10 Things History Got Wrong!

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A Brief History

On July 23, 1903, the Ford Motor Company sold its first car.  For some reason many Americans are under the impression that Henry Ford invented the automobile and that Ford was the first brand of cars.  Although Ford got into the business early in the industry’s infancy, he was far from the first.  These sort of misunderstandings, myths, and mistakes fill our minds and our history books.  We are listing 10 such erroneous “facts” to help set things straight.  

Digging Deeper

10. Thomas Jefferson Freed His Slaves When He Died.

Hardly.  Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and freed only 5 upon his death.  The rest were sold as part of his estate.  In spite of his stated abhorrence of slavery, Jefferson kept slaves like the other rich people of his time, and furthermore thought that Africans were inferior to white people, although he admitted he did not know if that was because of race or the circumstances that found Africans enslaved without education and freedom.  The rumor of Jefferson fathering a child with a slave woman has been proven to be true in modern times through DNA testing.

9.  Julius Caesar was the first Caesarian Birth.

As described in more detail in our article of July 12, 2014, the fact that Caesar’s mother lived beyond the birth pretty much proves she was not subjected to a C-section which was invariably fatal at that time.  Also, other babies had been delivered from dead or dying mothers by being cut out from the womb before as well.

8.  Hitler Danced a Jig After Taking over France.

In 1940 Adolf Hitler went to a defeated Paris to bask in the glory of having conquered France.  A famous film clip shows him dancing a jig in joy at this accomplishment.  In reality, the film clip was an altered piece of film of Hitler merely walking, but played back and forth to make him appear to be dancing.  This myth is so pervasive photos of it appear in history books as genuine, the authors unaware of the propaganda trick.

7.  Viking Helmet Horns.

Seldom do you see pictures of Vikings without their stereotypical horned helmets, including the cartoon Hagar the Horrible.  In fact, Vikings did not wear horned helmets.  That is strictly a product of German opera productions.

6.  Zulus and Indians Used Primitive Weapons Against Whites.

At first they did, but rather quickly Native Africans and Native Americans armed themselves with firearms captured from white people or traded for.  Movies erroneously show these aboriginal people resisting white invaders strictly with spears and arrows, but in reality both groups were quick to grasp the importance of firearms for combat and took to them readily.  When George Custer got himself and his men wiped out, the Native Americans were largely armed with repeating rifles while Custer and the 7th Cavalry were armed with single shot rifles.

5.  The US Won the Cuba Missile Crisis Standoff.

The 1962 crisis that almost developed into a nuclear war is usually portrayed as a great American victory.  We looked the Soviets in the eye and they blinked.  Actually, the Soviets had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba in response to the US basing similar nuclear missiles in Turkey.  The Soviets did not agree to remove the nukes until the US removed the nukes from Turkey, thus, the Soviets actually achieved their goal, not the other way around.  The part about the US backing down on deployment of nukes to Turkey is usually ignored in American sources.

4.  Napoleon Bonaparte was Short.

This claim is one of those propaganda lies that has become fact in the mind of much of the population over the years.  Although not tall, he was actually an average size guy for his time, about 5’6” to 5’7” depending on the source.  Another possible source of this misunderstanding may have been the English inch was shorter than the French inch, resulting in the common idea of Napoleon as a squirt trying to make up for his lack of size.  He also had a personal guard of tall strapping soldiers that made him appear smaller.

3.  Paul Revere’s Ride.

Glorified in the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, we grew up believing Paul Revere saved the Americans from the British in 1775 by riding out shouting “The British are coming!” to alert American militias in Massachusetts. In reality, Revere and William Dawes did go around alerting the militia to British troop movements, but not by galloping through towns and yelling.  Their notifications were somewhat more stealthy than that, and being “British” themselves, they did not call the Redcoats “British” but referred to them as “regulars,” saying “The regulars are coming out.”  In addition to that, Revere was captured and told the British what he was up to.  A final nail in the Paul Revere Myth coffin is that he led the 1779 Penobscot Expedition, one of the most disastrous forays of the Revolutionary War that resulted in his forced resignation from the army. 

2.  Invasion of Japan Would Have Cost 1 Million American Lives.

This overstatement is often heard in the debate over whether or not the US should have dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Winston Churchill himself said that the US would suffer a million dead and that the United Kingdom would suffer another quarter million dead.  The real estimates at the time were 250,000 to 1 million total casualties (dead and wounded) with a maximum estimate of 380,000 dead.  More realistic estimates were 40,000 US dead and 150,000 US wounded.  On the other hand, estimates of Japanese casualties ranged from a few hundred thousand deaths to as many as 10 million, in either case more than the number killed by the atom bombs.

1.  The United States Won World War II against Germany.

Often portrayed as the mighty and unstoppable land and air forces that swamped hapless German defenders and bombed German cities to rubble, the facts show that the Soviet Union bore by far the biggest responsibility for defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.  Despite the American and British bombing campaign, German industry managed to actually increase production every month of the war until the last couple months.  The Soviets suffered perhaps 10 million military deaths (out of 26 million or so total) compared to 407,000 American military deaths (and that includes the Pacific).  Germany lost about 93% of their casualties fighting the Soviet Union!  Sure, we had a big role, but the fact is the Soviet Union beat the Germans. 

Question for students (and subscribers): Do we need a second list?  A third?  What incorrect assumptions about history would you add to the list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please read…

Loewen, James W.  Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.  Atria Books, 2007.


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.