New Film Of Royal Family “Nazi Salute” Reinvigorates An Old Debate

On September 9, Queen Elizabeth II will pass another royal milestone: she will become the longest-reigning monarch in British history, surpassing the 63-year, 216-day term of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

But even an 89-year old monarch can be still embarrassed by old home movies, as she found last week when the tabloid The Sun published a sensational photo and brief film clip seeming to show the then six-year-old Elizabeth and her sister Margaret being encouraged to perform the Nazi salute by her uncle, the future king Edward VIII, and her mother, the future Queen Consort and Queen Mother.

Buckingham Palace is investigating how The Sun obtained the video, although many believe that they inadvertently released it as part of a longer film clip that had already been publically shown without the incendiary footage.

A general point of agreement is that the images do not reflect negatively on the Queen herself, a small child mimicking the adults. Beyond that, little is clear. There’s no context to the film clip, no way to tell if it’s a serious gesture or a mocking one, or just larking about like normal people who can’t see the future.

If the film was shot in the summer of 1933, as many believe, the answer might lay in the daily news. On 13 July 1933, the German government decreed that all public employees must use the salute as their greeting, and all citizens were required to us it during the singing of the national anthem and other public events. Photos and newsreels of Germans saluting en masse were becoming more common but still struck many outsiders as more silly than serious.

There’s also the outside chance the scene has nothing to do with the Nazis. A forensic lip-reader tells the Daily Mail that, after viewing the film clip two dozen times, she’s positive that the family is a greeting a woman approaching from out of frame. While that less likely, it does bring us full circle to the question of context.

The film reinvigorates the long-standing debate over the relationship of the British monarchy to the Nazi Party prior to the Second World War. Many in Europe’s ruling class gravitated to the Nazis in the 1930s as a bulwark against Communism. Some aligned with Nazi ideology; most simply didn’t see the danger until it was too late.

Kinship only made things more complicated. In 1933, the future Queen Mother, then Elizabeth, Duchess of York, and her husband Albert, played host to distant cousin Carl Eduard, the fourth and final Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Charlie, as he was known within the family, mentioned how kind “Bertie and Elizabeth” were during his visit. Twelve years later, Bertie and Elizabeth were King and Queen Consort, and Charlie was starving in a prison with other high-ranking Nazis.

Born in Sussex in 1884, Charlie was a 16-year-old student at Eton when his grandmother, Queen Victoria, decided he should inherit the German duchy. Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was special to her: it was the home of her beloved Prince Albert, and the name she had chosen for her own royal house. Despite Charlie’s youth and inability to speak German, he took the ducal throne in 1900. Fourteen years later, he found himself at battling his own homeland in the First World War.

Germany’s defeat was a disaster for the Duke. In 1917 – the same year his cousin, George V, changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor – Charlie was among those who lost his British peerages and his Knight of the Garter. In 1918, he was deposed from his throne by the Socialists.

Carl Eduard, known to the Royals as Charlie Coburg, in 1933

In the uncertain years that followed, he pinned his hopes for stability on Adolph Hitler. While Hitler privately derided men like Charlie as “degenerate,” he also saw their usefulness to lobby for support in royal circles, and the former Duke became a special pet. He made several trips to England in the 1930s as president of the Anglo-German Friendship Society to build support for a pact between the countries. He cultivated the pro-Nazi leanings of Edward VIII before and during his brief reign in 1936, and he hosted the abdicated king and his bride on their unauthorized tour of Germany in 1937. His once cordial relations with the newly-crowned George VI grew frosty, and ended at the start of the war.

He was arrested by Patton in 1945 and sent to prison to await a denazification trial. His sister, Princess Alice – the only British royal who stood by him throughout his life – flew to Germany in 1946 to try to win his release, and was horrified to find him “scavenging on a rubbish dump to find a tin to eat from.” Alice was beloved by the royals, but in this they were unyielding: Charlie was a traitor.

At trial, he claimed ignorance of Nazi atrocities and prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove he had committed war crimes. He was fined and stripped of property. He ended up living in a flat behind the stables of one of his former palaces.

His British kin barred him from England; when Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, he watched the coronation of his cousin-twice-removed at a cinema in Coburg. He died the following year, in a bed he had brought with him from his childhood home more than fifty years earlier. “He said it was his little bit of England,” his granddaughter explained in 2011, “as he could never come to England again.”

Historians, long frustrated by their inability to access the post-1918 correspondence of the Royal Family, have used the Sun’s bombshell to renew their calls for transparency. The presumption is that the Royals don’t want the public to know the depth of Nazi complicity within their circle in the years before the war. There’s probably an element of truth in that: like all human beings, the Queen and her family don’t want to open themselves up to unnecessary embarrassment, nor bring embarrassment to the descendants of long-dead relatives.

In reality, access to this material would help royal historians better understand the complexities of these relationships and the family’s evolution toward – and away from – Nazism as the war drew near. The positives would almost certainly outweigh the negatives.

But, for the moment, the files remain locked in the Round Tower at Windsor. Only time will tell how long embarrassment will be allowed to reign.

What’s Going On Here? The Story Behind the Seal of Whitesboro, New York

Every couple of years, the Internet discovers the curious official seal of the Village of Whitesboro, New York. Every time, the question is the same: why is that white dude tackling that Indian dude, and why would you put it on your town seal?

And every time this story is discovered anew, the poor mayor has to explain: no, it’s not what you think.

So what is going on here? Let’s roll back the clock about 230 years.

The white guy on the left is Hugh White: Connecticut farmer, Revolutionary War veteran. Like many Connecticuters in the late 18th Century, White developed a yearning for greener (and cheaper) pastures for himself, his children, and their growing families. In 1784, he joined in the purchase of the Sadaquada Patent, a tract of 28,000 acres in western New York State. His parcel was around 1,500 acres.

The move brought the family into the heart of Oneida Nation. The Oneida, unlike much of the Iroquois Confederacy, had sided with the colonists in the Revolution, and there was no dispute over the land, but White recognized that he was going to have to work to keep the relationship between natives and newcomers relatively frictionless if he hoped to create a thriving frontier community.

One critical encounter occurred around 1788 when White, along with his daughter-in-law Lucy and five-year-old granddaughter Susan, were visiting with Chief Han Yerry Tewahangarahken from the nearby Oneida village of Oriskany.

During the visit, Han Yerry asked if White considered him a friend. Yes, White replied. “Well, if you are my friend, and you believe I am your friend, I will tell you what I want and then I shall know whether you speak true words.”

What he wanted was Susan. His wife, Tyonajanegen, had taken a liking to the little girl. They wanted her to stay in the village overnight and return her in the morning.

At a time when white settlers lived in terror of seeing their women and children taken captive by tribes, this was no minor request, and White rightly saw it for the test it was. To his daughter-in-law’s horror, he gave his consent.

Morning came, and Han Yerry did not. As sunset approached, Lucy White was ready to march on Oriskany to retrieve the child, but White urged her to stay calm. Finally, the chief carried Susan – now dressed in the outfit of an Oneida – up the path to the White’s home. The test had been passed, the friendship established, but through little Susan’s costume change Han Yerry also made it clear who had been in control.

The incident immortalized on the town seal was a similar encounter: not hostile, even somewhat funny in retrospect, but not without a serious subtext.

As the story goes, a group of young Oneida were visiting the White home and fell into a friendly game of wrestling. The strongest warrior beat opponent after opponent. Inevitably, he ended up challenging his host to a match.

Hugh White was in his mid-50s and less svelt than depicted on the town seal. But again, he realized this was a test: if he declined the challenge, the tribe would see him as a coward. He would never live down the ridicule, potentially impacting his ability to negotiate for the use of key resources like fishing rights and access to local pathways.

Since there was no way to avoid the match, he decided to use what he had – mass and momentum – and hope he didn’t too embarrassingly trounced. He reached out to take hold of his opponent and accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) tripped and fell forwards. He knocked the young warrior flat on his back and landed on him with all 250 pounds. The younger man got up and declared White “a good fellow, too much,” everyone had a chuckle, and White was never again challenged to a wrestling match.

Acts like this won the respect of the tribe, and before long, “with much pomp, circumstance and mystery, he was duly initiated into the Oneida tribe.” These ties of friendship remained until his death in 1812 at the age of 79.

By the mid-19th Century, the wrestling match had become part of village lore as a seminal moment where their founder won the respect of the tribe. The town seal was in place by 1922. A 1977 lawsuit by a local treeworker claiming racial discrimination because of the seal was dismissed. Opportunities over the years to replace or redesign have come to nothing. The Oneida Nation has not challenged the design, and there is no historical dispute over the friendly relationship between settlers and natives in the late 18th Century.

Given the current national mania for scrubbing public properties of offensive historical symbols, it’s understandable that Whitesboro’s seal has come under renewed criticism.

But how far does this effort need to go? The Confederate flag is a ubiquitous and general symbol of racial oppression across the entire South and its 115,000,000 residents. The Whitesboro town seal is a snapshot of local history in a village of 3,700. Without the amplifying effect of the Internet, few people outside the greater Utica area would know it existed. Everyone can have an opinion, but the decisions should be left to those who live there.

Can International Pressure Save Afghanistan’s Glorious Mes Aynak?

Mes Aynak is Pashto for “little source of copper,” and that’s where it story begins and ends.

French geologists found a rich seam of ore at this site, less than thirty miles outside Kabul, in the 1960s. They also found evidence of a centuries-old Buddhist monastery complex. Archeologists moved in and began their survey.

Then: The 1973 coup. The Marxist revolution of 1978. Civil war. The Soviet invasion. More civil war. The rise of the Taliban. Al-Qaeda. The American invasion. By the time the French returned to Mes Aynak in 2004, the site was pockmarked by missile strikes and criss-crossed with trenches dug by professional looters who carried away an untold number of artifacts.

What was left was arguably the greatest archeological find in a generation:

[E]xcavators uncovered 19 separate archeological sites in the valley. These ranged from four fortified monasteries, a Zoroastrian fire temple and several Buddhist stupas (commemorative monuments), through ancient copper working, smelting workshops, miners habitations and a mint, as well as two small forts and a citadel. They also found a hoard of Kushan, Sassanian and Indo-Parthian coins, more than 1,000 statues, and several perfectly preserved frescoes showing donor portraits and scenes from the life of the Buddha.

The data now shows that Mes Aynak was settled in the Bronze Age and millennia later became a key religious and trading center on the Silk Road, rising to the height of its power between the 5th and 7th Centuries before slowly fading away. The breadth of material found at the site is, by any definition, priceless.

Copper, on the other hand, has a price. Mes Aynak is sitting on an estimated six million tons of it.

In 2007, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) bought a 30-year lease on the mining rights. The $3 billion deal is the biggest private foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history and has the potential to generate billions of dollars in jobs and economic activity.

But to dig a pit mine and extract its profit, MCC decided it would have to completely demolish the Mes Aynak site.

With the demolition originally scheduled for 2012, the World Bank and several foreign governments pitched in millions of dollars to fund a “rescue excavation” in 2010 in an attempt to collect and document as much as possible and quickly as possible. That work continues today, with the perils and promise of that work gaining international attention on July 1 with the global streaming of the documentary Saving Mes Aynak.

Filmmaker Brent Huffman shows the team of Afghan and foreign working in the face of tremendous obstacles. The dig site is patrolled by 1500 Kabul police….but they’re there to protect the MCC, not the necessarily the archeologists. There are landmines in the area. Nor are the free of the mundane frustrations of working on a multi-national project in an unstable nation run by a corrupt government: salaries months arrears, lack of coordination between ministries, inability to get the most basic equipment.

Unlike the ISIS-controlled archeological sites to the West, public pressure could have an impact on Mes Aynak. Demolition may begin sometime this year, but reports have been circulating for months that MCC, faced with mounting costs and falling copper prices and concerned about the deteriorating security, is seeking to renegotiate the terms of 2007 lease. Adding international outrage over potential cultural destruction to the mix could make development even less palatable.

While it seems unlikely that the teams at Mes Aynak could get the four decades they believe it would take to fully excavate the site, they might be able to win a few more precious years to salvage their heritage. In Afghanistan these days, it seems like even a small win is a big win.

Click here to sign the petition to Save Mes Aynak.

A New Face For #TheNewTen: The Case For Lucretia Mott

“I long for the day when my sisters will rise, and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny.Lucretia Mott, 1840

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently announced a major change to US currency: in 2020, Alexander Hamilton will vacate his spot on the $10 note to make way for a woman.

It’s usually the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that comes up with recommendations and designs. In the Twitter Era, however, if it can be hashtagged, it can be turned into a social media campaign. #TheNew10 wants to know what you think. The only criteria are that the woman be “iconic,” a “champion for our inclusive democracy,” and dead. There are already some obvious candidates for the honor and many personal favorites.

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880)

One name that should be on the shortlist is was Lucretia Coffin Mott (1792-1880). Best known today for co-founding the suffrage movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, Mott was one of the most prominent social justice crusaders of the 19th Century.

A Quaker minister in her own right and wife of abolitionist James Mott, Lucretia spent more fifty years speaking out for the rights of others. Rare among her peers, she drew no line between women and people of color. All deserved equality and victory would be incomplete until all groups had attained it.

“I have no idea, because I am a non-resistant, of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave,” she once said. “I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.”

A powerful extemporaneous speaker, she was a popular figure on the antislavery and women’s rights’ lecture circuits. She helped with countless petition drives and fundraisers and committees. Her husband helped found the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, and when women were excluded from joining, she helped establish the racially-integrated Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The Motts boycotted Southern-made goods in business and in their home. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, they made their home a stop on Underground Railroad and raised funds for escapees. She did all this while raising six children and running a large household. “She is proof,” wrote an admirer, “that it is possible for a woman to widen her sphere without deserting it.”

Her activism for women’s rights was sparked in her adolescence, when she realized that female students at her school paid the same amount for half the education, and female teachers were paid a third of what their male counterparts earned for the same amount of work. Along with suffrage, she fought for expanded legal rights for women and better access to education and the professions. In 1864, she helped establish Swarthmore College – on the condition that it incorporate as a coeducational school.

By the late 1850s, she had expanded her advocacy to economic justice and pacifism. “There is a need for preachers against the existing monopolies and banking institutions, by which the rich are made richer, and the poor, poorer,” she argued, 150 years before Elizabeth Warren. “It is contrary to the spirit of this Republic that any should be so rich.” It was not enough to simply give to charity, she once argued “The true philanthropist is compelled…to look beyond the bestowing of a scant pittance to the mere beggar of the day, to the duty of considering the causes and sources of poverty. We must consider how much we have done toward causing it.

Her pacifism was rooted in her Quakerism. “The cause of Peace has had my share of efforts, taking the ultra non-resistance ground that a Christian cannot consistently uphold, and actively support, a government based on the swords, or whose ultimate resort is to the destroying weapons.” After the Civil War, she served for several years as head of the Universal Peace Union, protesting everything from compulsory military training and war taxes to capital punishment, the lynching of African Americans, anti-Asian immigration policies, and denial of rights to native Americans.

Mott did not live to see women win the vote, but the victory arguably wouldn’t have happened without her. She was mentor to the first generation of female political activists. By the way she lived her own life, she showed that a woman could be a activist and a thinker while being a wife and a mother. Women had power, they had voice, they had political tools they could use to change the debate.

“When I first heard from the lips of Lucretia Mott that I had the same right to think for myself that Luther, Calvin, and John Knox had, and the same right to be guided by my own convictions, and would no doubt live a higher, happier life than if guided by theirs, I felt at once a new-born sense of dignity and freedom,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton said forty years after their fateful meeting. “It was was like coming into the rays of the noon-day sun, after wandering [in] the caves of the earth.”

1948 Postage Stamp showing Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Carrie Chapman Catt

She’s been on a stamp. Why not #TheNew10?



Waterloo at 200: Peace for Friedrich Brandt

Two hundred years ago, a young soldier fell on the battlefield at Waterloo and lay undisturbed for the next 197 years.

The only intact skeleton found on the field at Waterloo

In June of 2012, he was unearthed during a project to create an overflow car park in preparation for this year’s observance of the bicentennial, the musket ball that killed him still embedded in his ribcage.

Even then, he was a curiosity: the only intact skeleton yet found on the battlefield. While more than 28,000 soldiers were killed at Waterloo, bone meal dealers are believed to have stripped the fields in the decades after the battle.

Near the body were 20 coins, totalling a month’s salary for a private, an iron spoon, and a stick carved with the faint initials ‘FB 1792.’ In April of this year, Waterloo historian Gareth Glover announced he had used these items to establish the soldier’s identity as Friedrich Brandt, a 23-year old private in the King’s German Legion.

The King’s German Legion was a unit within the British Army made up of ex-pats from the Electorate of Hanover in Lower Saxony. British monarchs also served as the Elector of Hanover; when its army was dissolved after Napoleon’s troops occupied the region in 1803, the British began recruiting Hanoverian soldiers into their own ranks. (more…)