Is History Written by the Victors?

There is a quote, which is now a saying about history, “History is written by the victors”. Many people agree with this statement. However many others are beginning to question whether that saying really makes any sense. Several examples from history show that the statement, “History is written by the victors.” still holds true today.

The first example of this has to deal with the American Civil War, particularly the Confederacy’s reputation. Modern textbooks, movies, and television shows point to the Confederacy as the “bad guys” who only seceded because they wanted to keep their slaves. Also, in the show How the States got their Shapes, which aired on the History Channel, the narrator refers to the American Civil War as “…the war over slavery…” multiple times. The recent Confederate flag dispute also has made the minds of many associate the Confederate flag with the words “hate” and “racist”. However, all of these things pointing to slavery and the Confederacy are in fact twisted; in reality, the main reason why the southern states seceded in the first place was to preserve states’ rights.

Another example of this is how the Chinese Civil War, which was between Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong, and Chinese nationalists (also known as the Kuomintang), is seen. The communists, who saw the war as a war of liberation, won the war, and China became a communist state. In fact, the war is often called The War of Liberation by the Chinese today. The Chinese see the war as a leap forward in their history (not to be confused with “The Great Leap Forward”, which was one of Zedong’s policies).

The last example of this is the Axis and Allied points of view during WWII, and how the world would be if the Axis won, versus how it is today. If the Axis won WWII somehow, the Nazis would see it as the rightful reclaiming of Germania and the elimination of “inferior” races from their realm. The Japanese would see it as a glorious war of expansion, and the Italians would see it as a resurgence of the Roman Empire, or a glorious war of expansion like the Japanese. However, what actually happened was an Allied victory. During the war, the principal Allied nations saw the Axis as evil tyrants, and today that view holds true across the globe. Literature and alternate history novels, such as The Man in the High Castle portray the Axis powers as wanting to take over the world. Plus, today people’s standards rate Hitler as simply crazy.

Now, an example question and follow-up statement from the other side might be, “What about the Romans? They lost their empire to the Germanic tribes, but we still remember them for making multiple achievements.” While that is true, remember that we also saw how the Chinese rapidly industrialized during the latter half of the twentieth century to become the world’s lead manufacturer. Also, the Romans seldom let Germanic refugees into their empire, and when they did; their children were taken away from them to become slaves. By today’s ethical standards, what the Romans did would be considered cruel and inhumane.

So, in the end, History is written by the victors, in the sense that what the victor did was good. From anti-Confederate bias to how the Chinese think that their latest civil war was a war of liberation, as well as how different our generations would see the Axis powers in the event of Axis victory in WWII compared to how the Axis Powers today. In the end, history is written by the victors, in a way that influences how we see historical events.