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Exposing History: Admired Historical Figures and Shrouded Controversies

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

History is a wonderful discipline that allows us to contemplate a variety of ways in which our ancestors have shaped society as we know it today. It highlights the biggest accomplishments of humankind such as Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech, Aristotle’s philosophic writings, Malala Yousafzai’s activism and subsequent achievements, among others. Ironically, many idolized figures were involved in some rather infamous controversies. These atrocious acts range from adopting and justifying pedophilic habits to being involved with the Nazis. Can you guess who they are? If not, here are three world-famous historical figures and their unspoken secrets.

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1. Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi was an Indian activist that strived for his country’s freedom and fought for it by implementing non-violent civil disobedience. His greatest achievements include successfully winning a non-violent tax revolt in Kheda, increasing the participation of women in Indian public life, winning the Champaran battle, and other accomplishments whose ultimate aim was to obtain India’s independence. His influence was such that he’s often referred to as the “Great Soul” or Mahatma. Considering his non-violent approach to activism and his positive impact within the Indian community, Gandhi is considered as an international symbol of peace. Behind his social accomplishments, Gandhi was known for some questionable habits of his that were somewhat incongruent with his “peaceful man” portrayal. 

The first red flag of our pacifist hero is his chastity habit, which required sleeping alongside fully undressed young girls, including his grandnieces Abha and Manu, to test his libido tolerance. The issue relies on justifying sleeping with minors to “test” his sexual drive, which he could have failed had he not possessed his “tolerance”. 

Kasturba Gandhi, Gandhi’s wife, did not experience a very peaceful love life as one might expect from a partner known for his  “Great Soul”. Imagine marrying someone who abstains from having sexual relations, but who sleeps around naked minors. Not only that, but it’s also speculated that her death is tightly connected with Gandhi’s decisions. Kasturba suffered from chronic bronchitis, which eventually developed into pneumonia. Doctors prescribed penicillin to cure the disease that was threatening her life, but she didn’t receive the medicine, as Gandhi refused to allow it. She consequently passed away. Ironically, Gandhi caught malaria some time after his wife’s death. He took medicine to treat the illness, even though it was an “alien substance”, just like the penicillin that Kasturba never received.  

Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy of India’s non-violent hero doesn’t erase the murmur of controversial and ironic things that he did behind the scenes. For instance, some speculate about his racism towards African people and his general disdain for the dalits; India’s “untouchable” caste.

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2. Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel

Coco Chanel was a French designer, artist and founder of Chanel: the luxurious and wildly successful fashion powerhouse many adore nowadays. She influenced the fashion industry post-World War I by marketing a new femenine standard of style, which allowed her popularity to evolve into the brand as we know it. Because of her brand’s prestige and success, some may consider Coco Chanel an inspirational figure. However, some of her secrets remain under-the-rug from CHANEL’s customers. In the book Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan, her connection with Günther von Dicklage, a Nazi officer during WWII, is explicitly mentioned and discussed. Even so, it highlights Chanel’s involvement with the Nazis; including her code name (“Westminster”) and agent number (F-7124). As to the reasons for Chanel’s involvement with the Nazi Party, they remain unclear. Did she do it for love? For the benefit of her company, maybe? Or did she perhaps do it because of her anti-Semitic views? The answers to these questions are still unknown. 

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3. The Saint of the Saints, Mother Teresa. 

She practiced the cult of suffering, which believes that suffering enriches our connection with God. Therefore, instead of relieving people’s physical ailments, she advocated for and promoted it. Some examples include not providing medications to the ill, letting patients painfully suffer in their last moments until their death, and refusing to aid the poor in order to restrain them within their social class. Not only did Mother Teresa’s cult practices contradict her doctrine as a Saint, but some of her actions may have opposed her own beliefs. Sources indicate that Mother Teresa avoided suffering when she was a victim of it. She would go to prestigious Californian clinics to treat her diseases while she strived for others to succumb painfully to their illnesses. There are several documented examples that allow us to question Mother Teresa’s transparency and true form. One includes her unstable faith as she claimed she felt “[emptiness] when she tried to raise her thoughts to Heaven.”

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Adopting the lens of reality over idolatry exposes the fact that many inspiring historical figures may have not been as benevolent or saintly as good as we thought they were. After all, humans make mistakes; therefore, we should acknowledge both sides of the coin before rushing to idealized conclusions.

“Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.” -George Orwell

Kiara Roman is a writer and Social Media Co-Director of the Her Campus at UPR chapter. Through her articles she discusses a diverse spectrum of topics ranging from research analysis on animal abuse to listicles about cozy room decor. Her writing inclinations vary according to her momentary interests, which makes her one of the most diverse writers in the chapter. She has been part of several organizations including Pulso Estudiantil, Puntos de Fuga and Awkwardly Vain magazine. Her academic aspirations diverge as she studies Human Resources Management and Interdisciplinary Studies while engaging in multidisciplinary extracurriculars. Internship-focused experiences are at the top of her resume alongside communitary participation in her institution, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. A kaleidoscope of interests drive her curiosity into exploring new hobbies in art, literature, gastronomy, and sciences. Her free time is filled by imagined universes or video game-raging. Explore her next hyperfixation in her upcoming articles.