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What's your favourite history trivia?


Orwar
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   There have been many peculiar events, and people, throughout history - some with hilarious consequences, sequenced in ways that you just couldn't invent. Like that one time the Austro-Hungarian Evidenzbureau hastily put a loaded gun in the hands of Colonel Alfred Redl when they discovered that he was working for the Russians, to avoid having any trial which would bring attention to the fact that the man responsible for gathering military intelligence on the Russian Empire was a traitor. After the deed was done, someone realized that it might have been prudent to at least question him, and maybe find out how much information he had leaked, and whether the information they had on the Russians were at all correct.

   It wasn't.

   Redl had been sent to Russia early in his career within the Evidenzbureau as a spy, but Russian agents had little trouble discovering the not-too-discreet Austrian, nor discovering the fact that Redl was a homosexual - which wasn't too welcome in the Imperial Habsburgian military's officer corps. Redl was presented with an offer he couldn't refuse; work for the Tsar's , or have his secret uncovered. They also offered him 'a bit' of money to help him make the right choice. He accepted. In 1902, Redl handed over the Austro-Hungarian war plan for the event of a war with Russia.

   In return, Redl was fed information both true and false by the Russian counter-intelligence, which made him appear an absolute cracker of an agent in the eyes of the Evidenzbureau, earning him his rank of Colonel, as well as responsibility over all the Austro-Hungarian agents working in Russia - whose identities he gave to the Russians, leading to their assassinations; but since their reports all came through Redl, there wasn't any need for any actual agents. False reports from the Russians, as well as reports of Redl's own invention, was all that was needed to keep the Evidenzbureau happy.

   Even as a colonel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the salary when working for the Evidenzbureau wasn't anything too spectacular. Despite this, Redl lived a lavish, opulent lifestyle, buying a large house in Vienna, and employing several servants - even bought himself a car and hired a personal driver.

   In 1913, Redl handed the Austro-Hungarian invasion plans of Serbia to the Russians. By this point, he had also painted a picture of a weak, disorganized, and outdated Russian army. But already in 1912, the Evidenzbureau had begun to investigate him after being tipped off by the Germans and, when it was discovered that he accepted bribes from the Russians, they sent two soldiers to his home with instructions to hand him a loaded pistol. Redl shot himself on May 25th 1913. 

   May 25th 1913 was a Sunday. 

   Soon after his suicide, it was realized that the 'Redl Mess' would need to be straightened out, and fast. But since they could no longer question him they would have to resort to rummaging through his stuff. But since the sturdy door to the study, where he had shot himself, was locked, they'd first have to find a locksmith. Finding a locksmith on a Sunday in 1913 wasn't easy - but they were the Evidenzbureau, so they did manage to track one down. The man was just outside of town, playing football, so they sent two soldiers in a car to pick him up. What they didn't know was that one of the locksmith's football teammates was a journalist, and said journalist became rather suspicious when the army sent a car to pick up a locksmith all willy nilly. The journalist was quick to discover what was going on, and the next day all of Vienna was in the know.

   The following year, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo. Serbia was under Russia's protection, but the Austro-Hungarians still had Redl's image of a weak and outdated enemy and barely hesitated to mobilize and invade. What they didn't know was that Russia had more than a hundred further military divisions than those they had been informed about, and that the Russians were quick to mobilize their armed forces in response, using a rather modern piece of infrastructure - railroads. The dominoes of militarized European superpowers and their complex treaties began to shift, and one of the bloodiest conflicts in history was about to begin.

   Obviously, Redl wasn't the cause of the war, but he was a large part of the Austro-Hungarian's view that Russia were totally incapable of defending Serbia. Perhaps if they had been better informed, they wouldn't quite so rashly throw themselves against, at the time, one of the strongest military nations in the world.

   He also wasn't completely incompetent. Redl innovated many modern techniques of espionage and intelligence within the Evidenzbureau, introducing the use of cameras and audio-recording devices, as well as beginning to build an extensive fingerprints catalogue from persons of interest.

 

   So. What historical event or person makes you think we live in a rather bizarre but certainly interesting world?

Edited by Orwar
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Why .. the single first original cell duplicating itself and sparking off evolution of course. Still so bizarre religious people cannot fold their minds around it and look at all the mess it leads to only for every form of life to run extinct without divine intervention in the coming future.

It's what makes reality the weirdest fantasy imaginable.

Edited by TDD123
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2 hours ago, Orwar said:

So. What historical event or person makes you think we live in a rather bizarre but certainly interesting world?

Other than those who saved Jews from Nazi Germany, it was the people who helped some of the European artworks from being stolen or destroyed.  Whenever I go to a museum, I am so glad that many of these paintings were "saved".

But, if I am going to pick one person, Rosa Parks  

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks¬†(February 4, 1913¬†‚Äď October 24, 2005) was an American¬†activist¬†in the¬†civil rights movement¬†best known for her pivotal role in the¬†Montgomery bus boycott. The¬†United States Congress¬†has called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".[1]

Edited by JanuarySwan
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I thought that the time that the Thames River in London froze was really interesting.  Apparently it was frozen for so long during the "Little Ice Age" that they turned part of it into a marketplace with stalls and such.  Then one day it thawed....

There is a fascinating account of it in Virginia Wolff's Orlando, which while fiction, I believe was referring to an actual event in this case.

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50 minutes ago, kali Wylder said:

thought that the time that the Thames River in London froze was really interesting

Once, when at a loose end in London, I visited the London Canals Museum at Camden. Expecting to learn lots about canal trade and so on, I actually learned loads about.....

Ice Cream!

Its a strange story, revolving mainly around the Little Ice Age, that saw a huge industry develop in ice-cutting from the canals - largely to support the Italian ice-cream makers that had settled in London. It seems that they used to serve ice-cream in small glasses (like shot glasses), but didn't clean them between servings, and thus a whole set of regulations about ice-cream manufacture, storage, distribution and sales started to come into force to control the spread of some very nasty diseases.

The web site is a mess at the moment because of coronovirus but, for what its worth, here's the link:-

https://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/

Edited by Odaks
spelling!
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Early human society was actually nothing like people make it out to be and monogamy is actually kind of a new thing. evidence shows that people actually kind of just *****ed whoever they wanted (based on social status, but thats a whole web) and they actually also took care of their disabled to the best of their ability. so next time someone argues all women should be domestic slaves because "thats how it was in cavemen days" or we should kill disabled people because "their survival is a modern luxury" then know that not only are they an ***** and an idiot, but they're also wrong.

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As a scientist, I have long had proper reverence for Isaac Newton's pivotal role in making sense of the physical world in modern terms.  With CoVid-19 in the front of my mind, I have recently gone back to refresh my memory about the strange way that Newton (and modern science) benefitted from the Great Plague.  If you are unfamiliar with the history, I'd recommend the brief summary on the National Trust's website at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolsthorpe-manor/features/year-of-wonders and the New Yorker's article at https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-truth-about-isaac-newtons-productive-plague to read about it. 

Basically, Newton left Cambridge during the spring of 1665, when the plague was in full force, looking for a quiet place in the country to wait out the worst of it.  He ended up being in self-isolation until mid-1667.  During that time, he wrote his landmark treatises on prisms and the behavior of light, on gravity and the three laws of motion, and on his semi-independent development of calculus (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made his own groundbreaking advances in calculus in Germany during roughly that same period).  It's difficult to make the argument that the plague was a Good Thing -- it killed roughly 15% of the population of London -- but it had the serendipidous side effect of giving Isaac Newton plenty of time to just sit and think.  The ideas that he propounded during that Year of Miracles ("Annus Mirabilis") laid the foundation for the centuries of modern physics that have followed.  

Incidentally, not that it had anything to do with Newton, but 1666 was a doubly tragic year for London because it not only marked the height of the plague but also was the year of the Great Fire, which demolished a quarter of the city.  In doing so, it managed to wipe out a chunk of the city's rat population, which had been responsible for spreading the plague, but it also left a great many people -- over 100,000 by some estimates -- homeless.  The fire did not stop the plague, although it may have slowed its progress. The restoration that followed replaced those burnt out wooden buildings with modern masonry ones, many of which still stand today.  In mid-year 1667, Isaac Newton returned to Cambridge, where he rose rapidly in faculty rank and, after a while, was knighted Sir Isaac Newton.

ETA: As another interesting footnote, Newton was 22 years old went he went into self-isolation. He had been a sizar -- a work-study sort of role -- while he studied. When he returned to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1667, he became a fellow of the college.  He was made the Lucasian professor in October 1670, at the age of 27.  It's one of the peculiarities of academics that the major advances in physical sciences have been made by young people -- their average age, if I remember correctly, is something before the age of 40 -- but even by that standard, Newton made his major contributions remarkably early.  Clearly, he had a brilliant mind, but to what extent was that brilliant mind kicked into high gear by self-isolation?

Edited by Rolig Loon
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