Sunday, July 7, 2013

Expression/Term Explanations: Part 1

     Today I’d like to discuss several expressions that are based on the names of real people or places.  I’ve certainly heard, and used these expressions, but I wasn’t very familiar with the actual personalities involved in them.  So I thought it might be interesting to include brief historical backgrounds of these folks.  Some would have been obscure without the expressions, and others were otherwise notable, but are best remembered for the expressions (perhaps in a way they wouldn’t have liked).

1)      Pyrrhic victory.  This is a case when someone technically wins something, but it comes at such a high cost that it has the effect of a loss.  Or it can be a temporary victory which directly results in a later, more profound loss.  A sports example might be if a team wins a game, but in doing so they lose several key players to serious injury, dooming the rest of their season.
           This expression comes from the king Pyrrhus, who ruled the Greek kingdom of Epirus in ancient times.  In 280 B.C. he was asked for military aid by the Italian city-state of Tarentum against the Romans.  He and his forces were victorious in the battles at Heraclea (in 280 B.C.) and Asculum (279 B.C.).  However, in doing so he lost a huge portion of his army, several key friends, and most of his main commanders.  He was said to have remarked, “If we are victorious in one more such battle with the Romans we shall be utterly ruined.”  The final straw for his side was (an actual loss this time) in 275 B.C. at a town which, to celebrate the Roman win, changed its name from Maleventum (“bad event”) to Beneventum (“good event”).  Pyrrhus retreated to Greece, and this helped allow the Romans to become a major power.  Pyrrhus died a few years later, in 272 B.C. at Argos, Greece.  Rumor had it that he was dropped from his horse to be killed by an Argive soldier after being stunned by a woman hitting him in the head with a thrown roofing tile.  The Pyrrhic Wars also demonstrated the disadvantages of using elephants in battle—once the Romans learned how to effectively wound them the elephants had the tendency to panic, and they often trampled their own troops in these rampages.

2)      Stockholm Syndrome.  This is the name of the condition wherein hostages go through a bizarre transference and begin to sympathize and identify with their captors, and sometimes even actively defend them.  The FBI has calculated that this happens to about 27% of hostages.  It’s similar to the conditions that some abused spouses/children demonstrate, and (in a less serious way) to the bonding between members created by some fraternity hazing.
            This gets its name from an incident at the Kreditbanken in Norrmalmsstorg, Stockholm, Sweden during August 23-28, 1973.  A Jan-Erik Olsson tried to rob this bank, and in doing so he shot and wounded a police officer, and then he took four hostages.  During the standoff he requested that a friend of his, Clark Olofsson (who also had a history of robberies and arrests) be brought to him, which the police allowed.  For the next several days the six people remained holed up in a bank vault.  Olsson demanded money, guns, defensive equipment, and an escape car.  At one point Olsson was put through on the phone to the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and he threatened to kill the hostages.  It became a large media event, as updates and even photos were shown live on Swedish television.  Finally the police used gas attacks, and were able to arrest Olsson and Olofsson, and free the hostages without any serious injuries.  Olsson and Olofsson were both tried and convicted.  However, some of the hostages testified on behalf of Olofsson, bolstering his claim that he wasn’t an active participant in the robbery attempt, and that he was trying to save the hostages and calm the situation.  The jury agreed, and Olofsson’s conviction was overturned.  Olsson served a ten year sentence, then was released.  He returned to crime, and eventually turned himself in to authorities.  Oddly, they informed him that they had stopped pursuing him for these new crimes.  He wrote an autobiography, and now he lives in Thailand with his family.  Olofsson visited with at least one of the hostages, and their families became friends.
     What I found most fascinating is the theory that the Stockholm Syndrome hostages might not have demonstrated “Stockholm Syndrome” at all.  Critics point out that the hostages did help Olofsson, but he wasn’t directly threatening to them, and may have been, as he said, a quasi-bystander in the situation.  Tellingly, the hostages didn’t help or appear to identify with the undisputed captor, Olsson.  Theorists claim that the hostages’ disapproval of the methods used by the police to free them were misinterpreted as support for their captor.  (The hostages were evidently afraid that the police’s efforts were too violent and confrontational, and might get them killed by Olsson, or directly by accident.)
     Some false rumors persist.  Notably, while Olsson received fan letters from women while in prison, and was even engaged to one, neither he nor Olofsson were ever married or romantically linked to any of the hostages.  And this condition has sometimes been erroneously referred to as “Helsinki Syndrome” (including, if memory serves, in the movie “Die Hard.”)

3)      M’Naghten rules.  These are often mentioned in cases involving crimes committed by an allegedly insane person.  They have varied from country to country, and over time, but the basic premise is that a person is not considered guilty of the crime if they didn’t realize what they were doing at the time, or if they didn’t realize that this action was considered wrong by their society.
            This is based on Daniel M’Naghten (some claim his surname was really spelled McNaughton, McNaughten, or McNaughtan) who in 1843 shot Edward Drummond, who was British Prime Minister Robert Peel’s secretary.  Drummond died five days later.  It was thought that Daniel mistook Drummond for Peel.  Daniel was a Scottish-born woodturner who complained that he was being followed and persecuted by Tories (a British political party).  During his trial both sides conceded that he suffered from this Tory delusion, but the prosecutor contended that he knew right from wrong, and so was guilty.  However, the defense countered this with several doctors’ testimonies, while the prosecution didn’t produce any doctors of their own.  The judge in charge, Chief Justice Tondal, instructed the jury that if they did find M’Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity that he’d be properly cared for (and so not out on the streets).  The jury then did so, and Daniel spent the rest of his 21 years in Bethlem Hospital and Broadmoor Asylum.  He was reportedly a model patient, but he refused to talk about the attack on Drummond.
              Two controversial theories abound about this case.  One is that Drummond would have survived his wound if the doctors hadn’t removed the bullet (in the unknowingly unsanitary surgical conditions of that day) and “bled” him, as was the practice of that time.  (This is similar to the theory about assassinated U.S. President James Garfield, and, in fact, is rather plausible.)  The other, more fanciful theory is that M’Naghten was a political assassin sent by Peel’s enemies, and that he was instructed to fake insanity to get off.  They point to his apparent sanity before and after the event, and that he had a check for 750 pounds (worth about the equivalent of $60,000 modern U.S. dollars figuring in inflation) on him when he was arrested, which was suspiciously huge for a modest woodturner to have saved.
             Also, it’s probably worth noting that, despite its reputation, especially in TV shows and movies, the insanity plea is very rarely used, and rarely successful.  I’ve read that studies show that it’s a poor strategy for fakers looking to get a easier sentence, too.  This is because even “successful” insanity claimants on average end up serving more years than they would have if convicted.  Regular prisoners have a sentence determined by a set number of years (assuming they didn’t get life sentences, obviously) while mental hospital patients are only freed when they’re considered cured, or at least not a danger anymore, which usually takes much longer to decide. (Clearly, this time would be in a mental hospital rather than jail, it’s true, but maximum security asylums are surely no picnic, either.)


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