Margaretha Geertruida Zelle McLeod — Mata Hari, to give her the name she is best known by — was born this day in 1876.
In his book Children of the Days, under the entry for this date, Eduardo Galeano says this about the celebrated Dutch spy who lends her name to her tribe:
Sumptuous beds were her battlefields in the First World War. Top military and political leaders succumbed to her charms, and they confided secrets she then sold to France or Germany or whoever would pay more.
In 1917 a French military court sentenced her to death.
The most beloved spy in the world blew kisses to the firing squad.
Eight of the twelve soldiers missed.
To add to that, here is archival gold: an eyewitness account of the execution. And here is a profile of the iconic lady spy.
In passing, do you know of any writer who does micro-portraiture as well as Galeano? (Here’s an earlier post that has much on him, and on my pick of the best soccer book of all time).
In honor of the celebrated spy who would have been 137 years old today if the other four soldiers had also missed, four stories from the archives about espionage:
The Stasi and the Swann: David Grann brilliance on the last spy of the Cold War era
The Un-Crackable Code: Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on the man who would be a spy, and the code he created that puzzled the best
Double Blind: Mathew Teague on how British intelligence infiltrated the IRA
How Anna Chapman became the face of Kremlin Capitalism: And why it is important for spies to be sexy