Of Guns and the Holocaust

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An ongoing argument among pro-gun activists I’ve often heard is the Nazi Gun Control Argument, which claims that Third Reich gun regulations rendered victims of the Holocaust weaker to such an extent that they could’ve effectively resisted oppression if they had been armed or better armed. Gun rights proponents and organizations like the National Rifle Association use this notion as part of its “security against tyranny” argument. They’ve also cited other authoritarian regimes that committed atrocities like Khmer Rouge, Stalinist Russia, and whatever totalitarian regime. Since the Parkland students have called for gun control legislation after 17 of their classmates were killed, the argument that a “well-armed populace is the best defense against tyranny” has been proliferated with a vengeance. During a debate shortly after the February shooting, Alaska’s Rep. Don Young said, “How many millions were shot and killed because they were unarmed? Fifty million in Russia because their citizens were unarmed. How many Jews were put in ovens because they were unarmed?” During a Florida Senate debate over an assault weapons ban, Sen. David Simmons claimed, “Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons-took all the weapons, had a registry for everybody,” before murdering his political opponents. This week, Iowa Rep. Steve King posted a meme noting Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez’s Cuban heritage and attacking her for ignoring “the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence, the right to self-defense.”

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Sorry, but Adolf Hitler and his Nazi friends weren’t exactly gun control fans. In fact, they loved their guns. They encouraged children as young as five to march with them and told them nursery rhymes that glorified weaponry. To them, as long as you were a member of the German Master Race, you can stockpile as many firearms as you wanted in order to terrorize all the undesirables at your pleasure. Wikipedia lists the Nazi gun control argument as counterfactual history because most scholars believe that the disarming and killing of Jews had nothing to do with Nazi gun control policy.

However, the very notion that a widespread genocide, totalitarian regime, and other human rights atrocities could’ve been prevented by more private gun ownership is completely wrong. Even today, there is little evidence to suggest that widespread private gun ownership leads to more to more democratic societies. According to the Small Arms Survey rankings from 2007, while the US leads the world in civilian gun ownership (88.8 firearms per 100), but it’s followed by Yemen (54.8). You can argue its well-armed population overthrew an authoritarian leader, but civil war and humanitarian catastrophe following that undermine the case. While Switzerland (45.7) and Finland (45.3) also make the top 10. But also does Saudi Arabia (35), the world’s largest absolute monarchy with rules derived from Wahabist Islamic fundamentalism. And, until recently, famously prohibited women from driving. Iraq is also up there (34.2) which had a well-established gun culture under Saddam Hussein’s rule, which didn’t prevent him from committing genocide and mass murder. Yet, it did contribute to the chaos that ensued after the US overthrew him. Another country with a high rate of gun ownership is Bahrain (24.8) which didn’t help the failed uprising against its autocratic government in 2011. Nor did high gun ownership rates prevent a string of military coups in Thailand (15.6) or keep Venezuela (10.7) from descending into authoritarianism and economic chaos. By contrast, while North Korea virtually has no guns in private hands, neither do South Korea and Japan. Then there’s the sub-Saharan Ghana, one of Africa’s most peaceful and democratic countries which has one of the lowest rates of gun ownership. Another is Tunisia who not only overthrew its dictator in 2011 (with military assistance), but is the only one of the Arab Spring countries that has remained relatively democratic and stable since then. From what the data shows, countries with lots of guns consist of democracies and dictatorships, peacefully orderly societies, and failed states. Same goes for nations with few guns. It shouldn’t even be a debate talking point.

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Here’s a picture from the Stroop Report during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Notice the Nazis basically forcing these people to put their hands up. Yes, it’s simply horrifying.

Furthermore, claiming that the Holocaust could’ve been prevented if more people were armed is misleading and offensive. Just ask the Jewish groups, Holocaust scholars, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who have all repeatedly called for Nazi analogies to stay out of the gun control debate. Because no serious scholarship of the Holocaust points to the lack of guns as a serious factor. First, it ignores the Jews taking part in armed resistance efforts like the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Jewish partisans creating their own units after escaping the camps. In fact, the US Holocaust Museum has an entire page dedicated to other examples of armed resistance to the Holocaust while Wikipedia lists over 100 of them. But all had little chance of stopping the mass slaughter carried out by a major industrialized power like Nazi Germany since the odds were overwhelmingly. In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, after the massive deportations to forced-labor camps and killing centers, people remaining in the ghetto organized and resisted with pistols, grenades, rifles, and automatic weapons. It was the largest Jewish armed revolt during WWII yet only managed to kill from 20 Germans. The Nazis quashed it in less than a month which resulted in 13,000 Jews killed and the remaining 50,000 sent off to concentration camps. Mostly because it was profound mismatch of manpower, the difficulties of smuggling weapons in the Ghetto confines, and a shortage of arms in Poland in general.

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And here’s what happened to some of the Polish Jews who took arms against the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Notice how they’ll soon be shot at.

The German public was already disarmed in 1919 at the behest of Great Britain, France, and the United States due to a provision in the Treaty of Versailles which severely limited private firearm ownership to reduce Germany’s ability to re-arm itself. Though post-World War I Germany was awash with weapons. Many in the hands of the wrong people. Far-Right militias called the Freikorps stashed thousands of rifles and machine guns under the Allied Control Commission’s noses and used them in repeat armed attempts to overthrow the democratic Weimar Republic. And while mainstream scholars agree that a German gun registry law that created a permit system to own and sell firearms, it was established in 1928 under the Weimar. There were provisions that exempted “officials of the central government, the states, as well as the German Railways Company” and “community officials to whom the highest government authority has permitted acquisition without an acquisition permit.” This law was an attempt by the Weimar regime to disarm nascent private armies like the Nazi SA (a.k.a. Brownshirts) as an attempt to bring some stability to German society and politics. At the time, violent extremist movements were actively attacking the young and very fragile democratic state with the most prolific being the violent Beer Hall Putsch. So according to Dresden Technical University’s Dagmar Ellerbrock, “this order was followed quite rarely, so that largely, only newly bought weapons became registered. At that time, most men, and many women, still owned the weapons they acquired before or during the first World War.” A government that can’t maintain some degree of public order couldn’t sustain its legitimacy. Nor were the German people well-grounded in Constitutional, republican government as evidenced in their ballot box choices. Gun control wasn’t initiated to benefit the Nazis, but to prevent them and others of the same ilk from executing a revolution against a lawful government. In the strictest sense, the law succeeded since the Nazis didn’t stage a coup. But the 1928 provisions didn’t weaken the existing SA that pervaded German political life at the time. Ultimately, the Nazis ignored them with near impunity, engaging in terrorism on the streets as they expanded their political support. Eventually, they got elected in 1933 on promises to end economic poverty, reconquer “lost territories,” and end political paralysis at the Reichstag.

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Here are the 1938 Nazi gun laws, which actually expanded gun ownership to most Germans. As long as they weren’t foreign, Jewish, gay, gypsy, disabled, or left-wing, of course. Because the Nazis wanted them dead.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis used whatever gun records they had to seize weapons from perceived enemies of the state like Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, union members, or anyone else refusing to affiliate with the Nazi Party. Because the Nazis were intent on killing them and used the existing gun laws and regulations to further the genocide. As SUNY-Cortland professor Robert Spitzer told Mother Jones, gun policy, “wasn’t the defining moment that marked the beginning of the end for Jewish people in Germany. It was because they were persecuted, were deprived of all of their rights, and they were a minority group.” Yet, according to Ellerbrock, the files included very few guns in circulation and the registry was so incomplete that many Jews kept their guns well into the late 1930s. However, they also introduced a collective gun license for Nazi organization members whose main beneficiaries were the thuggish Brownshirts. After the German Parliament, the Reichstag gave Adolf Hitler emergency powers, he had a free hand. As Ellerbrock noted, “Under totalitarian rule, it took just a few weeks to drastically increase the number of Germans who held private weapons.” In other words, these looser gun rules were meant to encourage citizens to terrorize Nazi opponents and oppress minorities like Jews, gypsies, and gays. In 1938, the Nazis adopted a new law that loosened gun ownership rules by deregulating the buying and selling of shotguns, rifles, and ammunition. It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell, or carry one at a time. Also, it extended the permit period from a year to 3, lowered the legal purchase age to 18, and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun. Of course, there were exceptions such as Jews who weren’t allowed to own guns at all along with other dangerous weapons. But for everyone else, Hitler made it easier to get guns and used mass gun ownership for “Aryan” Germans to trash Jewish-owned businesses, rough up Jewish pedestrians on the street, and engage in what were called pogroms in Russia. As Ellerbrock told Politifact, “The gun policy of the Nazis can hardly be compared to the democratic procedures of gun regulations by law. It was a kind of special administrative practice (Sonderrecht), which treated people in different ways according to their political opinion or according to ‘racial identity’ in Nazi terms.” Therefore, disarming and killing Jews had nothing to do with Nazi gun control policy. Thus, during the Third Reich gun registration was spotty, confiscation was selective, and Nazis found it easier to get guns.

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Even if Germany’s Jews were well-armed, they couldn’t have stopped the Holocaust. Since they made up of less than 1% of its population and subject to systematic persecution implemented by a modern bureaucracy, enforced by police state, and supported by most of the population. In fact, armed revolt would’ve made the situation worse for Germany’s Jews by validating all the bad stuff the Nazis said about them. At least as far as its propaganda machine was concerned.

But if Germany’s Jews were well-armed, could they have stopped the Holocaust? The fact they constituted less than 1% of the country’s population makes it ridiculous to argue that private firearm possession would’ve enabled them to mount resistance against a systematic persecution program implemented by a modern bureaucracy, enforced by a well-armed police state, and either supported or tolerated by most of the German population. Its highly unlikely that armed Jews (or any other target group) would’ve weakened Nazi rule, let alone a full scale popular rebellion. In fact, it seems more likely to strengthen the Nazi support they already had. For such actions would’ve substantiated any foul Nazi lies about Jewish perfidy as well as hasten Jewish demise. The German Jews detained and deported after 1938 tended to be older and less well-off since most Jews with any resources left Germany much earlier. And the deportation took place with the open or tacit approval and complicity of most of the German people. Any act of armed resistance would’ve been completely futile.

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Here’s a Jewish business smashed on Kristallnacht, or “Night of the Broken Glass” from November 9-10, 1938 where Brownshirts and German civilians terrorized Jewish buildings, businesses, and synagogues while authorities looked on. It’s estimated that 91 Jews were murdered that night, though the death rate was much higher. Also, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Still, Germany’s Jews were in no way prepared for what awaited them. Nor could they imagine taking arms against their own country’s soldiers and police officers.

Even so, hypotheticals aside, gun ownership wasn’t widespread enough in Germany for a serious civilian resistance to the Nazis. Nor were Germans, particularly Jews, predisposed to violent resistance to their government. Anti-Semitism wasn’t new in Germany or anywhere else since they had been persecuted throughout history for centuries. Jews had survived previous pogroms before but not without suffering. They’d expect the barrage of anti-Jewish discrimination and violence would eventually subside and permit a return to normalcy like those in the past. Still, they considered themselves “patriotic Germans” for their World War I service who remained good citizens of the state they trusted beyond Hitler’s power seizure in 1933. As an overwhelmingly professional, urban and middle class, and strong in professions like law, medicine, and the arts, the notion these conscientiously law-abiding people would or could’ve taken to the streets and shoot down Hitler’s thugs is ludicrous. Those who didn’t flee into exile faced escalating barrage of discriminatory laws and were systematically dehumanized for years. Yet almost all obeyed to the letter. Even after their businesses, homes, schools, and hospitals were trashed and synagogues torched during Kristallnacht, and even when facing deportation and death, most Jews obediently reported to the holding centers with their suitcases as instructed, and were taken from there to the cattle trucks that hurried them to their deaths. They didn’t know the true horrors that awaited them in the concentration camps. In fact, as bad as things were for them in Nazi Germany, most Jews couldn’t imagine their fellow countrymen establishing an industrialized and scarily efficient mass murder system to kill them. The Nazis also used deception by telling their Jewish captives would be “resettled” for forced labor in the East. The death camp stops on railroads were disguised with signs showing they were regular train stations. The gas stations were referred to as “showers.” If they knew their fate, they probably wouldn’t have resisted. Since they’d be unable to bring themselves to fire upon their own nation’s soldiers or police officers. And what could they do about it. Though most of the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust came from Poland, the Soviet Union, and other conquered territories in Eastern and Central Europe. Yet, all were surrounded by an indifferent, hostile, or terrorized population. Other than a few exceptions, there was no place to run or hide.

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In Nazi Germany, propaganda was everywhere. Also, despite that they’d be forever remembered for committing genocide as a totalitarian regime, Adolf Hitler and his Nazis were genuinely popular among the German people. And that’s truly scary.

Besides, the Nazis controlled the media during the Third Reich, they could censor and spin the news at their discretion. They were masters of propaganda which saturated every level of their society at every age stratum. Not surprisingly, the Jews were a primary target who were systemically demonized. If most German citizens didn’t come to Jewish defense to fight off Nazi tyranny, it was because they didn’t want to. For they had been persuaded that what was happening was best for their country, and that the Jews deserved what they got. Or at least didn’t want to lose their privilege, alienate their friends and family, or be carted off to a prison camp and executed. Because the Communists tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler several times before the Nazis stamped them out. Even if Europe’s Jews fought back, which they did several times over, it would’ve been almost impossible for them to attract the rest of the world’s attention, let alone draw sympathetic reinforcement that could’ve toppled Hitler. But the Jews didn’t need guns to draw attention or sympathy from people in other countries were concerned what was going on with them. After all, many Jewish Americans were refugees or had relatives in Europe at the time. And Kristallnacht sent shockwaves around the world with the British Times writing, “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.” Yet, the Nazis also had financial or rhetorical support from numerous American tycoons and businesses like Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Kodak, Coca Cola, Standard Oil, Chase Bank, Dow Chemical, Woolworth, Alcoa, Brown Brothers Harriman, General Motors, and IBM. Let us not forget the Nazi sympathizers on the America First Committee like Charles Lindbergh who didn’t want the US to welcome Jewish refugees. Across the pond, Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Windsor were also in the Hitler fan club along with Unity and Diana Mitford. French fashion designer Coco Chanel lived with a Nazi officer while WWI hero Marshal Philippe Petain led the collaborationist Vichy government during WWII. Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling seized power in his country through a Nazi-backed coup and his regime contributed to the Final Solution. Let’s just say you had a lot of influential people outside Germany who didn’t want their countries to do anything about what was going on there.

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We must keep in mind that Nazi Germany managed to defeat armies from Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and France. And though they didn’t fare so well in Russia, they managed mow down 7 million Red Army soldiers.

As Warsaw Uprising illustrates, the notion that the Jews could’ve used rifles and handguns to stop the SS from herding them like cattle to their deaths is offensive. Inside Germany, only the army possessed the physical force necessary for defying and overthrowing the Nazis. But the generals already threw their support for Adolf Hitler early on. The Nazi Germany war machine was one of the most powerful military systems ever constructed, especially prior to and during the early years of World War II. The Nazi regime had managed to conquer all of France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Poland, along with huge swaths of the Soviet Union and northern Africa in the face of determined resistance by large, properly trained militaries equipped not just with handguns but also tanks, warships, airplanes, and other heavy superweapons. The Red Army lost 7 million fighting the Wehrmacht despite its tanks, planes, and artillery. Adolf Hitler deployed military-trained units to destroy Europe’s Jews so handguns and rifles wouldn’t have made a dent. Suggesting it would implies that the Jews had a path to resist the Nazis’ Final Solution when they didn’t. Arming every European Jew wouldn’t have made any difference.

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We must understand that atrocities like the Holocaust have happened not because of gun control or lack of guns. But when a large swath of the population doesn’t see them as a dealbreaker and are willing to embrace a totalitarian strongman in order to get what they want. The Holocaust was caused by anti-Semitism along with moral failure and indifference. To think it could’ve been avoided if people have been armed is a very offensive way to remember this unimaginable tragedy.

It’s all too easy to forget the allure that fascism presented to those in the West during times of social and economic upheaval. The Nazis were master manipulators of popular emotion and sentiment while disdainful of people thinking for themselves. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power not through force of arms, but through success at the ballot box, propaganda, illegal violence, and Hitler’s political cunning. They didn’t just rise to power by intimidation and imposing totalitarianism, the Nazis were genuinely popular with enough of the population to prevent a coup. Nor did they need gun control to retain supreme and unlimited power. Shortly after being granted emergency powers, Hitler issued the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended civil rights, banned the left-wing press, and authorized the mass arrest of Communists and Socialists (a move allowing Nazis to take seats of the arrested delegates and assume a Nazi majority). A month later, the Nazi majority Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, giving Hitler and the German Cabinet the power to enact laws without its involvement. These 2 acts transformed Hitler’s government into a legal dictatorship within 2 months. Within the next 6 months, the Nazis banned Jews, non-Germans, and political opponents from public service, outlawed trade unions, and barred all political parties aside from the Nazi Party. The success of Nazi programs like restoring the economy and dispelling socio-political chaos and the misappropriation of justice through terror assured the German people’s compliance. Else, they wouldn’t have loosened gun restrictions in 1938 as an effect a façade of legalism around exercising naked power like most of their actions. The 1938 weapons law wasn’t a part of normal governance since the Third Reich had demolished the rule of law. And while Jews were prohibited from owning guns, they weren’t allowed to many other things. They couldn’t vote, work in professions, attend school, go to the movies or theater, visit public parks or “Aryan” areas. In fact, Jews weren’t considered citizens of Nazi Germany or even human beings. To focus exclusively on gun control is to lose sight of the bigger picture. And suggesting that the only thing keeping Hitler in power was gun control only exonerates the many Germans who supported him.

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Here’s a cartoon depicting the Night of Long Knives where the Nazi regime killed their most prominent political enemies. Most were Brownshirt leaders. And yes, they were armed and the Nazis knew it. Most gave up without a fight.

Despite that while the Nazis confiscated weapons from people they didn’t like, Adolf Hitler didn’t need to seize weapons to get rid of perceived political enemies. Their gun laws weren’t the major part of the process to suppress political dissidents and round up German Jews for extermination. Take the Night of the Long Knives, for instance, which involved a series of extrajudicial executions to consolidate Hitler’s absolute hold on German power. Paramilitary organizations were part of the Nazi organization from its earliest days in the mid-1920s. A founding Nazi street fighting group were the Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts who were known for street violence tactics. Its leader Ernst Rohm was one of Hitler’s oldest allies and comrades. Another outfit called the Schutzstaffel or SS protected Nazi officials as they moved around the country. After Hitler won office, the SS under Henrich Himmler became part of Der Fuhrer’s inner circle. But Rohm was eager to consolidate his power, setting him on a collision course with established German military leaders and Hitler’s top advisers. They persuaded Der Fuhrer that the Brownshirts were difficult to control so he and that Rohm was plotting a coup. From June 30-July 2, 1934, the SS and Gestapo killed at least 85-200 Brownshirt leaders and other perceived enemies. Though the final death toll could be as many as 700-1,000 along with thousands of arrests. Most but not all were associated with Rohm. The incident had more to do with infighting among the Nazi community than with going after disarmed citizens. Quite the opposite for the Nazis knew full well they were going against a group with plenty of weapons. Hitler himself oversaw the Rohm’s arrest, which went down in the middle of the night with a truckload of armed Brownshirt troops driving up to a hotel. Not a shot was fired and Rohm complied. He was executed 3 days later. Those at the German Historical Institute wrote that with this operation, Hitler had managed to “legitimize outright murder on a large scale – without any legal proceedings whatsoever – and that the country largely accepted the Nazi propaganda that presented this strike as necessary.”

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Dictators don’t rise to power by taking away people’s guns. But rather through popular support and public purges to send a message to anyone who disagrees with them. If soldiers come to your door to kill you or take you away for speaking out against a Dear Leader, your private arsenal will not save you. In fact, it might even condemn you.

Nonetheless, the notion that if Jews were armed and could’ve prevented the Holocaust is ridiculous is an old claim the NRA and other gun rights people push to show that who are trying to show that when a civilian population is armed, it can prevent tyranny and that tyrants begin their rise to power by disarming the population. However, the fundamental problem with these claims is that they have no idea how and why dictators like Hitler and the Nazis come to power. Dictators come to power through a more gradual process aided by large swaths of citizens eagerly supporting the strongmen in charge and public purges of dissenters to send a message anyone still supporting the regime. By the time soldiers come marching to your door to kill or drag you away, it’s because they’ve been chosen and groomed for this task. And you’ve been demonized as a traitor who must be punished. Keeping a weapons stockpile will only be used to justify overwhelming force or murder. There’s a very long historical record of regimes hell-bent on crushing dissent seeing them as little more than nuisances which won’t even be recorded once the dark deed is done. If a military coup is involved, then it would’ve been made possible with the wide availability of guns along with widespread support for the insurgents from the people as was the case with the Communist takeovers of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Tens of millions of people became victims in the 20th century because they were members of groups targeted for eradication over ethnicity, religion, or ideology by ruthless military dictatorships. While these massacres had concurrent efforts to disarm targeted populations thanks to gun registration requirements, to say those millions died because of gun control is bad history. It’s nothing short of delusional to think that small groups of untrained civilians could defeat some of the most powerful armies in the world. History shows that civilians are often powerless to militarily resist an oppressive dictator. We can only prevent genocide by strengthening democracy as well as supporting a free press and non-government organizations. Thinking gun control in the United States will lead to genocide abandons reality for a fantasy world.

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Blaming the Holocaust on the lack of guns allows people to ignore the real causes of the genocide like Nazism, Anti-Semitism, moral failing, and indifference. And it allows people to ignore how the Nazis stripped the Jews of more basic rights. Not to mention, it misrepresents history which isn’t just intellectually dishonest but also dangerous.

Blaming the Holocaust on the lack of guns allows people to ignore the Nazism and anti-Semitism along with the humanity’s moral failure and indifference that made its atrocities possible in the first place. The fact that gun culture considers the Jews’ lack of guns of more consequence than their lack of more basic rights says a great deal more about America’s gun culture than it does about the Nazis or the Jews. And even if they get it right about what the German gun laws did, they misrepresent the significance and consequences from those laws. Misreading history to suit one’s views is as intellectually dishonest as it’s dangerous. As Brown University historian Omer Bartov told Salon in 2013, “Their assertion that they need these guns to protect themselves from the government — as supposedly the Jews would have done against the Hitler regime — means not only that they are innocent of any knowledge and understanding of the past, but also that they are consciously or not imbued with the type of fascist or Bolshevik thinking that they can turn against a democratically elected government, indeed turn their guns on it, just because they don’t like its policies, its ideology, or the color, race and origin of its leaders.”

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The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 4 – Types and Architectural Features

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Italy’s Castel del Monte was built in the 1240s by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. You may not know it, but it originally had a curtain wall. Yet, it’s a unique enough castle to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Finally, we get to the castle architecture. Over the 900 some years castles were built during the Middle Ages, they took on many forms with many different features. Most castles were made from wood since it was cheap, readily available, and an easy building material. However, a wooden castle was totally helpless against flaming arrows because we all know how wood catches fire, breaks, and decays over time. However, if a noble could afford it, he’d have his castle constructed from stone despite the high expense and maintenance. But stone was significantly less flammable and breakable with siege weapons and the elements. Early castles mostly consisted of simple fortifications and design. But as the medieval period went on, they became more complex with more towers, stronger gatehouses, and sturdier walls.

Castle Types

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Restormel Castle in England is an example of a shell keep which was a circular stone keep, are type of castle design. Though once a luxurious residence of the Duke of Cornwall, it was in ruins by the 16th century.

Adulterine Castle- a castle built without a liege lord’s or king’s approval.

Concentric Castle- a castle with 2 or more concentric curtain walls, such that the inner curtain wall is higher than the outer and can be defended from it. Often had round towers.

Courtyard Castle- a castle type consisting of a stone curtain wall surrounding a courtyard with buildings built inside it, normally against the curtain wall.

Knight’s Castle- a castle owned by a knight.

Motte and Bailey- an early form of castle where a large mound of dirt was built up. A wooden fortification was placed on top, which were shaped like a timber fence forming a circle like a crown.

Rectangular Keep- a stone castle with a square or rectangular keep with a second-floor entrance. The castle on Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic example.
Shell-Keep- castle style consisting of a circular or oval wall surrounding its inner portion. Usually stores and accommodates wooden buildings inside the hollow walls.

Stone Keep Castle- the classic medieval castle with a stone keep and a thick stone wall, which can be rectangular or circular in shape.

Tower House- a small castle consisting mainly or entirely of a single tower.

Architectural Features

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Built in the 12th century, the Château de Pierrefonds almost seems straight out of a fairy tale. Despite its 19th century restoration, it retains most of its defensive military architecture.

Aisle- space between an arcade and outer wall.

Ambulatory- aisle around an apse.

Apse- a circular or polygonal end of a tower or chapel.

Baluster- a small column.

Balustrade- a railing, as along a path or stairway.

Bar Hole- Horizontal bar for timber bar used as a door-bolt.

Barrel Vault- a cylindrical roof of stone or wood.

Base Cruck- a form of wood framed construction where the roof is supported by curved logs rising from the walls and not by aisle posts set on floor.

Bay- an internal division marked by roof principals or vaulting peers.

Blind Arcade- a line of arches on the face of a solid wall for decoration.

Bonnet- a freestanding fortification.

Boss or Keystone- a central stone in an arch or vault.

Bressumer- a beam to support a projection.

Cap House- a small chamber at the top of a spiral staircase in a tower or turret, leading to an open wall walk on the roof.

Cavalier- a raised structure containing a battery, usually sited above a bastion’s center to give better trajectory.

Cesspit- a wall opening where waste from one or more toilets were collected.

Colonnade- a range of evenly spaced columns.

Course- a level layer of stones or bricks.

Crossbar or Transom- a horizontal window division.

Cupola- a hemispherical armored roof.

Crow or Corbie Steps- a step-gabled end to a roof.

Diaphragm- a wall running up to the roof ridge.

Dog Leg- a right angle in a passageway.

Dormer- a vertically placed window in a sloping roof. Like you see on the top floors of a Cape Cod house.

Entresol or Mezzanine- a low story between 2 high ones.

Fireplace- a walled hearth used for heating a room. Most castles in the later Middle Ages had one in almost every room once they took off.

Gable- a wall covering the end of a roof ridge.

Garret- a building’s top story within a roof.

Groined- a roof with sharp edges at intersection of cross vaults.

Groin- junction of 2 curved surfaces in a vault.

Hood- an arched covering.

Impost- a wall bracket to support arch.

Jambs- side posts of an arch, door, or window.

Joists- wall-to-wall timber beans to support floor boards.

Lancet- a long, narrow window with a pointed head.

Label- a projecting weather molding above a roof or window to deflect rainwater.

Lantern- a small structure with open or window sides on top of a roof or dome to let light or air into the enclosed space below.

Lattice- Lines crossing to form a network whether on a window, fence, or gate.

Lintel- a horizontal stone or beam bridging an opening.

Loggia- a covered arcade or colonnade.

Louvre- a potter vent allowing smoke to escape from the hearth.

Meurtriere- an opening in the roof of a passage where soldiers could shoot into the room below.

Molding- masonry decoration that’s long and narrow as well as casts strong shadows.

Mullion- a vertical division of a window that’s constructed in panels.

Newel- Center post of a spiral staircase.

Nookshaft- a shaft set in a jamb or pier angle.

Pediment- a low-pitched gable over porticos, doors, and windows.

Pilaster- a shallow pier used to buttress a wall.

Piscina- a hand basin with a drain, usually set against or into a wall.

Pointed Arch- a sturdy arch that distributed the force of heavier ceilings and bulky wall. Can support much more weight than previous, simply, spindly pillars.

Rear Arch- an arch on a wall’s inner side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built up in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Rib- a raised molding dividing a vault.

Roofridge- a roof’s summit line.

Soffit- an underside of an arch, hung parapet, or opening.

Spur- a triangular buttress used to strengthen a round tower’s bottom.

Spiral Staircase, Corkscrew, or Turnpike- a winding, circular staircase spiraling up clockwise which allowed added sword room for defenders. Steps were built unevenly to make it difficult for attackers to climb and fight. Said to be among the most economical and convenient method of accessing upper tower floors and easier to defend.

Squint- an observation hole in wall or room.

Traverse- a small bank or wall cutting across a covered way’s line.

Tympanum- a space between a lintel and arch over a doorway.

Vault- stone roofing.

Vaulted Ceiling- a ceiling with sturdy pointed archers and pillars that allowed ceilings to be taller than ever before. Also provided an impression of height, grandeur, and elegance. Can be built in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

Wall-Plate- a horizontal roof-timber on wall-top.
Wall-Stair- staircase built into a wall’s thickness.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 3 – The Keep, Bailey, and Interior

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Built in the 14th century, the French Château de Vincennes boasts one of the tallest medieval fortified medieval structure in its keep. Within Paris, this castle served as the French royal residence during the 15th century. Yet, it’s had a long and colorful history with memorable moments.

Once you get through the walls, it’s on to the castle’s interior. First, we go into the courtyard with the bailey where you’d find plenty of animals grazing, gardens, and buildings. These buildings consisted of stables, workshops, barracks, water suppliers, and storage facilities. You may even see a chapel there. Yet, the central heart of the castle was the keep, which was considered the strongest area and the last place of refuge if outer defenses fell. During times of peacetime, it was the lord’s main residence where he’d conduct his business. He’d hold meetings and entertain guests in the great hall. At banquets, the kitchens would be bustling preparing lavish feasts while everyone was treated to dinner and entertainment. In some castles, the lord and his family would eat and sleep in the hall. Sometimes you might even find a chapel or dungeon, too.

The Courtyard

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Scotland’s Doune Castle was built in the 13th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Its 14th century reflected current ideas on what a royal castle should be. Yet, we remember this as the castle featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Its courtyard isn’t particularly big in this aerial shot. Yet, it at least includes a well.

Bailey, Courtyard, Enclosure, or Ward- open space surrounded by a castle’s walls. Walls making up the bailey could be considered part of it. A castle could have several of these like an upper bailey, lower bailey, west bailey, and/or east bailey. Had room for buildings to house the Lord and his immediate followers along with space for animals and storage. During attacks, the local people could enter the bailey for safety.

Bake House- building that would’ve baked fresh bread for everyone living within the castle since bread was a dietary medieval staple.

Barmkin- a yard surrounded by a defensive wall in smaller castles.

Brewery- a building where an ale wife would’ve brewed ale and beer. Mostly because brewing beer was said to sterilize highly polluted water.

Death Hole- the space between the inner and outer curtain walls of a concentric circle that trapped attackers.

Garden- green area located in the bailey near the kitchen. Was split into several sections: fruit trees and bushes, herbs for cooking, herbs for medicine, vegetables, flowers for cooking, and flowers for medicine. There were often stairs leading up to it.

Inner Ward or Quadrangle- large inner courtyard inside a castle, usually around the keep. A focus to day-to-day residential life within the castle.

Outer Ward- large courtyard outside the inner ward but still held within the curtain wall. Was mostly reserved for livestock for grazing.

Stables- part where the horses and other livestock are kept since they’re the main medieval means of transportation, communication, and battle. Included haylofts and spaces for the grooms to live.

Workshops- separate buildings in the bailey for artisans to make objects for maintaining the building the grounds. Consists of carpenters, farriers, and blacksmiths.

The Keep

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Germany’s Burg Eltz was built in the 12th century and has been own by the same family for over 33 generations. It is one of 3 castles in the country that have never been destroyed. Yet, its keep is quite imposing in the Alps.

Forebuilding- a fortified entrance to the keep. Often held a staircase and a small chapel.

Keep, Donjon, or Great Tower-generally the central main tower built in the inner ward which was the tallest and strongest structure in the castle and gave a commanding view of all fighting positions. Usually served as the ruling lord’s residence since it was the safest place. The top most part served as his and his family’s quarters. The bottom was used for storage. While the middle was used for the great hall. In warfare, it was mostly used as the last line of defense during a siege or attack. Can be square or round and comprise of several floors. Can be attached to walls or free standing. Its walls could be over 17 feet thick to prevent undermining and a built-in staircase.

The Dungeons

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Castle dungeons were the stuff of nightmares. If you were thrown in here for a crime, you can be subject to a dark room in the castle basement with all kinds of horrifying conditions. And yes, you may be subject to torture and possibly execution. If you don’t starve to death or succumb to disease first.

Dungeon- a place to confine political prisoners. Mostly consists of a single small room with a single access from outside like a heavy door. Is generally underground and sometimes a secret passageway would lead to it. Though it could also be in the keep or under a gatehouse. Has plenty of unique torture devices for interrogation like branding irons, collar, torture rack, and others. Other enhanced interrogation techniques include whipping, boiling in water, and starvation etc. Also, employed full-time executioner who also administered torture.

Oubliette- a dark, narrow, underground, vertical tunnel-like dungeon with the only opening consisting of an iron-grilled trap door on the ceiling from the guard room floor where prisoners were left in their solitude for psychological torture. Though other torture methods may be used for interrogation or increase a prisoner’s suffering. Once a victim was thrown in the oubliette, they were considered forgotten by the outside world and left to die. Survival was nearly impossible and there was no way to escape.

The Great Hall

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The Great Hall was the main room in the castle where the lord would conduct his business, hold meetings, and throw feasts. In early castles, the lord, his family, and staff would even eat and sleep there.

Gallery- passage built into the thickness of the walls that runs around the upper part of a keep’s hall. Windows allow light into the hall below and the passage allows for movement around the keep’s upper floors. Also provides a position where hall events can be viewed. If the hall’s captured, defenders could’ve used a gallery to shoot arrows from.

Hall or Great Hall- a major room that’s possibly the heart of the castle which served as the castle’s principal living quarters. Usually a castle’s largest room either built in the keep or a separate building. Generally, consists of an elaborate high vaulted roof and/or a gallery running around on top of it. Served as a throne room, conference center, and dining hall.

Minstrels Gallery- a raised gallery overlooking the great hall intended for the lord’s musicians. Consisted of a narrow balcony with a railing or balustrade.

Truss- a timber frame used to support the roof over the great hall.

The Chapel

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Since Christianity was very important to people in the Middle Ages, most castles included a chapel. These can range from a simple room like this to elaborate buildings.

Aumbry- recess to hold sacred objects, typically in a chapel.

Chancel- the space surrounding the altar.

Chapel- a place of worship usually built within the keep, near the gatehouse, or a separate building in the bailey. Can range from a simple room or an elaborate edifice that can be 2 stories high with the family sitting in the balcony and servants in the nave. May have a resident or visiting priest depending on the resident noble’s peerage rank. Great place for the lord to marry off family members to secure alliances, soldier funerals, and display of piety. Also, a great space safe since harming a priest was widely seen as the ultimate act of barbarity. For only the most fearless of castle attackers would do such a thing. Not to mention, killing anyone in a place of worship was often frowned upon in the Middle Ages.

Choir- part of a cruciform church east of the crossing where you’ll find the singers.

Narthex- a chapel’s principal hall between the nave and the main entrance.

Nave- the principal chapel hall, extending from the narthex to the chancel.

Living Quarters

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In most medieval castles, high ranking nobles rarely slept alone since many had servants there with them. Yet, they can nonetheless be colorful tableaus as you see in this one.

Apartment- a room belonging to a castle household resident like a lord’s widowed mother.

Bottlery or Buttery- a room for storing and serving beverages like wine land other expensive provisions like a castle wine cellar. Located between the great hall and the kitchen. The person who presided over this room was called the butler.

Bower- attractive private apartment intended for the Lady. Usually in a room behind the dais of the great hall but later a higher level in the keep.

Camera- a private room used for both living and sleeping that’s set apart from the more public areas of a house.

Cistern- a castle’s water source, which collected rainwater from roofs. Can be located within the keep or bailey. Some castles had rudimentary plumbing that channeled water from cisterns to sinks.

Great Chamber- the bedroom for the lord and lady located on the keep’s upper floor.

Kitchens- where food is made. In early castles, they were separate from the keep in kitchen towers due to fire risk. But moved to the keep when brick construction became more common. A castle kitchen’s size was often proportionate to castle’s intended grandeur and importance. The most elaborate kitchens were all set to cook and prepare game and fish when hunting on the grounds.

Larder- a cool area where perishable food is stored prior to use. Was usually close to the kitchen. Staffed by a larderer who was responsible for meat and fish. Often had ice to keep the food chilled along with meat hooks.

Latrine or Privy- rooms with holes in the seats used as toilets. Wastes dropped below into the bailey, the outer wall’s base, the moat, or cesspools within the tower. Usually far away from the chambers and often had double doors to reduce the smell. But as time went on, a private privy was built for people occupying important rooms. To keep out a noxious stink, privy windows had no glass, which made it freezing in the winter months. Can be fitted with a wooden or stone bench with as many as 4-6 holes in it. Hat a chute which led to a cesspit or moat. Supplemented by chamber pots.

Oratory- a private chapel with an altar used by the lord’s family for private prayer. Can also be a small cell attached to a larger chapel.

Pantry- a storage area for food, beverages, gold, and other items. Usually located in the keep’s lower levels.

Screens- wooden partitions at the kitchen end of a hall, protecting passage leading to the buttery, pantry, and kitchen.

Solar- originally a room above ground level, but commonly applied to the great chamber or a private room off the great hall. Was traditionally seen as the sleeping and private quarters of the Lord’s family. But later became their private living room. Usually above the great hall.

Wardrobe- a room used to store the lord and his family’s clothes and personal articles.

Well- a castle’s primary water source that proved important during a siege even if they had little food. Can be situated in the courtyard or keep. Or at least located near the kitchen either within the bailey or keep. Outside wells were usually protected from the elements by a wooden covering or iron grating. Yet, it was possibly the castle’s weakest point. Since invaders could poison the water supply if left unattended, which virtually guaranteed defeat.

Specialty Areas

RONNEBURG CASTLE ARMOURY

No castle could ever be without its own armory. But where it was could depend on the castle. On some it can be in the keep. In others, in the gatehouse or bailey.

Arcade or Cloister- a covered passageway with arches along one or both sides. Can also be a row of arches supported on columns, which could be free standing or attached to a wall (like a blind arcade).

Armory- a room which stored weapons, armor, and other defenses to use in war or attacks. Typically located in the keep’s upper levels.

Barracks- a building or group of buildings used to accommodate soldiers.

Blockhouse- a small square fortification, usually of timber bond overlapping arrangement of bricks in courses.

Dovecote- a building used to house pigeons and doves. Generally contained pigeon holes for birds to nest.

Guardroom- room used by on-duty guards. Can also store weapons. However, the guards wouldn’t sleep there since they’d be barracked in the gatehouse, a tower, or under the keep.

Ice House- building to store ice. Was usually built underground with a conical or rounded bottom to hold melted ice and a drain for water.

Kennel- place to keep animals, particularly hunting dogs.

Knight’s Hall- a large room or chamber within a castle where knights gathered for meetings, meals, and planning their next activities.

Knights’ Quarters- living area for resident castle knights.

Mess Hall- dining area for soldiers and servants. May include its own kitchen.

Secret Passage- secret routes in the castle that served a variety of purposes. Some were designed to pen up a distance from the castle so inhabitants could escape during an attack or get supplies in and out during a siege. Secret passages also led to secret chambers where people can hide, supplies could be kept, or a water well was dug.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 2 – Towers and Gates

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England’s Windsor Castle was built after William the Conqueror’s invasion in the 11th century. Since then, it’s been a residence for the royal family to this day. Even if modern British monarchs just use this place for a weekend getaway. And yes, you’d almost mistake this gatehouse as the castle itself.

So we’re off to a great start. Some of the other distinguishing castle features are towers and the gates. When you look at any castle picture, you might come across an imposing entrance with the impressive gatehouse containing a drawbridge and that sliding iron wrought door of spikes. Yet, since an unsecure entrance made a castle uniquely vulnerable, the gateway was usually the first structure built in stone. A gatehouse contained a series of defenses to make a direct assault more difficult than battering down a simple gate. Yet, you’d probably wouldn’t know this in movies where vast armies storm the castle with no problem. In reality, trying to storm a castle head was a stupid way to lose an army. Another prominent castle feature are the towers, which were used for look outs and shooting arrows along with storage and imprisonment. They could be built in various locations like the walls and the gatehouse as well as come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Though early towers were mostly square shape which were said to be quite easy to topple through burrowing at the foundations. While round towers were not.

The Main Entrance

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The Welsh Harlech Castle was built by English King Edward I Longshanks in the 1280s. It was involved in several wars and was used as a residence and military headquarters by Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr in the early 1400s. Later, it was held by the Lancastrians during the 1460s until the Yorkist forces took it during the Wars of the Roses. And served as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.” Nonetheless, seeing this imposing gatehouse, you wouldn’t want to storm this castle.

Barbican- a stone outpost protecting the castle’s gate usually built in front of the main entrance. Construed in the form of a tower or gateway where guards could stand watch. Some may include a narrow passage allowing for a limited number of attackers forced into a confined area for defenders to shoot at them like fish in a barrel through murder holes from the ceiling. Early barbicans were built from earthworks and wooden palisades designed to add complexity to the entrance’s layout and confuse attackers. Usually acted as the outermost defense of a castle. Due to limited space, was only defended by a small number of men.

Breastwork- a heavy parapet slung between 2 gate towers. A defensive work usually situated over the portcullis.

Drawbridge- wooden bridge in front of the main gate to span the moat or ditch. In early castles, it was moved horizontally to the ground by hand or destroyed and replaced. In later castles, it was built so it can raise up in a hinged fashion thanks to pulleys, ropes, chains, and winches. Can be raised or withdrawn making crossing impossible and prevent siege weaponry being pushed toward the castle’s walls and gates.

Gatehouse- a complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect the castle’s main entrance. Often had a guard house and living quarters. Usually consisted of 2 very large stone towers joined above the main gate guarded by a bridge, gates, portcullis, or a combination. But can range from a simple structure to a 2-3 story building with an impressive façade to impress royal visitors. Above the entrance were rooms to house the constable and some men to defend the building who were stationed on the first floor. While the top floor contained murder holes and storage space for weapons. Traditionally the most vulnerable part of the castle, it became one of the most secure and with an excellent defensive position. Contains a passage with all kinds of obstacles, traps, and murder holes in the vaulted ceilings. So perhaps you want to think twice before storming a castle. Usually the first part of the castle to be completed. Though a larger and circular wall castle could have more than one.

Murder Holes- holes left in the floor on a gatehouse’s upper level, used to thrust pole weapons down, or shoot down flaming arrows at attackers trapped between the inner and outer gates. Also used for dropping heavy rocks, hot tar, boiling water, and other nasty things.

Neck or Death Trap- a narrow walled passage between a barbican and the castle walls which trapped invading enemies.

Portcullis- a heavy, sliding metal or wood grate with sharp spikes that was vertically dropped just inside the castle’s main gate through ropes and pulleys. Designed to block passage and make using rams against the main gate less effective. Think about that before trying to break down a door with a battering ram. Can also be dropped on an enemy and injure multiple people. Was always in a state of readiness and the guards can drop it from its suspended position at any time. Some gatehouses could had more than one, depending on the castle’s size and number of entrances.

Turning Bridge- drawbridge pivoted in the middle and worked like a see-saw. Had a counterweight attached to the end near the gateway.

Wicket- a person-sized door set into the main gate door.

Wing-Wall- a motte’s wall downslope to protect stairway.

Yett- a portcullis of lattice wrought iron bars used for defensive purposes.

The Towers

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Originally built in the early 1100s, the Alcazar of Segovia started out as a fortress, but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery college, and a military academy. Today it’s a military archives building, museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, you have to admit how its towers give the place a unique look.

Bastion Tower- tower projecting from a wall face that functions as a bastion.

Bastle House- a small tower house with a living room over a cowshed.

Corner or Archer Tower- tower located on curtain wall corners used for firing arrows from slits.

Drum Tower- a large, round, low, squat tower built into a wall, usually connecting stretches of curtain wall.

Flanking or Mural Tower- tower located on the castle walls that provided effective flanking fire.

Gate Tower- tower constructed at the main entrance. May be part of the gate house.

Tower- fortification used to provide stability and additional defensive capabilities to the curtain wall. Used for firing upon enemies, lookout, storage, and keeping prisoners. Provided access to lookout points, wall walks, and sleeping points. Can be constructed in various shapes, sizes, and at various locations.

Sanitary Towers- a tower in the inner or outer walls used as a toilet. The wastes would drop into a cesspool in a pit.

Wall Tower- tower on wall that archers used for showering arrows on invading armies.

Watchtower or Look Out- a freestanding structure used to alert the castle in an enemy attack, spot returning soldiers and visitors in the distance, check whether the coast was clear before anyone left the castle, and send messages to distant people using recognized symbols. Had to be so high that areas around the castle could be watched for an impending attack or siege. Usually had a 360-degree view as well as employed a guard or watchman to see for many miles around.

Turrets

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Belgium’s 14th century Cleydael Castle seems straight out of a fairy tale on the water. However, the turrets on that one tower are quite unique.

Bartizan or Crow’s Nest- a small turret at the corner of a tower or wall. Usually at the top but not always. Usually located at one of the highest points of the castle and used as a lookout.

Belvedere- a raised turret or pavilion.

Squinch Arch- arched support for an angle turret that doesn’t reach the ground.

Turret- a small tower rising above and resting on the walls or the edge of the castle’s main towers, usually used as a lookout point. Allowed defenders to provide sheltering fire to the adjacent wall in attacks. Can contain a staircase if higher than the main tower or an extension of a tower room.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 1 – Around the Walls

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This is Bodiam Castle in Sussex, England. Built in 1385 to defend against French invasion during the Hundred Years War, it doesn’t have a keep. But its walls and moat are impressive.

Whether you’re into Disney movies, Middle Earth, or Game of Thrones, we all seem enchanted with medieval castles. However, while we imagine them as a fairy tale palace, they were medieval house fortresses for European nobility. Though you’ll also find castles in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Castles originated in the 9th and 10th centuries as the fall of the Carolingian Empire resulted in individual lords and nobles dividing the territory. To control the area surrounding them, these guys built castles as both offensive and defensive structures. Castles provided a base to launch raids and protect from enemies. Though castle studies often emphasize their military origins and see castles as “a fortified private residence,” they also served as centers of administration and power. Urban castles were used to control the local populace and important travel routes. Rural features were often near features integral to life and community like mills, fertile land, or a water source. Though most medieval castles in Europe today are made from stone, many were made from wood, especially in the early Middle Ages. Due to lacking arrow slits and towers, early castles often exploited natural defenses and relied on a central keep. But as a scientific approach to castle defense emerged, leading to tower proliferation and emphasizing flanking fire. Taking inspiration from Roman forts and technology from the Crusades, you’ll find some concentric castles. Nevertheless, since all things much come to an end, castles began to decline began to decline with the introduction of gunpowder which made them uncomfortable and undesirable places to live. Though these structures still captured the imagination enough to make aristocrats want to build castle like houses, but without the key defenses.

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This is Herstmonceux Catstle in England’s East Sussex. Built in the 15th century, it’s one of the most significant brick buildings in England. Though more like a palace than a fortress, its walls and moat are nonetheless impressive. By the way, from 1957-1988, it was home to the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Today it’s used by the Bader International Center of Queen’s University in Canada.

The first part of this series will focus on the outermost components like the walls and what’s outside them. As the first line of defense, such structures would have to make invasions and sieges incredibly difficult for the enemy. Before a castle was built, you’d often construct an artificial hill called a motte and a ditch filled with water called a moat. A castle’s walls had to be high enough to make scaling with ladders impossible. And they had to be thick enough to withstand bombardment from siege engines. Though sizes vary, a typical castle wall could be 10 feet thick and 39 feet tall. They’d also have stone skirts around their bases to prevent infiltration as well. Walkways on top of curtain walls allowed defenders to rain arrows on the enemies below with battlements giving them further protection.

Outside the Walls

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The Chateau de Gisors in France whish was a key fortress for the Dukes of Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was built to defend the Anglo-Norman Vexin territory from the King of France. However, when Richard the Lionheart got imprisoned in Germany, the castle went into Philip Augustus’s hands. Was also known for its links to the Templars, serving as a final prison for its last Grand Master in 1314. Still, its motte is particularly notable.

Berm- a flat piece of land between the curtain wall and the moat protecting it. Intended to reduce soil erosion to keep the wall from collapsing. Also kept debris from the wall from falling into and filling the moat.

Bivalate- a pair of defensive ditches or earth embankments surrounding a mound or medieval castle.

Caponier- a covered passage within a ditch.

Caponiere- a covered passage across a ditch to an outer fortification structure like a ravelin.

Counterscarp- outer slope of a ditch.

Couvre Face- a low rampart in a ditch protecting the ravelin’s face.

Covered Way- a protected communication wall all around the ditch’s outer edge, covered by earthworks from enemy fire.

Crownwork- a freestanding fortification built in front of the main defenses.

Cunette- a trench at a ditch’s bottom.

Ditch or Fosse- a common defense dug around the castle’s outside walls and the resulting earth to create banks. Most were dry but some were filled with water to create moats. The steeper the ditch sides, the better since it made it more difficult for attackers to climb. Though ditches weren’t filled with water, rainfall would’ve created a muddy obstacle to cross. The castle’s toilets also emptied into it, giving attackers another disgusting problem.

Earthwork- fortification made of earth mounds, banks, and ditches.

Glacis- a bank sloping down from a castle which acts as a defense against invaders. Consists of broad, sloping, naked rock or earth on which the attackers are completely exposed.

Hornwork- an independent earthwork located in front but not connected to the curtain wall within its bastions’ range (so it can be defended by them). Had long parallel sides with a back shaped like a crescent moon facing the castle’s curtain wall. But was built so low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if overrun. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle and gave defenders a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the structure.

Moat- a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle’s outer walls. Often filled with water from diverted rivers, lakes, or springs with a special dam. Mostly had an inlet and outlet of water rather than being a self-contained donut (unless the castle was built on an island in the middle of a lake). It was often around 3-30 feet deep and at least 12 feet wide. It was sometimes within the outer wall or between the outer wall and the inner wall. Its primary purpose wasn’t to stop attackers but siege weapons, siege towers, battering rams, and most importantly, tunnelers. Since tunneling a castle was an effective means of collapsing the walls or infiltrating it. A moat would cause any tunnel to collapse through flooding. Also, gave valuable time for castle defenders to form strategies for subsequent defense. Sewage was often tipped into the moat so it would smell pretty unpleasant.

Motte- a natural or artificial hill with a flat top upon which a castle was built. Was constructed from dirt and rocks to a height between 10 and 100 feet.
Neck Ditch- a ditch cutting across a neck of land to hinder an enemy’s advance.
Place of Arms- an enlarged area in a covered way where troops could assemble.
Ravelin or Demilune- a triangular earthwork located in front (but not connected to) the curtain wall, within range of the curtain wall’s bastions. The back was shaped like a crescent moon and faced the curtain wall. But built low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if the ravelin was overrun. The front sides also had a defensive wall of their own. Allowed defenders to fire upon attacking troops before they could reach the curtain and a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the castle. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle.

Revetment- a retaining wall to prevent erosion.

Scarp- a slope on a ditch’s inner side.

Tilting Yard- yard or field where jousting tournaments and combats took place. Usually situated just outside the castle’s confines.

Watergate- a gate allowing a coastal castle to be resupplied by sea, especially during a siege.

The Walls

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Scotland’s Craigmillar Castle is a ruined castle in Edingburgh built in the 14th century. Mary, Queen of Scots once stopped here to convalesce after her son James’s birth. It was here some of her supporters decided to kill her godawful husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Still, the walls are amazing to look at.

Allure or Wall Walk- walkway at the top inside of the curtain wall, which allowed guards to look for enemies. Reached either from a set of stairs running up from the wall’s inside or from a built-in tower. Can also be the fighting area on a tower as well.
Bastion or Bulwark- a structure projecting at the end of the curtain wall or at the junction of 2 walls. Usually situated at each corner of a curtain wall. Though could be placed in the middle if the walls were long. Allowed the defenders to cover dead ground (blind spots where attackers can’t be seen or fired upon) and provide crossfire for the curtain wall and adjacent bastions. Can consist of a tower or turret.

Batters- a section at a castle wall’s base that’s angled in such a way to make dropped stones bounce away from the curtain wall and into the enemy. Also add strength to the wall walk’s base.

Buttresses- a rectangular masonry projections used as additional outside strength and support for walls. Become thinner towards the top. Prominently featured in Gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame.

Chemin-de-Ronde- a walk-walk extending all the way around a castle.

Chemise Wall- wall formed by a series of interlinked or overlapping semicircular bastions.

Citadel- the innermost curtain wall of a concentric castle. Had walls higher than the rest and was the last line of defense before the keep itself.

Corbel- a stone bracket projecting from a wall or corner that supports a main floor or other structure’s weight. Often used for turrets.

Cornice- a decorative projection along the top of a wall.

Counterguard- a long near-triangular free-standing fortification within the moat.
Crenels, Embrasures, or Wheelers- small openings in crenellation that’s splayed on the inside, allowing the archer to move into the arrow slit space and get a better view.

Cross-Wall- an internal dividing stone wall in the keep providing extra strength and a platform for wooden floors. Also served as a barrier at times when the keep had been invaded.

Curtain Wall or Enceinte- a surrounding outer stone wall around the castle connecting the towers and other fortifications. Was designed to protect the castle. Can be 8-20 feet wide, up to 45 feet high and 1,500 feet long.

Flying Buttresses- masonry projections used to spread and support the weight of tall walls by transferring force directly to the ground. Were often elaborately designed, appearing to dart and sweep around each building, giving a sense of movement and flight. Usually decorated with intricate carvings giving a sense of grandeur and importance.

Garderobe- a room projecting from a wall that served as a toilet the family’s clothes. A hole in the floor allow wastes to drop below. Had chutes for discharge which often led to the castle moats and had iron bars to prevent entry from attackers.

Glacis- an angling of the curtain wall along the vertical plane that allows the wall to deflect some or all the force of rocks or other missiles thrown from a siege engine or cannon balls fired from siege cannons.

Hoardings or Brattices- wooden fortifications added to the crenellations and towers to provide additional protection to the castle’s defenders. They were removable and provided overhead cover. Also provided a walkway outside the crenellations facilitating the dropping of stones and hot liquids on attackers.

Hoarding Holes- holes in the castle walls to support the hoarding.

Inner Curtain Wall- defensive wall within a castle dividing the inner area into 2 or more defensive areas.

Lunette- a fortification shaped like a half-moon or arrowhead which was similar to a bastion except that it didn’t have wings connecting to a castle’s wall and the back was generally open. Can be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.
Machicolations- permanent stone additions to a castle’s battlement which provided better cover for defenders inside the castle, allowing them to drop items like boiling oil, hot lead, dead animals, human excrement, and rocks on attackers. Most often located in places that would be commonly attacked like near the main entrance.

Oriel Window- a window or set of windows sticking out from a building like bay windows. Made of stone or wood. Often had corbels underneath to support them.

Orillion- an arrowhead bastion.

Palisade- a sturdy wooden fence built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed. Can be as high as 10 feet tall.

Pitatta Forma- a fortification structure protecting the curtain wall between 2 bastions. It’s square or rectangular in plan but takes the form of a small tetrahedral bastion.

Plinth- a wall’s projecting base.

Postern or Sally Port- a small secondary gate located in the curtain wall’s back, which mostly functioned as a backdoor entrance or exit. Was connected to a small guard room near the bailey. Was often in a concealed location which allowed occupants to come and go inconspicuously. If possible, it could be built on a cliff, only accessible by footpath. During a siege a postern could act as a secret exit for troops to pass through besiegers or send out a messenger. Was firmly barricaded during conflict and people sometimes used a password to enter. Used by tradesmen and servants during peacetime. Designed for only one unmounted person could go through at a time.

Putlog Holes- castle wall holes to support scaffolding.

Rampart- a defensive wall of stone and mounds of earth that can be built quickly for early medieval castles. Later replaced by battlements.

Rear Arch- arch on an inner wall’s side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Respond- a half-pier bonded into a wall to carry an arch.

Redan- a small ravelin, derived from the lunette but had shorter sides. Was often made of earthwork but could comprise of stone and other materials. Could be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.

Rubble Core- a filling between the outer and inner wall parts.

Shield Wall- an exceptionally thick wall protecting the castle on its most vulnerable side.
Talus- a slope on the curtain wall that inhibited an attacker’s ability to reach the wall with a siege tower. Since a tower’s ramp wasn’t enough. Also provided a strong foundation to help support a wall against undermining.

Battlements

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England’s Warwick Castle was developed from an original built by William the Conqueror during the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, it was refortified which resulted in one of the most recognizable examples of 14th century military architecture. After its stronghold days were over in the 17th century, it was converted in a country house. And yes, you’ll find a lot of cool battlements here.

Arrow Loops, Arrow Slits, or Loopholes- thin slots in the walls and structures used to shoot arrows through. Came in a variety of shapes and sizes, usually depending on the weapons fired from it. Low and narrow arrow slits were suited for crossbows. High and wide arrow slits were built for longbows, which can be as high as 9 feet. But common designs are key holes, vertical slits, or crosses which allow the archer to fire his weapon with a great amount of protection.

Battlement, Rampart, or Crenellation- a defensive, outside top wall that has a broad top with a walkway and a typically stone parapet. Notched wall consists of alternate crenels (openings) and merlons (square sawteeth) to give castle defenders a position to fight or fire through as well enough protection to reload.

Fausse Braie- an exterior battlement, outside and parallel to the main battlement and considerably below its level.

Finial- a slender piece of stone used to decorate the merlon tops.

Merlons- upward square sawteeth of a battlement. Often pierced with arrow slits for observation and fire. Are usually rectangular in medieval Europe but can also appear in a swallow-tail form along with other shapes. Also have a secondary decorative purpose by giving the castle a distinct castle like appearance you find in storybooks.

Oilette- a round opening at a loophole’s base to help archers to easily aim a shot.

Parados- a low wall on a main wall’s inner side.

Parapet- a barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, walkway, or other structure. Often used to defend a castle from military attack as a low defensive wall at shoulder or head height.

The Candidate and the Charlatan Historian

Back in the fall of 2017, it was found that Pennsylvania US Representative Tim Murphy not only had an affair, but also pressured his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Also, that he was a bastard to his staff that his office experienced a 100% turnover rate one year. So amid all the blatant hypocrisy and drama, Murphy resigned in October. Now a special election is set for March 13 for those in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. The candidates are Republican state legislator Rick Saccone and a former federal prosecutor named Connor Lamb. Naturally I throw my support for Lamb since he fits his district like a glove. He’s an ex-Marine and 33. And he at least tries to present himself as a viable candidate who campaigns on issues important to southwestern Pennsylvania like the opioid crisis, jobs and infrastructure, unions, student debt, affordable healthcare, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and modern energy development.

But most importantly, I support Connor Lamb for his bid to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district is that he doesn’t endorse any fraudulent historians with theocratic ambitions. You can’t say the same about his opponent Rick Saccone. Saccone is a fan of the much-criticized Christian nationalist historian David Barton. He chose this man to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling the state legislator’s wider political and religious views. For those following Saccone’s political career, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The state lawmaker’s rhetoric centers around Barton’s idea of America as a foundationally Christian nation. In fact, Saccone’s own book, God in Our Government, appears straight out of Barton’s playbook. In it, he argues that secularists have conspired to skew the United States’ Christian history. He’s advocated posting “In God We Trust” on public school walls. Longtime Christian nationalism critic, refers to Saccone on his blog as, “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.” This is not a man we should have representing Pennsylvanians in Congress.

As a practicing Catholic, I have nothing against Christianity or religion in general. But what I do take issue with is people using their beliefs to skew history to promote a certain agenda religious or otherwise. But this is exactly what David Barton does to American history. As a self-taught historian and activist who’s received little formal historical training, his sole credentialed degree is a bachelor’s in religious education from Oral Roberts University. Although he later claimed to have earned a doctorate from an officially unaccredited Life Christian University on the basis of his published works. He’s is best-known for a series of books including Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, and The Jefferson Lies. Both books argue that America was founded by “orthodox, evangelical” Christians as a Christian nation, and that the Founding Fathers intended for America to be run on Christian principles. In 1987, he founded a company called Specialty Research Associates Inc., whose stated goal was to do historical research “relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” This would morph into his multi-purpose propaganda machine, WallBuilders that sells a wide assortment of books and DVDs pushing for his fun-house vision of religious patriotism. He hosts a WallBuilders-linked nationally syndicated radio show where he describes himself as “America’s premier historian.” In 1998, Barton launched what he called the ProFamily Legislative Network to help “conservative, God-fearing legislators,” whose annual conference and regular updates still keep several hundred state and national legislators apprised of “pro-family” legislation with expert referrals and supporting research. This includes bills to ban abortion, prevent gay marriage, support religious expression in public schools and life, and resist gun control. Its conferences also offer media training and strategy sessions for far-right lawmakers on how to succeed in getting their legislative agenda through.

However, we shouldn’t see David Barton as an authority on American history. For one, the guy has less academic credentials in history than I have, a history major in college. Secondly, his historical narrative that paints America’s founding as a Christian nation is just plain wrong. Actual historians will tell you that Barton distorts quotes, cherry picks information, cites fraudulent sources, and straight up makes up history to serve his political goals. He’s argued that the Founders never intended for a separation of church and state, which he derided as a “liberal myth.” In his 2000, book Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, he claimed that secular, liberal historians were involved in a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” about America’s Christian origins for their own nefarious goals. In reality, countless writings from the Founding Fathers make their intentions for a separation of church and state clear. Because since the 1600s, many colonists from various Christian denominations came to the US to worship as they please. And that not all Americans Christians practiced their faith the same way. As for the Founding Fathers, their religious views were more complicated, often blending Christian aspects with deism, an Enlightenment-era belief in an unknowable creator deity who didn’t operate in human form. In 2012, Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson recalled The Jefferson Lies, after it was revealed to contain major factual inaccuracies despite it making to the New York Times’ bestseller list. One of Barton’s dubious claims has Thomas Jefferson starting church services in the US Capitol. Still, it’s a hagiographic work arguing that Jefferson wasn’t a deist but an evangelical Christian who vigorously opposed slavery and racism. Not the Christian deist who owned slaves and endorsed a wall of separation between church and state, which he certainly was. A book containing as many gross factual mistakes like in The Jefferson Lies would’ve been a death knell for any real historian. To add insult to injury, historians, professors, and Christian scholars voted The Jefferson Lies, “the least credible history book in print.” As Warren Thockmorton and Michael Coulter stated, “David Barton claims he is setting the record straight with this book, but that claim is far from reality. Barton misrepresents and distorts a host of Jefferson’s ideas and actions, particularly his views and practices regarding religion, slavery and church-state relations. As Jefferson did with the Gospels, Barton chooses what he likes about Jefferson and leaves out the rest to create a result more in line with his ideology. In fact, there were so many problems with his book that we wrote an entire book in response.”

Even before the Jefferson book debacle, some of Barton’s claims seem to stem from simple ignorance. But others have been exposed as flagrant omissions and distortions which conform reality to his own fact-free vision of American history. He’s said that Ronald Reagan opposed gun control even after surviving an assassination attempt. Except that after being shot in 1981, Reagan wrote a New York Times op-ed clearly supporting the Brady gun control bill. He’s repeatedly claimed that John Adams supported religious control of the US government, quoting the passage, “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it — all without it is rebellion and perdition or, in more orthodox words, damnation.” But Barton conveniently omits the quote’s next part in which Adams clearly mocks those with this belief. As the liberal People for the American Way said on its website, “He has deliberately, clearly and completely transformed Adams’ actual meaning.” Some of his other claims can be more mindboggling to even a child. For instance, according to Barton, the founding fathers, “already had the entire debate on creation and evolution,” and chose creationism. Except that Charles Darwin didn’t publish his theory of evolution in The Origin of the Species in 1859, a time when most of them were long dead. He’s also asserted that the American Revolution was fought to free slaves, which is ridiculous. Since many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners, acknowledged slavery in the constitution they wrote, and the British Empire outlawed slavery 30 years before the United States did. Also, we fought a major war over slavery in the 1860s which Barton doesn’t seem to remember for some reason. In 2010, Barton joined the battle to bowdlerize a Texas social studies curriculum for public schools and supported efforts to excise Martin Luther King Jr. and 1960s farm worker activist Caesar Chavez from textbooks. Because Barton said King didn’t deserve inclusion for advancing minority rights because “only majorities can expand political rights.” Despite that if King didn’t pressure politicians to enact civil rights legislation, much of the country could still be living with legally sanctioned Jim Crow. It’s basically his way of saying that “only white people matter.” Oh, and he thinks that Joe McCarthy was right about everything even though he wasn’t.

David Barton’s revisionist American history is about blending his brand of Christianity with a very specific form of American (usually white) nationalism. Figures like Barton blend the idea that America is a “Christian country” with the idea that the only critiques of the Founding Fathers that mention them owning slaves or contributing to racial inequality come from “politically correct” historians seeking to discredit America’s great history for political ends. Because the Founding Fathers have to be hero-saints in Barton’s view. But central to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is the notion that America was founded unproblematically (it wasn’t). And that only a return to this mythologized past will somehow solve perceived problems of structural inequality (it won’t). Thus, “real” America in his view, is above criticism. As Messiah College professor John Fea remarked, “Barton is not interested in seeing historical actors as flawed human beings. Instead, the founders seem to occupy some kind of exalted position. They are not quite angels, but they are not quite ordinary human beings either. They have been somehow immune to sin, which the last time I checked was an important part of the Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being.”

Nevertheless, David Barton’s deeply skewed perspective on American history has been used by several Republican politicians to promote the false narrative of America as a historically Christian nation. Barton remains a prominent figure in evangelical and dominionist circles and a regular on conservative conference circuits. Though since his 2011 fall from grace, fewer and fewer politicians publicly cited him, making Saccone’s choice to feature him at an early rally striking. But despite this, his influence is such that some on the right take his particular narrative as gospel, mostly from the most extreme and uneducated segments of the Christian right. Since the 1990s, Barton and his ideas have made inroads in the political sphere. From 1997-2004, he served as the Texas Republican Party vice chair and was a Republican National Committee counselor in the 2004 presidential election, helping to court evangelicals. In 2005, Time Magazine named him as among the nation’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians. In fact, he’s become the go-to man for tips on conservative Christian voter outreach, advising Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. But more generally, some within the Republican Party more widely have adopted Barton’s narrative of American history while his work has been regularly championed by the Christian and broader political right. Outgoing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback referred to the fake historian as providing, “the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today.” He’s also said that Barton is “one of my big heroes,” for his preservation of America’s “beautiful heritage.” In 2010, Glenn Beck called him, “the most important man in America.” In 2011, TV news pundit and former politician Mike Huckabee told attendees at a Rediscovering God in America conference, “I don’t know anyone in America who is a more effective communicator. I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced — at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message.”

One major reason for David Barton’s prominence in the Christian and political right is that many political figures like Ted Cruz and Roy Moore have embraced a form of Christian nationalism or Dominionism. Now Dominionism is based on the idea that the American government should run on Christian principles. Therefore, its ultimate goal should be a Christian theocratic state necessary to properly usher in the apocalyptic End Times. It takes many forms from R.J. Rushdoony’s “hard dominionism,” advocating pure theocracy to the “softer” Seven Mountains movement, which encourages Christians to take over the “seven mountains” of culture as a whole, from arts to education to government. But the fundamental principle is that same that Christians must work toward a theocratic state in which Christians are in control. Or, as Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone said in an interview last year with Pastors Network of America, God wants Christians, “who will rule with the fear of God in them, to rule over us.”

David Barton’s focus gives Dominionism legitimacy through perpetuating a cycle. By creating a deeply unbalanced history of America’s foundations, he can legitimize the Christianized state he’d like to promote. And as an (at least ostensible) historian, he can partner with Republican lawmakers to cast a veneer of academic respectability over a thoroughly anti-academic message. That Barton has continued to nurture a reputation as a credible historian and activist says a lot in which some politicians on the religious right feel the need to construct a façade of legitimacy to support their political ends. To create a mythical and simplistic version of the past in which America was founded as a clear-cut theocratic state is to provide an easy, useful narrative. Because the true narrative of America’s actual founding by a nation of Christians, deists, and other post-Enlightenment thinkers working out a complicated project of nationhood doesn’t fit their vision. In the Barton narrative, the United States is supposed to be a Christian nation and thus, any means taken to make the country more theocratic is automatically viewed legitimate.

Of course, considering that historians are human beings, all historical accounts can also be propaganda in a sense. Any narrative of America’s foundation will be mediated by a teller’s specific biases and concerns. National myths have always been about who we want to be as who we really were. And that’s all the reason to promote a wide variety of voices from all sides of the political aisle within the realm of academic history. But what David Barton and his political allies do is worse than that. Like Washington DC’s new Museum of the Bible, Barton uses the appearance of academic inquiry without any of its meticulousness to promote a Christian dominionist approach to governments that ideologues like Saccone are all too happy to accept without question. Still, Christian dominionist concerns are ultimately focused not on America’s history but the apocalyptic End Times a Christian nation is supposed to usher in, according to certain evangelical belief strains. And as Barton’s history centers more on his apocalyptic vision than the actual past, Americans are becoming more ill-informed for it.

Still, we must understand that David Barton is neither brilliant nor a historian. In fact, he’s a right-wing bigot with his own extremist profile at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Aside from all his dominionist nonsense, Barton inhibits very extreme views even by conservative Christian standards. He thinks gays should be sent to prison and thinks they die “decades earlier” than others as well as have more than 500 partners in their lifetimes. He has promoted the anti-immigrant cause and engaged in Muslim-bashing. He opposes immigration reform, saying God established national borders and ignoring American expansionism to the West which involved the US taking a bunch of land in Mexico, including his home state of Texas. He has appeared on hard-line nativist William Gheen’s radio show. And he has cited infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer in attacking US Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman. In 2012, he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the government at all levels. He insists, based on nothing but his own highly unusual biblical reading, that environmentalism, the graduated income tax, the minimum wage, deficit spending, unions, and measures to battle global warming are all opposed by God.

No one’s saying that David Barton can’t make whatever reckless and false claims he wants. The First Amendment protects him as much as any of us. Yet, that doesn’t mean he should be taken seriously, given a podium, or boosted as a must-read “historian.” Instead, let’s consign Barton’s baseless propaganda to the dumpster of false and obnoxious ideas where it belongs. As a historian, Barton is a fraud, a conman who conveys a false rendering of American history to promote a toxic religious agenda and make money. His vision of American history should never be legitimized by any politician, church group, or anyone else. Since Rick Saccone endorses this historic flim flam man with extremist views, he shouldn’t be elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district.

A Shallow Emphasis on Patriotism

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As president, Donald Trump constantly exacerbates cultural conflict in order to distract Americans from his destructive policies and their devastating results. Apparently, he prefers politics as a zero-sum culture war through his use of racist dog whistles to appeal to his base. He’s willing to inflict enough controversy to make sure his race-based politics dominate the public debate. During an Alabama rally in late September, Trump reignited the conflict over the NFL’s protests that San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started last year. Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem in protest to police brutality and systematic racism ignited a firestorm across the nation which he eventually paid the price. Trump requested that NFL owners fire kneeling players, arguing that the protests were disrespectful to the flag and armed forces which soon resulted in a second wave of protests where the number of players kneeling exploded. Some team owners joined in as well though their support of Trump and their blacklisting of Kaepernick make me question their sincerity. On Sunday October 8, 2017, Trump reportedly sent Vice President Mike Pence to a Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis with explicit instructions to walk out just as players took a knee. Pence did what he was told and the media swarmed on this story like a dog over a dangling piece of meat. The action reeks publicity stunt to distract the public from his terrible policies and notorious scandals.

We must acknowledge that Donald Trump’s attacks on kneeling NFL players is nothing but a racist tirade wrapped in the guise of flag waving patriotism. Attacking political opponents as disrespectful to neutral patriotic symbols is a cheap but persuasive technique when pandering to white conservatives who don’t take nonconformity with patriotic rituals very well at all. Nevertheless, such patriotic grandstanding has been effective in convincing millions of Americans to support wars no matter how unjust and discredit anti-war protests without listening to what they had to say for decades. It has brought down political careers as well as cost political candidates election. Now it’s one thing to politically disagree with someone. But whenever a conservative plays the patriot card to shill a political opponent, it’s subtle character assassination. By questioning an opponent’s patriotism, they’re implying that their personal beliefs and actions are quintessentially Un-American and they’re unpatriotic for holding them. When Trump alleges kneeling NFL players for disrespecting the flag during the national anthem, he’s implying that they don’t love or respect America. Because only ungrateful Un-Americans would dare protest the national anthem. And the fact most NFL players are black while the audience is mostly white allows Trump to ignite racialized political conflicts in a perfect storm.

However, we must understand that the kneeling players’ disrespect for America and its flag, is nothing but a total and malicious lie. Most protestors never actually intend to disrespect the flag or the military whether they use patriotic symbols or not. The fact the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans freedom of speech has long established that openly disagreeing with your country’s policies, leaders, institutions, or government isn’t unpatriotic in the United States. Rather most people protest because to address problems in their country they want their fellow Americans to fix like systematic racial injustice. What Colin Kaepernick protested when he took a knee during the national anthem, he didn’t do so because he was ungrateful and hated America. But because he strongly believed that police officers shouldn’t kill unarmed people of color with impunity and that racism was wrong. His refusal to stand for the national anthem was his way of calling national attention to a cause on behalf of an underrepresented people who mostly don’t share his wealth or social standing. As he told an NFL.com reporter, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Besides, Kaepernick settled on taking a knee as a peaceful gesture of respect on a teammate’s advice (who was a military veteran by the way). Like what American soldiers do in reverence for a fallen comrade. Or when a fellow player gets hurt during a game. Or that you respect the flag but think the ideals it represents aren’t being realized which was exactly what Kaepernick tried to convey. Furthermore, his gesture was silent, non-disruptive, and entirely nonviolent. Judging by the fact he’s lost millions of dollars and another backup quarterback job in the foreseeable future over a cause he believes in, his actions aren’t exactly selfish for he’s gained absolutely nothing from it. Well, other than a barrage of racial slurs and death threats from Internet trolls as well as notoriety in the right-wing media machine. Nevertheless, given that the NFL mostly consists of black athletes, many of his fellow of players joined him since they like Kaepernick see their fame and success put them in a position of power to call attention to what they, their families, and those in their communities have experienced day after day.

Of course, Americans don’t like politics inserted in their sports games. Rather they would rather see sports as a respite from the partisan fray where Americans can come together to enjoy a few hours of mindless entertainment. Nor do they want any reminders that racism is still alive and well in America despite that we have Martin Luther King Day and elected a black president. Even as people of color still face horrendous systemic racial discrimination every single day of their lives that the phrase “black lives matter” incites just as much white rage as it would in the 1920s (then again, maybe not). Kaepernick knew his actions were unpopular because protests are meant to cause public discomfort to show that something is so wrong that routine American life simply can’t go on as is. Because hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists have also received the considerable backlash from the very same people who malign him. Not to mention, the cause of civil rights for racial minorities has never been a popular one in white America since it involves minorities making demands on society at large. Sure you may have white people discuss Martin Luther King Jr. in reverence on his national holiday in January. But many of these very same individuals would’ve addressed him with racial slurs, death threats, and physical violence while he was alive during the 1960s, especially in the South. In fact, King was eventually assassinated precisely for his civil rights activism he’s remembered for. Also, the FBI had wiretapped him for years because director J. Edgar Hoover was extremely racist and saw civil rights activists as Un-American communists. Oh, and police arrested and jailed him for protesting segregation multiple times. The Klu Klux Klan even burned a cross on his front lawn. We should also remember that the 1960s South also saw a spike in new Confederate memorials, Confederate flags flown at their state capitols, and numerous incidents of racially-motivated terrorism particularly by the Klu Klux Klan. Public opinion polls during that time repeatedly found that most Americans said blacks should stop the civil rights demonstrations and that the protests would ultimately hurt them. If Martin Luther King was alive today, he’d certainly take a knee for Kaepernick during the national anthem during a sporting event. After all, those who championed Jackie Robinson’s “gracious” rise said the exact same shit Kaepernick had to put up with once he started advocating for race-related causes. Mostly because he couldn’t eat at the same restaurants and stay in the same hotels as his teammates during away games.

The truth is that for many Americans, patriotism is complicated. This is especially the case with people of color who’ve endured hundreds of years of systematic racism whether it be slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration for blacks, removal and reservations for Native Americans, immigration restrictions and citizenship bans for Asians, enhanced security checks for Muslims and anyone looking like one, along with fears of undocumented immigration for Hispanics. But despite how the government and their fellow countrymen treated marginalized people, most of them still considered themselves proud Americans. Many of them fought and died for this country. And if they protested, it wasn’t out of disrespect but out of desiring the same rights, privileges, representation, and opportunities their white counterparts take for granted. In other words, they just want to be accepted as Americans as anyone else in this country. After all, it was Martin Luther King Jr. himself who said during the March on Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” People of color don’t protest out of disrespect for the American flag, but because they want their country to live up to the democratic ideals the American flag represents. Civil rights activists like King demonstrated on the streets were willing to endure violence, jail time, and even death for that. If that doesn’t express a love for one’s country, I don’t know what does.

However, white fragility and privilege being what it is, much of white America may be fine with racial equality but only in theory but most want to do what it takes to actually achieve it. Many don’t want to treat people of color as their social equals if it means losing their special whiteness perks. A lot of white Americans aren’t happy to see disadvantaged minorities who disproportionately benefit from social programs and policies. They believe in the idea that if people of color receive special benefits, they stand to lose what they have. Despite that plenty of white Americans would be much better off with racial equality even after losing their white privilege. If a person of a color is rich, famous, and/or successful, then many white Americans may resent them when they take a stand against racism. Since they may wonder why these non-white celebrities have the nerve to question a country that so richly rewarded them. For millions of white Americans it’s easier to believe in a glorious past that whitewashes all the racial ugliness than come to terms with seeing themselves as oppressors. Some may only acknowledge racism as a distant memory instead of a specter haunting, dividing, and corrupting Americans in insidious and divisive ways to this day. Either way, those in both camps will most likely view the Civil Rights Movement as a peaceful kumbaya fest that it wasn’t. Many white Americans either live in a bubble of ignorance or refuse to acknowledge that they generously benefit from systematic racism. Or that their white privilege comes at a terrible price to themselves, especially if they’re poor. And when people of color protest to their discomfort, many white Americans really don’t really want to understand. Because most would rather continue their life as it is than confront the ugly reality of racism that many people of color face. So they find ways to discredit troublesome protesters like inflicting the patriot card as in Colin Kaepernick’s case or alleging Black Lives Matter activists as cop killing thugs. They may criticize how racial minorities are so unwilling to acknowledge progress and express gratitude for living in a free country. In any case, many white Americans just want protesting people of color to shut up about discrimination and get over it. It’s one thing when whites wonder why people of color can’t express their dissent in an orderly law-abiding way whenever unrest erupts at their demonstrations against perceive injustice. But every time a person of color protests peacefully, the same whites angrily object to the message, the tactics, and the slogans’ purpose. Let’s just say, whenever racial minorities protest, it’s not how, why, and where that upsets whites. But the fact they’re protesting at all, let alone raising issues white people don’t want to hear.

Fortunately, now that we have a national holiday honoring the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., it’s firmly established that publicly speaking out against racism doesn’t make you unpatriotic. Expressing discontent of your country’s problems doesn’t make you disloyal. Nor does expecting your nation to live up to the ideals it celebrates and represents. The First Amendment makes this perfectly clear so protesting the national anthem is well within exercising one’s constitutional rights. Even if Donald Trump and his white conservative supporters claim otherwise. Still, Donald Trump’s use of patriotism to discredit NFL anthem protesters and called for a boycott until the NFL forces their players to stand is particularly disgusting. For one, forced patriotic reverence is basically what authoritarian dictators do and violates the constitution. Second, his attacks on NFL protests contain plenty of racist undertones on the idea that people of color should shut up. We all know that Trump sees nonstop racialized politics as a winning strategy to pander to his supporters. Besides, he’s encouraged supporters to attack minority protesters at his rallies, failed to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, called for an ESPN host’s firing after she called him a white supremacist, promoted birtherism, was sued for housing discrimination, called for the deaths of the Central Park Five, and pardoned Joe Arpaio.

But most importantly though he casts himself as a defender of national symbols, Donald Trump is far from an American patriot. He may proclaim he loves his country and wrap himself in the American flag. However, Trump often grandstands patriotic platitudes to exploit the country for his own personal gain. He’s used his wealth and privilege to get out of Vietnam, taxes, and accountability for his egregious business practices that have ruined countless American lives. He’s flagrantly abused his power and influence during his presidency such as violating the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution. In his whole life, he’s made no personal sacrifices for the United States despite all the good his country has done for him. He doesn’t understand anything about the very government he leads nor does he express any interest to do so. He has no appreciation for American democratic principles that this country was built on such as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people along with the idea that all are created equal. He has no grasp of history and no interest in learning it. He sees First Amendment rights as an obstacle against silencing his critics and quell demonstrations against him. I mean the guy explodes into a Twitter fit accusing the media of “fake news” whenever they report an unflattering story about him. Not to mention, he’s either sued or threaten to sue people who’ve challenged him. Then there’s the fact he’s threatened to rescind NBC’s license after they reported on him wanting to increase our nuclear arsenal 10 times. Despite that he enjoys a lot of support from veterans, his long record of veterans bashing really shows he doesn’t respect those who’ve served in uniform. He’s called POWs losers, set up a fake veterans hotline, promised to donate $6 million to veterans with no intention of actually doing so, attacked Gold Star parents, claimed how he always wanted a Purple Heart after receiving one from a supporter, and claiming he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Trump has praised authoritarian despots like Vladimir Putin as well as done business with those who don’t support American interests like Qaddafi. Even goes as far as publicly stating that the US isn’t much better than Russia. Oh, and his presidential campaign colluded with Russia by initiating hacks and misinformation on his opponents, particularly Hillary Clinton. Then there are his speeches describing the US as a Hunger Games hellscape a la “American Carnage.”

Thus, we must understand that while we may identify patriotism with national symbols like waving the American flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or standing for the “Star Spangled Banner.” Yet, these civil rituals are only shallow expressions of love for one’s country. Patriotic grandstanding is easy. Actually making sacrifices for one’s country or the ideals it represents is extremely difficult and may not always guarantee you praises from your fellow countrymen. In fact, it might come at considerable cost that most flag waving Americans aren’t willing to pay. We may parade our veterans and servicemen as heroes to thank for their service. But many of us have a shallow understanding on what it takes to respect their sacrifice. Our country has far too many veterans on the street while many still experience homelessness, mental illness, health problems, disability, and financial difficulties. Just standing for the national anthem, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and thanking soldiers for their service aren’t enough. We may celebrate those who take on American society to affirm its principles at a considerable risk. But we usually forget how often they faced backlash from a hostile American public. Some have lost careers and reputations. Some have gone to prison. Some have endured threats, physical violence, terror attacks, and alienation from loved ones. Some have even died. Nevertheless, who is the real patriot here? Is it the man who grandstands with American flags to attract legions in order to ruthlessly exploit the country he claims to love for personal enrichment? Or is the man respectfully taking a knee during the national anthem because he didn’t like cops getting away with murder? Is it the man who insists athletes stand for the national anthem but disrespects our men and women in uniform and seeks assistance of a hostile foreign power to win an election? Or is it the man willing to risk a lucrative career and be the most unfairly treated player in the NFL because he was unsatisfied how our country doesn’t live up to its ideals it represents? Is it the man who claims to love America but has no appreciation for its history, values, or democracy? Or is it the man willing to endure immense hatred from millions of people for championing a cause for Americans who don’t share his good fortune? It shouldn’t be hard to decide whose love of country we should honor.