The Diquis Spheres – (2019 Update)

Today we will move across the globe to discover the Diquis Spheres. These are some stone spheres found in the delta of Diquis, between the rivers Terraba and Sierpe, in the peninsula of Osa and the Isla del Caño (Costa Rica). They are unique archaeological finds due to their number of existing specimens (over 300!), as well as their sizes, formations and rounded perfection. Their dimensions vary from the 10 cm to 2.57 m of diameter. They can weigh as much as 16 tones and have been found in 34 different archaeological sites. These are the products of the Diquis culture: a pre-Columbian culture, indigenous from Costa Rica. Diquis means great waters or river in the Boruca language (the native speaking tongue), which seems to tie in with the locations of the finds. However, their meaning and origin is a mystery.

According to Ifigenia Quintanilla (University of Costa Rica), the spheres were most likely produced sometime between the 800 and the 500 B.C. However, local archaeologists investigating the subject have trouble dating and interpreting them as 90% of the spheres have been moved and found away from their original locations. The theories on their meaning and purpose get even more obscure and confusing. Most archaeologists and historians support the idea that these artifices had an astronomical function. Perhaps they were a way of timing agricultural cycles, or even maybe representations of constellations. Another supported hypothesis is that these could be used as markers of social status for the leaders of the indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, more fantastical explanations have been proposed:

-Some think these could have been done by the people of Atlantis, or even by extra-terrestrial beings!

-There is also the myth that the Diquis culture knew of a chemical product that could manipulate the physical state and shape of stone.

-Some more logical beliefs consider that perhaps these were used as territorial markers.

-More interestingly, many have found them to be an analogy of a pre-Columbian myth. This is related to the god of thunder Tara, or Tlachque, who used throw some spherical objects against the Serke, or the gods of wind and hurricane, to keep them away from these lands.

The Diquis Spheres in Modern Day Costa Rica:

The spheres were discovered in 1939 when the American company United Fruits made some moves over Costa Rica in order to clear some woodlands for the sake of banana cultivation. And then the mystery and fascination began.

They were first mentioned, and worthy of scholarly consideration, in 1943 when Doris Stone wrote an article for the magazine American Antiquity about them. Since then, many studies have been carried out to try to understand what these items actually are. And it seems that one of the most plausible explanation is that these spheres were used as some form of astronomical tool (Ivar Zapp, George Erikson, 1998). Other theories, such as the work produces by Patricia Fernandez and Ifigenia Quintanilla support the idea that these were public items; symbols of local power (2003). Perhaps this ties in with the theory that the stones were actually used by this society for funerary purposes, and that although no clear dating or chronology has been established yet, the society that produced them were likely to be a splinter group from the Aguas Buenas settlement (Roberto Herrera, 2017). This makes sense if we consider, as pointed out by some of the most striking pieces of goldsmithing does come from the Diquis area as well.

However, the research moves slowly. It took years for scholars to actually show a decent interest in the subject and try to solve the mystery. It seems that for several decades, the spheres lied out in this banana plantation, forgotten, catching the interest of occasional looters. Nonetheless, these stones are part of the collective memory of Costa Rica. They are a symbol of identity for the indigenous and local inhabitants, and they are commonly referenced in their popular culture and the media. Thanks to the superb work of archaeologists Francisco Corrales and  Adrian Badilla (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) since 2002 to the area has gained some interest, to the point that, it is worth mentioning that the Diquis spheres have as of 2014 – a year after the original introduction to this piece was written – now been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the site, tourism and conservation of the area evolves slowly as this is a new field for the Costa Rican nation.

We can only hope that the new generations of archaeologist will bring us more answers as to the origin and faction of these items, and of course, how they were made!

Caesar & the Celts: Nationalistic Propaganda and Fear of Foreigners

Julius Caesar, for many a hero, for others a master of war, a tyrant. Whatever your take on Caesar is, the fact is that he was a rather intelligent man who used all the tools he had at hand to complete his objectives. Part of this involved building a narrative for Rome; tales of the greatness of their people and their military victories. Caesar in this regards was fantastic at crafting political propaganda; a common Roman sport that we have already explore in this blog with stories of Cicero and Augustus. And there was a particular enemy that Caesar needed to deprive of any glory: The Celts.  Accounts of the Galic War mystified and bastardised the history of these people and who they really were, to the point that the comics of Asterix do, in many ways, represent that image that the Romans held of their neighbours. This did not stop just with Gaul; the same story is repeated with the Britons and the people of Iberia – And let’s not even get into the nitty-gritty details of the defilement of the Germani, you know, just the same people but on the other side of the Rhine river…Of course, it all makes sense if we consider that Caesar was only delivering the information that his audience wanted of him. Meanwhile, if we have a look at what Greek authors such as Timagenes had to say about the Celts, the picture varies drastically. The Celts of the Greeks weren’t described as dirty or in rags, even if the Greeks believed them to have lower economic power than themselves in some cases. They were described as a people with a culture and a cultural exchange that happened often between the two.

There are plenty of evidence, however that confirm that Caesar was writing with propagandistic accents and that the Celts were people of culture, and not uncivilised societies. Here in Britain and archaeological excavation directed in 2011 of Roman Callevva (Silchester) shows the existence of an earlier Celtic town. This was what is commonly known as an oppidum built following a grid pattern that reflected the sun solstice. It is believed to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last decade. There are also archaeological evidence that the Celts used their own roads that were funded by toll systems, and this is confirmed by evidence of chariots found in Yorkshire as well as in the Rhineland. According to Graham Robb, author of The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe, he advises that the druids – another terribly mystified group of people, not just by the Roman but by many more since them, particularly the Victorians and the waves of Hippies from the 60s- we key in these networks. Robb states that the druids devised network of continental wide solstice lines used in the locations for temples and towns. This seems to correlate with the discoveries found at Silchester too. Another thing he points out is that the Celts and these networks may have led into the earliest types of accurate maps that would have use the Greeks systems for longitude and latitude, again a sign of communication and borrowing between the two cultures.

So where does this fear and defamation of the Celts? Well, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, this is something that will resonate incredibly without modern society. It was in fact fear of foreign people. Yes, you know, Trump, Brexit, all these movements and people are just representations of ideas that are rather ancient and demodee. Some cool guys with swords and original republics had already gone that far (and much classier and cooler I must say, if I am allowed to be flippant). Before the Rome succeeded in the supremacy for the West, there were in fact Celtic settlements all over their beloved patria. Notorious in this list are those in Turin, Milan and Bologna: all of which are, by the way, names of Celtic origin. There was conflict between these people, not just Rome and the Celts but also the Etruscans – or you know just a different type of Celts who happened to be really successful at what they did and were worthy of specific remarks. The conflict between all of these got to the point that arms were taken. As a result we have an important moment in the early history of Italy and one that will be forever ingrained in the memory of Rome: such was the Battle of Allia. During this confrontation (date c.390 BC, though Polybius suggests it may have been more like 387 BC) the Celts were the victorious side, and the trifle by the river Allia was not going to stop them. Their retaliation took them to the very gate of Rome, and as a consequence the city was sacked by you know them dirty Celts – and it was quite  a frightful moment for the inhabitants of the city, many of which actually fled the settlement in despair. Collective memory is a power thing, it shapes us all and our perception of history, and no one likes to be on the losing side. Therefore, years later with the great Caesar in charge, things started being turned around for the glory of Rome, would not die at the hands of them Celts but subdue them, for sure…

 

…For sure? Well, let’s see…It would take a long while but it would be in fact the Germani – or you know, our friends the Celts but with a  different name cause they happened to be on the other side of the river – that eventually lead to the fall of Rome, fall that was promoted by the very corrupted and broken system that our glorious Caesar had himself invented (and died for). And just some more food for thought: what of identity? A bit like the Vikings, whose past lives are misshapen by collective memory and political propaganda, the Celts are very much alive not just in our memory, but in our identity as people. There are certain parts of the world that if you walk around and ask their people who they are, or what they are, they will tell you they descend from the Celts. And to them those Celts are not the dirty barbs that the Romans painted. They are a proud and defined people, whose values, cultures and tales are still valued. Why, of course, you can accused me of being biased here for my Celtic heritage, but you just need to look around places in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, and many more. The Celts are embraced as part of them alive, whilst often the Romans are referred to as those people who came here and left all these things behind for us. Identity and ‘foreignity’ (here I have invented my own word, yeah) are often related. We identify us by what others who aren’t us are. Just keep that in mind when you deal with people around you and more importantly, with people in the past.

The Crown of Aragon (a snapshot)

This blogger is still on the Iberian Peninsula and so it will be another Iberian inspired post that is related to my travels. In February 2017 I visited Zaragoza in the autonomous community of Aragon in Spain. The blog will highlight the Crown of Aragon and is intended to provide a basis of knowledge for such a vast realm, in the hope that readers would be intrigued and would like to find out more.

Since I was a child, I had always been fascinated with the history of Aragon. For many British schoolchildren the first mention of Aragon is when we study Henry VIII and his six wives, the first being, Catherine of Aragon who is the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (Los Reyes Católicos). Ferdinand being the King of Aragon and Isabella the Queen of Castile, through their marriage this dynastic union layed the foundations to a seemingly united Spain. However, there is never really anymore to it than that. We only learn that Aragon was a realm on the Iberian Peninsula and that it was included in Catherine’s title. A personal favourite tale about the Crown of Aragon that I came across when I was much older was that Ferdinand’s mother, Juana Enriquez was so desperate to have her son born in Aragon that when she was pregnant she crossed over from Navarre to Sos del Rey Católico. However, I digress there is more to the Crown of Aragon than Ferdinand and his daughter Catherine. Let’s see…

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Cathedral of the Saviour of Zaragoza, commonly shorted to “La Seo”, photo taken by sholderness13

What was the Crown of Aragon’s size throughout its history?

The Crown of Aragon was a vast territory that covered large parts of the eastern coast on the Iberian Peninsula. Included in the realm was; Aragon, Catalan territories, the Kingdom of Valencia (1238-1245), the Kingdom of Majorca (1229-1235), the Kingdom of Naples (1442), Corsica (1324), Sicily (1282) and the Duchy of Athens and Neopatras (1311-1390).

 

So where did it all begin?

Aragonese monarchs were crowned in La Seo Cathedral in Zaragoza, a Cathedral erected on a former Roman and Moorish site. After this the Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style. Throughout the course of La Seo’s history, the design had changed to Gothic-Mudejar and Renaissance styles. The Crown of Aragon emerged as a result of a dynastic union, much like the union of Isabella and Ferdinand that was to come in 1469. However the circumstances were different. Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona at twenty four years old was betrothed to Petronilla of Aragon when she was only a year old, whereas Isabella and Ferdinand were closer in age. Petronilla’s father, Ramiro II Aragon wanted his daughter to marry the Count of Barcelona as a result of gaining some support against the Alfonso VII of Castile. Both Ramon and Petronilla had jointly ruled over their territories. Aragon was a landlocked realm and as such it had no access to the sea which would know doubt improve trade. Through Petronilla marrying Ramon, Aragon gained easy access to the Mediterranean. However both realms remained distinct in terms of culture, identity and law.

 

Relationship to Castile-

At one point Aragon and Castile were joined temporarily under Sancho III of Pamplona who wanted to unite all the Iberian Christian realms at a time when the Caliphate of Cordoba appeared to retract into taifas (independently ruled principalities). Sancho III ruled from 1004 until his death in 1035 and assumed the throne of Pamplona. Sancho revised the border of Navarre and Castile by marrying Muniadona of Castile. During his reign he would acquire power in the rest of Northern Iberia including Leon, Galicia, Aragon and the east towards Barcelona. It was upon his death that this “unity” dissolved. In Sancho’s will the realms he had claimed were divided up amongst his surviving sons. On the face of it this split between the two kingdoms appeared to have changed in the twelfth century when Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre married Doña Urraca, Queen of Leon, Castile and Galicia. However, the marriage was unsuccessful and was as a result annulled. The annulment sparked an outbreak of war between the territories and in a sense became rival domains that did not amalgamate successfully until the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand.

 

Language-

For the most part the Crown of Aragon had two distinct languages, Aragonese and Catalan. These languages are Romance languages and they belong to the same language group as Castilian Spanish, French and Galician to name but a few. Despite Catalonia being part of the Crown of Aragon, they had maintained their language. So in terms of linguistic unity in the Crown of Aragon depending on where the population were settled two different languages were spoken in the realm. Catalan was spoken in the east of the realm and was spread as far as the Balearic Islands and Corsica. Aragonese remained in the territory of Aragon.

Castilian Spanish did not arrive until the 1400s and even then Aragonsese was more common. It was really in the 1600s that Castilian Spanish started to spread in the territory, thereby pushing the Aragonese language slowly up towards the Pyrenees. Catalan for the most part did not distinguish as much as Aragonese. By the 1600s Castilian Spanish made its way into Catalonia but unlike Aragonese, where the language was not in much use, Catalan remained alongside Castilian Spanish. However, nowadays outside the Barcelona metropolitan area it is far more common to be greeted with a “Hola, Bon Dia” than a “Hola, Buenos Días” at face value.

 

What does it mean for Spain today?

The coat of arms. The Crown of Aragon’s coat of arms are an eye catching red and yellow stripped seal that is said to have been used since the time of Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona. Some theories differ in this explanation, suggesting the coat of arms belonged to Count Ramon Berenguer II. This implies that the origin of the coat of arms was much older. According to legend the coat of arms was created by Charles the Bald (King of West Francia, King of Italy and later known as Holy Roman Emperor) during the 9th century AD. Bald’s fingers were said to have been covered in blood from war and he placed them down Wilfrid I of Barcelona’s shield as an act of gratitude. However this is often disputed and is according to legend after all.

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The flag of Catalonia, an example of the red and yellow stripped flag, photo taken by sholderness13

 

Today many areas in Spain bare the red and yellow stripped design on flags in many shapes and forms. Here is a list of the most famous flag bearers-

  • Kingdom of Spain flag (the coat of arms is present)
  • Catalan flag
  • Aragonese Flag
  • Valencian Flag
  • Balearic Islands Flag

Gens Normannorum: What is Norman Identity?

In 1829 Sir Walter Scott delighted his readers with Ivanhoe. The novel for sure was a product of the romantic nationalistic movement that most of Europe was embracing but, possibly without meaning to do so, he also depicted the landscape of England after 1066, and its occupants. The image he provides about the Norman invaders is one of their military and political power, that of those French tyrants ruling over the Saxons with no wish to mix with the native population. This description usually comes to mind when thinking about the Normans and who they were. But the myths create confusion in the understanding of their identity. Perhaps we require some clarification of terminology first of all. Starting with the term ‘Norman’-  this is the modern concept that derives from old French and Latin words like Nordmanni or Normanni, which means men from the north. These would have been used by the Franks and their contemporaries, and not the Normans themselves. Then you will be thinking: what actually is the Gens Normannorum? The word ‘gens’ in Latin can refer to an extended group of people with particular characteristics. As per G.A.Loud definition, “a nation would be made up of several ‘gentes’, usually related to each other, but none the less separate and distinct”, which is precisely the concept around which the Normans build their realm. The Normans were a faction that survived by means of political union, adaptation and strong territorial bonds. Therefore, recognising a Norman identity per se is a difficult task.

Despite the fact that the Normans were a wonderful collage of different people, it is true that they are usually associated with certain features. Some of these were an invention of their own, but some others were the perceptions of their contemporaries, being the most prominent their so feared military skills. Not only Walter Scott portrayed these people as powerful warriors, so did the Greeks when they saw them conquering their lands in the Mediterranean. The same sentiment was shared by multiple Popes. It seems likely that the feudal system they started to follow from their settlement in Normandy provided a good military service in which the aristocracy got involved quite eagerly, turning to be more efficient than anywhere else in Europe. So maybe this was the genesis of this Norman ideal. Living in such a militarised society, discipline and cooperation evolved quickly, which made possible having a single ruler to lead these diverse people. This ruler would the seek support within his lineage, which becomes another important issue in Norman identity: family. William the Conqueror serves us – funny that – as a perfect example here. Just look at his retinue for the conquest in England: half brothers like Odo of Bayeux, cousins and other distant relatives. It was this power and unity, linked with their adaptable Scandinavian mind which allowed them to create great institutions, like their new bodies of law and government.

Moreover, these pretensions took also a tangible form which is very characteristic of the Normans: castles. These could serve as residences, fortresses and symbols of authority. The typical Norman castle would have been the motte and bailey construction, although it is known that in the southern Norman territories they recycled pre-existing Muslim castles that were more elegant and rather appealing to their ‘greedy’ minds. Therefore, castles seem to represent everything the Normans were; a bellicose race with hunger for new lands. But that was not just the point, though, was it? It happened that the Normans were quite good and efficient architects that helped to develop a whole new architectural style: the Romanesque. Furthermore, we have the issue of monastic revival and all that religious work the Normans did…Let’s not forget that their conversion only happened in the 10th century. Just like the Carolingians did before, they promoted Christianity through learning and pious charity, and they embraced their new religion as a vital part of their lives. Many religious buildings were built with the money and patronage of the different noble families, in order to provide for their souls but also to improve their status, and to portray themselves as Norman pious rulers. So, it seems that not only were these Northmen warriors, but people with cultural sensibility and religious devotion. How did they end up being related to such different concepts, and why is the first one the prevailing one?

Sadly, those to blame are the Norman historians from the 11th century, as they built up the Gens Normannorum around the idea of their military prowess. It is likely that the intention was to portray them as tough survivors, particularly considering their Viking origin. Consider that, what Rollo and his companions managed to do by 911 was, in medieval terms, extraordinary and epic. They found themselves a new context in a land whose ancestors had ‘terrorized’ for decades. They managed to grasp power and survive, of which they were obviously be proud, as Dudo of St.Quentin reflects in his text History of the Dukes of the Normans. According to him, the Normans were descendants of the Dacians; the heirs of Antenor, who was known to be a Trojan survivor. Not only was he giving them a legitimate legacy to rule over their new lands by linking them with an ancient culture, he was establishing a bond between them and the Trojans who were warriors and survivors, just like the Vikings. Even more, he was establishing a parallelism: the Aeneid gives the Romans a Trojan background and origin, the same than Dudo is doing to the Normans…What else could the new European power desire that being equal to the Roman Empire? This was all a matter of legitimacy. The Normans were lovers of history; heroic history. And so this historical snowball got bigger and other authors came and  reinforced the ideal. Then with William the Bastard, they just elevated their might to holy standards. His chaplain, William of Poitiers, describes his great religiousness while participating in mass before battle. Furthermore, he is praised and elevated to the level of Christian icons such as David and Salomon, even Jesus or God as “he heals where he wounds…peace and war obey him sympathetically”, like it is stated in the poem Jephthah. So not only the Normans were now warriors: they were crusaders.

And so, from the 12th century onwards the crusader image begun. Figures like Tancred, who managed to get control of the Principality of Antioch that brought more glory to the Southern Normans. But then, there is a sudden twist. The issue of the 12th Century for the Normans and their identity is a problem of generational change.  They had now spent several decades in Normandy, but also in the Mediterranean and England. In England, they tried to suppress the ‘English’ traditions, but it was impossible, as the Saxon customs had been there for a longer period. The Normans assumed an ‘English’ past at the same time that the Norman myth got introduced within the Saxon population; now both the ‘gentes’ Normannnorum and Anglorum were not easy to separate. In addition, there were family crisis shaking the Norman rule: Henry against Robert, then Matilda and Stephen, and even in the South William I had trouble with the Sicilian aristocracy. There are even evidences of decline in Norman art: the further they expanded, the weaker the influence of Romanesque was. In addition, their military prestige disappeared as the age of Conquest came to an end…and considering that in Southern Italy and Sicily they had to deal with the Islamic and Orthodox population, one can even doubt their religious unity.

So, what was in truth Norman identity? It was everything and anything at the same time. It is clear, though, that as Marjorie Chibnall puts it “the Norman people were product, not of blood, but of history”. One could argue that, the only true Normans were those that lived in Normandy – centuries later they would promote their independence. Perhaps, Norman identity was nothing more than a Viking wish of adventure and expansion with a French touch of creativity and piety more appealing to their neighbours, therefore making it easier for them to fulfill their objective. Others might blame the imagery on the 11th Century chronicles that promulgated the Norman pragmatism and opportunism to satisfy their lords and their own minds. Maybe this is hypocritical, and just a pure modernist judgement, from which scholars should try to learn and focus on what the Normans thought of themselves and why. There is still much to consider and revise about the subject. Until then, I am happy to keep in mind, and N.Webber advises that Norman “identity evolved in these years, through changes of patria, of language, of enemy and of religion…’Norman’ was used in Normandy, in England, and in Italy and Sicily, to do so was to assert different claims in different areas, and in different times”.

-Chibnall, M., The Normans (Oxford, 2000)

-Davis, R.H.C., The Normans and Their Myth (London, 1976)

-Dudo of Saint-Quentin, ‘History of the Dukes of the Normans’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Haskins, C.H., The Normans in European History (New York, 1959)

-Fulcouis of Beauvais, ‘Jephthah Poem’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

-Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles (Cambridge, 1994)

-Loud, G.A., ‘The Gens Normannorum- Myth or Reality?’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. IV, (Woodbridge, 1982), pp. 104-116

-Potts, C., ‘Atque unum ex diversis gentibus populum effecit: Historical Tradition and the Norman Identity’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. XVIII, (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 139-152

-Searle, E., Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power 840-1066 (Berkeley and London, 1988)

-Ville de Caen, ‘Les Normands, peuple d’Europe’, accessed 20th May 2011,

www.mondes-normands.fr

-Webber, N., The Evolution of Norman Identity (Woodbridge, 2005)

-William of Poitiers, ‘Deeds of Duke William’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Wade in Blood: Operation Anthropoid

Along with my fellow W.U. Hstry contributor Ellie, I recently travelled around several countries in Europe. One of our stops was in Prague in the Czech Republic. I had been browsing things to do in Prague when I came across the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. I recognised the name Heydrich from my History GCSE but I had no idea what the memorial was for and how it related to Heydrich. Upon some good old fashioned googling, I learnt about Operation Anthropoid, the only successful assassination of a top ranking Nazi organised by a government. Despite this apparent Allied success, the reprisals from the Nazis were truly horrific. The assassins along with their accomplices and those who sheltered them were killed or committed suicide. Somewhere between 13,000-15,000 Czechs were arrested and interrogated with some sent to the camps. Around 5000 of these were executed. Perhaps most horrifyingly of all, two villages Lidice and Ležáky, had their inhabitants either executed or sent to camps before the villages themselves were destroyed. With such a staggering human cost I was shocked that I had never heard anything about this, and I have since found that several others I would expect to know about it did not either. Interestingly since learning about Operation Anthropoid, the BBC posted an article about the search for the assassins bodies and I have also learnt about a film dramatizing the events called Anthropoid which is due to be released in September.

In 1942 as the Nazis approached Moscow, the Nazi Reich looked unstoppable and governments in exile such as the Czechs came under increasing pressure to show active resistance. Czech resistance had been subdued by the brutality of the Nazi regime, especially under the rule of Reinhard Heydrich, the sadistic Nazi official placed in charge of Bohemia and Moravia (which makes up the majority of the Czech Republic today; Czech Silesia had become separate as part of the 1938 Munich agreement but would re-join Czechoslovakia in 1945 and remain part of the Czech Republic until 1993). Heydrich was not just responsible for brutality within Czech borders, he was also responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi elite death squad responsible for the deaths of around two million people, principally civilians, between 1941-1945. He also chaired the Wannsee Conference where the decision to implement the Final Solution, the formal decision to follow a policy of total extermination of Jews. Therefore it was decided that Heydrich would be a valuable target for assassination.

After several delays the assassination took place on 27 May 1942. Jan Kubiš, a Czech, and Jozef Gabčí, a Slovak, were chosen for the assassination. The plan was to attack Heydrich in his car during his commute from home to Prague Castle at a bend in the road that would make it impossible for his driver to be able to escape and also meant the car had to slow down. Gabčík attempted to use his machine gun, but it jammed, leading to Kubiš to throw a modified anti-tank grenade, causing damage to the car’s right rear bumper. This damage led to fragments of shrapnel and the upholstery entering Heydrich’s body. It was these injuries that would later kill him. The pair attempted to shoot Heydrich, not realising how extensively injured he was at the time, but neither managed to shoot on target due to the after effects of the explosion. Both were forced to flee, injuring Heydrich’s driver who tried to catch them, thinking they had failed. Heydrich was quickly aided and took to Bulovka Hospitial where he was treated. A week after the assassination he seemed to be improving after surgery, but he went into shock and died the following morning.

Hitler ordered immediate retaliation, even before Heydrich’s death. While the first priority was the assassins and their collaborators, Hitler was adamant that the Czech people should also suffer. It was only due to concerns of Himmler about how it would affect Czech productivity for the war effort that resulted in a scale back of the reprisals. Hitler originally had wanted to have 10,000 Czechs who were considered to be politically unstable, even though they were not considered to have been part of the plot, executed. Despite Hitler’s original intentions not being carried out, the reprisals were still horrendously brutal. Around 13,000-15,000 Czechs were arrested and tortured. Martial law was proclaimed and the Nazis began a large manhunt. Around 5000 Czechs were killed in reprisals, the first of whom to be executed was Alois Eliáš, who had previously served as the Prime Minister during the initial occupation while secretly working for Czech underground. He had been arrested in September 1941 but was executed as the first of the reprisals.

The most infamous of the reprisals however was reserved for the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. Both villages were incorrectly linked to the assassination. Lidice was home to several Czech officers who were in exile in England leading to the Gestapo to suspect that Kubiš and Gabčík were being sheltered there. On the 10th June 1942, the inhabitants of the village were rounded up. The men of the village were separated and shot to death. The women and children of the village were held for a further three days before being separated. A few children were spared for ‘re-education’ with German families as well as those under the age of one. The rest, however, were callously murdered at Chelmno extermination camp in gas vans. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Not satisfied with the murder of the village’s inhabitants the village was destroyed and razed to the ground, including the village church and cemetery.

The village of Ležáky met a similar fate on the 24th June. A radio transmitter was found in the village which had been hidden after paratroopers from Operation Silver A, a resistance operation, had arrived in the region. Five hundred SS troops and police surrounded Ležáky, removing the town’s inhabitants before setting the village on fire. The adult inhabitants were shot to death that night or within the following several nights along with those associated with the assassins. The children of Ležáky, with the exception of two who were placed with German families, were murdered in the same way as the children of Lidice.

Kubiš and Gabčík lived to hear of the destruction of Lidice, but not that of Ležáky. The pair felt responsible but they were stopped from making a very public show of responsibility. Since the assassination they had been hidden by families in Prague before being given sanctuary in the orthodox church of St Cyril and Methodus, along with four other paratroopers. After a few days of hiding the church was stormed in the early hours of June 18th. The group were betrayed when a member of a Czech resistance group, Karel Čurda, for the price of a million Reichsmarks had gave the Gestapo the names and addresses of the group’s local contacts. Eventually a teenage boy after suffering horrendous torture, including being shown his mother’s severed head, gave up the information the Nazis desperately wanted. The boy along with his family was executed at Mauthausen concentration camp in October that year.  The church was sieged by 750 SS soldiers, with the group holding out in the prayer loft for two hours armed with only small calibre pistols compared to the soldiers’ machine guns and hand grenades. Kubiš along with two of the others assassination died after this battle. Gabčík, and the remaining three paratroopers fought on despite continuous heavy gunfire, tear gas attacks and an attempt to flood out the crypt where they hid. The foursome decided to commit suicide rather than be captured, a final act of defiance.

Even with Kubiš and Gabčík’s deaths, the reprisals did not falter. The families of those in the church were rounded up and executed. Bishop Gorzad tried to take the blame for the incident to spare as many as possible. He was tortured and later executed alongside the church’s priests and lay leaders for sheltering the assassins. Those with any connection to the assassins or the resistance were arrested, with many being sent to concentration camps or executed.

Despite the success of the assassination little changed for the Czechs. The Nazi regime managed to continue to control and force the population in manufacturing for the war effort. The Czech resistance continued their activities but widespread resistance among the population did not gain momentum until the latter end of the war with the Nazis losing their grip over the territory, allowing the Czechs an actual opportunity of success. The assassination had led to the dissolution of the Munich agreement that had led to the partition of Czechoslovakia, with Britain and France agreeing that the region would return to Czechoslovakia. Of course, in the view of many Czechs it had been a betrayal that the Munich Agreement had ever been signed with Britain and France, breaking their military obligations in an effort to stave off the Nazis.

Between 1945 and 1948, Kubiš and Gabčík were celebrated as heroes. However after the Soviets took control of Czechoslovakia in 1948 such celebration and memorials to the murdered were not tolerated, due to the involvement of the Czech government in exile and their location in Britain during the war. Finally after independence, the St. Cyril and Methodius church was opened to the public with a memorial to Operation Anthropoid named: National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror, the memorial that I first learnt about on this bloody event in Czechoslovakian history. The village of Lidice was rebuilt in 1949, with some of the women from Lidice who had survived the camps returning. More permanent memorials for Lidice did not appear until the end of Soviet occupation. The decision was taken not to rebuild Ležáky, and only memorials to the victims remain on the site.

The events of Operation Anthropoid are known by every Czech, for the sheer bravery and resistance of the Czech people and the terror that befell the population. However, here in the UK, there seems to be very little known about it. Over the last five or so years I have come to realise how much of the events during World War Two are ignored outside of their respective countries (in the UK and US at least).

I find this is concerning in three regards. Firstly, we cannot accurately understand history if we ignore vast swathes of it. Secondly, at a time when Europe and other western countries are gripped with rising fascism and terrorist attacks, we must learn our lessons from similar times past. Lastly, we cannot consider ourselves citizens of the world if we continue to limit our knowledge and understanding of history to that only pertaining within our own borders. While Operation Anthropoid is only one event, I hope that as knowledge of it begins to appear in the British media, that more of us begin to look beyond our restricted knowledge of history.

Remembering the Brave – Photographic Collection of Oslo’s Memorials

Today I am not going to speak much. I am no warfare specialist as you all know, that is an honour reserved to Alex and Michael in here. However, my work involves a lot of work in the field of memory studies. And if I came out of Oslo with a particularly strong image of something in my head, it was that of all the memorials, plaques and monuments erected to honour those who serve their country, and those who fell. I think it shocked me because I did not expect to see so many – after all Norway was a neutral faction during the Second World War, right? But it is clear that the Norwegians feel differently about their history. I learnt a lot about how war has affected Norway through history while visiting the Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum) and the Resistance Museum at Akershus fortress and it made me reflect on other examples. Living so close to London, anywhere you go in the city you can find great war memorials. And even in our cosy, tiny Winchester their presence is not something you can hide. However, Oslo left me with the feeling that the losses suffered in Norway were noticeable, but there was no grandeur about them. The memorials were rather solemn and simple, but dignified. In many ways, I think they represent more the ideals that were protected rather than highlight the victims of the fight; it is not about the lingering feeling of sadness and grief perpetrated by the war, but it is about respect. Or at least that is how I perceived it. Perhaps this has to do with the role of Norway in the war – neither a winner, nor a loser, but a casualty nonetheless. Perhaps it is related to their own ideas of nationalism, which were felt in a much different way than elsewhere in Europe, particularly if you compare them with the UK. Or maybe, this is Norway’s way of acknowledging but not vigorously remembering a painful part of their history – after all the act of collective memory is just as much about the intentional remembrance as it is about the forgetting.

Any further information on the subject that you would like to share would be more than welcome – but until then, I hope you can share a moment of silence while educating ourselves in the pain of others, while remembering that there is always more to war than losing and winning factions, and that when the world rages, no nation suffers on their own.

*Please keep in mind these are not all Second World War Memorials – although the majority are*

This is outside St.Olav's church (Oslo).
This is outside St.Olav’s church (Oslo).
Memorial outside of Oslo's central station.
Memorial outside of Oslo’s central station.
This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.
This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.

The following were all outside the Forsvarsmuseet.

IMAG1560_BURST002 IMAG1561_BURST002 IMAG1562_BURST002_1 IMAG1556_BURST002_1 IMAG1558_BURST002_1 IMAG1559_BURST002_1 IMAG1557_BURST002_1

Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.
Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.
Outside the Resistance Museum.
Outside the Resistance Museum.
Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.
Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.
Final display inside the Resistance Museum - "Never again".
Final display inside the Resistance Museum – “Never again”.

WWI: A brief history closer to home

Image         Image

Hello and welcome to my first blog for WU History! With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War being commemorated this summer up and down the country, I decided to investigate a little deeper; my Great-Grandfather, Thomas Holderness’s involvement in “the Great War” and the legacy of the conflict in my local area.

Some time ago I was told that my Great-Granddad signed up for the Royal Fusiliers from my own father, intrigued with the knowledge I had obtained I wished to know more. Luckily his medals were kept in my uncle’s attic along with his honourable discharge certificate from King George V. From this discovery I found out that my Great-Granddad was awarded four medals, for his services for the war effort. The badge I was most interested to examine was the Silver War Badge. This badge was issued to servicemen who were discharged from the military as a result of sickness or injuries and was introduced in order to avoid confusion with members of the public, so that they did not think the men who returned from war were not cowardice. From this information I found out that my Great-Granddad was injured, to be precise I learnt that he was seriously wounded to the shoulder. In addition my family kept the original discharge certificate, confirming that he took no further part in the final stages of war in 1918 due to injury. However, I wanted to be sure that I could obtain all the information available about my Great-Grandfather, so in September 2012 I decided to visit the National Archives at Kew to see if I could find out any more…

This proved to be an extremely insightful visit as I managed to obtain a copy of a very crucial document (the War of decorations list) that reveals when my Great-Granddad was enlisted, it actually happened to be before the war started and he was in enlisted on 29th March 1911 and not in 1914 as I previously thought. After reading the document I was able to know his regiment details, I found out he was; a Corporal in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, an infantry regiment throughout the war as well as his specified identification number, 14570. This was an interesting find, as this was one page of a huge book that explains to me more clearly than words ever could about the true nature of the horrors of war. Only two men listed on that page survived the war, all the others were either killed in action or died as a result of their wounds. Looking more closely at one of the dates of death of one of his comrades, 25th April 1915 and when he first saw action told me that he must have landed on the first day of allied landing at the beaches of Gallipoli, now modern-day Turkey.

In spite of the high causality numbers of this campaign I found out that my Great-Granddad took part in the campaign and that his regiment landed at X beach in Cape Helles, on the southern tip of Gallipoli during the early stages of the campaign. Gallipoli was fought on the peninsula of the former Ottoman Empire, which is now modern-day Turkey during the First World War. The campaign was proposed by Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) and Lord Kitchener (Secretary State of War), in order to relive the fighting that was taking place on the Western front. Many allied servicemen lost their lives during the Gallipoli campaign, some of whom were Australian and New Zealanders. To many historians it was regarded it to have been one of the worst military disasters in modern history. The campaign was a failure as the Ottoman forces knew of the assault and were fully prepared in terms of tactics and defence by limiting the allied powers to the beaches.

After reflecting on this particular campaign and other battles as a whole I thought “it is amazing that I am lucky enough to be here today” as so many servicemen died in action or on account of their wounds. If the document I requested from the archives was replicated to others, as a whole it can be argued that two in ten servicemen died.

In addition, I thought it was also appropriate to include a snippet of history at a local level, focusing on the small village of Harefield, a few miles outside of my home town. Harefield contains the graves of Anzac servicemen from Australia and New Zealand who fought and died during the First World War, many of whom at Gallipoli. I first visited the site whilst on my Duke of Edinburgh expedition back in 2009. This too reinforces the severity of the First World War and as the Anzac graves represent, it affected many people in the world on a global scale and still can be argued so to this day.

Further reading-

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/service_records/med_awarded.htm

Tim Travers., Gallipoli, 1915.

 

Robin Hood: The Longevity of a Legend

Robin Hood

For those that live in the midlands of England everyone will know the age-old story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. He is the legend of the North, who counter-acts the Southern status of the legend of the Once and Future King, Arthur.* The notion of Arthur is prevalent across the lower parts of England and Wales and has a particularly strong presence in Winchester. Yet through the looking-glass I have discovered a lack of knowledge pertaining to the legends and figure heads that exist nation-wide and a disregard in the existence of those who follow the myths of the North. I am not denying the fact that a figure such as Robin Hood could be an ideological theme to suit and satisfy the much put-upon peasant classes of the early middle-ages and therefore may not be truthful but the theory is that a legend or myth has some basis in fact. So here I wish to explain the beginnings and theories of the devious archer that dominates the history of Nottingham and the south of Yorkshire.

The stories of Robin Hood originate from around the 14th century, and are a follow-up of the antics of Arthur in ballad and poetical forms. While Arthur holds the title of king, Robin is the anti-king who as an outlaw reinforces the stereotypical divide in the north and south over who reigns over the land, something of which can be disputed. Despite being described as being one of the lower-class he follows the same chivalric order of honour and wisdom due to his familiar ‘steal from the rich to feed the poor’ statement. He offers the same charitable and kindness that a man ought to show to those less fortunate than them. Yet there is reason to believe that the legend of Robin first began as one of the nobility, he appears in official court records under the name of Robert Hod who was exiled from court for some misdeed. This could establish and explain the legend of his disregard for the wealthy and be the beginnings of stealthy skirmishes to regularly steal from the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John of England when he is known to be near Nottingham.

While Robin remains a fixture in popular culture, see Morecambe and Wise, Blackadder Back and Forth and several silver screen adaptations, the discussion of his existence is still a questionable thought. His romanticised relationship with Maid Marion was enough to convince Disney that he needed attention. In the film he was brought to life as a fox possibly outlining thoughts that he was not noble but a metaphorical urban issue that needs to be dealt with; as at the time of its release in 1973 fox-hunting and culling was occurring at an almost increased amount across America. It established Robin as a myth in English folk law discouraging children from delving deeper into history to discover the fact behind the animalistic fiction.

He lives and breathes in Sherwood Forest where his songs and legend is still celebrated today. For those who do not believe me, take the Lime or Purple bus line from Nottingham City Centre to see the festivals in action and join the medieval merry-making in costume and drama. Hood is designed to be a sociable creature that interacts with people from all social levels and has a dedicated crew to help him with the initial plan of “steal from the rich” and make life a little less monotonous with living in a forest. The most famous of his ‘merry-men’ are Friar Tuck and Little John. Little John initially originates from Derbyshire with his name switched from John Little. Robin and John started their companionship as enemies and the ballads slowly follow the route in which they become compatriots. The irony is that ‘Little’ John is known to have been a man at around seven feet tall and he became the beginnings of a long tradition of a hero having a side-kick with the traits of John. He was thought to have been a straight-forward man who could be mistaken for dim-wittedness, an enduring trait that is often given to side-kicks even today. There is some doubt over whether John, just like Robin, existed. However, in 1789 in the parish churchyard in Hathersage, Derby a thighbone of a man thought to of the height John would have been that has been dated from the period in which Robin and John were supposed to live.

The merry man known as Friar Tuck comes from what was happening during the 14th centuries. Tuck once belonged to a monastery in York but it is thought he was expelled for reasons unclear. He is meant to underpin issues that was coursing through the Catholic Church in England during the 1300’s in that monks did not lead a celibate life, but enjoyed good food, wine and expensive tastes that came from the extensive lands that the church owned. Some adaptations of the Robin Hood ballads show Tuck as a kindly helpful monk but still show self-righteousness that the Church was thought to display because of the authority over people that they are given.

The main adversary for Robin Hood is the Sheriff of Nottingham, meant to keep law and order in his area but through the stories and ballads is known to be a bit a failure in both controlling Robin and keeping order in Nottingham. All three of the main characters appear from early on in the ballads suggesting the influence for the characterisation of them was already set into the English midlands culture of the 14th century. The fact that the Sheriff is shown to be greedy and corrupt is meant to represent the officials of shires who mean to sift money from the taxes that come in before being sent on to the king, a theory that still has grounding today.

The fact that the stories are still well-known today shows the strength of the oral culture that eventually will get written down by scholars or fans of the ballads sung at festivals or around camp fires. All the known Robin Hood stories can still be bought today in any book shop for anyone wishing to know the mischief in which Robin gets himself into.

*The years of Arthur from childhood to adulthood is documented in 5 chronological stories in the “Once and Future King” by T.H.White published in 1958 now available in all good book stores.

How the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 created a legacy to inspire hundreds?

As we approach the 56th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster that claimed the lives of 19, I look back at how such a disaster could create a legacy of arguably one of the most famous teams of the century. Although they maybe in a dark spot now, they will always remember this date and the men that lost their lives.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkvmDfW_Q08 The newsreel on Pathe of the event

Manchester United, arguably the greatest football team in England, but one that is still haunted to this day by a disaster which has hung over the club. The Munich Air Disaster on Thursday 6th February 1958 was one that brought the country to attention at the loss of such great sporting potential.

 The Crash site of the disaster.

The original Busby Babes of the 1950’s included the likes of Tommy Taylor, a strong, promising young English striker who was a consistent scorer for the United team and for his country. There was also Duncan Edwards, a promising young midfielder who had already been recognised for his potential for both club and country. The potential of this team was already quite plainly seen through the fact that they had won the FA Cup in 1948 after being bankrupt during the 1930s and later the league title in 1956 for the first time in the clubs history.

 The Original Busby Babes.

 Tommy Taylor, Duncan Edwards.

But one night in February, the United team after playing a European game to Red Star Belgrade landed down in Germany for the plane to refuel. Unfortunately, after two attempts at trying to take off, on the 3rd the plane crashed, leading to the deaths of 8 players, 3 staff members and 8 journalists. The average age of the players that were killed was 24, such a young age for players with great potential and long careers ahead of them. The survivors of the great team, Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes, as well as the great Sir Matt Busby, all were part of a rebuilding process which helped to cement this club as one of the greats in world history.

All of those lost in the Munich Air Disaster.

Matt Busby, arguably the most injured out of all the survivors, went on to create a team of legends, but not until 10 years after this horrific incident. The incident itself was met with widespread grief and disbelief that men so young had lost their lives. There were talks of Manchester United closing down but thankfully for the work of the assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, they were able to continue playing, and even beating Sheffield Wednesday in an FA Cup match 3-0, 13 days after the crash.

Jimmy Murphy portrayed by David Tennant in the film United.
The league itself offered a lot of support in the days after the Munich disaster, offering to postpone their match soon after the crash. With now a threadbare squad, United were offered players from other teams such as Ernie Taylor from Blackpool and Stan Crowther from Aston Villa. This mixed with reserve and youth team players led to Manchester United being able to fill a team which would eventually head to the Wembley in the FA Cup final and loose 2-0 to Bolton, and also head to the European Cup semi-finals only to be beaten by AC Milan. All without Matt Busby and the Busby babes of the time. Busby would later return to the club to see the FA Cup final after being severely injured in the crash.
Manchester United manager Matt Busby smiles as he arrives in Manchester today from MunichSir Matt returns.
But it’s odd to think that perhaps without the fight and the traumas that Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes went through, then Manchester United may not have been as much of a success as they were…
Sir Matt with the European Cup 1968
Matt Busby always had a desire to win the European Cup, but without the accident, would he have been able to achieve his goal? The incident certainly stayed in the minds of all those involved, and players like Bobby Chartlon, Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg were perhaps hardened by the experience and made more determined to win the coveted trophy and be successful on the whole in memory of those they had lost.
Munich memorial at Old Trafford
The legacy of the Munich Air Disaster is also something which has helped lift the Manchester United teams of the years to perform to a top-level. Every year it is still very much remembered with a minute silence. It is something embedded in the United history, the people lost are very much remembered everyday at the ground. The new players coming into the club are educated with the history of the club: they know about the Munich disaster and will play in their memory.
Therefore, although it was such a horrific tragedy and there was loss of life, it has helped to create some sort of legacy. All the players who play for the club are very much aware of the clubs rich history, and they will learn about the Munich Disaster. Every time they pull on the shirt, they know they are pulling on the shirt of legends, and they will play with the players who tragically lost their lives in the Munich disaster very much in their heads. It has created a legacy which many follow and remember.
Although Manchester United may be in a period of decline at the moment under new management, the rebuilding period will mean the team will come out a lot better than they are now, and they will always remember the brave men that lost their lives playing for their team on Thursday 6th February 1958.

The Teahouse of the August Moon and American Perceptions of Okinawa

The Teahouse of the August Moon satirises both American and Japanese culture, drawing upon stereotypes and using them to form the foundations of the film. For example, American actor Marlon Brando plays the leading role of the Okinawan Sakini, and throughout the film he is the point of reference for the audience and the other characters. He draws attention to the differences in culture between the Americans and Okinawans in such a way that it should not be interpreted as offensive – there are just as many stereotypes about one culture as there are for the next. This piece will set out to reveal the American perceptions of Okinawa through the eyes of the main characters in this film. It will draw upon the idea of Okinawa as an outpost and the officers that are on duty; the stereotypical nature of Okinawans and the possible explanation for their want of a teahouse, not a school; the primitive nature of Okinawan life; the colonial assumptions of US reform efforts and the reception that the film received.

The film tells the story of an US Military Captain sent to Tobiki by a stubborn Colonel in Okinawa in order to build a school and teach the village democracy. Sakini, the Japanese-English interpreter narrates the film and acts as the bridge between the Okinawans and the American Occupiers, promising to give the village what they want, not what the Americans think they ought to have. Stereotypes are drawn upon in the form of a rowdy, loud mouthed American Colonel, the calm, child-like Okinawans and a geisha whom the Captain initially believes to be a prostitute – a common misconception made by Europeans and Americans alike. The moral of the film, looking beyond the stereotype, is one of acceptance – the American Captain has accepted that the Okinawans know what they want for themselves, more so than the Americans do, and the Okinawans have accepted that while the Americans are occupying their land, they may as well try make something out of it.

We are first introduced to Sakini, the interpreter, at the beginning of the film where he begins the tale of the teahouse. Immediately, Okinawan perceptions are addressed and contrasted with those of America and the result is rather entertaining. He reveals that certain things acceptable in one country are not in another, i.e. in Okinawa, they do not have locks on their doors as it could be perceived to be bad manners not to trust their neighbour, however, the lock and key business is a big industry in America and therefore concludes that bad manners equal good business. We see this throughout the film, epitomised by Captain Fisby. Fisby is too similar to the Okinawans to be able to ever have a considerable amount of control over them; he is too polite therefore, he is not a good businessman. Purdy however is the complete opposite of Fisby and the exemplary American Colonel stereotype – he thinks he is right, even if he is proven wrong. For example, a scene in the film sees Sakini explain that Tobiki is at the top of Okinawa, Purdy believes it to be at the bottom and retrieves a map to boisterously prove his point. Sakini glances at the map and immediately points out that it is upside down; Purdy then blames the army for not making a proper map, refusing to believe his logic is flawed.

The author of the book The Teahouse of the August Moon, Vern Sneider, was a member of the US military team that landed in Okinawa in 1945 and he became leader of the village of Tobaru (changed to Tobiki in the novel). It would appear that Sneider is taking advantage of his first hand experience within the occupied territory and trivialising common stereotypes in order to try to neutralise feelings towards both cultures. Published in 1951, only six years after the end of the war and the beginning of the Occupation, the feelings that were characterised in the film were still very much felt amongst Okinawans and Americans. Historian Andrew Gordon goes further and states that ‘in creating a public memory, mainstream historians likewise produced a homogenous version of a Japanese past that left out those on the margins (women, atom bomb victims, Burakumin, Okinawans), who in turn were prompted to write their own separate histories.’[1] For this reason, ‘as a satire and comedy, The Teahouse of the August Moon, like many memoirs and articles written by Occupationers, served to soften and minimise the cold, hard fact of Occupation.’[2] This leads back to the colonial attitudes of the American occupiers. They (Colonel Purdy) failed to see past the stereotypical Japanese society, and instead dryly emphasises them.

One stereotype drawn upon due to the colonial assumptions made by the US military, and in fact the majority of western civilisation, is that the Geisha are prostitutes. Geisha originated from oiran in the Edo period when prostitution was legal. However, after the Meiji Restoration, the government decided that there should be a divide between Geishas and prostitutes, as the former was not to be sullied by associating with the latter. Furthermore, confusion was heightened when ‘geisha girls’ were known to be engaging in prostitution, dressing like a Geisha and having sexual relations with the allied forces in Occupied Japan – the westerners could not tell the difference between the imitated and the real, henceforth, their modern misrepresentation. In the film, Captain Fisby is all too familiar with this misrepresentation, and assumes that the Geisha, Lotus Blossom, is trying to engage in sexual activity, when all she wanted to do was to help him put on his kimono. Sakini at this point corrects Fisby’s notion of prostitution and explains the Geisha in a simple, yet effective way; ‘Poor man like to feel rich, rich man like to feel wise. Sad man like to feel happy, so all go to Geisha house, and tell troubles to Geisha girl’[3]. She is there to entertain, to sing, recite verse, play a musical instrument and dance – to help the man forget his troubles.

Naoko Shibusawa states that The Teahouse of the August Moon ‘satirized the Occupation and presented a more ambiguous view about who should be in charge and who should be teaching whom, it depicts the Okinawans as childlike, hard-working people who squabble about trifling matters, trivialize the meaning of democracy, and care most about creating a teahouse for their amusement’. The Okinawans are presented as a simple folk, arguing about matters that to any other would seem trivial, for example, Lotus Blossom is unwelcome in the village as the other female inhabitants feel like she is competition and will get more attention than they do. Fisby agrees to let Lotus Blossom teach the other women to be Geisha’s and to do so, it would only seem fair that they had a teahouse to be able to celebrate and practice their lessons. Fisby reluctantly concedes and the idea of a school and teaching democracy is forgotten, after all, in a town where the majority of the population is adults, why is there a need for a school? However, ironically, the Okinawans have no need for democracy because the US army is occupying their lands, undemocratically giving out orders. When there is need for democracy, their primitive and traditional ways lead them in the right direction.

The primitive nature that the Okinawans adopt in the film, reflect the animalistic methods used by Colonel Purdy. It could have been that as the same attributes were shared between both population and Colonel, that he was the only man for the job. Other factors to consider are that as Okinawa was seen as an outpost far from the mainland and the capital Tokyo where there were not enough officers, Purdy is possibly too stupid to be given a post anywhere else in Japan.

To conclude, the film was a success and was nominated for six Golden Globe awards. It set out to be a satirical comedy focusing on the perceptions of Americans and Okinawans of each other and I believe it achieved its aims. There have been critics who have fought against this satire, for example Bosley Crowther suggests that ‘as the American captain who gets completely enmeshed in the seductive toils of a Okinawan village when he tries to subdue it to the useful and the good, throws himself into this enjoyment with such grinning and grotesque gusto that one gets the uneasy feeling that his captain is mildly mad.’[4] It would appear that Crowther takes the side of the steadfast Colonel in that Okinawans need to be taught democracy and as they lost the war, they need to listen to those who won. How can it be that America deem another societies ways inept because they do not need democracy or technology to live, just culture and street-wise survival instinct.


[1] Andrew Gordon, Postwar Japan as History (Los Angeles, 1993), 462.

[2] Naoko Shibusawa, America’s Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy (Harvard University Press, 2010), 262.

[3] The Teahouse of the August Moon, Daniel Mann, MGM, (1956).

[4] B. Crowther, ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’, The New York Times, 30th November 1956.