Mata Hari Was Either the World’s Greatest Female Spy or a WWI Exotic Dancer Way In Over Her Head

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Manage episode 340522414 series 2421086
By Scott Rank, PhD and Scott Rank. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
Even before Mata Hari (née Margaretha Zelle) was executed by a French firing squad in 1917 for spying on behalf of the Germans, her life had already become legend. At her trial, prosecutors claimed that the world-famous exotic dancer had seduced countless men from both sides of the war (definitely true) and leaked intelligence that caused the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers (almost certainly false).
Immediately after her death, biographies ran with the juicier narrative and turned her into the femme fatale archetype, who lured high-ranking officers into her boudoir and steal their documents while they were asleep. She inspired books, musicals, and films.
But more recently, historians argued that she was merely a gossip who tried to steal state secrets but never discovered anything that couldn’t be found in the newspapers. The only recent the French military charged her with espionage was to distract the nation from France’s poor showing in the war.
In today’s episode, we explore the life and death of Mata Hari, a woman who was an excellent performer, perhaps a poor spy, but above all else, never, ever uninteresting.

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