The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures

Khalid Elhassan - December 11, 2020

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Charlemagne. History

9. There’s Pervy, and Then There’s Sexing Corpses Pervy

Incest with his sister was not the most perverted thing done by Charles the Great. He reportedly also liked sexing corpses. Various ninth-century texts refer to Charlemagne repeatedly engaging in, but refusing for a long time to confess to, some “unspeakable sin”. He eventually got it off his chest and sought absolution for what some modern scholars think was a predilection for necrophilia.

The necrophilia reports eventually gave rise to legends in which Charlemagne’s partiality to corpses extended from sexually satisfying his lust with random corpses, to sleeping with his wife’s corpse after she died. While there are some scholarly bases for Charlemagne’s necrophilia, the parts about Charlemagne having sex with his dead wife are most likely exaggerations and legends. However, they are indicative of the field day contemporaries had with Charlemagne’s necrophilia, working up the sufficiently shocking reports of that perversion into even bigger myths.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
George S. Patton. Wikimedia

8. A Great American General’s Nepotism Spelled Disaster For Hundreds of His Men

George S. Patton is America’s most famous fighting general of WWII. He led the US Seventh Army in North Africa and Sicily, and commanded the Third Army as it stormed through France, across Germany, and into Czechoslovakia. A man of contradictions, Patton was a hard-charging, profane, and often objectionable and obnoxious figure. He also had a softer side, dabbling in writing poetry – although not very well. And then there was the bonkers side, in which this great general convinced himself that he was some kind of eternal soldier, having been reincarnated numerous times over the millennia as a warrior.

In short, Patton was a man of extremes. He also elicited extreme reactions: people loved or hated him. He gave the latter plenty to hate, as his wartime exploits were often marred by controversies stemming from his propensity to abuse his authority and those under his command. One incident from 1943, in which he slapped sick soldiers, almost cost him his career. It was nothing compared to another incident in 1945, hurriedly swept under the rug, in which Patton got hundreds of his men killed, wounded, or captured, because of nepotism.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
General Patton talking to wounded soldiers. National Archives

7. Patton’s Career Survived Slapping a PTSD-Suffering Soldier Burning Up With Fever – Then He Committed a Worse Abuse of Power

General Patton’s best-known controversy occurred during the 1943 Sicilian Campaign. While visiting a hospital, he came across a PTSD-suffering soldier who was also burning up with malarial fever. Seeing no visible wounds on the GI, Patton flew into a rage, accused the unfortunate man of cowardice, slapped him around, and threatened to shoot him. The great general repeated the disgraceful performance a few days later in another hospital, and physically assaulted another PTSD-suffering soldier.

When the scandal broke, it nearly got Patton cashiered from the US Army. However, his boss, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, protected Patton and gave him a chance to command another army in France. The lesson against abusing his power did not sink in, however. In 1945, Patton had a worse, but lesser-known scandal, in which he got dozens of GIs killed for personal reasons. It happened in March 1945, when Patton ordered Task Force Baum, comprised of 314 men, 16 tanks, and dozens of other vehicles, to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines. Their mission was to liberate Hammelburg POW camp, which housed Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters. Alchetron

6. This Great General Paid a High Price in His Men’s Lives to Help His Relative

Task Force Baum’s raid ended catastrophically. All tanks and vehicles were lost, and of 314 participants, 32 were killed, and most of the rest were wounded or captured. Only 35 men made it back. The worst part of it was that the mission was totally unnecessary. Patton’s beloved son-in-law, for whom the great general had gotten the beloved sons, brothers, and fathers of many Americans killed or injured, had never been in any danger. Hammelburg was liberated two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The liberation of Hammelburg POW by the 14th Armored Division two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco. National Archives

When Eisenhower found out, he was furious at Patton’s misuse of military personnel and assets for personal reasons, and reprimanded him. In light of his valuable services, however, Eisenhower declined to punish Patton beyond the reprimand. Shortly thereafter, a reporter got wind of the scandal. When the story first broke in a major publication on April 12th, 1945, it would have wrecked Patton under normal circumstances. However, FDR died that same day, and his demise eclipsed all other news. The scandal got little traction, and when Patton died a few months later, the scandalous affair was reduced to a mere historic footnote.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Mahatma Gandhi in 1931. Wikimedia

5. A Great Moral Leader Who Had a Thing for Young Girls

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) richly deserved the title by which he is better known to history: the Mahatma – Sanskrit for “Great Soul”, similar in usage to the English saint. Gandhi, an anti-colonial nationalist who pioneered new methods of resisting oppression, is one of history’s moral giants. One of the most revered figures of the modern era, Gandhi famously led India’s struggle for independence. Along the way, he perfected the strategy and tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience, and inspired other independence and civil rights movements around the world.

The ranks of those inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience included Dr. Martin Luther King, who studied the Indian leader’s methods and put them to use in America’s Civil Rights movement. However, in his personal life, Gandhi was… a complex man. Nowhere is that complexity more evident than in his sleeping habits, and it is fortunate for the Great Soul’s public image that his sex life did not garner widespread coverage during his lifetime.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Mahatma Gandhi with his grandniece Manuben, right, and his grandnephew’s wife Abha, left. India Today

4. Gandhi Referred to His Sleeping Naked With Young Girls as an “Experiment”

Put bluntly, Mahatma Gandhi liked to sleep naked with young girls. The story put out by those in his circle was that the Great Soul did so in order to test his willpower and strengthen his resistance to the temptations of the flesh. In reality, it was probably less about spiritual experimentation, and more about Gandhi gratifying his sexual desires.

As one of the early acolytes who shared his bed described it after his death, it was all about protecting Gandhi’s public image. As she put it: “Later on, when people started asking questions about the physical contact with women … the idea of experiments was developed … in the early days, there was no question of calling it an experiment“.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The Declaration of Independence. Boston Globe

3. This Great Founding Father Was a “Complicated” Man

To state that Thomas Jefferson was a complicated man is to greatly understate things. On the one hand, this great Founding Father penned some of the most stirring words in advocating freedom, liberty, and equality. Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has moved and inspired idealists for centuries.

Then we get to the other hand, and the jarring contrast between the man’s public perception and his private life. Jefferson pursued his happiness in a hilltop plantation, Monticello, leading a life of luxury that was only made possible by the labor of hundreds of chattel slaves. He also engaged in conduct that would be seen as clear-cut violent sexual criminality today: in Monticello, Jefferson raped his dead wife’s underage lookalike half-sister.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation. The Santa Clara

2. Thomas Jefferson Had a Child Sex Slave

Thomas Jefferson had a creepy – another understatement – relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings (1773 – 1835). Straightforward rape might be a more accurate description than a “relationship”. Sally Hemings was not free to accept or reject Jefferson’s advances. She was a slave, kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence, including deadly violence, was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance. She had as much choice in submitting to Jefferson’s sexual demands as does a modern kidnapped victim, who finds herself chained for years as a sex slave in some psycho’s basement.

Even if Sally Hemings had not been a slave, there would still have been something creepy about the age disparity between her and the great Founding Father. He was 44-years-old when he started having sex with Sally. She was thirteen or fourteen. Even if she had been a willing participant, it would be considered statutory rape today.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Brenda Yurkoski, one of Thomas Jefferson’s descendants through Sally Hemings. Roanoke Times

1. Thomas Jefferson Was Infatuated With His Child Concubine Because She Was His Dead Wife’s Half-Sister and Lookalike

There was more to Thomas Jefferson sexually preying upon Sally Hemings as his child concubine, which makes things even creepier. Hemings was also Jefferson’s dead wife’s sister and lookalike. She was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Hemmings, who was nine when her sibling died, bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Martha. The resemblance only increased as she grew. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he began raping her.

Thomas Jefferson having sex with Sally Hemings would be an epic scandal if it had happened today, hitting just about every icky button there is, and destroying his public image beyond repair. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and rape? Check, check, and check. Adding another layer to it all is that Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Sally Hemings was still Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.

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

Aggrawal, Anil – Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects (2010)

Alliance for Human Research Protection – Operation Paperclip Nazi Rogues

BBC History – Charlemagne

Black, Edwin – IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001)

Chicago Tribune, September 24th, 1985 – Deported Nazi Scientist Still Has Many Supporters

Encyclopedia Britannica – Paul III

Gulik, Robert Hans Van – Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society From ca. 1500 BC Till 1644 AD (2003)

History – History Stories: How Early Suffragists Sold Out Black Women

Huffington Post, February 27th, 2012 – IBM’s Role in the Holocaust: What the New Documents Reveal

India Today, November 30th, 1999 – Mahatma & Manuben: Newly Discovered Diaries of Gandhi’s Personal Attendant Reveal How His Experiments With Celibacy Changed Her Life

Jacobsen, Annie – Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (2014)

History Collection – 20 Historical Figures Who Changed The World, and Also Committed Monstrous Deeds

New York Times, January 3rd, 1996 – Arthur Rudolph, 89, Developer of Rocket in First Apollo Flight

New York Times, June 16th, 2018 – Monticello is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings

New York Times, July 28th, 2018 – How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women

PBS, American Experience – Ford’s Anti-Semitism

Task Force Baum – The Hammelburg Raid

Telegraph, The, November 3rd, 2003 – Ford ‘Used Slave Labour’ in Nazi German Plants

Vox – Thomas Jefferson Spent Years Raping His Slave Sally Hemings

Washington Post, November 30th, 1998 – Ford and GM Scrutinized For Alleged Nazi Collaboration

Washington Post, July 7th, 2017 – Sally Hemings Wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, She Was His Property

We Are the Mighty – Patton Once Sent 300 Men to Rescue His Son-in-Law From a Nazi Prison

Wikipedia – IBM and the Holocaust

Wikipedia – Task Force Baum

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