10 Things History Got Wrong, Part Quatro!

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A Brief History

On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, headed for the “New World” in America.  Many Americans are under the false impression that these were the first white settlers of North America, but this belief is historically incorrect!  The Pilgrims are often treated as the real founding fathers of the United States, despite the fact that Spanish explorers and some settlers had arrived one hundred years before them and in complete disregard of the Native Americans who had already been there for at least 10,000 years.  Even the English first settled Jamestown, Virginia more than a decade earlier.  Although historians usually know what is right, the common man on the street and even some school textbooks frequently get things wrong.  We have taken it upon ourselves to point out these misconceptions, as we already have in our “History Got it Wrong” lists, parts one, deux and drei.  (And others) What would you add to these lists?

Digging Deeper

10. 1950s Nostalgia.

Often thought of or referred to as “a simpler time” when Americans were happy and care free, this characterization of the decade is not accurate.  The War in Korea raged for 3 years, race relations in the U.S. led to civil unrests, and American labor strikes were not uncommon.  The extent of the Cold War was also beginning to become apparent, with hydrogen bombs being developed by both the U.S. and USSR.  Americans fretted about the “bomber gap” between the U.S. and USSR, by which it was believed that the Soviets had jet bombers capable of carrying nuclear bombs.  Furthermore, with the launch of the Sputnik, the Soviets also took the lead in the “Space Race,” causing Americans to fear the development of nuclear-armed missiles.  Elsewhere in the world, the French lost Viet Nam at Dien Bien Phu; there was an Arab-Israeli war in 1956; and a freedom movement in Hungary was brutally put down.  At home, the U.S. government engaged in shameful “McCarthyism” in its attempt to identify communists, and to make maters worse, the Cleveland Indians lost the 1954 World Series!

9.  Jayne Mansfield was a “dumb blonde.”

This beautiful and voluptuous actress (measurements 41-21-35), who also appears in the History and Headlines articles which include “10 Things History Got Wrong about Women,” is often assumed to be a stereotypical “dumb blonde” because of the roles she played, but in real life her IQ was in the genius range, perhaps even as high as 160.  Born Vera Jayne Palmer, Jayne Mansfield played the violin, spoke 5 languages and attended a few universities where did well enough despite working and being a mother.  She was only 34 when she died tragically in a car wreck.  History and Headlines Fact:  Actress Mariska Hargitay is her daughter.

8.  John Wayne is an American Hero.

The actor whose real name was Marion Morrison was just that, an actor.  Other than on the movie screen, he never did anything heroic in his life.  He did not even serve in World War II, although he called that his greatest regret.  Although “The Duke” may have loved his country and was not hesitant to say so, he never fought for the U.S. or even served as a public servant.  History and Headlines Fact:  John Wayne starred as the leading man in more movies than any other actor.  (Wayne has also made racially charged statements.)

7.  Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is African-American.

The best golfer of his era, he is arguably the greatest golfer of all time.  Nevertheless, he is not even half-African-American.  Woods’ father is of African, Caucasian, Asian and Native American descent, while his mother is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch ancestry.  It is likely that Woods has more Asian heritage than any other ethnic group.  While he certainly has a quarter to a third African ancestry, to label him as “African-American” is not entirely accurate.

6.  North Vietnamese Russian-made jets outfought U.S. F-4 Phantom IIs because of the lack of a gun on the F-4.

The real reason why the U.S. fighters had such a hard time with the older model MiGs and the newer MiG-21s was not the lack of a gun but rather the restrictive rules of engagement forced upon the American pilots.  Required that they achieve visual recognition before shooting a missile, the advantage of the American jets’ long range, radar-guided missiles was taken away, and the F-4s were forced into close dogfighting combat that they were not built for.  Later adding a 20mm Vulcan cannon to the F-4 did help quite a bit, but this addition would not have been necessary if the U.S. pilots had been allowed to shoot at longer range.

5.  The German StG-44 was the basis for the Soviet AK-47.

The German StG-44 was the first modern assault rifle in history.  It fired an intermediate cartridge (7.92 x 33mm) in semi-automatic and full -utomatic fire and saw use during World War II as well as after the war until about 1962 (The normal full-power German rifle round was the 7.92 x 57mm.). The  appearance of the AK-47 may have been influenced by the StG-44, but mechanically the AK-47 is quite different, and the Soviets had already been working on coming up with their own intermediate-power, semi-automatic and full-automatic-fire rifles anyway (“intermediate power” is between full-power standard rifle rounds and pistol rounds commonly used in sub-machine guns.).

4.  MP-38 and MP-40 “Schmeisser.”

In the mistaken belief that Hugo Schmeisser, a German gun designer, created them, these nifty German sub-machine guns (9mm caliber) are often erroneously referred to as “Schmeissers.”  This misconception came from the removable magazines that had been patented by Schmeisser and bore his name.  Schmeisser did invent the StG-44, but apparently nobody calls that gun a “Schmeisser!”

3.  Hitler declared war on the U.S. to honor his treaty with Japan.

After Pearl Harbor (1941), Germany was under no obligation to declare war on the U.S. because it was Japan that had attacked the U.S. and not vice versa.  Instead, Germany declared war on the U.S. because Hitler thought war with the U.S. was inevitable and he because he could not tolerate the U.S. protection of shipments supplying war materials to Britain.

2.  The Sinking of the Lusitania brought the U.S. into World War I.

For some reason this belief persists despite the fact that the British luxury liner was sunk in 1915 and the U.S. only first entered the war in 1917.  The sinking did increase U.S. antipathy toward Germany, but it was the “Zimmerman telegram” in which Germany urged Mexico to attack the U.S. that pushed the U.S. into the war.

1.  Pilgrims and the Mayflower.

The Pilgrims are portrayed in school books and in the popular mindset as an intrepid group of people who braved the New World to escape religious persecution.  In reality they were religious zealots who had no tolerance for other beliefs and who were their era’s version of a cult.  The Americas had already seen the first European settlers from France, Holland (The Netherlands), Spain and Portugal, and Jamestown, Virginia (1607) was actually the first permanent English settlement.  When the Pilgrims landed in what is now Massachusetts, they found a cabin made by Europeans and a harvested cornfield, so they were not even the first whites there.  Their poor planning left them starving and forced them to open the graves of Native Americans to steal the corn and other provisions that had been buried with the dead.  In addition, far from fairy tales about idyllic first encounters, the first contact between the Pilgrims and Native Americans resulted in both sides shooting at each other.

For another interesting event that happened on September 6, please see the History and Headlines article: “Soviets Shoot Down Korean Commercial Airliner (KAL 007).”

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.