03 Febrero 2017 10:53
When she was being tried for espionage in 1917, dancer and courtesan Mata Hari was described by her accusers as 'the greatest spy of the century'.
She was charged by the French for spying for Germany during the First World War. Her prosecutors claimed that her exploits as a double agent caused the deaths of at least 5000 soldiers. These accusations are now contested, but what is clear is that her sexually-liberated lifestyle made her the perfect scapegoat for the puritanical times in which she lived.
Terrified at the prospect of their children having to learn German in school, French authorities sought a scapegoat to distract people's attention from the country's plight. They needed someone they could blame for undermining the morale of the troops and sabotaging French military superiority from within.
Mata Hari's real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. Born in Holland on 7 August 1876, she grew up in a well-off family before marrying Captain Rudolf MacLeod at the age of 18 and moving with him to the Dutch East Indies.
Margaretha had two children with her husband, but both died due to complications from the syphilis they inherited from their father. The boy, Norman-John, died when he was just two; the daughter, Louise-Jeanne, at the age of 21.
The couple separated in 1902 and Mata Hari moved to Paris with her daughter, where she began to make a living as an artist's model, circus performer and exotic dancer. Along with Isadora Duncan, she was a pioneer of modern dance.
By 1905, Mata Hari was a celebrity, performing across Europe. The public was captivated by what journalists described as her 'feline femininity' and 'the thousand curves and movements of her body'.
Mata Hari became a high-class prostitute, coveted by the wealthy and the powerful, including politicians, top-ranking officers, and successful businessmen. Her privileged access to power led French and British authorities to suspect her of being a spy.
By 1915, Mata Hari felt she was too old to continue performing, and retired from the stage. She fell in love with a young Russian pilot called Vadim Maslov. When Maslov was blinded in a dogfight with the Germans, Mata Hari asked for permission to visit him.
As a citizen of a neutral country, Hari had to ask for permission to visit the front. The French said they would give her permission to travel if she agreed to spy on the Germans for them.
Unfortunately, Wilhem was not the great general that German propaganda had painted him as being. He was a party-loving playboy who knew almost nothing of his country's military strategies. Unfortunately for Mata Hari, the Germans knew she was a spy and they managed to make the French believe that she was a double agent.
Although there was never any real evidence against her, Mata Hari was accused of espionage and sentenced to death without even being given the opportunity to defend herself. She was executed on 15 October 1917.
[Via Dangerous Minds]