into a major military power, the Hussites defeated the crusade instigated by the Pope followed by three more crusades that lasted until 1436. The fighting only ceased after a negotiation was reached to authorize Bohemia to practice their new branch of Christianity – Hussitism. A century later, ninety percent of the Lands of the Bohemian Crowns’ subjects would adhere to Hussite theology. 

 

Legacy

Because of Hus and his reformist predecessor, Bohemia experienced one of the most significant pre-reformation movements that revolted against what Hus viewed as Papal thralldom and idolatrous practices. Just over a century after Hus’ execution, the Leipzig Debate of 1519 took place and accused Martin Luther of being a Hussite for rejecting the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther fired back, asserting that the Council of Constance wronged Hus by condemning and executing him and that Papal council was subordinate to Scripture. In 1520, Luther read Hus’ De ecclesia, declaring that Staupitz, St. Augustine, and the apostle Paul were “all Hussites.”

 

What do you think of Jan Hus’ legacy? Let us know below.

References

“Jan Hus.” Reformation 500, 11 June 2014, reformation500.csl.edu/bio/jan-hus/.

“Jan Hus.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Hus.

Nichols, Stephen. “The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384).” Desiring God, 28 Mar. 2019, www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-morning-star-of-the-reformation.

Person. “John Huss.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 31 Mar. 2016, www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/john-huss.html.

Stacey, John. “John Wycliffe.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 27 Dec. 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/John-Wycliffe.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

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

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

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

The importance of museums

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

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

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

 

Visiting Berlin

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presenting History as it was

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

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

 

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

 

Recent History

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

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

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

 

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

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

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

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

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

The Battle of Stalingrad

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

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

 

Snipers

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

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

 

Vasily Zaitsev

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

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

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

 

Vasily Zaitsev and Major Konig

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

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

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

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

Konig dies, Zaitsev lives on. 

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

 

Female Snipers

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

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

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

 

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

Joshua Potts writes at The Augustus blog here.

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

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

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

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

Not So Positive of Encounters

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

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

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

 

Culture Shock

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

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

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

 

Just Before The Rush For Gold

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

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

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

 

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

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.org.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9]Ibid. p. 3.

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

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

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

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

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

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

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

 

Loewenbach’s testimony

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

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

 

Survivor Testimonies

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

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

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

 

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

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

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

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

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

The Years before a ‘Police Action’

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

French Occupation in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

America’s ‘Police Action’ Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

United States’ involvement escalates

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Nursing Field expands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In salute to the ‘Nightingales’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May they never be forgotten.

 

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kansas-Nebraska Act

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

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

 

Dealing with Bleeding Kansas

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

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

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

 

1858 Kansas Election

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

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

 

Buchanan and the Constitution

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

 

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


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

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

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

[4]Sloan, 35. 

[5]Buchanan, 18. 

[6]Buchanan, 18. 

[7]Buchanan, 24. 

[8]Sloan, 47. 

[9]Sloan, 47. 

[10]Sloan, 48. 

[11]Sloan, 49. 

[12]Buchanan, 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The unwelcome birth

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

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

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

 

After her mother’s death

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catherine Howard becomes Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Henry VIII’s sixth wife

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

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

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

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

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

 

After Henry VIII

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

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

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

 

From Edward to Mary

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

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

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

 

Queen Elizabeth I

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

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

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

 

No marriage

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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