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History Myths Buzzkilled

Bridge on the River Kwai

The Academy Award-winning film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, is about British prisoners of war during World War II who are forced by their Japanese captors to help build a railway bridge connecting Burma and Siam. One of the characters in the film is a British officer named Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness) who, instead of joining his troops in sabotaging the bridge, uses thin rationalizations about troop morale as an excuse for collaborating with the Japanese. Unfortunately, Nicholson is based upon a real person named Philip Toosey, and Toosey’s real background and personality could not [...]

JFK Hatless at Inauguration

In our day, the silk top hat is associated almost exclusively with cartoonish caricatures of hackneyed old magicians and robber baron Monopoly men, but through the late 18th to mid 20th centuries, the top hat was common headwear for pretty much all well-heeled gentlemen. Fashion trends come and go, but this one lasted for at least a century and a half. So how did this once-prominent adornment become so...well, old-hat? Page through the annals of American folklore and you’ll eventually come to the mostly-uncharted intersection of politics and retail. There you’ll find the oft-repeated claim that President John F. [...]

Stonehenge

As wise poets once said: In ancient times hundreds of years before the dawn of history Lived an ancient race of people, the druids No one knows who they were, or what they were doing. But their legacy remains, hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge. Stonehenge, where the demons dwell Where the banshees live and they do live well. Stonehenge where a man is a man And the children dance to the pipes of pan. (Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Spinal Tap, 1984) There’s a lot in those verses, Buzzkillers, from Spinal Tap, the masters [...]

African-American Athletes at the 1936 Olympics

Like most Americans, I suppose I assumed that Jesse Owens was the only African-American athlete at the 1936 Olympic Games. All the documentaries I remember seeing didn’t say that directly, but they focused solely on Owens and gave that impression. A new documentary, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice not only shows that there were 18 African-American athletes on the US team in Berlin, but that they were remarkably successful in winning medals and representing their country. Of course, I learned about these other athletes when working on the episode we did on Jesse Owens and the “Hitler Snub.” But until [...]

The Olympics

The Olympics are never free from controversy and criticism: infrastructure problems and doping allegations in Rio 2016; political boycotts of Los Angeles in 1984 and Moscow in 1980; apartheid South Africa being banned from participation from 1964 to 1992; and, of course, the Nazi-fication of the 1936 Berlin games. One consistent critique of the Olympics is that they are now stocked to the brim with professional athletes, and that they have been ruined by commercialism. People who hurl these types of criticisms almost always follow by bemoaning the “facts” that professionalism and commercialism have “ruined” the pure spirit of [...]

Polish and American Enigma Codebreakers

One of our earlier shows addressed some of the myths and misunderstandings about cracking the “uncrackable” German Enigma code during World War II. But perhaps the biggest popular misconception about Enigma really deserves more detailed attention. That biggest myth is that British codebreakers, led by Alan Turing, were solely responsible for breaking the code during World War II. Buzzkillers in Dayton, Ohio, will be very proud to hear that one of their native sons, Joseph Desch, was an Enigma-cracking hero. And Buzzkillers in Poland will be ecstatic that that we’re gonna remind everyone that Polish cryptanalysts were the first [...]

By Popular Demand: Whackadoodle Presidential Candidates

It’s election time, Buzzkillers! Should we pillory Hillary? Throw the Trumpster in the dumpster? Distinguished historians join me to discuss "fringe" candidates from the glorious American past. Listen in and cast your vote! Read the transcript from the original airing of this episode. Buzzkill Bookshelf:

Slaves Built the Pyramids

This week’s mini-myth tackles the idea that slaves built the ancient and famous pyramids in Egypt. This myth goes all the way back to at least the 5th Century BCE, which is a fairly reliable estimate for when the Book of Exodus, in the Bible’s Old Testament, was finalized. Exodus says that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt – and though the Bible does not mention the pyramids specifically, popular belief since ancient times has held that slaves built those famous structures of the ancient world. Indeed, the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus (also writing in the 5th Century BCE) [...]

Medieval Torture Devices

Hello again Buzzkillers. In this week’s mini-myth, we take on the Iron Maiden! No, not the heavy metal band. I’m talking about the medieval torture device. It was a kind of a cabinet with spikes on the inside (and pointing inward). Allegedly, people were threatened with being put in the Iron Maiden and having the door closed on them. The spikes would impale the victim, and the blood would drain out the bottom. It was a slow death. There were plenty of other torture devices, each with a clever name, and allegedly dating back to medieval times. There was [...]

Buzzkill Bookshelf

The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai

The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai re-creates the true story of this remarkable leader, with tremendous skill and narrative flair, and drawing on many original interviews with Second World War POWs.

Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House

View a revealing and intimate portrait of a leader, husband, and father as seen through the lens of Cecil Stoughton, the first official White House photographer, in the book, Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House.

Stonehenge Complete

In his book,  Stonehenge Complete (Fourth Edition), Christopher Chippindale shares the story of the one real Stonehenge, as well as the many unreal Stonehenges that archaeologists, tourists, mystics, astronomers, artists, poets, and visionaries have made out of it.      

Buzzkill Book Shelf

Buzzkillers! Here are the books that we have featured on certain episodes. We highly recommend them!

American History, British History, and World History Myths Busted by Professor Buzzkill

Don’t forget to check-in every week for new history myths being busted.

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