Secret History

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Hitler, Darwin and the Holocaust: How the Nazis horrifyingly distorted the theory of evolution

Adapted from "How Could This Happen?: Explaining the Holocaust"

"In general, the brain is larger in mature adults than in the elderly, in men than in women, in eminent men than in men of mediocre talent, in superior races than in inferior races." - Anthropologist Paul Broca in 1861
© AP
Charles Darwin, Adolf Hitler
Today the word "racism" means dislike for people whose skin is colored differently from ours, usually paired with the suspicion that they are not as intelligent or morally upright as we are. Yet during the years between about 1890 and 1960, and especially in the 1930s and 1940s, racism meant a great deal more. During those years most educated people in Europe and North America believed that racial differences in intelligence and morality were proven scientific fact. Today racism is seen as the kneejerk reflex of the uneducated and socially marginal, of "losers." In Hitler's day it was instead a conviction shared by most of society's leaders, and by millions of people who ranked below them.

Sometimes, but hardly always, racist belief flowed from some understanding of genetics, of the way that people can inherit physical and mental traits from their parents. Racism usually contained the notion that different races, different nationalities, and also specific classes of society, were born to behave in certain ways. Not only were people of African or Asian descent assumed to naturally act differently from white people, but even different white nationalities - Scotch, Swedes, Greeks, or Poles - were described as having different inborn traits. The poorer classes of every society were also said to have been born with inferior moral and intellectual qualities that kept them at the bottom of the social ladder.

Comment: See also Psychopaths in power: The Parasite on the Human Super-organism


Bacon bombs and the history of the American Fat Salvage Committee

During World War II, the U.S. government urged Americans to save excess fat rendered from cooking and donate it to the army to produce explosives.

It turns out that bacon fat is good for more than sprucing up bitter greens - it's also pretty good for making bombs. And during World War II, handing over cooking fat to the government was doing your patriotic duty.

The American Fat Salvage Committee was created to urge housewives to save all the excess fat rendered from cooking and donate it to the army to produce explosives. As explained to Minnie Mouse and Pluto in one wartime video, fats are used to make glycerin, and glycerin is used to make things blow up.

4,500-year-old boat among Viking artifacts hoard discovered in Galway, Ireland

old boat in lough
© Unknown
Battle axes and weapons among raiders hoard, found in Lough Corrib, County Galway, to be part of Battle of Clontarf anniversary exhibition.
Twelve boats, dating from 2,500 BC to the 11th century AD, along with other Viking artifacts have been discovered in Lough Corrib in Connemara, County Galway.

Archaeologists have used radiocarbon dating to establish that one of the boats dates from 2,500 BC. Other items that were found include several battle axes and other weapons.

Was the Titanic deliberately sunk by JP Morgan?

A mind-blowing documentary about the unsinkable 'Titanic' that presents damning evidence of what really happened to the ship the night it hit the iceberg. The Titanic and its sister ship Olympic were owned by the White Star line, which was owned by banker JP Morgan. This documentary reveals that it was not the Titanic that sank that night, but its sister ship the Olympic; and that it was one of the first mass-cover ups in recent history. Watch it for yourself and decide!


Archaeologists' findings may prove Rome a century older than thought

© WestEnd61/Rex
Rome may be older than its official birthday of 21 April 753BC when founded by Romulus and Remus.
It is already known as the eternal city, and if new archaeological findings prove correct Rome may turn out to be even more ancient than believed until now.

Next week, the city will celebrate its official, 2,767th birthday. According to a tradition going back to classic times, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city on 21 April in the year 753BC.

But on Sunday it was reported that evidence of infrastructure building had been found, dating from more than 100 years earlier. The daily Il Messagero quoted Patrizia Fortini, the archaeologist responsible for the Forum, as saying that a wall constructed well before the city's traditional founding date had been unearthed.
Cow Skull

The mysterious "accidental mummies" of medieval Siberia

© The Siberian Times, Natalya Fyodorova/Kate Baklitskaya/Go East
Russian archaeologists are once again digging at Zeleniy Yar, a remote excavation site near the Arctic circle. This same site produced nearly a dozen extraordinary mummies a few years ago - including unintentionally preserved corpses wearing copper masks. The researchers are now hoping to learn more about this mysterious northern community.
Magic Wand

Blood moon: Lunar eclipse myths from around the world

Marauding demons, murderous pets, and ravenous jaguars are just some of the culprits that cultures around the world have blamed for the moon's disappearance during lunar eclipses.
© Leonard De Selva, Corbis
The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They'd try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.
During the night of April 14 through April 15, the first total lunar eclipse in more than two years will be visible across North and South America, and from Hawaii. (See "Viewing Guide: Watch Moon Turn Red During Total Lunar Eclipse.")

While such celestial events are celebrated today with viewing parties, road trips, and astronomy talks, eclipses haven't always been events that people looked forward to.

The Vatican's ancient texts go online

Japanese Tech Firm NTT is scanning the ancient texts in the Vatican Apostolic Library

This copy of Homer's Iliad in ancient Greek and Latin dates from the 15th century.
Almost 600 years after Pope Nicholas V founded the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Holy See is now turning to 50 experts, five scanners and a Japanese IT firm to digitize millions of pages from its priceless manuscripts, opening them to the broader public for the first time.

When the project is finished, one of the richest and most important collections of historical texts in the world will be available with a click of the mouse - and free.

The plan marks a revolution for an institution known as the Popes' Library, which houses more than 82,000 manuscripts, some dating back to the second century. Scholars must now submit a detailed request to gain access to the library, which sits within the Vatican walls. The most precious works of art, such as a 1,600-year old manuscript displaying Virgil's poems once studied by Raphael, have been mostly off-limits.

How the CIA used 'Doctor Zhivago' as a tool to undermine Soviet Union during Cold War

© Associated Press/Harold K. Milks
Soviet writer and poet Boris Pasternak near his home in the countryside outside Moscow on Oct. 23, 1958
A secret package arrived at CIA headquarters in January 1958. Inside were two rolls of film from British intelligence - pictures of the pages of a Russian-language novel titled "Doctor Zhivago."

The book, by poet Boris Pasternak, had been banned from publication in the Soviet Union. The British were suggesting that the CIA get copies of the novel behind the Iron Curtain. The idea immediately gained traction in Washington.

"This book has great propaganda value," a CIA memo to all branch chiefs of the agency's Soviet Russia Division stated, "not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read."

The memo is one of more than 130 newly declassified CIA documents that detail the agency's secret involvement in the printing of Doctor Zhivago - an audacious plan that helped deliver the book into the hands of Soviet citizens who later passed it friend to friend, allowing it to circulate in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc. The book's publication and, later, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak triggered one of the great cultural storms of the Cold War.

Gospel of Jesus' wife is no forgery, experts rule

Gospel of Jesus' Wife
© Karen L. King 2012
Gospel of Jesus' Wife: front.
The Gospel of Jesus' Wife, a papyrus fragment of Coptic script containing a suggestion that Jesus may have been married, is an ancient document, and not a modern forgery, says a paper published in the Harvard Theological Review on Tuesday.

Tests by teams of engineering, biology, and chemistry professors from Columbia University, Harvard University, and MIT indicate the papyrus dates to between the sixth and ninth centuries, and possibly as far back as the second to fourth centuries.

The brownish-yellow, tattered fragment, about 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, caused international uproar when it was presented at a conference in Rome in September 2012 by Harvard Professor Karen L. King.

Written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, the fragment appears to be a broken conversation between Jesus and his disciples.

The center of the business-card-sized papyrus, which features just eight lines of text on the front and six lines on the back, contained the bombshell phrase "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'

"She will be able to be my disciple," said the next line. And then: "I dwell with her."

Dismissed as a "clumsy forgery" by the Vatican newspaper, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was widely debated by scholars. Skepticism abounded, with several experts arguing over the document's poor grammar and its uncertain provenance.

But according to Harvard Divinity School, "none of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery."