Posts in Europe
George Marshall

Most know that this week marks the anniversary of the June 6 US-led invasion of Europe known as "D-Day," which turned the tide against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, bringing about the end of WWII. Many don’t know, however, that the first week of June is also remembered as the time when the post-war peace in Europe was established. This is all thanks to George Marshall.

Though a soldier in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars, George Marshall is best known to history as a man of peace. In fact, he's the only US soldier to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here's that story...

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Seyran Ates

To say that Seyran Ateş defies stereotypes is an understatement. For starters, she is a female Imam-in-training, a rarity in the Muslim world. In addition, she founded the world’s first “liberal mosque,” which opened its doors in Berlin’s Moabit district on June 17, 2017. It welcomes followers from all interpretations of Islam, including long-time Sunni-Shia antagonists. It allows men and women to worship together, not separated as in traditional practice. It encourages the participation of members of LBGTQ communities, who are banned from prayer gatherings under conservative Islam. Moreover, Ateş insists that women remove their burqas and niqabs inside her mosque for she believes that "full-face veils have nothing to do with religion, but rather are a political statement.”

Named after a Muslim philosopher who defended Greek philosophy and a German writer fascinated by the poetry of the Middle East, the mission of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque is to be a bridge-builder and peace-maker. Yet, it is under attack. So is Seyran Ateş.

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Ada Lovelace

At the age of 14, Ada Lovelace (née Byron) wrote a book on flying machines, called Flyology, and constructed a pair of mechanical wings to help her take off. This may not sound spectacular today but it happened nearly a century before the Wright Brothers managed to get Kitty Hawk into the air. And that wasn’t even her most important intellectual legacy!

The privileged daughter of a famous British poet and a countess, she also invented the algorithm. If Alan Turing was the father of computing, Ada Lovelace was most certainly its grandmother…

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Helvi Sipilä

If you believe that women hold up half the sky – at least – then you're going to love Helvi Sipilä. Little known outside her home country of Finland, she took her cues from past suffragette leaders as Frances Barker Gage and Sylvia Pankhurst and helped pave the way for the generation of female leadership typified by such powerhouses as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama.

In 1972, a new Assistant Secretary-General walked onto the floor of the United Nations. Unlike any other member of the UN senior management team up to that point, this Assistant Secretary-General wore a skirt and heels. Her name was Helvi Sipilä and she was the first female high-level UN official, ever. When she took the position, the UN management team was then 97% male.

Being a woman in local politics – nevermind in a global politics – was then considered an extraordinary accomplishment. But it was time for this to change. And Helvi was ready to lead the charge.

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Deitrich Bonhoeffer

The study of History most often focuses on the rise and fall of demagogues and dictators. But you can be sure that behind each one there are stories – some little known, others perhaps never told – of the brave individuals who made it their life's work to stop them. Even at their own peril.

This is one such story.

In the early 1930s in Germany, there arose to national prominence a man with very peculiar views. His name was Adolf Hitler and he blamed Germany’s post-WWI humiliation and economic failure on the Jews and the communists.

The country's economic distress was more realistically due to the harsh punishment Germany received for being on the losing side of “the war to end all wars” – a nickname for WWI. But paybacks imposed by the victors were so excessive they bankrupted the country and plunged its people into abject, crushing poverty. This created a witch’s brew of bitterness and pain: the perfect environment for a demagogue – a leader who seeks support through prejudice rather than rational argument – to exploit.

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Antonio Gramsci

Written in obscurity from a prison cell, this hero's ideas about power and the roots of social inequality would change the world. 

In 1925 the Prime Minister of Italy, who ruled constitutionally from 1922, dropped all pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship. His name was Benito Mussolini. And if he didn't like the way you thought or what you believed, he had his goons eliminate you or throw you in prison on the remote island of Ustica. 

This is where our story of Antonio Gramsci begins. Mussolini had him arrested in 1926, not for his actions but his words and ideas. Gramsci's vocal point of view was simply too dangerous to allow him to walk free. He was a threat to Mussolini's power.

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Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was the outsider who explained what made an adolescent United States tick. His book, Democracy in America, was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Two centuries later, de Tocqueville's observations ring truer than ever.

In the late 18th century, France and the United States had one thing in common: Revolution. Both nations fought – with each other’s help – to overcome despotic, feudal rule. Both revolutions sought to create societies marked by liberty, equality, and fairness under the law. Both societies communicated these ideals in similar defining documents, both made public in 1789: The Bill of Rights and the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen). Both documents led to the creation of constitutions, which defined processes for governance by rotating elected representation rather than by an absolute monarch who ruled for life.

But as 1789 drew to a close, while the US was busy electing its first president, the French Revolution had been hijacked by extremist factions on both the radical left and ultra-conservative right, plunging its short-lived experiment in republicanism into chaos. The chaos was called The Reign of Terror. Frenchman fought Frenchman, their weapons: imprisonment, sham trials, and the guillotine. Basically, if you didn’t agree with those in power, they took your head.

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Maria Montessori

Some people will go to extraordinary lengths and do whatever it takes to ensure that others succeed. That was Maria Montessori's hallmark.

Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori spent her life challenging expectations -- from the sexism embedded in a country and culture with strictly defined gender roles to the prevailing notions of how children learn.

Maria was one of Italy’s first female doctors. She endured years of hostility, harassment, and outright rejection on the part of her male teacher and peers. But she persevered. And focusing on pediatrics and psychiatry, she became an expert in pediatric medicine.

She began to practice privately in 1896. But the priority she placed on learning and education -- inherited from her parents who sent her to the best institutions Rome then had to offer -- was never too far away.

In the 1890s, most doctors believed that “mentally disabled” children were incapable of being educated. Sadly, many young people, who today would be regarded merely as “learning challenged,” were confined to asylums for life. But Maria disagreed.

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Galen

Sometimes the drive to discover and record your observations can outlive you.

For more than a thousand years, doctors from Spain to Persia looked to one man to define what it meant to practice medicine: Galen.

Galen of Pergamum was born around 129 A.D. He was Greek but grew up in Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. Descendants of Plato and Aristotle, the Greeks were renowned in the Ancient World for their skill in science and art.

Galen's father was a wealthy architect. He saw to it that Galen received the finest education in philosophy, literature and medicine. As a boy, Galen studied the renowned work of the Greek doctor Hippocrates who, already 500 years before, had established medicine as a profession. His famous Hippocratic Oath -- a promise taken by physicians throughout history to uphold specific principles of medical ethics -- remains of paramount significance in the health professions to this day.

When Galen was 19 his father passed away. Galen decided to use his inheritance to follow the advice of his hero...

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Sylvia Pankhurst

What would you do if you were treated unfairly and denied your basic social rights? Sylvia Pankhurst stood up and was heard -- not only for her rights, but for those of others.

Born in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst grew up in the shadow of history’s “radical suffragettes,” the women who, after fighting for their right to vote since the 1870s, lost hope in diplomacy and turned to more extreme means to ensure their voices be heard. Sylvia's mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was one of them. Founder of the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), Emmeline was committed to winning woman's suffrage at any cost.

Sylvia, a talented and precocious writer, joined the women’s suffrage movement in 1906, at the age of 24. That’s when she launched the Woman’s Dreadnought journal in which she would write and publish on issues of women’s’ rights for most of her life.

In 1908, when Britain's Prime Minister refused women the right to vote… again….

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Zenobia

In an era when men believed women weren't fit for war or politics, Zenobia nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

It was 240 A.D. The Roman Empire, in power now for almost three centuries, stretched from what is modern-day Iraq, throughout the Middle East, northward into Europe and across the Channel into Britain. Syria was one of many provinces that the Romans annexed, ruled, and taxed...heavily.

This was the world Zenobia of Palmyra was born into. Though the daughter of a family of shepherds, she was allowed an education. She grew up speaking four languages, including Greek and Latin as well as the languages of her people. 

Outside school, she learned how to ride horses and command her family's flocks. All these skills would serve her well in the years to come.

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Wojtek the Polish Artillery Bear

Has an animal ever given you the courage to carry on, or helped ease the grief that comes when you're far too far from home?

In August 1939, the Soviet Union (modern-day Russia) and Nazi Germany made a secret pact to conquer and divide the nation of Poland, located smack-dab in the center of Europe. In a matter of weeks, while Britain and France looked helplessly on, Poland was wiped off the face of the map. The Soviets deported over 300,000 Poles to forced labor camps, called gulags, in Siberia, while the Germans sent even more to their infamous concentration camps. The exiled Poles had little hope of ever seeing their homeland again.

Then in 1941, Nazi Germany turned on its former ally, the Soviet Union.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Have you ever wondered how far your curiosity for history can take you?

T.E. Lawrence's took him on a whirlwind adventure.

As a boy, Thomas Edward Lawrence was a dreamy eccentric. Born in 1888, he spent his teenage years bicycling around medieval churches to copy engravings. Caught in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian England of his childhood was fixated on progress. Yet he looked back in time. He studied archeology at Oxford, then fled England for Syria at the age of 22 to learn Arabic.

No one ever dreamed this gawky boy from Wales would become one of the most famous strategists and diplomats in British history.

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Jeanne d'Arc

It was 1429. She was an illiterate French peasant, born in midst of the most notable conflict of the Middle Ages, the 100 Years War, in which five generations of kings from two rival kingdoms, England and France, fought over who should rule Western Europe.

Henry V of England at this point claimed the French crown and occupied northern France, including Paris, the most populous city, and Reims, a city of huge symbolic importance for the French: its kings had been crowned there since there were kings. In 1429 the rightful pretender to the throne, Charles VII, was holed up south of Loire River.

His military and political luck were about to change in the form of a teenage girl dressed as a man.

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Margherita Hack

You’ve heard of Carl Sagan, right?

Well, get ready to meet Margherita Hack!

While Margherita Hack was out-of-this-world brilliant, she stayed forever down-to-earth. Italy’s “Lady of the Stars” was an astrophysicist specialized in stellar spectroscopy, yet she was dedicated to communicating both her scientific findings as well as her political opinions in plain, understandable, everyday terms. As a result, she became one of her country’s most beloved cultural icons and one of it’s first “popular scientists.” Her accomplishments are all the more notable because astrophysics was then, as it is now, a male-dominated field.

Yet, she remains largely unknown to the international public. So we’re delighted to introduce her to you today.

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Charlie Chaplin

Do you believe laughter is the best medicine?

So did Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin's own life had nearly as many twists and turns as the movies that made him perhaps the world's first global celebrity. His story begins in true rags-to-riches fashion, centering on a boy born in 1889 London. His father was largely absent so his mother Hannah, a singer and vaudevillian, brought up her sons, Charlie and Sydney, backstage. One night, so the story goes, Hannah – who performed under the name Lily Harley – lost her voice in the middle of a show. The production manager thrust five-year-old Chaplin onto stage in her place. He wowed the audience with his singing abilities and comedic timing -- at one point, bringing the house down by imitating his mother's cracking voice...

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Jane Goodall

Today is #NationalWildlifeDay. And we've got the perfect  #HistoryHero to celebrate and commemorate this special event.

Even as a child, Jane Goodall loved animals. She liked to watch birds and to sketch them, as well as read zoology texts. As a five-year-old, she hid out in the family henhouse in order to discover where eggs came from. Her mother was frantic with worry. But when Jane emerged, wide-eyed with wonder, holding a newly hatched and still warm egg in her tiny hands, mum didn't have the heart to scold her little girl. Instead, she told Jane that if she worked hard, and took advantage of opportunities, she could be anything she wanted to be. But this was more easily said than done.

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Diana, Princess of Wales

Today we join the world in remembering the “People’s Princess,” Lady Diana Spencer, the dedicated humanitarian who changed how the world views the British Monarchy as well as HIV/AIDS, depression, and the political use of landmines. She died 20 years ago today.

Not a day goes by without her surviving sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, wondering “what kind of public role she would have and what a difference she would be making," had she lived.

She was 36 years young when greed and a tragic accident took her from us. She is missed.

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