Mysteries of History

We know far less about history than most historians will admit. History is full of mysteries, many of which only time travel could solve.

Some of the historical mysteries could change everything we think about history. Other historical mysteries are only fascinating puzzles.

Investigating historical mysteries is both entertaining and educational. A few fun hysterical mysteries to investigate include:

Did the Vikings meet the Maya?

There is circumstantial evidence that the Vikings visited Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and the Maya civilization around 1000 AD.

A Mayan mural in the Hall of the Warriors at the Chichen Itza ruins near Valladolid, Yucatan, contains pictures of prisoners of war with blonde hair and pale skin, Yale Professor Valerie Hansen notes. In her book The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began Hansen notes that a mural in a building they call Old Chichen shows Maya warriors attacking what looks like a Viking ship.*

To reach the Yucatan the Vikings would have had to sail down the East Coast of the United States, around Florida, and across the Gulf of Mexico. The shortest distance across the Gulf of Mexico to Yucatan is from Key West, Florida. That distance is 864 kilometers or 537 miles.

Hansen speculates Vikings got blown off course in the Atlantic. I’m skeptical of that proposition. Still the mural at Chichen Itza raises interesting questions. Who are the pale-skinned men with blonde hair and where did the Norse type boat come from?

The idea of Vikings in Dark Age Mexico is not a new one. There are Toltec and Maya legends about a blonde-haired king named Feathered Serpent who visited Chichen Itza and Tula near Mexico City around 987 AD. Feathered Serpent visited Tula and Chichen Itza before sailing off into the east, returning home?

Feathered Serpent usually known as Quetzalcoatl or Kukulkan was a Mexican god in the 16th Century. Some Mexicans, including the Emperor Montezuma, mistook Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés for Quetzalcoatl in 1519. Many people speculate that Feathered Serpent, or Plumed Serpent, was a Viking.

One problem with the Norse in Mexico theory is that we have no evidence of a pandemic in the area around 1000 AD. A catastrophic smallpox outbreak followed the Spanish arrival in Mexico in 1519. I have to wonder why the Norse did not transmit the Old World’s deadly diseases to the Mexican people, but the Spanish did. That too is another of history’s mysteries.

Another problem is if the Vikings found Mexico why didn’t they conquer it? The Vikings were raiders, slavers, and conquerors. I have to wonder why the Vikings didn’t return to Europe and round up a large force of Norsemen; or their French cousins the Normans, and return to Mexico to conquer it?

The obvious answer is that if any Vikings visited 11th Century Mexico they never returned home. Still, I have to wonder if the idea of Vikings in Mexico is a Scandinavian pipe dream. IE many Scandinavians hate the fact that it was the Roman Catholic Latins, the Italian Columbus and the Spanish, who conquered and colonized America when their ancestors could not.

Another possibility is that the Vikings were on vacation in Mexico. Chichen Itza is near Cancun, a beach resort popular with American and Canadian tourists.

The Allies and Operation Valkyrie

The story of Operation Valkyrie; or the July 20 Plot, is legendary. In July 1944, a group of German Army officers tried to kill Adolph Hitler and stage a coup to overthrow the Nazi Party.

The coup came close to success when a bomb nearly killed Hitler. Under the plotters’ command, the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany seized control of Berlin. Unfortunately, the coup leaders underestimated the popularity of Nazism and the loyalty of ordinary Germans to the Party. When news that Hitler was still alive broke, the plot collapsed as troops reaffirmed their loyalty to the Fuhrer.

The mystery of the July 20 Plot is the role the Allies played in it. Officially, the Allied leaders were surprised when a bomb went off in a conference room at Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s Eastern Front headquarters.

Hitler survived because coup leader Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Justinian Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg only set off one bomb. The plot failed beucase Von Stauffenberg’s aide-de-camp ,Werner von Haeften refused to set off a second bomb.

The most intriguing July 20 mystery involves the bombs. Where did the bombs come from? The official story is that Wessel Oskar Karl Johann Freiherr Freytag von Loringhoven, a colonel in the High Command of the German Armed Forces obtained “captured British explosives” from the Abwehr, German military intelligence.

Unfortunately, there is no way to verify that story. After the plot’s failure, Loringhoven committed suicide to avoid arrest by the Gestapo.

The mystery is where did the British explosives come from? Were they really captured or supplied by the British or somebody else? The probable source of the explosives was the Special Operations Executive (SOE) a secret paramilitary force organized by the British government. The SOE had laboratories and workshops that made bombs for sabotage and assassination.

The SOE’s purpose was to “set Europe ablaze” by organizing guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and other resistance activities in German-occupied territories. Thus, Germans could have captured SOE explosives from resistance fighters or British agents.

However, the SS not the Abwehr was the Nazi security force. Thus, the SS which was full of Nazi fanatics, was a more probable source of the explosives. Yet I can’t imagine loyal Nazis in the SS conspiring to kill the Fuhrer.

Skeptics will wonder if von Loringhoven got the bombs from the British SOE? British or American agents in neutral Switzerland, or Sweden, could have passed explosives to a German plotter. Many Allied agents; including future CIA director Allen Dulles, were operating in Switzerland during World War II.

The Valkyrie plotters could have kept the source of the explosives secret because they wanted to be seen as patriots saving Germany from Hitler, not traitors. Another possibility is that the bombs came from the Soviet NVKD. The plotters; who were trying to portray themselves as anticommunists, had a powerful incentive to hide any Soviet help.

The explosive mystery raises the question: did any of the Allied leaders know about Valkyrie? The SOE was a pet project of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and Churchill was in constant contact with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York). Similarly, the NVKD, reported to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.  

An interesting question here is why would Allied leaders have kept their involvement in a plot against Hitler, whom their propaganda portrayed as a super villain, secret? Oddly, Allied propaganda could provide the answer to that question.

During World War II, the official Allied policy policy was one of Unconditional Surrender. At the Casablanca Conference in 1943, FDR told the press that Unconditional Surrender was the official Allied policy.

Unconditional Surrender meant that to get peace the Germans and Japanese had to meet all Allied demands. Officially, the Allies could not accept a negotiated surrender.

Churchill backed FDR’s Unconditional Surrender policy. Stalin, however, was not at Casablanca and did not sign off on Unconditional Surrender.

Hence, any revelation of Allied involvement in Operation Valkyrie could have exposed Churchill and Roosevelt as hypocrites who did not believe in their own policies. FDR, in particular, had a lot to lose. 1944 was an election year, and such hypocrisy could have been a powerful campaign issue for FDR’s opponent Governor Thomas E. Dewey (R-New York).

We may never know the truth about Valkyrie. Notably, the story of the heroic officers who risked everything to kill Hitler is one of the founding myths of the modern Federal Republic of Germany. Any insinuation that von Stauffenberg and his associates needed Allied help makes the German people look bad.

Similarly, during the Cold War, American and British leaders had a powerful incentive to hide the truth. To explain, the USA and the UK needed West Germany as an Ally against the Soviet Union.

Any revelation that the Allies had conspired with German traitors could have damaged that relationship. Likewise, such revelations could have inspired a Nazi revival in West Germany.

Meanwhile, Soviet leaders, did not want to tell their people they had been conspiring with their enemies in “The Great Patriotic War.” Another problem is the failure of the July 20 Plot, which could make any Allied agent or leader involved in it, look incompetent.

The Russians take great pride in the supposed efficiency of their secret police and spies. Yet, the July 20 Plot was amateurish and bungled. Instead of killing Hitler and overthrowing Nazism, the plotters made Hitler more popular, strengthened Nazism, and inspired the Germans to fight harder which prolonged the war.

Hence, the July 20 Plot calls the entire rationale for supporting coups into question. Thus, postwar British and American intelligence officials; who were heavily involved in foreign coups, had a powerful incentive to downplay their involvement with the Valkyrie failure.

Hence, the July 20 Plot calls the entire rationale for supporting coups into question. Thus, postwar British and American intelligence officials; who were heavily involved in foreign coups, had a powerful incentive to downplay their involvement with the Valkyrie failure.

Thus, we may never know the true story of Operation Valkyrie.

*See The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began pages 55-58.