History Facts We Recently Learned That No One Seems To Talk About

List Rules
Vote up the historical facts that more people should be talking about.

Most people tend to know the same small collection of historical facts. But what about the deep cuts of history? What about the overlooked stories, facts, and bits of trivia that deserve to be remembered? That's the kind of history covered here.

Like tales that sound made up but aren't, these stories might seem unbelievable, but they're all 100% true. Which European nation gained notoriety for using concentration camps decades before World War II? What does Sigmund Freud have to do with American advertising? What were some of the unexpected - and unappetizing - uses of ancient Egyptian mummies? And how did Roman commanders discipline their own troops?

Keep reading to discover these and more historical facts that no one seems to talk about - but really should!


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    650 VOTES

    The Congo War Has Been Called 'The Deadliest Conflict Since World War II'

    Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken the lives of millions of people. Connected to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, violence in Congo began during the First Congo War (1996-97) after Rwandese forces entered Congo to track down refugees. The conflict spiraled into the Second Congo War (1998-2003), drawing in multiple other African nations. 

    Estimates vary, but somewhere around 5 million people have perished since 1998, making it "the deadliest conflict since World War II." 

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    593 VOTES

    It Was Perfectly Legal To Forcibly Sterilize People In The United States

    Forced sterilization is considered a human rights violation today. Historically, however, it was once official policy in the US. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court of the US ruled that psychiatric institutions had every right to sterilize patients. 

    Officials argued that to build a stronger society, they needed to cull populations they deemed undesirable. They did this by ensuring those people could not have children. In other words, forced sterilization was an exercise in and expression of eugenics.

    As journalist Adam Cohen explained to NPR:

    Their next idea was eugenic sterilization and that allowed for a model in which they would take people in to institutions, eugenically sterilize them, and then they could let them go, because they were no longer a threat. That's why eugenic sterilization really became the main model that the eugenicists embraced and that many states embraced laws to allow.

    Sterilization projects were often bound up in racism and ableism and targeted some of the most vulnerable, marginalized members of society, including people with disabilities and Native American women

    Women in Puerto Rico - which has been a US territory since 1898 - were especially vulnerable. Scholar Nancy Ordover has shown that Puerto Rican women bore the brunt of American eugenics-based policies designed to correct social problems the US had created:

    By 1925, owing to the 1898 US invasion and the subsequent devaluation of the peso and the dispossession of ranchers and farmers by US sugar interests, 70% of the Puerto Rican population was landless with 2% of the population owning 80% of the land.

    As they had elsewhere, US eugenicists seized on the resulting poverty, blaming overpopulation, and targeting poor women for sterilization and pharmaceutical experimentation.

    In 1976, the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported that over 37% of women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico had been sterilized. The vast majority were in their twenties.

  • After Invading Countries Like China And Korea, Japanese Soldiers Forced Local Girls And Women To Become Sex Workers Called 'Comfort Women'
    Photo: Sgt. Lemon A E, No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    681 VOTES

    After Invading Countries Like China And Korea, Japanese Soldiers Forced Local Girls And Women To Become Sex Workers Called 'Comfort Women'

    Before and during World War II, Japan invaded a number of countries and brutalized the local population. During the so-called Nanjing Massacre in 1937, for instance, Japanese soldiers killed and sexually assaulted hundreds of thousands of Chinese men, women, and children.

    One of Japan's other tactics in the wake of an invasion was enslaving local girls and women as sex workers. They called them "comfort women," a term that whitewashed the violence at the core of these women's experiences.

    This tactic was officially sanctioned. Comfort women operated out of so-called "comfort stations," which were established to meet Japanese soldiers' sexual needs so they wouldn't assault women in occupied territories and avoid sexually transmitted infections - or so the logic went. 

    An estimated 200,000 girls and women, ranging in age from 11 to 20, were forced to become comfort women in lands occupied by Japan.

  • American Fruit Companies Have Historically Been Prolific Usurpers
    Photo: Gobierno de Guatemala / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    530 VOTES

    American Fruit Companies Have Historically Been Prolific Usurpers

    Official state agencies like the CIA have a long and dark history of overthrowing legitimate governments in favor of installing friendlier regimes - look no further than the 1953 Iranian coup or the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.

    But it hasn't just been official state agencies like the CIA with a hand in overthrowing governments. In fact, American business has historically been a powerful political force that tears down and rebuilds foreign states at will. Fruit companies have been especially prolific at this, proving that shady politics can be good business.

    Take, for example, the former Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1893, planters and businessmen associated with fruit companies - in particular, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Food Company) - staged a coup against Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani. The US government supported the coup, paving the path for Hawaii to become an American territory and, eventually, a state.

    A similar story played out in Guatemala several decades later. Jacobo Arbenz was elected Guatemala's president in 1951. He swiftly began trying to reform the country's land policies - and that meant taking away some property from the United Fruit Company, an American business that operates today as Chiquita Brands International.

    United Fruit Company began lobbying the American government to do something. For good measure, lobbyists alleged that Arbenz was a Soviet-friendly Communist who posed a threat to American capitalism and democracy in the Cold War. By 1954, an American-backed coup ousted Arbenz from power.

    As historian Geoffrey Jones has made clear, the effects of this coup were long lasting:

    The overthrow of Arbenz wrecked Guatemalan society. For the next 50 years, there is a horrendous civil war. A civil society is never really recovered. Now it's one of the poorest countries in the whole region. Twenty-three percent of the people live in extreme poverty, and it's a major source of immigrants seeking to go north, and it's a major source of narcotics trading. The country itself is devastated by the coup in 1954, and it has a bigger effect too on wider Latin American perceptions of the United States.

    The United States came to be seen as a country which will overthrow democratic governments in the interests of banana companies. That shapes how generations of Latin Americans have regarded United States and American business. The United Fruit Company came to represent what American companies do.

  • Ancient Roman Commanders Decimated Their Own Troops
    Photo: Marco Dente / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    447 VOTES

    Ancient Roman Commanders Decimated Their Own Troops

    When we think of "decimating troops," we typically imagine an onslaught against enemy troops - the prowess of one army totally overwhelms the other and destroys it.

    In ancient Rome, the practice of decimation - or decimatio, as they called it - didn't describe an attack on an enemy; it described a form of punishment against Roman troops.

    The ancient historian Livy recorded that Roman commander Appius Claudius Crassus Inregillensis Sabinus punished troops for desertion during battle by killing 10% of the ones he hadn't already executed:

    [Appinus] the consul finally collected together his troops who had been scattered in flight after having fruitlessly attempted to pursue the enemy by rallying his men. He established his camp in an area untouched by the war. After he had assembled his troops, he spoke harshly and quite rightly to an army that had betrayed military discipline and deserted its standards. He questioned individual soldiers, asking them where their arms were, and also questioned the standard bearers as to where their standards were.

    He ordered scourging with rods and beheading for all soldiers found without their arms and for all standard bearers without their standards. He did the same for the centurions and double-pay men who had left the ranks. As for the rest, every tenth men was selected by lot and executed.

    The practice of executing a tenth of surviving troops as a disciplinary measure fell out of use in the second century BCE.

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    456 VOTES

    The United Kingdom Operated Concentration Camps In South Africa During The Boer War

    Concentration camps reached their horrific climax in World War II during the Holocaust, when the Nazi state and its collaborators used them as labor and death camps to systematically torture, dehumanize, and murder millions of Jewish people between 1941 and 1945. 

    Similar camps were also in use decades earlier, usually in the context of colonialism. The most notorious use before World War II was during the Second Boer War, when the UK fought Dutch "Boers" over land in South Africa from 1899 to 1902.

    The British resettled Boer families in concentration camps - and the conditions were horrendous. These camps took the lives of roughly 48,000 people.

    Britain's use of concentration camps during the war became a public scandal. Although officials hoped to hide what was happening, British activist Emily Hobhouse visited the camps herself and shared her shocking discoveries with the public. Through her dogged efforts, Parliament launched an official inquiry into the camps, leading to their eventual closure.