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Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Steve Cole debunks 10 more popular myths.

1. Myth: Columbus believed the world was round when everybody else believed it was flat.

Truth: Everybody knew the world was round; the argument was about just how big it was (and how far away China was if you went west instead of east). Turns out, Columbus was the one who was wrong, and the diameter that the Greeks calculated in 300BC was right after all.

2. Myth: The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was the most devastating single attack of World War 2.

Truth: The bomb that hit Hiroshima killed (by the most realistic estimate) 79,000 people. The one that hit Nagasaki killed far fewer. In contrast, the biggest fire-bombing raid on Tokyo killed over 100,000 and the three-day fire-bombing assault on Dresden killed 135,000. While not a "bombing raid," the Japanese "Rape of Nanking" is known to have killed at least 150,000 and perhaps as many as 300,000 people.

3. Myth: Hitler's wonder weapons would have won World War 2.

Truth: The V1 and V2 were able to hit European cities that German bombers could no longer fight their way through to, but this was not enough to have won the war. There was no one reason for the German defeat; they did a lot of things wrong and were outnumbered to start with.

4. Myth: Senator Joe McCarthy never found a communist spy inside the US government during the infamous witch hunts.

Truth: He actually found quite a few (over 50). This was proven by the Venona transcripts which became available after the fall of the USSR. But then, he didn't find them, he just reported that the government already knew where they were and didn't take steps to get rid of them.

5. Myth: Thousands of Iraqis were killed on The Highway of Death during Gulf War I (also known as the Kuwait War).

Truth: Fewer than 20 Iraqis were killed there, almost all of whom got on TV (posthumously) from multiple angles. When the aircraft attacked, the Iraqis parked, got out of their trucks, and ran for the ditches at the side of the road.

6. Myth: Nuclear winter could plunge the world into decades of sub-zero temperatures.

Truth: The study that proposed nuclear winter left a few things out of their calculations (oceans, rain, the rotation of the Earth, and sunlight, among others). Several well-documented volcanic explosions had exceeded the "Sagan threshhold" for atmospheric dust without causing extinction (although mega-volcanoes, which are about ten thousand Sagan threshholds really messed things up a few times). A study by the US National Academy of Sciences found that the real effects were a 10-degree temperature drop, that was only in the center of each continent, which would last for only two years. The same study noted many other effects which would have made post-nuclear life extremely difficult and miserable.

7. Myth: Helicopters were invincible in the Vietnam War.

Truth: Helicopters proved seriously vulnerable to ground fire and it was often impossible to use them in the hottest battles. They could, however, move troops around quickly just outside of hot battle zones.

8. Myth: US guards at Guantanamo flushed a Koran down the toilet.

Truth: The Koran was flushed by a Muslim inmate who had used it to record information of intelligence value which he did not want US guards to get.


9. Myth: The Nazis and Japanese nearly invented a nuclear bomb.

Truth: The Nazis abandoned their nuclear bomb project, believing it impossible to sustain nuclear fission. The Japanese were working on a bomb and may have been within a few months of success.

10. Myth: Sarah Palin said: "I can see Russia from my house," thereby proving she was an idiot.

Truth: She said no such thing. The line was uttered by an actress playing Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live and trying to make her look like an idiot.