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How A Pandemic Helped End The Golden Age Of Greece

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The Alliances of the Peloponnesian War — US Army Cartographer Via Wikimedia Commons
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The Walls of Athens during the Peloponnesian War — US Army Cartographer Via Wikimedia Commons
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Why the US Wanted to Nuke the Moon

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The Cold War led to some strange scenarios

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A picture of the full moon. Source: Wikicommons

Following WWII, the Soviet Union increased its scientific efforts. The Soviets were slowly catching up to the US, thanks to stolen German research and an influx of scientists from their newly occupied regions.

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Replica of Sputnik 1. Source: Wikicommons

The above-mentioned question was first posed in 1958 by experts at the Armour Research Foundation. This organization studied the environmental consequences of nuclear weapons and presented the topic of what would happen if a nuclear explosion occurred on the moon.

The detonation of the Ivy Mike hydrogen bomb, the first hydrogen bomb ever created. Edward Teller who was also known as the father of the hydrogen bomb proposed that the US should also try to detonate a hydrogen bomb on the moon. Source: Wikicommons
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Three Savage and Masterful Insults From Iconic World Leaders

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From Napoleon to Winston Churchill to Teddy Roosevelt, the great men of history did not hold back, especially when it came to their closest collaborators.

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Napoleon Bonaparte, Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (Source: Publisher)

hen you’re an iconic world leader altering the course of history, the people you have to work with day in and day out may also be your bitterest rivals. It’s easy to imagine how such circumstances would make one quite tart-tongued indeed.

Beyond the shock or entertainment value of a witty or brutal remark, these three stories show us the complicated, conflicted and flawed characters of those involved, and the complexity of their relationships.

Who said that?

Napoleon Bonaparte to his chief diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Contemporary caricature commenting on the downfall of Napoleon in 1814. The image depicts the cripple Talleyrand chasing away Napoleon by giving him a kick into his buttocks while brandishing his walking stick in a threatening manner. The subtitele reads “The Affectionate Farewell. Or Kick For Kick.” Source: Wikimedia Commons

Talleyrand was an astute, but cynical politician. Born with a club foot, he was unsuitable for pursuing a military career, as would have been expected by his family tradition. So, he joined the Church instead, despite not really believing in God. That he didn’t let his atheism stop him from becoming a Bishop should tell you something about his character.

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Immediately after his consecration, though, he left his bishopric of Autun, and led a hedonistic life in Paris, where he was popular in the salons and successful with the ladies, because, again, that’s the kind of guy our Maurice was.

Abandoning the religious life, he pursued a diplomatic career; he spent some time in England, where he managed to piss off both the English and the French Jacobins; and in America, where he was snubbed by George Washington but developed a lucrative business portfolio.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand; portrait by François Gérard. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Returning to France before 1797, he schmoozed and networked his way to a Foreign Minister position. Meanwhile, a young and promising General from Corsica was successfully running his first campaign against the Austrians in Northern Italy. His name: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two years later, our Corsican general would seize power in France in the Coup of 18 Brumaire, ending the rule of the Directory of the First Republic of France. The Directory had been in crisis for as long as it existed, facing internal strife and war with foreign coalition. Napoleon was ready to seize the opportunity, and Talleyrand was his close ally in the conspiracy.

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On the morning of 18 Brumaire (November 9) 1799, Napoleon’s youngest brother Lucien falsely persuaded the Councils that a Jacobin coup was at hand in Paris, advising them to seek safety outside the city. Two of the Directors resigned the same morning ; using his position as Foreign Minister, Talleyrand convinced a third one to do the same. The other two Directors were arrested the next day by Napoleon’s ally General Jean Victor Marie Moreau and compelled to concede.

Talleyrand was soon made Foreign Minister by Napoleon, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon’s foreign policy. For instance, after defeating the Austrians at Ulm and Austerlitz, Napoleon forced them into a harsh peace treaty that greatly reduced their territory and influence. Talleyrand thought that was a bad idea: his vision was that building a partnership with Vienna would force the British, who were also engaged in war with France, to end the hostilities and bring peace to Europe.

Their rift continued to deepen, until Talleyrand resigned as minister of foreign affairs in 1807. He had always been a hard-nosed cynic, but now, disappointed in Napoleon, he became even more so. He began to accept bribes from Austria and Russia, two powers hostile to Napoleon’s France, in exchange for intelligence. He even cozied up to his formal rival, Minister of Police Josep Fouché, in hope of hatching a plot.

Upon finding out, Napoleon interrupted his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and returned to the France in haste to give Talleyrand a piece of his mind.

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This is where he is said to have uttered the famous insult:

“You are nothing but shit in a silk stocking”.

Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!” Talleyrand is said to have muttered under his breath in return, as Napoleon left the room.

He would go on to become one of the key agents of the restoration of the House of Bourbon after Napoleon’s death, but clashed with Louis XVIII on legislation as well. He continued to have an influential diplomatic career, host lavish gathering and generally do what he did best until his death in 1838, at the ripe age of 84.

Who said that?

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Winston Churchill, about Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee.

Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee in the garden of №10 Downing Street, with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden and Russian Ambassador M Maisky. Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to Clark Clifford, an aide to US President Harry Truman, recalls a discussion that happened in March 1946. Churchill was visiting the US; he and Truman took a train together to Fulton, Missouri.

At the time, Churchill had finished his term as Prime Minister several months prior; his wartime deputy Clement Atlee was the one who took his place. Churchill was Leader of the Opposition and of the Conservative Party.

During the train ride, President Truman mentioned:

“Clement Attlee came to see me the other day. He struck me as a very modest man.”

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“He has much to be modest about.”, Churchill replied dryly.

Churchill and Atlee were as different as chalk and cheese. Churchill was a Tory and Atlee was Labour. Churchill was a ballsy, charismatic, larger than life functioning alcoholic, with a talent for rousing speeches and a penchant for biting insults. Atlee was straight-laced, orderly, self-effacing, taciturn and introverted; Clementine, Winston Churchill’s wife, referred to him once as “a funny little mouse”. His speeches were unremarkable and his favourite drink was hot cocoa. The reforms brought about by Attlee’s government, including the National Insurance Act of 1946, the formation of UK’s National Health Service and the enlargement of subsidies for social housing, were harshly criticised by Churchill’s Tories.

Nonetheless, when Churchill died, at his funeral Clement Attlee’s was one of the pallbearers. The fact that Churchill himself requested it when leaving instructions for his descendants and Atlee accepted, despite being old and frail, bear witness that the two men had more respect for each other than this anecdote alone would make you think.

Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, broadcasted on TV. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Furthermore, while Churchill was all too happy to make tart-tongued quips about Attlee, he wasn’t OK with other people doing the same. When a Tory MP called the Prime Minister “silly old Attlee”, Churchill immediately rebuked him: “Mr Attlee played a great part in winning the war. Mr Attlee is a great patriot!”

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Besides, just because Attlee was shy and taciturn doesn’t mean he took Churchill’s insults lying down. On one occasion, while he was Prime Minister, Churchill is said to have finished a speech in Parliament with the words: “Well, gentlemen, I think we can all agree on this course.”

Attlee, at the time leader of the Labour Party, retorted: “You know, Prime Minister, a monologue by you does not necessarily spell agreement.”

It may well be that it was in Churchill’s charismatic and abrasive nature to attract vitriolic frenemies. For the scoop on his insult volley with Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take a seat in the UK Parliament, check out:

Who said that?

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Teddy Roosevelt, of US President William McKinley

Photo by Razvan Mirel on Unsplash

William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States, and Teddy Roosevelt’s own predecessor. Coming from a legal and military background , McKinley entered politics at the encouragement of his friend and mentor, United States’ 19th President Rutherford B. Hayes; with whom he had fought for the Union in the Civil War. He was president during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

This was a time of great international tensions. Cuba, at a time a Spanish colony, had revolted against colonial rule in 1895, only to be brutally and bloodily rebuked. American imperialists thought that the US should use the situation to lay claim to Cuba for itself; while many others in the States identified with the Cubans’ yearning for independence. President McKinley and, before him, his predecessor Grover Cleveland, tried to pressure the Spanish authorities to reform through diplomatic means, but rejected the idea of outright war. In his 1897 State of the Union address, McKinley told Congress that intervening in the Spanish-Cuban conflict would be “criminal aggression”, but at the same time implied that if no reform is forthcoming, the USA could “intervene with force”. He had a very, very fine line to walk.

The Spanish-American war was precipitated by the sinking of the Navy battleship USS Maine in the Havana Harbour, in 1898. It had been sent to Havana to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban War of Independence. On February 15, three weeks after its arrival, the ship exploded and sank in mysterious conditions, killing three quarters of its crew, a total of 268 sailors.

This was a scandal.

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Our Country in War by Murat Halstead (1898). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

At the time, William McKinley had been president for nearly a year. Teddy Roosevelt was Assistant Navy Secretary. The President was awoken from his sleep late at night to receive the news. Commander Francis W. Dickins, who informed President McKinley of the sinking, said it was “an accident”.

Other military leaders, however, suspected foul play. More specifically- foul play by the Spanish. If this were true, this was a veryserious accusation. Serious enough to mean war.

Navy Captain Philip R. Alger, an expert on ordnance and explosives, posted a bulletin at the Navy Department the next day saying that the explosion had been caused by a spontaneous fire in the coal bunkers. Ever on the case, Teddy Roosevelt wrote a letter protesting his assertions, in which he said “Mr. Alger cannot possibly know anything about the accident. All the best men in the Department agree that, whether probable or not, it certainly is possible that the ship was blown up by a mine.

The scandal was now raging on, and Teddy had just fanned its flames. William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal spent an entire week dedicating d a daily average of eight and a half pages of angry, sensationalised news, editorials and pictures to the event, whom they very much did NOT believe was an accident. Hearst even offered a reward of $50,000 “for the conviction of the criminals who sent 258 American sailors to their deaths.”. The typically more reserved and dignified New York World, owned by Hearst’s rival Joseph Pulitzer, also insisted that the Maine was bombed or mined. The paper accused Spain of “treachery, willingness, or laxness” in allowing the tragedy to happen. Granting full independence to Cuba was the only moral way for Spain to atone and move forward, the New York World argued.

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The same papers had already reported on atrocities committed by the Spanish in Cuba, and an over-excited public opinion started to demand war. Advocates of war used the rallying cry, “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”, but President McKinley hesitated, insisting that a Court of Inquiry first determine whether the explosion was accidental.

Cartoon in Judge Magazine, February 6, 1897. Columbia, the personification of the American people, extends her hands to the opressed Cubans, while Uncle Sam- the American State, remains blind and refuses to help. Source: Wikipedia.

In March 1898, the Court arrived to the same conclusion as Teddy Roosevelt and the papers: the USS Maine had been blown up by a mine. President McKinley continued to negotiate with Spain for Cuban independence, as pressure for war mounted in Congress and in the papers.

This is when, frustrated by his inaction and dithering, Teddy Roosevelt is said to have told friends that President McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate éclair in his hesitancy to declare war and avenge the death of the sailors on the USS Maine. He was echoing a sentiment espoused by many at a time; a popular joke making the rounds in the local papers went:

“Why is McKinley’s mind like a bed?” Answer: “Because it has to be made up for him every time he wants to use it.”

Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, at the time Spanish Ambassador to the US, wrote a letter to the Spanish foreign minister stating:

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McKinley is weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd, besides being a common politician who tries to leave a door open behind himself while keeping on good terms with the jingoes of his party.

As Spain continued to refuse McKinley’s demands, in April 1898 the President turned the matter over to Congress, and Congress declared war. Ready to put his money where his mouth was, Teddy Roosevelt resigned from his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, so that he can go fight in the war, founding the the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, also known as The Rough Riders. They took part in the Battle of San Juan Hill, which Roosevelt fondly referred to as “the greatest day of my life”.

The war lasted for just under four months, and ended with a decisive victory for the Americans: Spain turned over to the United States its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines; as well as Cuba, which had been promised independence but remained under US Army control for a while. Furthermore, it was in the same year that the United States annexed the short-lived Republic of Hawaii, which remained a US territory until its admission to the Union as a State six decades later.

William McKinley went on to be elected for a second term, with none other than the man who compared his backbone to an éclair, Teddy Roosevelt, as his vice-president.

Poster for the 1900 election, with William McKinley (Left) and Teddy Roosevelt (Right). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Only six month after, McKinley would meet a gruesome end, assassinated by an anarchist, and Roosevelt would succeed him as President. His popularity very much surpassed McKinley’s, making him one of the most iconic figures in American history. To this day, we’re still not sure exactly what happened to the USS Maine; a 2002 Discovery Channel Unsolved History investigation suggests that it may well have been an accidental coal fire, after all. Yet, there is no taking back the events it set in motion.

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