Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud


We all envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experience some moments of inspiration that might lead us toward a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals during our formative years. Most of the young people I knew preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about playtime for the kids I grew up around, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. Few of them knew they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How could they achieve that level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, they claimed to have tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone I knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as I guessed.

The questions we have about what to do for a living have plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your relatives asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet. Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting the irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”

Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The researcher will also discover that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.

Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.

Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876.[1] Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”.[2] One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” as the New York Times described Freud’s working environment. [3] His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.

Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound of an effect did this failure to find eel testicles have on his research into human sexual development?

In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that we hoped might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other jobs that we hoped we would find more financially rewarding and fulfilling.

Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the futile search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.

If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him?

Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase the elusive eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to a field of science that would later become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that it off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others say this might have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.

How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained a marine biologist? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?

We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those that claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and the more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual.[4] If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies on this subject provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate … All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.[5]

Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eel_life_history

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/27/the-decline-of-the-eel

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/health/psychology/analyze-these.html

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

[5]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

If you enjoyed this unique perspective on Sigmund Freud, you might also enjoy the following:

Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

The History of Bloodletting by Mark Twain

The Perfect Imperfections of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

James Joyce: Incomparable or Incomprehensible?

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises

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The Perfect Imperfections of Kafka’s Metamorphosis


It’s not funny that a man, a Gregor Sama, awakes one day to discover that a he is a monstrous vermin. (Some readers have declared that Sama changed into a giant insect or a cockroach.) It could be funny, some would suggest, in the hands of more humorous writer. The plot could be less cerebral, more slapstick, and loaded with innuendo in other hands. The premise is just ripe for one-liners, hilarious getups, and situation comedy gold. In Franz Kafka’s hands, however, Metamorphosis is not only unfunny. It’s not even humorous. If the story didn’t have such a preposterous premise, we might call it tragic. As David Foster Wallace, suggests, however, that’s what makes the story so funny.

If a stubborn reader takes umbrage with the fact that some consider Kafka’s masterpiece Metamorphosis funny, they would have to admit that using such a disturbing transformation to explain human psychology is one of the finest literary definitions of the word clever.

For young, aspiring writers, Metamorphosis may also be one of the finest examples of Chekov’s razor we have in the literary canon. For what modern writer would attempt to write a story of a man turning into a bug without some sort of explanation for that transformation? Amazon.com reviewers would surely roast a modern writer at the stake for not setting this story up with a proper scientific explanation for how could a reader pay attention to such a story without a sufficient explanation. They might even suggest that the omission is distracting. Moviegoers might require a detailed, computer-generated-imagery (CGI) visual description of this transformation, brought to you by the fine people from Lucas Films, LTD. A writer shouldn’t start a story after the transformation, modern audiences might complain. The transformation is the story, or at least the cool part of the story.

We can only guess that throughout the gestation of Metamorphosis Franz Kafka attempted some explanations, and that he couldn’t come up with one he considered satisfactory. Those of us that know literary techniques could also guess that at some point in the creative process, Kafka learned of Chekov’s razor, and Kafka began to believe that those explanations were of no value to anyone but himself, thus leading him to place the explanation on the editing room floor. The only explanation we get is, “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams. He found himself in his bed into a monstrous vermin transformed.” Kafka might have deemed all preceding detail irrelevant and best left to the imagination of the reader.

Gregor’s dreams weren’t even horrific! Evil! or Maddening! Kafka does not lead the reader to believe the transformation was the result of the dreams. The dreams were “uneasy”. Subtle, in other words, and inconsequential to the story.

Kafka’s apparent adherence to Chekov’s razor informs the reader that the transformation is not the story. Kafka apparently deemed the transformation so low on the scale of importance, in the story, that when his publisher informed him that a bug would be on the cover of the story, Kafka replied, “Not that, please not that!” Kafka may have hoped to attract readers with the premise of the transformation, but he hoped that readers would approach the story with more nuance. If Kafka were alive today, and awash in modern lexicon, he might say that readers should read Metamorphosis from an “It is what it is” perspective and nothing more.

Although, Kafka spends some time revealing how the other characters react to Gregor’s transformation by screaming, fainting, and falling, he does not portray these reactions in a humorous manner that we could call overt. The mother falls over a table, and Gregor’s employer runs from the apartment. A reader, reading from the “more is always more” perspective would not be pleased with Franz Kafka, and Kafka might even find himself the subject of constructive criticism for Metamorphosis if he had written this story today.

“You could do so much more with these scenes,” one imagines a group of beta readers informing Franz Kafka, in a modern day writing circle. “Why don’t you have the sister, this Grete, vomit? You could then describe the vomit in intricate detail.” “What about having the father pee his pants in alarm? Bodily functions are always funny.” and Kafka might hear something along the lines of, “You’ve just left us hanging here, begging for more.”

In Kafka’s “it is what it is” hands, however, these reactions are portrayed in a serious, if not sad vein, as the victim of the metamorphosis becomes more ostracized from his own family due to his affliction. The humor, if there is any in this scene, is for the reader to define.

The lesson Metamorphosis provides to the aspiring writer that seeks to learn a lesson in style, is in the power of subtlety. The outlandish storyteller, seeking to provide modern lessons in disturbing and evocative imagery, learns in one reading of this story that the “it is what it is” principle of storytelling should be employed to lay a foundation of pedantic reality from which the reader can leap.

“It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor,” David Foster Wallace said, postulating on the frustration of teaching Franz Kafka, “but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get –the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke– that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens … and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch (Translation: That’s really funny).”

Even to those of us that appreciate subtlety, it is difficult to read this quintessential Kafka story, Metamorphosis, without feeling a little letdown by the anti-climactic ending. The monstrous vermin, that is Gregor Samsa, dies without ceremony. The advent of his death is subtle and inconsequential. By the time Gregor succumbs to death, his family is glad to be rid of him. To them, he has become a burden and an embarrassment. The reader infers that the Samsa family members are already at peace with the loss of Gregor, but there is little evidence of this fact in the passages that follow the transformation. The mother does state that she wants to visit her son, at one point, but the family easily dissuades her from doing so. Her plea, we can only guess, is nothing more than a mother attempting to display motherly concern, and the idea that the other two family members are able to easily dissuade her suggests that her concern is largely self-serving symbolism. After the transformed Gregor finally dies, the Samsa family calls upon the maid to dispose of the carcass, in the manner they might any other burdensome vermin.

Kafka scholars state that he agreed that Metamorphosis had an unsatisfactory ending stating: “Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to its very marrow.” After the initial reading of the story, this reader found himself letdown too. I fell prey to imagining the possibilities. I thought of other avenues for the story, great one-liners, hilarious getups, and the manner in which the situation could be weaved to comedic gold for others “to get”. The more I thought about Metamorphosis’ ending, the more I thought the imperfect ending might have been the perfect one. For, if as David Foster Wallace suggested, “The horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”

If there is humor in Metamorphosis, it cannot be located from the subjective distance most might view a fantastical tale of a man that transforms into an insect of some sort. It requires a long form interpretation from the reader imagining that they are one of the lucky few that will live a long life. For, if we are one of those lucky few, we will begin to gain distance from what we meant throughout our life, and that struggle to establish, and re-establish ourselves will begin to wane, as it did for our loved ones when they began to age and metamorphosed into senile, old people that are incapable of taking care of themselves. They were lucky enough to live long lives, but they eventually became a burden to the family, as we all will when we become reduced to that perspective our loved ones currently have of us. We will reach a point where they no longer cherish what we once were –when we guided them through life and took care of them– and it’s almost a relief to them that we’re gone, and we arrive at our anti-climactic ending that requires our loved ones pay others for our disposal.

 

Killing Hitler


Any discussion of World War II (WWII) begins and (unfortunately) ends with one name: Adolf Hitler.  The whole point of WWII was to stop the advancing dictator, and it would’ve ended a lot quicker if a more reasonable tyrant were in charge of Germany’s side of it.  Without Adolf Hitler, so goes the story line, there is no second World War, hundreds of thousands do not die in battle, or as a result of battle, and there is no Holocaust.  The latter may be truer than either of the former speculations, as the Holocaust appears to be a direct result of Hitler’s insecurities and anti-Semitism.  The question that people of my generation have often asked is:

If you could go back in time, would you kill Adolf Hitler?”

Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz

Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz

Everyone says, “Of course!  Think of all the many hundreds of thousands –check that— millions of lives that could’ve been saved, if this one man had been killed.”  Just about everyone I know lists killing Hitler as the primary objective involved in building a time machine in the first place.

The first question that has to be asked of this theoretical assassination attempt is what date would you put into your time machine’s database?  If you landed on the small farm outside of Linz, Austria to find a young, carefree Adolf, what good would killing that young boy have done?  Many have theorized that post-WWI Germany was in such dire straits that it was vulnerable to an Adolf Hitler type that could make them feel proud to be German again amid the devastation that the first World War laid upon their country.   It is possible that Hitler’s gifts of persuasion, and overall charisma, were such that he managed to get some people to do some things that may not have done if they weren’t so overwhelmed by his charm, but it’s also possible that someone, or some equally heinous movement, would’ve done the same.

After WWI, Allied leaders ignored the status of the country, believing that a devastated Germany would not have the ability, or the will to fight again. They also considered the country’s devastation a just punishment, and an exclamation mark on their victory.  Hitler’s rise to power, amid this devastation, set a precedent for the world to follow regarding war-torn countries.  As a result, countries like the United States and Britain, now provide aid, financial and otherwise, to war-torn countries to try to prevent another situation from which a Hitler-like leader would be eagerly accepted by that country’s people.

If the time machine maker were to wait until Hitler took over, to thus deprive the Third Reich of its megalomaniac leader, and hopefully cripple it, it could be said that Hitler may have become a martyr that rallied Germans to unify to greater evil.  The point to this is that not only did Hitler shape world history in all the evil ways that have been well documented, but the reaction to the aftermath of all that Hitler did set a number of precedents for how the world was going to act if they hoped to prevent another Hitler.

The Foolish Neville Chamberlain

One of the greatest scapegoats of WWII was Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain is historically perceived as naïve for believing that he could trust Hitler’s proclamation, in the Munich Agreement, that if Chamberlain were “to give” the German speaking portions of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Hitler would go no further.  Most historians will concede that there was some naïvete on Chamberlain’s part, in that, as Michael McCarthy writes in The Independent:

“He should have seen then that appeasement would not stop such a power-mad dictator,” that a “A resolute show of force (with the French) might have persuaded Hitler to pull back,” and that “(Chamberlain’s) appeasement actions convinced Hitler of Britain’s weakness and encouraged him to make further demands.”

The historical record also states, however, that Chamberlain was hamstrung by the fact that Britain’s forces were ill-prepared for war in 1938, and that it was far better prepared in 1939.  Britain’s government also feared a widespread bombing campaign by the Germans.  All of the intel that Chamberlain had at his disposal, according to these sources, said that an attempt at appeasement was the proper course to follow to at the very least slow Hitler’s exploits until Britain was fully ready for the battle.  The intel also stated that after WWI, the British citizens were so against any further war that a “Peace in our time” type of proclamation, would go over big in Britain.

Nick Bauman, from Slate, also writes that listed in all of the intel gathered before the Munich Agreement:

“Chamberlain was informed that many of Britain’s WWI allies could not be counted on to join a fight against Germany.  Due to the post-war constitutions, and laws, of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., Britain believed that her ill-equipped forces would be going it alone against Germany’s superior, and better prepared, forces.  The Soviet Union was, at that point, something of an enemy of Britain’s, and Chamberlain didn’t think he could count on France holding Germanic forces back for a long period of time.”  

One of the many reasons Chamberlain is still regarded as a scapegoat for all that would eventually go down in WWII was the manner in which he characterized his actions in Munich Agreement.  Some Czechoslovakians felt that Chamberlain had sacrificed them to appease Hitler.  As evidence of this, they pointed to Chamberlain’s statement that Czechoslovakia was “A faraway country of which we know nothing”.  His words may not have been politic, but they reflected the worldwide sentiment at the time, as British historian and Chamberlain biographer, David Dutton details:

“People regarded Czechoslovakia as an artificial creation.  The perception by the ’30s was there was a problem, it was soluble by negotiation, and we ought to try.  (Czechoslovakia) was not the sort of thing that would unite the country (as) an issue to go to war over.” 

Ouch!  A great deal of scorn was directed at Chamberlain, and the remaining Allies that backed this sentiment, but it was apparently the sentiment that Chamberlain brought to the Munich Agreement.

It’s also important to note that not only did Chamberlain receive literal applause in Britain for his actions, but he received proverbial applause from Britain’s allies.  War had been averted to most minds, and the diplomatic maneuver by Chamberlain was well received by all but Chamberlain’s fiercest, and most vocal, critic: Winston Churchill.

At this point in history, however, Churchill was largely disregarded based on a history of making poor judgments when it came to military affairs. The historical record is on Churchill’s side, of course, but with the war that tore Europe apart (WWI) only twenty years removed, citizens of Britain, and the world, were eager to dismiss Churchill’s warnings and embrace Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” proclamation … Even if they suspected that it was a only band aid.

In the subsequent months, of course, and in most popular discourse over this issue, Chamberlain became the “naïve” scapegoat, but “Over time,” Dutton writes, “The weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation” of what Chamberlain had to do at the time.

On his deathbed, Chamberlain remained steadfast that his actions in Munich, in 1938, delayed war, and subsequently allowed for Britain to prepare, and eventually defeat Germany.  He further stated that he believed that with the “True inside story” of these years in the hands of historians, that he would receive a favorable verdict.

Churchill, though sympathetic in general to Chamberlain’s goals, characterized Chamberlain as “Well-meaning but weak.”  Churchill also stated that he believed that a pre-war grand coalition of European States may have been able to have Adolf Hitler removed.  Churchill further countered Chamberlain’s position on Munich and 1938, and the subsequent interpretations provided above by Nick Bauman and Michael McCarthy, stating that “The year’s delay between Munich and war worsened Britain’s position.”

History, it has been said, is merely a story of events, cataloged for future students to learn “So that,” as philosopher George Santayana has said, “They are not doomed to repeat it.”  Historians, blessed with the gift of hindsight, have largely called the Munich Agreement, a failure, and they have stated that Churchill was right with his opinions that many of Hitler’s actions, and thus WWII, could’ve been prevented.  If Chamberlain had been as gifted with the art of persuasion as Hitler, he could’ve led a grand coalition to remove Hitler, such as the one Churchill prescribed.  If Chamberlain had been as charismatic as Hitler, and he was able to persuade Britain’s allies that Hitler provided an urgency that would require them to circumvent their constitutions and laws, for the “one time” emergency of removing the unprecedented threat Hitler posed the world in 1938, all of this could’ve been averted.

There’s also the lesson to be learned from the fact that Chamberlain appeared to believe that the threat Hitler posed was exaggerated, and that he didn’t need to do all that Churchill prescribed, and that threat could be appeased, as current diplomats and current social leaders believe current irrational proponents of evil can be appeased, and are exaggerated.  But perhaps the most vital aspect of the historical lesson WWII taught to us existed in the fact that Hitler was able to exploit the desire for “Peace in our time” to restore Germanic pride to the heinous levels he did.  Killing Hitler, before he was able to accomplish this, probably wouldn’t have prevented this loophole from occurring in history, as someone, or some group, probably would’ve come along to provide history a lesson they would be doomed to repeat.

To paraphrase Voltaire, if Adolf Hitler had never existed, or someone built a time machine to remove him from the historical record, and the many lessons he taught the world, there would be a need to create him.

Killing Patton: A Review


Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the Gun down.” ― Malcolm X

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” ― G.K. Chesterson

092414_bill“Nobody likes war,” is the old adage.  Some do.  Some have it coursing in their veins.  These types do not seek war, but once it happens, something kicks in that separates them from the rest of us.  Something intangible that no one can teach defines them among their peers. Give these types what they deem to be a justifiable and worthy cause and they won’t hesitate to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met.  General George Smith Patton Jr. was one of these men. The intro of Patton’s most famous speech expressed as much:

“Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of (BS). Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”

Patton first saw combat in what has been called the Pancho Villa Expedition, or the Mexican Expedition of 1916, he then saw action in World War I (WWI), and then, of course, in WWII.  Like many men of his era, Patton saw war for most of his adult life.  Whereas some came to be affected by it in deleterious ways, Patton was emboldened by it.

Pacifists, like the television show M*A*S*H’s character Hawkeye Pierce, have never understood this mentality.  The character stated –and I’m paraphrasing— “I never understood how someone that wrote as beautifully as Ernest Hemingway, would choose war as his subject.”  The implicit statement in the character’s complaint is that only way Hemingway could write about such things is by never experiencing the true horror of it firsthand.  Yet, a cursory glance through Hemingway’s history shows that he was an ambulance driver in WWI, a position that led him to see more carnage than all of the M*A*S*H writers combined, yet unlike the M*A*S*H writers, he continued to write of some of the glory that could be found in war, in many of his most famous books.  The complaint that pacifists like Hawkeye Pierce, have of Hemingway is, if he saw the casualties of war how could he focus on the glory, when there is no glory in war, and the only winners are the ones that lose the least. Hemingway agreed, at least in part, saying:

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
― Ernest Hemingway

For better or worse, most of the men of Hemingway and Patton’s generation were either tacitly, or personally, affected, influenced, and characterized by war.  Hemingway’s life was so influenced by the various wars that occurred in his life that for him to write on another subject was difficult.  He did it, but many claim that most of his best works chronicled war.  As a side note, Hemingway did attempt to enter WWI, but he received a deferment based on poor vision.  Patton’s life was as influenced by war, and to write a piece on him without including descriptions of their war time activities he engaged in would be nearly impossible.  War defined him, and he defined wars.

Killing Patton

For those not familiar with the process that Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard bring to the discussion of history in their Killing series, Martin Dugard does the research and Bill O’Reilly takes that research and puts it in a readable style that O’Reilly equates to a John Grisham style of writing.  The research that Mr. Dugard performed in the eight books written before the Killing series so impressed Bill O’Reilly, that Bill labeled him one of the best researchers in the country.

The benefits of the partnership they formed comes through in the readability that O’Reilly brings to Martin Dugard’s research.  I must confess here, that I have never read one of Mr. Dugard’s books, but as a researcher, and writer, I can tell you that it’s very difficult to edit, or delete, large chunks of the work you’ve done in research.  A decent writer, knowing the virtues of pace and readability, will remove those large chunks of work that the researcher has unearthed and provide an easy read of the material.

Those of us that love history, love many of the mainstream, history books, but we also know that they have a tendency to get bogged down in detail.  Even the best of these books require breaks.  There’s just too much information in them for one brain to handle in one setting.  Thus, the formula that these two men have laid out is that the writer, Bill O’Reilly, will surf through all of Dugard’s research and use only that which fits what he terms a readable pace.

In the book Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, the two authors uncover a wealth of information.  At its best, the book provides details of some of WWII’s most heroic efforts.  It provides details of the lives, and the actions of some of WWII’s great leaders Patton, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and some details of Winston Churchill’s actions during the War.  It also informs the readers of WWII’s lesser-known heroes, the warriors that carried out the orders of all those listed above.  There are moments in the book, a reader will find thrilling, and other moments involving the chilling details of how close this war came to going the other way if not for some crucial German mistakes, some of which were procured through Allied deceptions.  Those of us that believed that WWII came to an end soon after the Omaha Beach landing have been corrected by many authors, including the two here.

The most controversial portion of Killing Patton involves the death of General Patton.  It provides details of a conspiracy theory that the Premier of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, may have ordered Patton killed.  Anyone that knows anything about Bill O’Reilly has to suspect that this was his idea.  One has to suspect that while sifting through Dugard’s research, Mr. O’Reilly unearthed a sales tactic to separate Killing Patton from the numerous books written on WWII.  The latter involves as much speculation on my part, as the conspiracy theory does.

As the theme of a 2003 ABC special, conducted on the assassination of John F. Kennedy suggested, some of the times, it’s difficult to believe that consequential men can die by inconsequential means, or that inconsequential men can take down consequential men … Even by accident, as appears to be the case of Patton.  Some of the times, it’s much more interesting to look at all of the circumstantial evidence and wrap it up in a bow for greater sales and easier promotion.  While on his promotional tour, Bill has admitted that he doesn’t know exactly what happened, and that he’s speculating with this particular theory, and that the evidence he cites is circumstantial, but he says, “There’s enough there to warrant more investigation.”  Some have questioned the latter, and others have outright refuted it.  Those that have refuted it have dismissed the entire book on the basis of this theory.  Personally, I think this is a mistake, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that factual errors, or speculative theories, in other books have rendered those books unreadable by me.  With that qualifier out of the way, I must say that this is a great read, and there are numerous, substantiated facts in this book that are fascinating.

Some may also dismiss Killing Patton on the basis that it is but another book that glorifies war, warriors, and the archetypal males that have a lust for violence and war.  Some may argue that the very premise of such a book only contributes to the patriarchal, male dominated society that we’ve all been trying to defeat for the last few decades.  They would also argue that in our more civilized societies, the warrior mentality is a lot less necessary, as any and all threats we face are greatly exaggerated by political types of the same mind.  These men, these warriors, used to be enshrined in their cultures, but some may argue that was based on the fact that those societies were less stable, that needed warriors to help them continue as a culture.  They argue from the mentality that our civilization is so much more stable, and permanent, that intellectual diplomats, and social leaders, are far more necessary to continued peace.  Yet, those types usually fail when confronted with irrational evil, and it is at that point that warriors, like General George S. Patton, are brought in to clean up the mess and provide the continued illusion of permanence.

Rasputin III: The Fall of Rasputin


“They tried stabbing him, poisoning him, beating him, shooting him five times, and they even tried drowning him,” a history teacher said, “but a Russian peasant named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin refused to die.”

This provocative introduction to a chapter in Russian history left a sophomore class of boys spellbound. The teacher went onto detail how this Russian peasant climbed the ladder of Russia’s otherwise strict class structure to provide some influence on the Romanov empire. The teacher described how Rasputin’s reputation for having mystical, healing powers precipitated this ascension in the empire. The teacher also stated that some believed his powers bordered on the supernatural, and how this speculation led some to call him “The Mad Monk”. 

This history teacher, unlike the many I’ve had since, was a gifted storyteller. He laid that provocative description out there, and he spent the rest of the class detailing the life of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. As interesting as the tale of Rasputin’s rise was to us, we couldn’t wait for him to conclude the provocative “the man that couldn’t be killed” introduction.

“The truth of Rasputin’s murder,” counters author Joseph T. Fuhrman, “was not as amazing as the mythology that has surrounded it.”

RasputinWhile it may be true that all of the attempts to kill Rasputin occurred in the manner listed above, it is not true, as my history teacher’s verbal commas would suggest, that they all occurred on separate occasions.

It is true that Rasputin was stabbed on one occasion, by a woman without a nose, but that did not prove fatal. He was shot at five times in the course of one night, but two of those shots missed, and two of them penetrated locations that would not have been immediately fatal to any other, normal human. It is also true that the conspirators, that would take his life on this fatal night, did try to poison Rasputin, but it’s conceivable that they failed give him a lethal amount of that poison. When the poison failed to produce the immediate results they desired, they panicked, and they began shooting at him, and he did survive, but it wasn’t the real life Freddy Krueger/Michael Meyers-style resurrection we students imagined. It was more about the location of the shots, on Rasputin’s body, than anything supernatural, or mystical. One of the bullets, Fuhrmann notes –citing autopsies performed on Rasputin’s body– passed through Rasputin’s stomach and liver, and another passed through his kidney. Neither of those bullets proved to be fatal, as they wouldn’t have on any other mere mortal, but they would’ve … given enough time.

In the intervening minutes that occurred after the first shot –that went through his stomach and liver– Rasputin did manage to regain his feet and make a move on his assailant, but all Rasputin ended up doing, was grab his assailant’s shoulder and tear an epaulet off his uniform. He did not, as some speculate, reach up and begin choking his assailant. He grabbed his assailant’s shoulder, tore the epaulet off, began grumbling the assailant’s name, and fled into the snowy night.

While attempting to flee, Rasputin was shot at four more times, two missed, one struck him in the back and traveled through the kidney, and he dropped. The other, the fifth and fatal shot, went through his forehead. Some have it that that final shot occurred from a distance, but the autopsies suggest it was delivered execution-style, due to the gun residue located at the entry point on Rasputin’s forehead. Some autopsies suggest that there was water in Rasputin’s lungs that would suggest that he was alive when he hit the water, as his assailants attempted to drown him after the shooting, but Fuhrmann suggests that the greater evidence informs us that Rasputin was dead before he hit the water. 

As for my history teacher suggesting that they tried beating him to death, the evidence derived from the post-mortem examination suggest that the bumps and bruises Rasputin received all occurred as a result of a beating his body received after death. The execution-style gun blast to the forehead ended the story of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but his mythology began there. 

This idea that Rasputin was difficult to kill speaks to this very human fear of how easy it is to kill a person. Movies and TV shows leave the impression that when a person shoots at us, the bullet almost always finds our most delicate and vulnerable locations, and we’re dead within seconds. The same holds true for an attempt to poison another. When we learn that another did not die as quickly as we fear we might in a similar situation, especially when those facts are presented in a provocative ten second introduction, we immediately assign supernatural qualities to that survival.  

Our teacher also told us that Rasputin’s presumed dead body was thrown in the water, with a stone tied to him, and that the Russians dragged the lake and found the ropes and the stone, but they never found Rasputin’s body. This is not true, but it added a necessary ingredient to the “he who never lives can never die” narrative our history teacher was building. I still don’t know if my teacher was such a great storyteller that he wanted to avoid the facts of his narrative, or if he believed what he was telling us, but the captivating details led me to do some research on Rasputin later that night. 

To those of us that love great stories, and the mythology that grows around them, it was disappointing to learn that Rasputin’s body was as vulnerable to those agents that cause death as anyone else’s. We consider it much more interesting to speculate about the differences between history’s good guys, and bad guys, and how history’s bad guys are somehow able to escape that which would leave mere mortals more susceptible. On a certain level, we all know that none of this is true, but it’s more interesting, and fun, to speculate and mythologize an otherwise normal, albeit brutal tale regarding one’s demise by leaving out key details.

The Parables of History

“Those that don’t study history, are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana said to give history teachers a gift that keeps on giving. 

“All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that,” a cynical student of history might say, when learning of Santayana’s quote, in conjunction with some of history’s greatest failings. They might use this mindset in response to the Romanovs’ involvement with Rasputin. “We’re not as hyper-religious as those in the Russian Empire were at the turn of the century, so we’re not going to be as vulnerable to a charlatan who states that he knows scripture backwards and forwards, who states he has God’s ear, and thus gains a Svengali-like hold on the minds of the citizens.”

“As opposed to the messages in modern media, history is replete with charlatans, both religious and non,” that history teacher might respond. “It’s also replete with victims that fail to learn from the mistakes made in history and proceed to repeat the same mistakes when the next charlatan comes along with different promises of something bigger and better. If your takeaway from this lesson is that a charlatan follows a uniform code of conduct, or that you can spot a charlatan by spotting a cross in their ensemble, you’re more likely to become one of history’s next victims.”

“How could they have been so stupid?” will still be on the lips, and in the minds, of these cynical students reading through the history of the Romanov Empire, just as it will be when they learn of the lead up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now that we know the outcome, we can’t help but feel superior to those that ignored, or misread, all that led up to the great deceptions in history.

Are we superior now, after learning history’s lessons, or will future students of history be shaking their heads, and condemning our generation, for missing all of the undeniable signs of inevitability that led to the terrorist attack on 9/11/01? “How did your generation’s leaders fall for that?” these future students may ask. “There were so many signs. How could they have been so stupid?”

“All I can tell you,” we may say to that member of another generation studying our history, “is that you have the advantage of hindsight. You weren’t there.”

Other than the rise to influence that Grigori Rasputin attained in the Russian Empire, and the healing of Alexis Romanov at the miracle at Spala, Rasputin’s name is etched into history by the manner in which he was murdered, and the mythology that surrounds it.

The Mythology of the Mad Monk

The lone mythology of the murder of the “Mad Monk” that Fuhrmann willing entertains is the idea that the British Secret Intelligence Service (the BSIS) either organized the plot to kill Rasputin, or they encouraged it. He states that what lends this speculation plausibility is the idea that Britain may have believed that Rasputin was influencing Nicholas II to end Russia’s participation in World War I (WWI).

“Rasputin was not doing this,” Fuhrmann writes, “but Britain may not have known this, and Britain needed (WWI adversary) Germany concentrating at least some of their forces on Russia, until the United States would enter the war.” Fuhrmann further states that “Britain’s Military Intelligence, Section Six, (MI6), promised to publish its files on Rasputin’s murder, but it decided to delay it, we can assume, to avoid cooled relations between Moscow and London.”

Those that portray Rasputin as a towering figure that loomed over the Russian Empire may be putting too much weight in the characterizations put forth by Rasputin fans, and those that seek to characterize the man as a monster for the benefit of their monster stories.

Objective reporters report that Rasputin was 5’9”and thin. They will also tell you that he was born an illiterate peasant, and he died having never achieved what observers would call a well-educated background. Those same reporters will concede that he did make the most of that limited education. They will report that far from being detached from tangible possessions, or status, Rasputin accepted and showed off gifts from the Romanovs and their loyalists with child-like glee. Witnesses characterized this glee as similar to that which a dog may display after receiving treats for performing tricks, and like that dog Rasputin never recognized that the treats were laced with unintended condescension. These objective historians will also report that if Rasputin ever towered over the Russian Empire, in the manner some historians suggest, it was dealt a hefty blow when the girl without a nose stabbed him. Those favorable renditions claim that Rasputin recovered, and they leave it at that to further the mythology surrounding him. Rasputin did recover, but it took a considerable amount of time in which Rasputin could be found wounded, sick, frail, and paranoid from that point forward. In the time he spent healing from his wounds, and in the state of mind he was in in the aftermath, Rasputin lost whatever influence he may have had at one time. Even if all of these objective reports are true, it could still be stated that Rasputin achieved a position that was light years above the station his friends and family in Pokrovskoye ever knew.

The Politics of Grigori Rasputin

Reflecting on the life of Grigori Rasputin, some historians suggest that he was nothing more than a “right place, right time” opportunist that wasn’t as proactive in shaping his story as others suggest. Fuhrmann refutes that by stating that Rasputin exhibited a politician’s ability to make connections, and that he was particularly adept at choosing those connections that would prove most conducive to advancing him into an influential position.

He also managed to persuade those in power, in a political manner, to change his name from Rasputin to Rasputin-Novyi, or “New Rasputin”. The modus operandi for doing this, according to Fuhrmann, was that the name Rasputin carried some negative connotations within the Russian Empire of the day. Rasputin further managed, as some “more adept” modern politicians have done, to persuade those in the Empire to deem it “unethical” for anyone to use his true name. Rasputin later stated that it was never his idea to change his name, but Fuhrmann states that the name change was made as a result of Rasputin’s petition to Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin also managed to have the Tsarista Alexandra refer to Rasputin, in the letters she wrote of him, with a capital ‘H’ on the pronoun him, a convention of the English language most reserve for God. Thus, it could be said, Rasputin did have some hand in creating the legacy we know today, in that he knew how to manipulate his perception in ways the modern culture will when they attempt to soften perceptions of criminals and terrorists with more pleasing terms, even if those calculated manipulations tend to appear inconsequential at the time.

“If I die, or you abandon me,” Rasputin is reported to have told Nicholas II, “you will lose your son, and your crown in six months.” 

This has been regarded as an ominous prophecy by Rasputin, based on the fact that the Romanov rule would end seventy-five days after Rasputin’s murder. If one dissects the timeline, however, they would realize that once the one that plagued the empire was out of the way, the excuses for the failures of the ruling family would be gone too, and the Romanovs would then become the center of the focus for any of Russia’s failures.

Reading through Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s excellent book Rasputin: The Untold Story, the numerous internet sources on the subject, and watching the Rasputin documentaries on Bio and Discovery, one cannot help but realize how much speculation and uncertainty looms over the events that occurred in the life of Grigori Rasputin. The author/researcher needs to choose between the varying versions of the tale of the man’s life, and they have to sift through the varying opinions of those near contradictory versions.  

The question regarding whether Rasputin had any influence on the Russian empire is uniformly accepted, but how much he had is the source of some speculation. Some regard him as an opportunist that seized upon a vulnerable empire, and others suggest that he was a savvy man, in a political sense, in that he manipulated some of the most educated, most influential people of his day as well as any manipulator in history has.

“No figure in modern history has provoked such a mass of sensational and unreliable literature as Grigori Rasputin,” writer Colin Wilson states. “More than a hundred books have been written about him, and not a single one can be accepted as a sober presentation of his personality. There is an enormous amount of material on him, and most of it is full of invention or willful inaccuracy. Rasputin’s life, then, is not ‘history’; it is the clash of history with subjectivity.”

The Beginning: Part I: Rasputin Rises

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.  2013. Print.

http://www.amazon.com/Rasputin-Untold-Joseph-T-Fuhrmann-ebook/dp/B00E9CSSNG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388534025&sr=8-1&keywords=rasputin

Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala


“How could they have been so stupid?” students of history say when they learn of the conclusion of some of history’s greatest stories, and her victims. “How could they not have known?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it can lead the observer to believe that they are smarter than the greatest minds in sports, politics, and history. Hindsight can lead us to call the brightest minds and most celebrated figures of history stupid, incompetent, and inept.

“How could the Romanovs have failed to see Rasputin for what he was?” students of history will ask as they page through the history of the Russian Empire, the Romanovs, and their association with the “Mad Monk” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. “All the signs were there. Why did they ignore, or fail to grasp the totality of what Rasputin was on about?” 

There may be some moments in their brief history together, where a student of history sympathizes with the Romanovs, but for the most part, they will key in on those moments when the Romanovs proved most vulnerable to the “Mad Monk’s” displays of “other worldly” powers of healing to launch himself into a powerful, and influential, position in the Russian Empire and say, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, most historical figures are “right place, right time” opportunists defined by their ability to take advantage of windows of opportunity in their era, and for those that would go on to achieve infamy, the ability to take advantage of people in their most vulnerable moments. Adolf Hitler, it could be said, never would’ve risen to power were it not for the vast vulnerability Germany found itself in, in the aftermath World War I and The Depression, and an illiterate peasant from Pokrovskoye, named Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, may never have risen to historical status were it not for one sick, young child.

A Sick, Young Child

In Joseph T. Fuhrmann’s book Rasputin: The Untold Story, we learn that Rasputin’s window of opportunity occurred when Tsar Nicholas II’s son Alexis suffered a serious attack of hemophilia that began at a hunting preserve in a Russian village called Spala on October 2, 1912.

“This particular attack,” Fuhrmann writes, “was not life-threatening, and Rasputin never “cured” or “healed” the Tsarevich (son of the Tsar) of his hemophilia on this, or any other, occasions. The Tsarevich Alexis Romanov had hemophilia the day he was born, until the day he died.” 

In the space of all of the men of medicine attempting to alleviate Alexis of the pain of the symptoms of this particular attack, however, a peasant from Pokrovskoye stepped forward and did something to provide the boy some temporary relief, and that something that he did would eventually enshrine the name Rasputin in history.

As the author writes numerous times throughout the book, it’s impossible to know with absolute certitude what that something was. We can speculate from accounts witnessed and recorded by friends of the empire, and we can sort through the accounts put forth by family members, and others in the empire, but for the most part we are left to speculate, because the Romanovs were so isolated from even the surrounding communities of the Empire, that all historical accounts of this era can be characterized as speculative. The very idea that Alexis was sick was a state secret that the Romanov family kept hidden from the rest of the country. It is the speculation of what Rasputin did, however, that has made the story of Rasputin so intriguing for so many, for near one-hundred years.

How Did He Do it?

Did Rasputin drug the young Tsarevich to health? Was it an hypnosis technique that Rasputin is purported to have studied throughout the course of his life? Was there some form of auto-suggestion that Rasputin used to manipulate Alexis’ mind in a manner that no one in the age knew, so they assigned supernatural, and/or mystical qualities to Rasputin’s actions? Or, did he, in fact, possess those mystical powers that he claimed to have since childhood, and that he ended up using on the young Tsarevich?

Some claim that Rasputin may have had a friend inside the empire who administered drugs to the young Tsarevich, and that Rasputin knew enough about the effects of the medicine to have its effects coincide with Rasputin’s arrival.

Some claim that an auto-suggestion technique employed by Rasputin, calmed the notorious nerves of the mother, Alexandra, and that she conveyed such assurances to her son Alexis, who then calmed to a degree that his blood calmed and the issue passed. This theory also holds true in modern science when they speak about the power of prayer, the placebo effect, and the psychological belief of healing, that led the young Tsarevich to believe he was healed. If Alexandra believed Rasputin could cure Alexis, and she conveyed this belief onto Alexis, Rasputin’s ability to heal Alexis could prove to be greater than those of all the other doctors involved.

Others suspect that Rasputin benefited from some other form of incidental coincidence, or intended coincidence. Those that suspected Rasputin of intentional coincidence, claim that he may have known more about the illness hemophilia than anyone else in the empire, doctors included, and that he knew the precise time to make an appearance in accordance with a lessening of pain to have “the cure” attributed to his presence.

Others claim that the time Rasputin spent mourning the death of his cousin Dmitry led him to ostracize himself from those in his village, and that he sought the comfort of horses. While gaining the favor of horses, and their owners, Rasputin learned horse whispering techniques to calm horses, and that he employed these tactics to calm the Tsarevich Alexis, and thus relieved him from some of the more painful symptoms of hemophilia.

For his part, “Rasputin never claimed to have worked miracles on the boy.” He kept what modern readers would term a political distance from self-aggrandizement, and he allowed those around the incident to fill in the blanks for him. “He claimed that God, alone, could perform miracles. He insisted that his healings were nothing more than manifestations of God’s will,” and by saying such things Rasputin remained in good stead with the Tsar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, that never stated that Rasputin was a saint, or anything more than human, but they did believe that he had spiritual gifts that were made apparent during the miracle at Spala. They also, we can assume, asked the question what’s more important engaging in the debate of Rasputin’s role in the health of their son, or the health of their son? The one thing they knew was that when Rasputin was near their son, he suffered less.

Why was Rasputin Chosen?

Some might speculate that by the time that the incident at Spala occurred, the Romanovs reached a point of desperation, and that they Rasputin as their last, best hope, and that they had little choice in the matter when Rasputin proved to be a healing agent in the years that followed. If it’s true that the Romanovs met Rasputin on a number of occasions prior to the incident at Spala, and as Fuhrmann points out they were afforded a number of opportunities to see “the real” Rasputin firsthand. If that’s true, why did they keep him around? Why was Rasputin afforded the chance to “heal” or “cure” Alexis in the first place? If there were that many men vying for the position of Holy Fool in the Empire, how did a semi-literate peasant from Pokrovskoye rise to the top?

As stated in the previous entry Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises, Rasputin was characterized as an illiterate to semi-literate peasant, with no formal attachments to religion, or formal education, and some would suggest that these characteristics would forever lead to Rasputin and the Romanovs down separate paths. Others would suggest that it was these very characteristics that led Rasputin to gain entrance into the Empire.

As with every aspect of this story, some of the answers of why the Romanovs continued to have some faith in Rasputin lies in conjecture, some in speculation, but knowing human nature the way we do, we can speculate that a “more normal” citizen of St. Petersburg, with “equivalent mystical powers” but a more sensible haircut, and a normal temperament, may not have been regarded for this particular position in a serious manner. We can assume that the Romanovs wanted someone that had a mysterious air about them, someone that looked a little more bedraggled, and wild. They wanted someone who fit their perceptions of what it took to fit the role of Holy Fool in the empire.

Rasputin, as witnesses suggest, often smelled like a goat, his hair was famously unkempt, he did not bathe often, picked his nose in polite company, criticized and seduced women in public, and often had food in his beard, but he also had a “Blazing gaze in his magnetic light colored eyes,” and people stated that he could dilate his eyes at will. Rasputin, it could be said, fit the mold of the “Holy Fool” the Romanovs sought, as if by central casting.

One can also guess that the Romanovs chose Rasputin to stick around, to “heal” their son based on the same unintended condescension that leads some to believe that the uneducated are superior in spiritual mediums, and more in tune with God than those focused on more formal training. The Romanovs were given to the very natural speculation, we all are, that those not attuned to standardized measures of intelligence, are attuned to something different, something greater, and something their more normal citizens would never be able to understand. One can also guess that some degree of privileged guilt caused Alexandra, and Rasputin’s eventual followers, to assign superhuman, spiritual qualities to Rasputin in the same manner the modern day American attaches exotic and spiritual characteristics to children, the indigent, and those with characteristics deemed foreign to our experience. It’s an unintended form of condescension that derives from the guilt of the haves when dealing with the have nots, and if the have nots play it in a strategic manner, as Rasputin did, the process can provide benefits to both parties involved.

Fuhrmann provides the impression that had Tsar Nicholas II been in total control of the interaction between Rasputin and the empire, Rasputin may never have achieved influence he did in the Empire. Nicholas’ philosophy of life, Fuhrmann writes, was guided by the “Classic Russian acceptance of fate (sudba), God’s will, or the force that ruled the cosmos.” Nicholas saw to it that Alexis’ fate was not unnecessarily precipitated, but Nicholas was not one to believe that he, nor any other human, could control fate in any manner. Tsarista Alexandra, however, was not guided by the same beliefs. She was more prone to believe in what she saw as proactive measures. She believed that fate could be controlled, and altered, through prayer, and she believed that what God needed to work his miracles was a spiritual conduit, in the manner she believed a illiterate, bedraggled peasant could best provide, and it was probably Alexandra’s belief that Rasputin fit this somewhat unintended, unspoken, and condescending mold.

Most readers who have had a near-death experience with their child will find some sympathy with Alexandra’s desperation to save, or at least relieve her only son of pain. Readers may extend further sympathies when they learn that Alexandra’s knew her genes caused her son, the Tsarevich Alexis, the heir to the throne, this severe case of hemophilia. They may further sympathize with Alexandra’s desperation after the Empire’s doctors informed her that there was little they could do to ease her son’s suffering. They may sympathize with Alexandra’s desire to keep Rasputin around after the “Miracle at Spala”, and they may forgive her for being so grateful to the man that she ended up allowing him to influence her mind on matters on the empire in a manner she allegedly shared with Tsar Nicholas II to make, but there will be those moments in which the reader, knowing how this story turned out, will say to themselves, “All right, but I wouldn’t have fallen for that.”

Next: Part III: The Fall of Rasputin

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.  2013. Print.

 

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises


“Do you know that I shall soon die in terrible pain?” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin is reported to have said, after being stabbed by a girl with no nose, and before being assassinated. “But what can I do? God has sent me to save our dear sovereign and Holy Russia. Despite my terrible sins I am a Christ in miniature.”

At this point in Russian history, the name Rasputin had become synonymous with evil. The mere mention of his name caused such suspicious dread among the subjects of the Russian Empire that they dared not pronounce it. They believed, as writer Meriel Buchanan wrote, “That by doing so they brought down ill luck on their heads.” When the inevitable subject arose, they referred to him as ‘The Unmentionable,’ ‘the Nameless One’, and they did so in whispers.

“Reports of Rasputin’s life are not ‘history’; they are the clash of history with subjectivity.” –historian Colin Wilson. 

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

The manipulative eyes of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

Whether history or not, the reports of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin would prove to be such a source of speculation and intrigue that they would secure for him an influential role in the Russian Empire, and a place in history. As the prolific English writer and historian Colin Wilson, writes the eye-witness accounts, and second hand reports, are so varied with subjectivity, and agendas, that it’s difficult to know the absolute, irrefutable truth of any of them.

One could say as much with just about every historical figure, but the details of the Rasputin story are so debatable, and so fraught with folklore, that any writer reporting on him should be required to write qualifiers such as “alleged” or “according to sources…” before each report. While that may provide the author of such a piece some latitude in his reporting, it does not provide for very smooth reading. With the idea that every author, of any story, wants a compelling read coupled with factual accuracy, the best thing any author can do is cite sources, footnote quotes, and provide quality attribution. The author of the book Rasputin: The Untold Story, Joseph T. Fuhrmann does this well without too much distraction. Fuhrmann also lists off some probabilities regarding the various incidents, and their various testimonials, and he attempts to prove, and disprove, them all as possibilities.

There are a number of stories regarding Rasputin’s short life, but three launched him to his current, infamous stature in history. The first, called the Miracle at Spala, occurred in a small village called Spala, in which Rasputin was alleged to have cured the Tsar Nicholas II’s son of hemophilia; the second was Rasputin’s resultant influence over the Tsar Nicholas Romanov’s actions leading up to, and throughout, the portion of World War I Rasputin survived; and the last concerned the alleged reports of Rasputin’s murder.

A Special Child

Some accounts of the Rasputin story –which includes a much talked about movie– state that Rasputin was inspired to become much of what he became as a result of the death of a twin brother. Fuhrmann, asserts that it was not the death of a twin, or even a brother, named Dmitry, but a cousin named Dmitry, that changed the life of Grigori Rasputin. This would prove to be a minor distinction in that the other retellings match Fuhrmann’s assertion that it was the death of Dmitry that caused Rasputin feelings of depression and alienation that would mark him for the rest of his life. The incident that led to his cousin’s drowning, caused what could be termed a natural speculation in Rasputin regarding why his life had been spared in the incident. This speculation led Rasputin to the unnatural, or supernatural, belief that he had been spared as a result of God’s special purpose for him.

Rasputin’s mother would encourage, or propagate, Rasputin’s speculation, informing him that he had been endowed with mystical gifts from birth. His mother would claim that a comet rippled across the sky at the moment of his birth on January 10, 1869.

“A shooting star of such magnitude that had always been taken by the God-fearing muzhiks as an omen of some momentous event,” she is quoted as saying.

Fuhrmann writes that there is no record of any comets on the date of Rasputin’s birth.

Rasputin’s mother can be forgiven for such speculation, as Grigori would prove to be the one of nine children, and an alleged other sister, to survive infancy. One could speculate that with such sorrow inflicted upon a young woman, losing seven, perhaps eight children, Rasputin’s mother couldn’t help but assign a certain degree of specialness to the one child that survived the conditions that took the others. The others, that surrounded Rasputin in his youth, should not be afforded the same latitude, for they would encourage the belief that the young Rasputin was gifted with the ability to read minds, and/or “see things that others could not” without the heartache to influence it.

This fervent belief in a grand design for his life, led Rasputin to believe that he was not just special in God’s eye, but that he was so special that he was above God’s judgment.

Fuhrmann asserts that Rasputin’s belief in religion may have been deep, and humble, at one time, but he began to “embrace the dark side, regarding it as a trial sent by God” over time. Rasputin didn’t see temptation as a trial of personal morality, in the manner a mere mortal may, but as a test sent by God to His chosen one. Rasputin made claims that his sexual encounters were sins he took upon himself, to relieve others of such weight.

After having relations with two girls, that happened to be sisters, –one twenty, the other fifteen– Rasputin informed their mother: 

“Now you may feel at peace. The day of salvation has dawned for your daughters.” 

“At least those two girls, (and the other reported sexual conquests) were willing,” writes Fuhrmann, as were the two nuns that Rasputin audaciously kissed publicly, but one girl was not. This girl charged:

“That Rasputin took her to his cellar and raped her.”  Rasputin “Told the young girl, at the end of that episode, that there was no sin in what they had done; and that they had simply been celebrating the Holy Trinity.”

Rasputin statements about taking sins upon himself, and the declarations he made after these sexual trysts, may seem ostentatious manipulations to some, and they may have been, but they may have also been influenced by Rasputin’s loose adherence to the beliefs of a Russian sect called Khlysty.

The Khlysty and Sexual Spirituality

Khlysty was an underground, anti-church sect that engaged in sexual trysts as a ritualistic exercise. It involved dancing in a whirling motion until one got so dizzy that they fell to the floor. Once on the floor, the participants were instructed to engage in sexual intercourse with the person closest to them. Their goal, in performing this ritual, was to procure a “transcendental energy flowing through the arc” to achieve a peculiar and extreme religious state. They called this moment a spiritual frenzy that they believed would bring all participants closer to God. They also believed that by attaining the “dark knowledge” of sinning could one know sin, and thus purge it from the heart and be saved.

That Rasputin disavowed any participation in this Khlysty sect throughout his life, may have had something to do with the fact that it was outlawed in Russia at the time. This illegality led to its members being either arrested, or killed, and if Rasputin showed any allegiance to this outlawed sect, it would inhibit his ability to become influential later in life. It may have also had something to do with the fact that Rasputin regarded himself as a leader and not a follower. Rasputin was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church his entire life, but he didn’t view himself as a follower of the religion, but a leader that happened to never be ordained by a church. He would, instead, develop his own following, that some believe was influence by the Khlysty, without, Fuhrmann stipulates, the sexual portion of the Khlysty’s ritual.

This is not to suggest that Rasputin refrained sexual activity with his followers, but he considered that sexual activity to be a more tangential aspect to his religion than did the Khlysty. Rasputin was a married man for much of his life, but he and his wife recognized the adultery, and flagrant sexual activity, as something Rasputin was forced to endure to relieve his followers of the dark knowledge of sin.

The teaching that sexual activity was, at least, a tangential part of the path to learning sin and receiving redemption from its knowledge –coupled with the fact that he gained quite a female following– has led many historians to speculate that his followers, a majority of which were female, may have been attracted to the quality of his leadership by way of his alleged large sexual organ. The theory being that with his endowment Rasputin could provide greater assistance to those female followers seeking to learn the depths of dark knowledge through greater states of ecstasy, and its subsequent spirituality.

The theories abound on whether this holy relic exists, and if it did, what happened to it. One theory has it that those Russian soldiers that were called to the scene of Rasputin’s murder, stripped the dead carcass of Rasputin’s body bare, soon after death, and began measuring the enormous artifact with a brick. It was then alleged to have been cut off and stolen from the scene by a servant that preserved it in formaldehyde, after which a group of a Russian women then preserved the holy relic in Paris throughout the 1920’s, until it could be displayed, in a proper fashion, in an Erotica Museum in Saint Petersburg where it now rests, and is now regarded with great respect by a group of Rasputin’s devotees. The author Fuhrmann claims that the museum’s explanation, and all other explanations regarding its veracity, have never been proven to satisfaction.

Dispelling the Myths of the Mad Monk

The author goes through many of the debatable aspects of Rasputin’s life to prove the many things that he was not. He cannot be called a “Mad Monk”, for example, because he was never ordained as a monk. He was, at his pinnacle, nothing more than a starets, which was an informal title given by followers to one that advises or teaches. Fuhrmann also points out that Rasputin was not illiterate on the day he died, as many have suggested in a narrative that suggests that he was nothing more than an “illiterate peasant that rose to some of the greatest positions in the Russian Empire”. Fuhrmann writes that Rasputin received no formal education, but he did learn how to read, though never to the point that one regard him as well-educated. Rasputin malevolence was not intentional, or as evil as some have suggested in their attempts to paint him as the monster of their monster stories. He never set out to destroy the Russian Empire, as he loved Russia as much as any of his fellow countrymen. He was just not well-equipped to advise the Russian Empire on their selections of people for powerful positions. The fact that the Romanovs took Rasputin’s advice on such matters, and that that eventuated in the fall of the Russian Empire, is as much the fault of the Romanovs for falling prey to the mystique of Rasputin, as it is Rasputin’s, if not more so.

For all that Rasputin was not, however, the one thing that can be stated about Rasputin, without refutation, is that he was a “right place, right time” mystical charlatan. In Rasputin’s Russia, Ouija boards, mystics, and holy men were nothing new, but when that was combined that with the strides the rest of the world was making in science and medicine in that era –manipulating God’s power as it were– even the educated class was beginning to wonder how much of a leap it would be for man to now manipulate God’s power in mystical ways. It was the first era in which electricity began to be manipulated in a safe manner; it was the first era in which automobiles began to roll off assembly lines; and it was also an era in which numerous other tremendous leaps in man’s ingenuity with respect to harnessing God’s power for everyday use began to occur. Learned men understood the principles of physics these ingenious men were manipulating, but most of the rest of the world just stood by in silent awe struggling to understand how these incomprehensible leaps could be made in the outside world. So, when Rasputin stepped into this chasm of confusion, at the right place and time in history, to “cure” or “heal” an ailing young boy of his hemophilia, he did so to an awed audience that was just beginning to believe that it wasn’t as far-fetched as previous generations may have believed it to be for one man to harness God’s healing powers.

Next: Part II: A Miracle at Spala

Fuhrmann, Joseph T. Rasputin: The Untold Story. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 2013. Print.