Random History Thread


His name struck fear into hearts of men
Staff member
Considering our tendency for centralised topic threads (when did this start anyway?), I thought it would be appropriate to have a "random history thread" for historical questions or discussions that arise from time to time and would be too in-depth for the 100k topic.

So allow me to start by directing your attention to a quite spectacular recent find. According to a German language online magazine, the first and only known recordings of the "Iron Chancellor", Otto von Bismarck, have appeared.

The jist of the article is as follows: Back in 1889, a colleague of Thomas Edison toured Europe to present Edison's phonograph, and collect recordings of prominent personalities in hope of creating lucrative advertisements for boosting sale of pre-recorded cylinders. Among those recorded made were people such as Johannes Brahms and the children of German emperor Wilhelm II, and, as mentioned, Otto von Bismarck, who was still chancellor of Germany at the time.

It turns out that the cylinders were stored in a wooden crate at Edison's place that was discovered in 1957, but was dismissed, as many cylinders were broken, and unmarked. Now, two historians of German and American origin respectively, have rediscovered this crate and listened to the badly damaged recordings. One of the recordings was introduced with the word "Friedrichsruh", which is well-known to have been Bismarck's residence, and it turns out Bismarck himself made a brief recording to show off his language skills. The recording includes segments from the then-popular American song "In Good Old Colony Days", the German poem "Schwäbische Kunde", the Latin student song "Gaudeamus igitur", the "Marseillaise" and an ironic advice to his son.

The recording is linked to in the article, but a better, digitally cleansed version (with an extensive bilingual caption) can be found here. The same article also makes mention of a recording of the prominent Prussian general Helmuth Moltke found in the same context. Moltke was around 90 years of age at that time.

So the content of the recording isn't particularly noteworthy (it's less than one and a half minutes long), but it is a spectacular find nonetheless, considering it is the only known voice recording of one of the most important personalities of the 19th century, no less. I know I was quite thrilled when I read and heard this.
Heard his voice on TV today. Quite special indeed. And it appears that his voice isn't as high as thought.
How fascinating! Love or hate him, Bismarck was one of the greats. And it is always good to personalize the greats a little bit. It is important so that we remember they are human.
Bismarck is a character I can neither love nor hate. He did have a strong vision, and he was ready to go to war to make it real. At the same time, he was determined to keep damage under control and never lost sight of his goal. Once Germany was united under Prussian rule, he was satisfied with keeping its strong and powerful image, not interested in proving the country's capabilities - unlike Wilhelm II. He did a lot to contribute to an unprecedented period of peace and stability in Europe. He was a sober statesman and never lost measure of what to do to hold his adversaries within the country at bay... on the other hand, he was a dictator who was determined to keep the country in his iron grip. He stalled the development of German democracy, with fatal consequences.

In general, he has a lot in common with people like Caesar or Napoleon. Admirable, cultivated personalities with no clear sensibility for their influence, but a legacy that will last forever.
One of the greats? Admirable? Cultivated? His Kulturkampf wasn't something to write home about and he wanted to exterminate his neighbours.

Can't help thinking about a certain mustached politician in the 20th century who might have picked up a few ideas of his.

To prevent the Austro-Hungarian problems of different nationalities within one state, the government tried to Germanize the state's national minorities, situated mainly in the borders of the empire, such as the Danes in the North of Germany, the French of Alsace-Lorraine and the Poles in the East of Germany.
His policies concerning the Poles of Prussia were generally unfavourable to them, furthering enmity between the German and Polish peoples. The policies were usually motivated by Bismarck's view that Polish existence was a threat to the German state; Bismarck, who himself spoke Polish, wrote about Poles: "One shoots the wolves if one can." He also said: "Beat Poles until they lose faith in a sense of living. Personally, I pity the situation they're in. However, if we want to survive—we've got only one option—to exterminate them."

In Prussia, and later in Germany, Poles were forbidden to build homes, and their properties were targeted for forced buy-outs financed by the Prussian and German governments. He implemented several harsh laws aiming at their expulsion from traditionally Polish lands. The Polish language was banned from public, and ethnically Polish children tortured at schools for speaking Polish. Poles were subjected to a wave of forceful evictions (Rugi Pruskie). The German government financed and encouraged settlement of ethnic Germans into those areas aiming at their geopolitical Germanisation. The Prussian Landtag passed laws against Catholics.
I find it important to show dark sides of important politicians. You ought to know me by now, indeed.
And you ought to know by now that I lose interest in discussions as soon as they get emotional and polemic.
There is an excellent book called Iron Kingdom The Rise and Downfall of Prussia. 1600-1947

In some ways, Prussia/Germany was as (if not more) liberal than the rest of Europe over varying periods of time. There is a lot more to Prussia than the sterotype.
Prussia had a stereotype? I've rarely felt more ignorant... I am going to pick up this book next paycheck. Thanks bearfan :)
Perun, what I did was reacting at your choice of words. I explained why I wouldn't admire him, or why I wouldn't find him cultivated. But I did my phrasing with care (and with humour for God's sake!), believe me.

Did you rather have me agreeing with you, immediately, or not react at all? This is a discussion forum, I assume I am still operating within limits here.
You are Foro. I like your posts (for the most part), because they do make me think and ground my opinions, obviously can't speak for anybody else on this board. However, I see nothing wrong in admiring polarizing individuals. I LOVE and I do mean LOVE, Pancho Villa, a man who many consider nothhing more than a thief and a murderer. Again nobody is perfect, but nothing wrong in admiring a person's strengths and character. Nothing wrong in having personal heroes, but then again that is what seems what you are against, elevating ANYBODY above mere human.
I think you did go too far, Foro. I don't want to start the argument again, but I will explain:

Comparing anyone to Hitler is really a false equivalency, and it's almost always designed to inspire emotion rather than logic. There are a handful of people who are truly comparable to Hitler. If you want to use that sort of inflammatory language (and it is), please keep in mind that it makes myself and others who are trained in reading history discount your argument. This is the purpose of the well-quoted corollary to Godwin's Law - he who first invokes Hitler or Nazism in an internet argument loses.

In the end, there are few figures in history who we can call great who are great without some sort of black mark - or a bloody black stain - on their life. Churchill was, for example, wrong on the India question, and greatly so, yet I still admire him deeply...the qualities of him that are worth admiring. You could say the same for almost every single politician, every single king and leader and lord and tsar and scientist and emperor worth mentioning when we talk about great people.

Perun was admiring qualities...not admiring everything. Talking about history means you have to divest the accomplishments from the person from time to time. You don't ignore it - that's wrong. That's whitewashing history. But you analyze what they did right, and you analyze what they did wrong, so those who follow us can emulate the admirable and remember the despicable, and hopefully do more of the latter and less of the former. It'd be nice for some benefit of the doubt that we know how to do history right, from time to time.
Perun was admiring qualities...not admiring everything.

LC, I never said he admired everything. Actually, I have carefully phrased (and quoted) words to explain why I see comparisons and why I think why Hitler might have picked up "a few" ideas of Bismarck. If someone thinks there's something wrong with anything I said, let me hear it, fair enough.

For the rest, I want to make clear that I do not need to win an argument. Neither do I think I said anything inflammatory.

I didn't design to evoke emotion. Might I say that was a false thing to say and to think of me? When you said this, you naturally didn't mean to design to evoke emotion either, I hope.

I hope you don't misjudge me. I do not only analyze the wrong things of a historical figure. I made a analysis of the good things and the bad things and after that I decide if I find someone admirable.

I hoped things would calm down after my previous -now deleted- post (which contained a public apology). Instead silence followed... and on top of that, this accusing post. All this does not give me the impression that my good intentions are appreciated.
The reason why there was silence is because I seriously couldn't think of anything to write. Seriously: We've had this so often, and I have said everything I have to say when it comes to such matters.
I'm not trying to accuse - I am trying to explain to you, my friend, why that sometimes really does upset myself and others. There is, perhaps, an argument to be made with the comparison. But you didn't make it...and it's like dropping the ultimate bomb when you discuss history and historical figures.

I know you well enough to know that you are sorry for the misunderstanding. I can explain to you in further detail why I really do feel passionately about this issue, but I shan't do it here.