Muhammad Ali’s life forever changed when he won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964 – not just because Ali had proven himself to be a champion inside the ring, but because that was when the world found out who the man that they knew as Cassius Clay was outside of the ring. He was, among other things, a Black Muslim, a friend to Malcolm X, and a man who would not stay silent about the things he believed in.
The end of Prohibition was an incredible, inimitable moment. Jubilant crowds gathered as liquor flowed through the streets of the United States. People crawled out from the dark of the speakeasies and out into the open, raising their glass and drinking a toast to their first legal drop of alcohol in 13 years.
A century ago, China was not the metropolis-filled industrial nation that it is today. It was another world entirely, with cultures that were in many ways equally distinctive.
In the China of the Qing dynasty — which ended in 1912 with the rise of what would soon be called the Kuomintang nationalist party — every part of life, from pastimes to clothes, differed from what we see today. Girls’ feet were painfully bound in order to change their shape, men wore their hair in long braids, and Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist thought dominated the nation.
Ever wondered whether Japanese Samurai could beat Spanish Conquistadors? Or if the Roman Legion could fight an ancient Chinese army, or if an army of War Elephants would stand a chance against modern artillery?
Some of those “who would win” battles that we love to wonder about do not have to be imagined—they have played out in real life. Scattered throughout history, there are moments when fighters and armies that no one would ever have expected to meet, stared each other down across a battlefield. And only one side walked out alive.
Finding the truth in our history is like trying to solve a crime after arriving at the scene 2,000 years too late. We analyze the evidence left behind, we listen to the witnesses, and we make our best guess—but we rarely know for sure what really happened.
There are few better examples of just how murky the truth can get than the Great Fire of Rome. We have a handful of stories and a few half-melted coins still buried in the ashes of old Rome, and we have to pick through them to find the truth.
It’s difficult to know who started the Great Fire of Rome and what fallout ensued. Every group had an interest in this story, and every version of it comes with a political agenda attached. There are a lot of different versions of the story, and no one knows for sure who was telling the truth.
Over the course of 100 days in 1994, Hutu extremists brutally massacred 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans. It was one of the worst genocides in human history, and while it happened, UN Peacekeepers impotently watched it happen, under direct orders not to interfere.
The whole world watched as we failed to stop a genocide—but that was only the tip of the iceberg. The dark, hidden secret of the Rwandan genocide, though, is that the nations of the UN did not just fail to take action. By selling weapons, and deliberately blocking international assistance, nations around the world helped Hutu extremists commit genocide.
Some did it for money, and some did it for politics—but they did it. People around the world actively helped make sure a genocide happened.
Some of the most dangerous battles of the civil rights movement weren’t fought by adults. They were instead fought by African-American children who walked into the first integrated schools in their communities.
They had to walk, sometimes alone, past mobs of people screaming in their faces. Then they had to spend hours sitting next to white students, many of whom had spent the morning listening to their parents teach them to hate.