The Biggest Lies In World History
What’s true – and what’s a legend?
HOW CAN A PHARAOH VANISH INTO THIN AIR? Fake chronicles from the Valley of the Kings
When Howard Carter opened the tomb in 1922, it was a sensation. The world had never seen the unspoilt, treasure-packed grave of a pharaoh before. But why wasn’t Tutankhamun’s tomb plundered? Nearly 80 rulers were buried in the Valley of the Kings. Their graves were ransacked and even the mummies disappeared. But this one was left untouched – why?
Tutankhamun’s reign was long thought to be insignificant. The son of Akhenaten and stepson of Nefertiti, he was overshadowed by his powerful predecessors. This royal couple unleashed a religious revolution by renouncing the old gods and replacing them with Aten, an all-powerful single deity. But the coup failed – Akhenaten and his queen were overthrown. Their son was used as a puppet by priests to restore the old order of the gods. The young pharaoh died when their work was done – it’ll probably never be known whether by natural causes or if he was murdered – and his grave monument was never completed. The priests erased the names Akhenaten and Tutankhamun from most records. It’s as if they never existed.
Mere decades after his death, Tutankhamun was completely forgotten: archaeologists only found out about him when his tomb was opened, and looters couldn’t find his grave as it was hidden under a pile of rubble. But this also meant that the usual practice of the priests taking treasures from old graves to furnish new tombs didn’t take place because they simply forgot that he existed. For historians, the priests’ cover-up was a stroke of luck. Ironically, the pharaoh who was airbrushed from history has ended up being the most famous pharaoh of them all.
WHO FORGED THE DOCUMENTS OF THE NAZI CRIMINALS? The suspicious escape of Adolf Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann was Hitler’s most committed executioner, responsible for the deportation of millions of Jews to concentration camps. After 1945, he was also the most wanted Nazi war criminal. However, despite every soldier and border guard knowing what he looked like, Eichmann succeeded in keeping himself hidden. How? With the help of a wellorganised cabal of supporters who helped Eichmann hide in Germany and escape to Argentina – using counterfeit identity papers. We now know that Eichmann was given the documents by SS groups in post-war Germany. Later, sympathisers in the Vatican got him a coveted Red Cross refugee card. He then left for Argentina and worked as an electrician for automobile company Daimler-benz.
However, files recently released by the CIA and Germany’s intelligence agency prove that, from 1952, the US and German governments were aware of Eichmann’s whereabouts. But fearing that Eichmann could expose the Nazi past of his national security adviser Hans Globke, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer ordered that his location should remain a secret. It was only when Eichmann gave an interview to a journalist in an attempt to distance himself from the Holocaust that he became fair game. With help from the CIA, the Israeli secret service Mossad captured Eichmann in 1960 and took him to Israel, where he was executed in 1962.
HOW DO YOU DESTROY THE MOST POWERFUL ALLIANCE IN THE WORLD? The biggest smear campaign in history
The enemy facing the French king seems too powerful: the Knights Templar have amassed fabulous riches after returning from the Crusades. Moreover, ingenious financial deals have allowed the Order to acquire more and more land. The Knights Templar also have the strongest alliances throughout the continent – Europe’s nobility is deep in their debt and even the Pope protects their multinational financial empire…
King Philip IV knows that only the total destruction of the Knights Templar can bring about his goal: their assets would be worth £77 billion in today’s money – money that Philip could use to reconstruct his bankrupt country. And, at the same time, he could take revenge on those who once refused him admission to the elite Templar circle. But how do you take on tens of thousands of battle-hardened knights? Philip gave the Pope an ultimatum: either eliminate the Knights Templar and confiscate their goods or the Church will be split! Pope Clement V reluctantly gave in – and betrayed the most loyal and powerful army to have ever served the Church. Shortly before his death, he wrote a letter to clear his conscience. It would be lost for centuries. On Friday 13th October 1307, hundreds of Knights Templar were arrested and brought before the Inquisition court. The main charges in the most infamous smear campaign in history were: heresy, sodomy, denial of Christ, besmirching of the Cross and idolatry. All of these directly contradicted the founding principles of the Knights Templar. But – using forged documents, bribed witnesses, manipulated statements and confessions obtained under torture – they were still found guilty. On 13th March 1314, Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars, was burned at the stake after retracting his earlier confession. He cursed Philip and the Pope with his final breath. Both died within a year, but the damning verdict stuck to the Knights Templar for nearly 700 years. It was only in 2007 that the Vatican published the document written by the conniving Pope Clement V before he died. It clearly shows that the trial of the Knights Templar was the culmination of some truly devilish intrigue.
HOW DO YOU AIRBRUSH A WAR CRIME? Fake reasons for bombing Hiroshima
On 16th July 1945, US President Harry S. Truman received a telegram: “Operated on this morning. Diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations.” On 18th July, Truman got a second, odd-sounding message: “Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and confident that the little boy is as husky as his big brother.” These cryptic reports referred to what would become the most devastating military attack of the Second World War: the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Both were razed to the ground and around 220,000 people were killed immediately, many of them vaporised on the spot. The long-term consequence of radiation would go on to claim hundreds of thousands more victims.
The USA had made military history. But it was worried that world opinion would turn against it. A reason had to be found for the act – a very good reason. A few days later, Japan surrendered and provided Truman with an answer. The dropping of the atomic bombs was celebrated as a humanitarian victory: “We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans,” Truman said. However, in autumn 1945, an investigation by historian J.K. Galbraith found that the Japanese had wanted to surrender before the bombs were dropped and had got in contact to do so. But the peace offers were ignored by the US. Why? There are many possible reasons, one being the fact that the bombings were planned long beforehand. In 1946, Admiral William Halsey admitted that US scientists “had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it”. It was an experiment to test the effectiveness of the most terrible weapon ever known. And it also sent out a message to the Soviet Union: “Look, we have the bomb – and we’re not afraid to use it.”
HOW DO YOU CREATE A POLITICAL ICON? The image cultivation of John F. Kennedy
Had President John F. Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963, the Vietnam War (1960 to 1975), America’s most devastating foreign policy defeat, would have ended a lot sooner. It’s a claim that millions of people around the world believed after he was killed in Dallas. But the persona of the peace-loving president isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s a myth. Kennedy despised communism and everything it stood for. He couldn’t countenance Vietnam falling into the hands of the communist Vietcong: “It doesn’t do us any good to say, ‘Well, why don’t we all just go home and leave the world to those who are our enemies,’” he said. Moreover, in an interview after his brother’s death, Attorney General Robert Kennedy confirmed that JFK’S primary goal was to win in Vietnam – with ground troops, if need be.
Political writer and journalist Seymour Hersh is certain: “Whatever Kennedy’s intentions were, Vietnam was his war, even after his death.” The botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 also occurred during his premiership. In fact, many historians consider Kennedy to be an unsuccessful president – however likeable he was as a person. JFK wanted to come across as the polar opposite of the fusty leaders of the Soviet Union. He put forward a young, liberal and progressive face, although his opinions were more conservative. Image-building spin involved being seen with Hollywood celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe. It’s a strategy that Barack Obama has also adopted during his tenure – the outgoing president is seen as having cultivated an aura of celebrity.
DID CHARLEMAGNE INVENT A HOLY WAR? How a lie led to the first Crusades
He’s considered the father of the Holy Roman Empire and one of the greatest leaders of the Middle Ages, shaping a purely Christian superpower in heathen Europe through a seemingly endless sequence of military campaigns. He converted the Saxons – and killed any troublemakers. He secured the eastern borders against the pagan Slavs and inspired the European knighthood to conquer the Holy Land, becoming the first monarch to lead a war of aggression against Islam in the name of the Christian faith. To all intents and purposes Charlemagne was the very first crusader, then. Or was he? This misconception held sway for centuries. The reality is that Charlemagne’s only clash with Islamic troops was far from glorious. He set out to liberate the Muslim-ruled Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) in 778. However, his forces were wiped out in the Pyrenees – one of their few gains was Andorra, a small principality that still exists to this day.
Nevertheless, 300 years later, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa made Charlemagne a saint for his role in the Crusades. Barbarossa saw himself as Charlemagne’s heir and wanted to bask in his reflected glory – strengthening himself against the pope. So what were Barbarossa’s reasons for the canonisation? Charlemagne was the first Christian ruler to enter the Holy Land and place the Christians there under his protection. But this was a flight of fancy: Charlemagne never actually saw Jerusalem and the German ruler only became protector of the holy sites when they were given to him by Harun al-rashid, Caliph of Baghdad, as a diplomatic courtesy. Charlemagne wasn’t known for his diplomacy, which makes it even more ironic that in history books he’s depicted as a heroic fighter against Islam.
Liberator of Cuba, icon of the independence struggle, working class hero – 50 years after his death, millions of people around the world still see the South American guerrilla Che Guevara as a Marxist icon. His image adorns countless T-shirts, mugs and posters. However, few people knew that this view of the noble revolutionary was distorted – until files were released to the public decades later.
During the Cuban Revolution, Guevara pushed for the right to execute alleged traitors. In the first six months after the defeat of Cuba’s dictator Batista, Guevara ordered 216 executions – and that’s only the people who were named. He not only had the blood of his enemies on his hands but also that of innocent civilians. The revolutionary established a network of labour camps where tens of thousands were interned – and murdered hundreds of political opponents. They had no way of defending themselves: “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary,” said Guevara. “This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.” His fellow rebel Fidel Castro doesn’t want the world to know about the dark side of Che Guevara because Cuba – and communism – needs heroes for the struggle against the capitalist system. So the assassination of Guevara by the Bolivian army in 1967 benefitted Castro. Why? Because dead heroes live longer.
Four decades later, Cuban refugee Jacobo Machover revealed the extent of Guevara’s atrocities in his book The Hidden Face of Che, which used records and testimony from victims. It also transpires that, after Che Guevara left Cuba for Bolivia, his intelligence agency carried on the bloodshed. Historians estimate that up to 12,000 people died.
CHE GUEVARA IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE GREATEST FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY – BUT HE HAD THE BLOOD OF INNOCENT PEOPLE ON HIS HANDS
BURIAL CHAMBER This is where Howard Carter discovered the untouched sarcophagus of Tutankhamun in 1922. This room contained the most precious grave goods – around 2,000 in total.
ADOLF EICHMANN WAS ONE OF THE MOST WANTED NAZI WAR CRIMINALS, BUT REMAINED HIDDEN FOR 15 YEARS MACABRE LAST WORDS On 15th December 1961, Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death. He had previously said: “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”
AFTER THE CRUSADES, THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR RETURNED TO EUROPE – AND BECAME SO POWERFUL THAT EVEN A KING AND A POPE FEARED THEM SIGN OF THE TEMPLARS The Church of Saint Mary of Eunate in Navarre, Spain, (below) has an octagonal layout – and points towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
DEADLY CLOUD The radioactive cloud over the city of Nagasaki, as seen from Koyagi-jima – nearly 10km away.
MEDIA MANIPULATOR Nothing was left to chance: John F. Kennedy used the media to style himself as an icon. JOHN F. KENNEDY IS ONE OF THE GREATEST POLITICAL ICONS IN AMERICAN HISTORY – BUT HISTORIANS CONSIDER HIM A MEDIOCRE PRESIDENT AT BEST
KING OF TWO NATIONS Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, is a national hero in both Germany and France.
VIVA LA REVOLUTION? They’re the heroes of the communist revolution: Che Guevara (left) and Fidel Castro. But the murders they carried out after the liberation of Cuba were kept quiet.