Medieval Bran Castle, located at historical Bran Pass, is a fortress turned legend yet its door had been kept under key for centuries. Discover its story and doors, for Norm’s last Thursday Doors.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. Do not fear missing them, for you will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones.
Bran Pass, a Door to Heaven
Guarded by Bucegi Mountains on the east and Piatra Craiului Highlands, Prince’s Stone, on the west, it is through Bran Pass that, ahead of wintertime, the Dacian shepherds took their flock from the forested mountains of Transylvania down to the warmer and lush hills of Arges County in search of the same endless meadows their forefathers knew. Plains bordered by sweet, unhurried streams. And through the same pass they returned home before the heat of southern summers, bringing along a new generation of lambs, stories of people speaking a similar tongue, and the wisdom that’s the school of life.
At a time when names such as Transylvania and Arges were not even the thought of a whisper.
And in same sweet brooks Romans quenched their thirst too. When they took to the mountains of Dacia, the Bucegi, sneaking also through Bran Pass, marching uphill and building a fort at Cumidava (Râsnov today). How many sandals did they tear to shreds on these stones, I wonder? Later they chose to set a strong hand on Bran Pass, kept it under lock and key.
Bran, a wooden tower
And then, after Transylvania and its Vlach population fell under the stronghold of the Hungarian tribes and Hungary grew to the size of an empire under King Andrew II, Andrew of Jerusalem, it was here, at Brand Pass, that in 1212 Brother Dietrich of the Teutonic Order, with Pope’s explicit blessing, built a wooden sentry post. Bran Pass, known then as Dietrichstein or Toerzburg, became a buffer zone, the Teutonic knights holding the fort, protecting Transylvania’s Burzenland (today Brasov), thus Hungary, against the Cumans and their gruesome raids.
On the geopolitical chessboard, Bran Pass is the pawn holding a secret, that of being promoted. Bran Pass turns now from a bucolic trail into a military Avant-post.
Bran Castle, a state border made of stone
Following the 14th century expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom under Ludovic I of Anjou (the same Anjou family who built the initial Corvin Fortress on a former Roman camp), the privilege was granted to the inhabitants of Brasov to “freely and unforced but in good will, generously and unanimously promised to build a new stronghold in Bran, by themselves, by their own work, by their own money and clear the wood all around,” (The National Archives). It was a good deal for inhabitants of Brasov as their custom taxes have been considerably reduced. A castle rose in five years due to the increased threat the Ottoman Empire embodied.
Yet Bran stronghold was still Magyar Royal Crown’s property.
Bran Stronghold Ruled by Wallachia
We are at the end of the 14th century and the Ottoman wave rises like a tsunami over the Balkans. Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxembourg (architect of the Order of the Dragon) closes ties with Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Bătrân, grandfather to Vlad Tepes, against the Turkish threat. As a token of his appreciation (or a well-thought plan) he gifts Bran stronghold to Wallachia around 1412. To protect against Turkish invasions, the custom being moved back to Brasov.
Yet Sigismund took back Bran stronghold only fourteen years later, due to economic and military reasons ,and returned it to the citadel of Brasov who held it until the roaring twenties, 1920.
Bran Castle, A Royal Residence
At the end of World War I the Treaty of Trianon finally recognises Transylvania as a non-Hungarian region, reconciling it with Romania.
December 1st, 1920: “We, the members of the Town Council of Brasov – as it is mentioned in the deed of gift – … grant the ancient Bran castle, historically meaningful, to Her Majesty Queen Maria of the Unified Romania.” Queen Maria left Bran Castle to her beloved daughter, Princess Ileana.
Sadly, in 1948 Princess Ileana was forced to leave Bran, the castle seized by the communist regime and introduced in Romania’s national patrimony.
We were lucky to have visited Bran Castle a few times, yet I am looking forward to seeing it again. It is an intimate fortress, one feels welcomed inside it, a dreamer, a princess, a soldier – at home.
The story of Military Dog Tags spans millennia, and is fascinating to see how keeping our silent heroes accounted for during war times was first a priority, to later fade away only to return out of a basic human desire of being known, even in death, and not to become one of (too many) unknown soldiers.
What makes an army? The number of its soldiers? The thirst of its leaders or their pathos and charisma . As far back as 2000 BC the Xia Dynasty of China kept a 12 000 men army, the ancient Egypt saw a 100 000 men army during the reign of Ramesses II, the next massive army was that of the Persians under Cyrus the Great, with half a million men, equaled in number only by Mauryan Empire of India around 300 BCE.
Yet, did they mattered, the warriors? Were they seen an human beings, as individuals with dreams and aspirations, or as mere soldiers, the parts of a whole? Who missed them when they were gone, left to fertilize a foreign land? Who cried and uttered their names one last time? Who knew each one of them by their name?
“A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife Wrote his name, carved it in wood To remind him their love, To keep him safe from death A spell of love The first ever dog tag.“
The first dog tags we know of in history belonged to the Spartans who wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists – because the left arm was holding the shield when in battle and the shield was a precious family heirloom. Spartans were bot only literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and poetry.
Could they have looked like these?
They might have looked fearless, the Spartans, in their crimson tunics and battered shields with the letter lambda painted on, and long hair – which they considered the symbol of a free man.
It is of no surprise that Roman legionaries also carried dog tags. But so did the poor Roman slaves… Less personalized than those of the Spartans, the Roman dog tags were received by each soldier on the moment of joining he Roman legion, the Roman Army Recruits, and were called signaculum, the seal. A signaculum, made of lead, carried the soldier’s name, “Unit” of assignment and, in some cases, home record etched on the front as well as a stamp to authenticate it, on the reverse. In the beginning the signaculum was kept in a small leather or cloth pouch and worn around the neck.
Until the permanent Soldier’s Mark was instated for Roman legionaries, a brand imprinted on the hands of the soldiers with a hot iron, possibly to discourage desertion, but only after he was proved fit for service. A tattoo, if you please.
A Roman slave pendant tag
It was hanging from a ring, meant to be worn around the slave’s neck and made of iron and bronze.
“TENEMENE. FVGIA ET REVO. CAMEADDOMNVM. EVVIVENTIVM IN. ARACALLISTI“
“Tene me ne fugia[m] et revoca me ad dom[i]nu[m] meu [m] Viventium in ar[e]a Callisti” ~Translating to (if my Latin serves me well)~ Hold me lest I flee and return me to my master Viventius in the area of Callistus.
Luckily, this custom was later abolished by the relaxation introduced by a long peace.
I couldn’t find any records or mentions of any form of identification for soldiers that fought in Europe or elsewhere for the next fifteen hundred years or so…
I thought of the Janissaries, this incredible heroes of the Ottoman Empire that tormented southeastern Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia for over six centuries, between the 14th and early 20th centuries… But Janissaries, despite their military status and recognizable hat (that tall bork fitted a stunning jeweled ornament in the middle of the forehead), were an army of slaves to the Ottoman Sultan. Their identity didn’t matter, only their force through training and numbers…
It was only in 1712 France that soldiers were recorded again, and issued a cartouche (cartouchede congé or feuilles de rutes) to prove their legal leave… but nothing about an identification tags.
This lack of identification tags for soldiers comes at no surprise if we consider that in 16th and 17th century France personal identity (of a civilian) was based on interpersonal relations, shared experiences and social bonds between the members of a community, from family to the parish and so on. Thus, a stranger leaving this cocoon, this sphere of interpersonal relations became unknown, no longer recognized – and identified.
It was in 1792 when births and deaths in France had to be legally registered and passports were issued for every traveler during the French revolution. Although some primitive forms of passport did exist, being inherited from the Middle Ages and being more of a privilege than a form of identification…
We do know that Napoleon mustered an army of 2.5 million people at the beginning of the 19th century…. nearly 400 000 were killed in action not counting the invasion of Russia where around one million French and allied soldiers perished.
Across the Pond, someone was killing President Thomas Jefferson’s sheep. His neighbor’s dogs. So the President wrote the first dog licensing law for his home state of Virginia wishing to identify the owners of the naughty dogs owners and make them pay for his loss. By the 1850’s most cities had such laws requiring dog owners to attach a collar with their name and license number around their doggo’s neck.
Because no one expected the American Civil War to last so long, 1861 – 1865, most soldiers marched off to fight in a wide variety of uniforms, most of them homemade. Their own clothes. Later the uniforms became blue for Unions, Bluebellies, and light brownish for the Confederates, Butternuts.
It took more than three years of bloody fighting for everyone to understand how dangerous the coming battle would be.
Do you remember the ‘sash’ Scarlett made for Ashley? No dog tags, still… made to tell him apart.
Yet no soldier’s uniform of the American Civil War included a set of dog tags, although in May 1962 John Kennedy from New York proposed that each Union soldier is issued with an ID tag. And the soldiers cared that, when they die, their families back home know to mourn them. There is a sea of graves with headstones marked ‘Unknown Soldier’. So soon, as soon as the men saw that this war will never end, the soldiers (perhaps their wives too, their mothers, sisters, sweethearts, from South and from the North) began to sew their names on the uniform, before leaving for battle, before kissing them good bye, hugging them one last time, before praying together for a happy reunion. One more…
Those in a hurry just wrote their name on a piece of paper or a handkerchief, pinned it to their blouses and hoped they won’t bleed on it, when wounded. Some even carved their names on small wooden discs , pierced a hole through it and hung it from their neck with a piece of string. Others stenciled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of their army belt buckle. Most of them were 16 – 23 years old.
Still, about 50% of soldiers killed in action were positively identified.
Eventually, merchants saw a booming business and began producing metal disks shaped to suggest a branch of service. These were soon called name discs or soldier pins. Some sold soldier pins made of silver or gold and etched with the soldier’s name and unit. But not everyone could afford one so most soldiers made their own ID tags by grinding off one side of a coin and then etching their names on it.
Cheaper, machine-stamped tags appeared, made of brass or lead with a hole. They had an eagle or shield and a motivational phrase such as “War for the Union” or “Liberty, Union, and Equality” on one side. The other side showed the soldier’s name and unit, and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated. By the 1890s, the U.S. Army and Navy began experimenting with issuing metal identification tags to recruits.
It didn’t took long until the wooden and metal discs used for dogs were referred to as dog tags and that name carried over to their human counterparts.
But such dog tags were also provided to the Chinese soldiers during the Taiping revolt, 1851 – 1866, when both the Chinese Imperial Army soldiers and the Taiping rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt with their name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment inscribed.
1866 Europe, the Prussian soldiers began wearing dog tags during the Austro – PrussianWar but on a volunteer basis only as many considered them a bad omen. Sad, as in the aftermath of the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Sadowa), when the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire which led to the German unification, the Little Germany (Germany without Austria), out of 8900 Prussian casualties only 429 of them could be identified. It was three years later the Recognitionsmarke, recognition mark, became obligatory, but the soldier called them Hundermarken, since they looked like ID tags used for the canines of Berlin… Story goes that King Wilhelm flew into a rage about the common naming of the tag saying that his soldiers are not dogs – so the nickname was forbidden in the following years…which only encouraged it’s use by the soldiers.
You can see below an Austro – Hungarian Empire‘s Officer Legitimization Case, a pre-design of a dog tag. On the obverse the case is engraved with the Imperial Cypher of King Frans Joseph I of Austria, while on the reverse is the Austro – Hungarian Coat of arms (double headed crowned eagle). The case opened and inside were included personal ID, service records, list of decorations awarded.
Meanwhile, in 1907 the British Army replaced the identity cards with aluminum discs, each soldier receiving two. An octagonal green tag was attached to a cord around the neck, intended to remain on the body for future identification. The second tag, a red circular disc, was suspended from the first and could be removed to record the soldier’s death. The British forces serving in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand received similar dog tags during the Great War, exception making the sailors who preferred an ID bracelet.
It was in 1906 when the U.S. government decided by a general order that a circular aluminum disc be worn as an identification tag by all soldiers, and by 1913 all military service members were required to wear such an identification disc. The aluminum disc was the size of a silver half dollar and imprinted with the name, rank, company, regiment or corps, and worn suspended around the neck.
When U.S. entered World War I(1914-1918) in 1917 all its service members, killed or wounded, were therefor identified and accounted for. It was now when military service members began wearing two such identification tags hand-stamped with their name, rank, serial number, unit and religion. One tag was meant to remain attached to the body of the deceased while the other would mark the coffin or the grave site, be it home or away.
Canadian, USA, British WW1 dog tags and a custom stamping set:
At the same time back in Europe the French soldiers were fitted with a bracelet displaying a metal disk engraved with the their name, rank and other pertinent formation. And here’s a Scottish one:
In Russia, after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 and the necessity to increase the newly mobilized force exponentially, up to 75% of the Russian troops entered WW1with no form of personal identification… Below, a Russian tag from 1902, a 1909 wooden cylinder used to protect a piece of paper with the soldier’s details (although it was also used to store matches), and a 1917 dog tag:
Of course, I should show you some Romanian dog tags from WW1 and WW2:
During WWII, 1939-1945, most dog tags used looked like the ones we’ve seen often – at least in the movies: rectangular shaped with rounded ends and machine stamped. First made of brass, then from a corrosion-resistant alloy, nickel – copper, and eventually from stainless steel.
Below: a British RAF dog tag of a soldier named Astman and Australian dog tags (notice the rubber rim meant to silence them)
Still, the human’s wars were not over…
Two Finish dog tags, first one from the Winter War (the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, 30 Nov 1939 – 13 Mar 1940), the second one is modern, it has the letters SF, Suomi Finland, stamped within a tower.
During the 1950s some rules regarding dog tags changed, one identification tag was placed on a long chain, while the second was hung on a shorter chain. In case of death the identification tag on the shorter chain was meant to be placed around the toe of the deceased, toe tag. The other dog tag was meant to remain with the deceased or used to report back the name of the deceased soldier.
For those who experienced the Communist Block, Eastern Block, and the Cold Warthis army pass book for a Corporal in die NVA – Die Nationale Volksarmee der DDR (The National People’s Army) will bring back a wave of memories. Next DDR and Germany dog tags (notice the differences between the two):
During the long Vietnam War, 1955-1975, the soldiers, exasperated by the noise the dog tags made while banging each other, something that endangered their safety during the long, humid moths of unending battles and hiding in the Asian jungles… began taping the dog tags together. Thus rubber covers came in use so the tags remain silent. But the Vietnam War was a different war and bodies often became dismembered to an extent they were often unidentifiable… so the soldiers would often wear one dog tag in one boot, tied with the bootlace in case in might, just might help with the recovery of their remains.
I discovered two P.O.W. (Prisoner Of War) dog tags, fashioned by prisoners while locked away, awaiting. What? … While hoping, thinking of what they left behind, of what they have back home (their only wealth), dreaming, not as in hoping, but as night visions, the only way they could escape an uncertain present built out of nightmares. I believe these dog tags are the most valuable ones, both a letter and a will, a cry for life and a farewell.
Below is a dog tag fashioned by a prisoner of war, P.O.W., held captive perhaps somewhere in Asia (by the deign of the tower) during WW2. Notice the machine gun in the tower and the barbed wire fence. And a dog tag made by a P.O.W. during the Boer War with a medallion made from a horn. You cab read ‘Boer Camp’ inscribed at the bottom.
This is the story of Military Dog Tags, coming such a long way from a name engraved on a stick of wood to stainless steel plates holding military and medical records and even microchips and, most importantly, the soldier’s name.
Below: dog tags from the Iraq/Afghanistan Dog Tag Memorial at the Museum of the Forgotten Warrior outside of Beale Air Force Base, California. The memorial honors all the men and women killed during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as of October 30, 2011, containing 6296 individual dog tags. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)-source.
A dog tag, A soldier’s surviving touch, His last handshake, His last word, His last breath Spared for those back home. (Patricia Furstenberg)
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If for each war victim would a war book be written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.
The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.
Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.
7 War Books You Must Read:
1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.
The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.
The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.
Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”
“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.
The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.
A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.
3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.
But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.
It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.
4 – King Rat by James Clavell
Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.
Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.
5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell
This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.
Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge.
Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.
6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.
7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.
If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.
A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.
Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.
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Below are a few stories focused on unbelievable dogs who contributed to the enrichment of scientific data, the settlement of conflicts, and the onset of real state crises.
Peritas, Alexander the Great’s dog
From 356 BC comes Peritas, the puppy with a name worthy of the companion of a true leader. Peritas was Alexander the Great‘s dog, some call him a gladiator dog, who accompanied him during his military exploits. The name Peritas seems to come from the Macedonian word for January.
During the attack of the Persian troops of Darius III on Alexander the Great, Peritas jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master. Due to his faithful servant, Alexander survived and carried on his dream of conquering the world through.
Peritas could have been a Molossian, a breed of ancient Greece believed to be the the ancestor of the Mastiff. But Peritas could have also been the greyhound that Alexandre brought up himself.
Donnchadh, Robert the Bruce’s dog
Donnchadh was the dog of Robert I of Scotland, or Robert the Bruce. It is said that what inspired Robert to never give up was watching a spider spin its web, while others say it was his dog.
In 1306, Edward I of England was fighting to overthrow Robert because who was advocating for Scottish independence. Edward had already captured Robert’s wife and faithful dog, so he came up with a devious plan. He was going to use Donnchadh, Robert’s own dog, to track him and catch him. Unaware, Donnchadh did led the king to the target, but then he turned on the English soldiers, defending his master. Robert escaped and lived to be King of Scotland for two decades.
Although four centuries later, the actions of the reckless George III, a direct descendant of Robert, who passed an act taxing tea in the colonies was the seed that bothered the American settlers enough to revolt. So this is how a Scottish doggo is one of the dogs who made and changed the history – of the United States, in his case.
Urian, Cardinal Wolsey’s dog
14th centuryUrian is said to have been the dog that determined the rupture between England and the papacy.
Wishing to separate from Catherine of Aragon (who could not produce a son and heir), King Henry VIII sent Cardinal Wolsey (lord chancellor and chief adviser), to discuss with Pope Clement VII his marriage annulment. Cardinal Wolsey brought his beloved dog Urian along. When the Pope, who supposedly was siting on his throne, extended his big toe to be kissed by the Cardinal, as it was customary, Urian mistook the scene for an attempt at his beloved master’s safety. And he took a mouthful at the Pope’s foot. Needless to say, Henry lost any chance at an annulment.
Because of the Catholic Church’s refusal, Henry later founded the Anglican Church, declared himself head of the Church of England and appointed his own clerics who, of course, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid. Apparently Urian was a greyhound.
The Silent Hero puppy who saved Napoleon Bonaparte
Even though he is an anonymous hero, I believe that the puppy who saved Napoleon from drowning in 1815, right after his escape from Elba Island where he’d been imprisoned by the Allies, deserves to be included among the other dogs who made and changed the world history. Perhaps this Newfoundland pup played one of the biggest roles in the history of Europe and that of the world.
Napoleon was aboard the Inconstant, a brig of about 300 tons, sailing over a rough Ligurian sea, when he fell overboard. A fisherman and his young but sturdy doggo were on board and the canine followed his instincts, jumping in the foaming waters to rescue the 41 years old Napoleon. Napoleon entered triumphant in Paris, but one hundred days later he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled by the British to St. Helena island where he lived till his death, six years later.
Waterloo was the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history, as after Waterloo and until the start of WW1 Europe witnessed a short time of peace, prosperity and progress.
Smoky, the dog given a second chance during WWII
Smoky was a hairball, a Yorkshire Terrier with a huge heart who contributed to the new US Air Force base during World War II. Smoky was found in an abandoned foxhole in Papua New Guinea by the American soldiers stationed there and was adopted on the spot. When the company moved to the Philippines during the island hopping, Smoky moved too. So it happened that the soldier who had to set base at Luzon had to pull a telegraph wire and the only way to do it was through a narrow, 21-metre pipe. And Smoky helped, being just the right size to crawl through with the wire attached to her collar.
The airbase remained safe and operational.
Jofi, Sigmund Freud’s dog
I think that Jofi, Sigmund Freud‘s puppy, is a dog who should have been given more recognition so I’ll include him along the dogs who made and changed the history, psychoanalysis in his case. But aren’t most dogs like this? Freud often took Jofi to his office during therapy sessions, then noted his observations, convinced that Jofi helped patients relax.
Freud’s notes laid the foundations of modern animal-assisted therapy.
Charlie, the dog who helped defuse the Cuban Crisis
Charlie was a Welsh terrier and one of Kennedy family’s beloved dogs.
During the 1962 Cuban crisis (remember that the Soviet Union deployed some intercontinental ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, only 144 kilometers off the coast of U.S.) President Kennedy lived some stressful days, trying hard not to start a nuclear war. It was during one of these moments that President Kennedy asked that Charlie be brought into the overheated War Room. The president took him in his arms and caressed him, which helped him calm down. In the end, Kennedy announced that he was ready to make a decision. A decision that defused the conflict.
As a peace offering following the Cuban crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, Russian Premier at the time, gifted young Caroline Kennedy a white puppy named Pushinka, from the litter of famed space dog Strelka (part of the Sputnik space program). Pushinka and Charlie later had four puppies that Kennedy called “pupniks.”
Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave
Robot and his owner, teenager Marcel Ravidat, were exploring the surroundings of their village of Montignac, southwest France, in 1940 while France was fighting in the World War II.
Suddenly Robot spotted a rabbit, chase after it but the game was soon gone down a rabbit hole. Although it appears that the four boys were actually intrigued by an old legend about a tunnel running under the Vezere River linking the old Castel of Montignac to the Manor of Lascaux. Ravidat threw some stones down the hole and a great echo returned. A few days later the teenager returned with a few friends and with ropes and they climbed down the hole only to discover an incredible amount of colorful murals perfectly preserved within a cave. Later study showed that this artwork was in pristine state as it had been protected from water by a layer of chalk, and that the paintings had been created during the Paleolithic era, between 30,000 to 12,000 B.C.E.
Some say that Robot the dog was not the one to discover the cave, some dispute the year when the caves of Lascaux were first spotted, but it does make sense to have a dog chasing a rabbit down the rabbit whole, towards amazing wonders.
The discovery of Caves of Lascaux is crucial because it helsp us understand what stood at the center of life of our paleolithic ancestors, hunting and religious rites. That perhaps such drawing guaranteed them plentiful herds and good hunting.
Cairo, the Military Working Dog who found Osama bin Laden
Cairo was a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog, MWD, who together with his military human handler and SEAL Team Operator Will Chesney were part of the famous attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.
Navy SEAL Will Chesney met MWD Cairo in 2008 and shared many missions together in Afghanistan, forging an impenetrable bond. Working with Cairo, Chesney saw firsthand how valuable dogs are, when on multiple missions Cairo’s keen senses saved Chesney’s life and the lives of his team members. Cairo was even shot in the chest and leg, but made a full recovery and the two were deployed to Afghanistan again, they were that good and their country needed them.
In 2011 Chesney, Cairo, and a two dozen Navy SEALs team were sent after Osama bin Laden in what was known as Operation Neptune Spear. They stormed Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Chesney and Cairo were the only canine team on the mission as main job was locating hidden enemies. It was for sure the most dangerous and the biggest mission in history. None of the SEALs involved expected to survive the raid, but the thought of taking out the terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians overpowered any trace of anxiety or self-preservation.
‘Cairo always fed off everybody’s energy. Your emotions run up and down the leash. If you’re mad, the energy is going to run down that leash. For Cairo, it was just another day at work‘ (Will Chesney).
It is said that when a military dog handler puts their bullet-proof vest on, the MWD they team with knows right away they’re working, and when the human handler takes off the vest, the dog knows it is playtime again.
Cairo faced a well deserved retirement in 2013 and, finally he was adopted by his best friend Chesney. I think that you will agree that Cairo deserves a place of honor between the dogs who made and changed the history – for the good.
I wish my list was longer.T here are millions of dogs who made and changed the history, be it that of a community, of a nation or of the world, but the silent heroes that share our lives are also changing the history, with their genuine care and unconditional love, our personal history.
I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.
Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.
Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.
Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.
You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.
The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.
A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries
Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.
Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.
Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.
And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.
The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.
The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.
It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.
19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.
World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.
Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.
What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?
A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.
Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.
Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.
The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.
Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.
How is all this possible?
Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”
So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.
And so is writing.
I will leave you with Proust’s words:
“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”