David Frum

11.13.12

Top Ten Military Sex Scandals, Part Two

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Maximilian Harden (left), journalist who reported on the homosexual relationship between Philip, Prince of Eulenburg (centre) and Kuno von Moltke (right).

#7: The Eulenberg Affair

It won't be easy to summarize this lurid sex scandal that drove six German officers to suicide and 20 others to court-martial in the years before 1914. The German emperor Wilhelm II had surrounded himself with a group (detractors called it a "camarilla") that was simultaneously aristocratic, military, and gay. (One of the leading figures in the group, the chief of the military secretariat, dropped dead at an all-male dinner party attended by the kaiser after he danced a ballet dressed in a tutu.)

Blackmail, lawsuits, investigations, and courts-martial against suspected homosexuals became weapons of factional court politics. Some have speculated that the kaiser's own psychic need to reaffirm his masculine identity after the scandal erupted in late 1908 drove him to the more provocative policy that ended in the First World War.

#6: The Strange Career of Georges Boulanger

Nineteenth century French politics was a dangerously unstable business. Few caused more trouble than Georges Boulanger, a general and war minister who in 1888-89 very nearly seized dictatorial power. Boulanger however was not the stuff of which dictators are made. Vacillating and unintelligent, his actions were all guided by his mistress, Mme Bonnemain. The coup was bungled. Boulanger was convicted of treason and fled into exile. Mme Bonnemain died in 1890; Boulanger returned from exile to blow his brains out atop Mme Bonnemain's Brussels grave. Clemenceau's famous jibe at Boulanger - "He died as he lived, like a second lieutenant" - doesn't translate well into English, a language of people whose second lieutenants do not habitually shoot themselves.

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This image of Rose Greenhow was scanned from the book My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule At Washington, by Rose Greenhow. London: Richard Bentley, 1863.

#5: The Civil War Mata Hari

The Civil War gave us the word "hooker," after the women who followed the camp of the Union general who lost the battle of Chancellorsville. But perhaps the war's most famous sexploits were those of a respectable Washington matron, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, who enticed military secrets from the Union generals she entertained in her Washington DC home. Mrs. Greenhow, the widow of a State department official and the aunt of the wife of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, delivered information that Jefferson Davis credited with winning the Battle of First Bull Run for the South. It's not clear whether Mrs. Greenhow's labors for the South ever proceeded beyond flirtation and flattery.

Stay tuned for Part Three.