40 People Share The Scariest Examples Of History Being Written By Winners
Herodotus is widely credited as being the first historian—he traveled across Ancient Greece and wrote down what he saw and the stories he heard.
Classical scholar and poet Peter Levi said that what made him the first serious historian was his combination of great scope and precise focus, as well as his imaginative power as a storyteller and his rationalism, his concern with truth. However, while some call Herodotus 'The Father of History', others say he's actually 'The Father of Lies' and could've included more than facts in his tales.
Of course, current academic historians are more than just storytellers. Most of them have developed a rigorous approach to studying the past. But they are only as accurate as their sources.
In an attempt to see how misleading they can be, Reddit user Vo_Lair asked other platform users to share examples of the phrase "history is written by the victors." And they did!
Continue scrolling to check out the replies as well as the talks we had on the subject with Tudor historian and bestselling author Hayley Nolan and family historian, author, and digital archivist Andrew Martin.
Anytime someone says "Well, by the standards of the time, it was okay." When talking about an atrocity or horrific practice.
It usually means "By the standards of the people doing the atrocity."
For example, Slaves *knew* the Slave trade was evil. But when we say "People thought it was okay" we arent counting the slaves as being people.
The victims of history are voiceless, even if our sensibilities have evolved over time. We try to justify things by saying 'they couldn't have known' and almost always ignore a large group of people who certainly did know.
At first, you might wonder why should we care about such questions in the first place. But the past (and our relation to it) can teach us a lot about the present.
"History repeats, so if we have a true understanding of how history has played out before, we can hopefully try to make better decisions so it never happens again," Hayley Nolan, whose book called 'Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies' has become a number one Amazon history bestseller, told Bored Panda.
"From the average person's point of view (as opposed to a monarch or parliamentarian), this can mean recognizing certain behaviors in politicians and thinking 'perhaps I shouldn't vote for them.' Or seeing how a person in history was treated and recognizing those same patterns in, say, the modern media in how a celebrity is being treated and just questioning the narrative we are being fed."
I mean, the US technically stole Hawaii from a legitimate government.
But we have just normalized it as a state.
You need only to look at Ukraine. If Russia would win, people living there would forever be taught that brave Russians saved Ukraine from Nazi government and evil NATO influence.
Andrew Martin, who has been researching his family tree over the last 25 years and also hosts 'The Family Histories Podcast', agrees that history has so much to offer us all.
"Studying it academically, or simply casually consuming historical information allows us to learn where we (as a population) have been before - whether that's geographically, politically, morally or another factor," he told Bored Panda. "With knowledge behind us, we as nations and individuals are able to navigate our lives right now, and plan a path in the future without being defeated by the same things every time. History enriches our understanding of the world and our place within it, and therefore having a knowledge of history helps us become better people and achieve more."
Pretty much any indigenous population that got in the way of any colonial power. No single country has a monopoly on the violence and oppression that was done worldwide as the colonial powers expanded. ALL were guilty of it..
Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Astor, Mellon, Morgan, Schwab, Stanford...
They were called robber barons for a reason. All those schools and music halls and community centers are all built on the backs of crushed men and named after the men who crushed them.
There is a bunch of Chinese history that is pretty much speculation because whenever a new king would conquer places, pretty much the first move was always to burn all the records and take out the historians to establish dominance.
Nolan thinks that the phrase "history is written by the victors" is absolutely true. "I quoted it in the first chapter of my corrective biography 'Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies.' Anne Boleyn's story is the perfect example of this. As the infamous second wife of King Henry VIII, evidence in my book proves that Anne Boleyn was an activist and humanitarian who was taken down when she wanted to set up a rival government council in order to launch a Poor Law, providing free healthcare for the people of England," the historian explained.
"King's advisor Thomas Cromwell framed Anne for adultery and she was executed, while he, the victor, re-wrote her story so that the world only knew her as a scheming, cruel adulterer."
The Philippine-American war. Because of WWII the americans were portrayed as heroes who had the Philippines’ best interest at heart. But few people know about the genocide during the Philippine-American war that started in 1899. Almost 200,000 civilians dead, with civilians dying to disease, famine and US troops wiping out villages.
Nobody is gonna talk about what china is doing to Hong Kong?
Christianity is the most popular religion on Earth and is seen as the religion of love, all because the Europeans were really good at genocide a thousand years ago.
Martin also finds these words to be true, but he thinks they can possess plenty of nuances, too. "Sometimes there is not a consensus of who 'the victors' are," he said.
"For example, a country that goes to war with another may appear to have a victor, but you often find that both claim to have won through their country's media or published literature. A lot of history has also been written and published by white men - allowing for a very patriarchal or incredibly biased view to be depicted of what they deemed to be everyday life, as well as some truly horrific events. You can see this in historical accounts of colonialism and slavery from around the world, and the shadows of those are still present today. Sadly, this is only just beginning to alter, as modern historians re-interpret the evidence and allow other historians from different cultures to contribute to these accounts," Martin said.
The Vietnam War. America didn't win but we sure as f**k told everyone we did. And glossed over the crimes against humanity.
The UK's affect on India, and the 45 trillion dollars worth of material they stole from India.
In the UK, it is not taught that the famine in Ireland was a genocide committed by Britain. Our population still has not recovered.
How nobody cares about the thousands of native American children that were taken out by the Canadian government until 1998
Nolan pointed out that historians, in their pursuit of truth, have to let go of any preconceived biases they might have. Whatever it is you're researching, you need to look at the person, event, or period without dismissing any research just because it doesn't align with your own views and feelings.
"My book never set out to paint Anne Boleyn as an innocent martyr, and there is a whole chapter dedicated to the questionable decisions she made in life," Nolan said. "Similarly, the history books, or even historical movies as this is how the majority consume their history these days, should always endeavor to present a balanced view of an event, country or person."
"Yes, it's uncomfortable to face some of these truths, particularly if it's our own history, but if we are to learn from the past then we have to know what really happened first," the historian said.
I knew when I saw this thread stuff like this would come up. I'm a Japanese person, and I would never defend any of the horrific things Japan did in the past.
But I'd like to defend the majority of our citizens who are sick and tired of the revisionist fascist government we currently are stuck with. I sentiment I was so sick of I left. If you know anything about Japanese politics you know that the current party doesn't have a serious contender party and hasn't for a while. Racist boomers rally around the "nothing bad ever happened" party, while the rest of us can't rally around a credible threat.
I was a teenager when I learnt what our country really did, and it was horrifying. I wish I could do more than just post a reddit comment, I'm sorry I don't know what to say anymore.
Surprised to see no one mention the massacres of Caesar during the gaulic wars. He deliberately targeted certain gaulic tribes to make them cease to exist, which straight up is genocide. Almost every time I hear someone speak of the Gaulic wars I see them either side lining them to the civil war that followed it or it is a heroic struggle from both sides. The Gauls are trying to remain free while Rome is trying to expand and civilize.
Almost every time I read about it the atrocities are omitted which I find to be really bad.
Pretty much anything about the pre-Columbian Americas. I mean it's gotten a bit better in recent years, but most people still don't understand just how much was lost. Even today, "Native Americans" are often talked about as a singular culture of people who "lived off the land" and had no technology or cities, when in reality, there were as many cultures with as much variation between them as there are between Norway and Botswana. Europeans didn't just commit a genocide when they came to the Americas, they committed hundreds of genocides.
While the "civilized" people of western Europe were dumping their chamberpots out their windows onto the street and drinking beer because their water was too dirty, Mayans were using pressurized plumbing systems to distribute water and manage sewage. While Europeans were dying of horrible diseases from living off of contaminated meat, grain, and beer, numerous cultures of the Americas were using highly advanced agricultural practices like crop rotation, complex irrigation systems, cultivation, pest control, and many other techniques to give them rich, diverse cuisines. So many of the foods we take for granted today were carefully bred from inedible, often poisonous plants. Imagine Italian or Spanish food without tomatoes. Imagine modern American food without corn and beans. Imagine any western culture's food without potatoes. Imagine a world without chocolate. All of those and many more were cultivated from mostly inedible plants by people in the pre-Columbian Americas.
I could go on - there are truly endless examples of agriculture, engineering, urban planning, architecture, art, and science in the pre-Columbian Americas that far surpassed their European counterparts. Europe decided to just go all-in on military technology though, so as backwards as they were, they were able to brute force their way through the Americas and beat the much more civilized cultures they encountered into submission and rewrite the story to make all those hundreds of cultures sound like one big group of dumb savages.
Nobody cares about the massacres in Africa by Belgium and King Leopold. When I read the stories it gave me absolute shivers. It is absolutely outrageous and incredible that there is a few who are aware of such atrocities.
The Croatian massacres towards Serbian population during the WW2 with the help of the Nazis.
The Greek massacres in the south of Albania in 1940-46.
All of that being said, it's still difficult to pinpoint sources where we can search for historical data without having to worry about its legitimacy. "This is so difficult ... because even academic literature isn't immune to bias," Nolan said. "The main problem with the manipulation of history isn't usually the facts that are included, more so the evidence that is strategically left out."
"It really is a minefield knowing who to trust, and I share the readers' frustration! I think having a healthy level of skepticism helps. If someone is promoted as all good, or all bad, or if the blame is conveniently heaped entirely upon one person, then just be aware that there may be more to that story."
The historian believes this also extends to modern-day news. "Question what you are told; the good and the bad, check the sources listed in the history books; if the evidence listed is vague or not there at all, then perhaps take it with a pinch of salt," she said. "But I think our generation is so much more aware of propaganda now, which is great because it will make it harder to be hoodwinked. So trust your instincts when something doesn’t ring true and read as widely as you can on a topic in order to form your own opinion."
At the end of the day, since the past is not directly observable and is not repeatable, history can only make educated guesses about what happened.
Carthaginian Civilization existed for well over 600 years. They controlled large parts of North Africa, Spain, Mediterranean Islands, and had trade networks going All over the Mediterranean and even explored the African coast. They were powerful enough to bring Rome to the brink of defeat in two massive wars.
Romans won, and as a result, not a single Carthaginian primary source exists.
Until relatively recently, the mass r*pe of German women by Soviet soldiers. They r*ped anyone with a vagina, including liberated prisoners, young girls and old women.
Here's a more recent example:
America rolled into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan on false and/or baseless claims and waged long and brutal wars simply to fulfill their own political ego, intentionally killing thousands or even millions of civilians in the process, even knowing full well that they wouldn't succeed in the long run. But the Americans kept it all hush-hush and now it's just like "yeah, we did that" without acknowledging how terrible it was
...And then Russia did the same exact thing with Ukraine. Now Russia is seen as evil, sadistic, and huge threat to global peace. Which they definitely are. But America has plenty of blood on it's own hands
The Kyrgyz genocide. In 1916 when Kyrgyz families of the north (tired of oppression) refused to join Russia’s army in WWI, Russian soldiers massacred around 30% of population of the northern tribes. Now they present it as an uprising, which happened because of German-Turkish spies.
Modern Israel. I mean, I don't support displacing anyone, but clearly the current regime is doing anything they can to fabricate a historical narrative that doesn't paint them as the oppressors they clearly are.
Notice that everything people are pointing out is well documented.
"people dont care" is not the same as history being erased.
It's a nonsensical thing people say. We have MANY records of people that lost conflicts. "History is written by the literate" is a more apt statement.
If history was only written by the victors we would have zero historical context for Jews even existing.
the Armenian genocide. countries deny it just to even keep their relationship good with turkey
Not really a scary one, but I've always found it interesting that the word "barbarians" is used in such a negative way. It simply means people of different language and culture. But if you're the one writing history it gets a very negative connotation
Japan's actions during the war were both brutal and atrocious.
The Spanish conquering the Aztecs (and Mayans). History through the eyes of the Spanish paint the Aztecs to be these horrific, dirty heathens that practiced cannibalism. They also depict the Mayans to be the same way. However, over time we have found out that although Aztecs did practice cannibalism and sacrificed their own people, they were also very clean people that practiced routine hygiene and even had a school system for their children. The Mayans had whole libraries that included untold amounts of Mathematical knowledge. They were also master astronomers that discovered things about the universe that Europeans had no clue about for at least several hundred years. But, the Spanish destroyed all of this and told the rest of the world nothing of these great things.
How Spain always claimed to have conquered the Americas by killing and fighting millions of native Americans.
They did not. Most died of sickness but they played the badass army card for quiet some decades.
By today's standards it would be embarrassing to tell about how good of a genocide job you did.
The Treaty of Versailles (or how the War to end all Wars didn't end no war because of FRANCE and also UK)
* Italy didn't get invited, not was given the land they were promised.
* The Arabs (you know those who fought alongside Lawrence) didn't got the Independance they were promised.
* Germany got a way too violent punishment (asked by France) that caused the misery of the 20's in Germany and brought you know who to the power.
I'm french, and I wasn't taught all this in school, I had to search afterwards.
History being written by the ‘victors’ means certain things are erased and purposely kept from us.
Roanoke- the people who ‘vanished without a trace’ actually went to live with the natives, but that kindness was erased from history so no one would think twice about slaughtering the natives.
MKultra- which was labeled by the government as a big conspiracy theory until they had to release the documents. The CIA murdered Frank Olson, wasted millions on a microphone cat, and released deadly drugs to the public.
The third gender- from the native Americans, to the Greeks (who even had a non-binary god) the history of the existence of a third gender, and the fluidity of gender expression, has been suppressed and erased (and we act like it’s a new thing invented by millennials)
During WW1, although Persia (now Iran) insisted that they didn't want to side with any country throughout the war, they still were invaded by Britain and Russia in November 1915.
One of the first things that Britain did was to take over the grain storage of the country, resulting in multiplying the price of grains for the Persians. Not only that, the transportation of goods became difficult 'cause the roads were in control of Russia. So, you can imagine how hard became for the people to get their hands on grains, and soon after that, a massive famine happened across the country. The famine led to the outbreak of plague, typhus, etc.
Long story short, still to this day the total number of death remains to be uncertain but some historians have suggested it's something between 2 to 3 million people, in the span of two years. Some researchers have even made bold claims and presume the number is something between 8 to 10 million. who knows? The victor didn't seem to bother about the situation.
Source: The Great Famine & Genocide in Iran by Mohammad Gholi Majd. Harrowing stuff.
MacArthur covering up the atrocities of Unit 731 so the US could get the results of their chemical and biological experiments on POWs and undesireables.
Japan wanted it to fade away and so did the US and that is what happened. They were given immunity. No one paid for those crimes in the east. MacArthur forced all in the Pacific to sign NDAs before being released from duty. No one could talk about what happened in the Pacific.
My mother's first husband was a POW in the Pacific. When he got back he started saying what happened and the authorities picked him up and took him away and would not tell her anything. They were Catholic and she had to annul the marriage as the one thing they did tell her was he ain't coming back any time soon.
I think it’s harder to find examples in modern history because there are many cases where the victors control the narrative, but it’s not so easy anymore to completely silence or erase alternative interpretations.
Still, two American examples spring to mind where most people (non-historians, at least) have it wrong. In the the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans, it’s not the case that all those early Americans had a moral blind spot, but now we know better. Rather, those were contentious issues at the time, and many people opposed slavery and Native American genocide throughout America’s history.
For example, there were priests who opposed slavery on moral grounds from the start. Later, wherever there wasn’t already an entrenched ruling class who relied on slavery for their wealth, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, other sincere Christians, and others who believed in “all men are created equal” fought hard and successfully managed to ban slavery early on, e.g., in Pennsylvania.
Then there was Andrew Jackson, clearly the Trump of his age, who ran on a popular platform of not honoring existing treaties with Native Americans, but instead killing and forcibly relocating them and stealing (“conquering”) their remaining lands for his voters. If it weren’t for Jackson, the U.S. would be smaller, but have less blood on its hands. And if it weren’t for the efforts of anti-slavery activists, who existed long before the civil war, it would have far more.
After the Paraguay war, there were no losers left to write history… I guess Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina was what was left.
That there's no ban on communist symbols like there is on nazi symbols.
In eastern Europe you'll hardly find a family that has not been touched by soviet war rimes. My great grandmother survived the gulag and had to see the symbol of her opressors every year on the 9th of May when russian minorities very publicly (and drunkenly) celebrated their victory and were upset that natives didn't share the enthusiasm.
The Bangladesh genocide caused by the fascist Pakistani army generals in 1971. It’s the reason why Pakistan and Bangladesh relations are bad. 3.000.000 bengalis got killed and 300.000 got raped.
WW1. Germany especially are always seen as the bad guys and in western films like Wonder Woman for example, that’s especially the case. But in truth the war was far, far more complex then that and so there wasn’t a clearly defined “good vs bad” like WW2.
Robespierre, one of the main figure of french revolution has been taken out by political opponent, they tried to delete his name from history, accused him of all the kills during the Terror (3 years where a lot of people got killed bcs of a fear of a royalty return), they even used the body of a very ugly man to make ppl believe it was him (ppl still think its him except historian) and basically now he is seing as a monster by some ppl
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