How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths

Khalid Elhassan - February 28, 2022

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
Conman Konrad Kujau, years later with a copy of the Stern magazine edition announcing the discovery of Hitler’s diaries. O Explorador

4. An Obvious Forgery That Fooled Many Experts

Once Hitler’s diaries were published and German WWII experts finally got the chance to take a look, it did not take them long to spot signs of obvious forgery. The paper used was modern, and so was the ink. Moreover, the diaries were riddled with major historical inaccuracies about events and dates that Hitler could not have possibly gotten wrong. There were even dated entries in which the Fuhrer described events before they had actually happened in real life – an impossibility unless Hitler had access to a time machine. An investigation revealed that the diary had been created by a notorious German forger named Konrad Kujau.

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
Hitler’s diaries in Stern magazine. Museum of Hoaxes

A conman with a track record of petty crimes, Kujau had made money in the 1970s from the sale of Nazi memorabilia smuggled from East Germany. Then he realized that he could charge even more if he forged authentication details to link the items to important Nazi figures. He eventually teamed up with Stern’s reporter Gerd Heidemann to rip off the magazine. In the fallout, historian Hugh-Trevor Roper’s reputation was ruined, and editors at Stern, the Sunday Times, and Newsweek, were fired. As to Kujau and Heidemann, they were tried and convicted of forgery and embezzlement, and sentenced to 42 months in prison.

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
An antique samurai katana. Wikiperiment

3. The World’s Most Recognizable Sword?

The Japanese katana, thanks to Hollywood and assorted works of history, fiction, and historic fiction, is probably the world’s most recognizable sword. It is also one surrounded by many a myth. The katana is a single-edged curved sword, with a long handle for two-handed use. It features a square or circular guard, and a slender blade of around two and a half feet in length. Katanas are among the finest cutting weapons in history, and were used by Japanese samurai since feudal times. Their earliest recorded mention in the historic record dates to the twelfth century.

Katanas are the product of natural evolution. They started off as hefty “great swords” that grew thinner, lighter, and more agile over time in order to meet the demands of emergent combat styles that relied upon speed. They became popular with samurai because the ease and swiftness with which they could be drawn was a decided asset for the newer and faster techniques. The new combat styles were collectively dubbed kenjutsu, the art of sword fighting. The issue was often settled within seconds, and reaction time spelled the difference between life and death.

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
A WWII military issue katana. Pinterest

2. The Myth of the Samurai Super Sword

Katanas inspired many legends. They were reportedly forged by master sword smiths who hammered and folded the blade over a thousand times. They were also rumored to be so sharp that they cut through machine guns in WWII. Unfortunately, that is a pure myth. In real life, back in their heyday, katanas, coupled with a smaller sword, were thrust, sharp edge facing upwards, through the bearer’s obi – a sash wrapped tightly around the samurai’s waist. The configuration was known as daisho, and it identified the wearer as a samurai – the only people authorized to tote paired swords.

Katanas worn in the daisho style facilitated a speedy draw, ideally allowing samurai to draw and cut down opponents in a single fluid motion. An entire martial art, Iaido, was dedicated to the speedy retrieval of katanas from their scabbards. Katanas are made from tamahagane steel. It is produced by traditional Japanese smelting processes that result in layered steels with varied carbon concentrations that are welded, folded, and hammered out to reduce impurities. A katana needs a sharp and hard edge. However, steel that is hard enough for a sharp edge is brittle, while softer steel that is not brittle will not take and retain a sharp edge. That posed a problem for sword smiths.

How Lies Surrounding the Alamo took Root and Other Historic Myths
Forgin a katana blade. Matcha

1. The Folding of Katana Blades Thousands of Times is a Myth

Katana makers solved the dilemma of a sword that had to be both sharp and hard-edged via the use of four metal bars. A soft iron bar to guard against breakage, sandwiched by two hard iron bars to prevent bending, and rounded off with a steel bar to take the cutting edge. The result was a sword that had a hard enough blade, and a sharp cutting edge. However, contra many a WWII tall tale, no katana was ever hard enough, or sharp enough, to cut through machine gun barrels. The four metal bars of which katanas were made were heated at high temperatures, then hammered into a long bar that would become the blade.

Contrary to myth, katana blades were not folded thousands of times. So many folds would be counterproductive, and render the steel useless for a sword. Instead, katana blades were folded between eight to sixteen times. When the sword was sharpened, the steel took a razor-sharp edge, while the softer iron kept the blade from breaking. Well-crafted katanas became prized heirlooms, passed down generations of samurai families for centuries. Magnificent specimens of centuries-old katanas can be seen in the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, Japan.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atkin, Ronald – Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940 (2000)

Automatic Ballpoint – Operation Tannenbaum

Burrough, Bryan; Tomlinson, Chris; Stanford, Jason – Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth (2021)

Clark, Alan – Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (1985)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Donation of Constantine

Encyclopedia Britannica – Montezuma II

Fleming, Peter – Operation Sea Lion: The Projected Invasion of England in 1940, an Account of the German Preparation and the English Countermeasures (1957)

German Studies Review, 22.1, February, 1999 – German Plans and Policies Regarding Neutral Nations in World War II With Special Reference to Switzerland

GQ, June 20th, 2019 – A Dirty, Rotten, Double Crossing (True) Story of What Happened to the Italian American Mob

History Collection – Myths and Mysteries From J. Edgar Hoover’s Personal Files

Japan Talk – 8 Common Ninja Myths

Military History Now – Enter the Ninja: Facts and Myths About Japan’s Most Mysterious Warriors

Murphy, David E. – What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (2005)

Natural History Museum – Piltdown Man

New German Critique, No. 90 (Autumn, 2003) – The Fascination of a Fake: The Hitler Diaries

New Yorker, The, April 25th, 2013 – Diary of the Hitler Diary Hoax

PBS, American Experience – Ford’s Anti-Semitism

Robinson, H. Russell – Japanese Arms and Armor (1969)

Swords of Northshire – 5 Myths About Japanese and Samurai Swords

Tanks Encyclopedia – Tiger I

Tanks Encyclopedia – Tiger II

Time Magazine, June 9th, 2021 – We’ve Been Telling the Alamo Story Wrong for Nearly 200 Years

United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary – Protocols of the Elders of Zion: A Fabricated ‘Historic’ Document

Urner, Klaus – Let’s Swallow Switzerland: Hitler’s Plans Against the Swiss Confederation

Walsh, John E. – Unraveling Piltdown (1996)

Washington Post, May 5th, 2017 – Five Myths About the Mafia

Washington Post, June 10th, 2021 – The Myth of Alamo Gets History All Wrong: Instead of a Heroic Stance for Freedom, Texans Fought to be Able to Enslave People

Wikipedia – Rasputitsa

World History Encyclopedia – Donation of Constantine

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