To the victors go the spoils?If there is a high probability that historical records were greatly influenced by the "winning teams" in the past, then how do we know for certain we are taught the...

To the victors go the spoils?

If there is a high probability that historical records were greatly influenced by the "winning teams" in the past, then how do we know for certain we are taught the truth today?

Expert Answers
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The old expression is "history is written by the victors." Another very similar expression is "the first casualty of war is the truth." There is always some bias or point of view to be considered. This is why history is more a matter of interpretation, not factual memorization and regurgitation. All accounts of the Huns (and of Carthage for that matter) were written by Romans, so our account is from a distinctly Roman point of view. This is true for modern history as well. Until recently, Japanese textbooks made scarce mention, if any of Pearl Harbor; but had long discussions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similarly, U.S. textbooks made bare mention of the intense suffering caused in those cities, but does discuss the horrifics of Pearl Harbor.

Bottom line, we will probably never know the truth. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once said that the historian is a wrestler with the angel of death. Historians will continue to wrestle with that angel, in hopes of getting nearer the truth. In the final analysis, all one can do is interpret and analyze. Actual absolute factual truth is beyond reach.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps you have read about one history textbook that was published in the last few years.  Reportedly, it was written by a person who mainly used the internet for information, so much of it was flgrantly wrong.

While most alterations to history are more subtle, there is no question that history fits its name. Take a good look at the word history. [The word for history in French also means story-histoire]  What can be done in order to find the truth?  Going to as many documented sources as possible seems the only hope.

You may be interested in reading what Leo Tolstoy says about history in the last couple of hundred pages of his famous tome, War and Peace--interesting, indeed.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, agree with jpope.  You have to remember that there is no such thing as objective truth when it comes to history.  For example, there can be objective truth about unimportant things (what date the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor) but there can be no "truth" as to the important things (why they did it/who is to be blamed).

Nowadays, we tend to get both sides.  We can read books from the US side and the Japanese side.  We simply have to keep in mind that bias is possible and then decide for ourselves what really happened.

Remember, history is but a fable that has been agreed upon.  Different people agree with different fables and we have to decide for ourselves which one makes more sense.

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that history will always be subjected to interpretation. Each account of history is an incomplete one, because it undoubtedly will be biased in some way. The goal when examining historical accounts or records is to identify that bias, so you can better understand and analyze a given account. I think you have to make a concerted effort to distinguish between stories and facts. Facts alone, have no relation and cannot paint a picture or tell a story, this must be done by the author or witness. I think the goal is that one becomes skilled at analyzing others views of history and eventually creating their own.



literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with the above posts. Consider this: do you think the history books from the US, Japan, Germany, or Russia all depict the same histories? No, they don't. History is simply a recollection of someones memory of a happening. What we learn, and what we are taught, are simply the commonalities between those who get to write the books.

Perhaps the best way to understand our history is to research everything that we possibly can, as an individual, and come up whith what believe happened-or the closest thing we can consider happened.

Anything more, or less, is fiction for an individual.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You only have to look back as far as the Vietnam War to know that some governments--including the United States--document records in a deliberately untruthful manner. Sometimes it is to comfort the citizenry, and sometimes it is to foster a look of power for the controlling regime. Statistics are easy enough to manipulate, and the current manner of putting a "spin" on certain situations will probably continue everywhere. Certainly, past historical events that occurred before modern media doggedness were even easier to manipulate. 

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with jpope1. We cannot know that what we are taught today about history is truth. This is why primary sources and archeological digs and artifacts are so important. This is why the recording of slave narratives began. This is why we have museums and why we have begun the scanning of records. Man grows increasingly manipulative, and we need to grow continually aware of that manipulation so we can approach what we see or discover with an objective and open-mind.


litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
History does tend to be written by the winners. They are the ones in power when it's all over. Sometimes they have a vested interest in stamping out the loser, and sometimes they try to work with them. In either case, everything is colored by the point of view of the winner.
truthseekah | Student

Found these quotes that were pretty interesting:

"History consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions." - Voltaire

"To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity." - Roy P. Basler

"History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten." - George Santayana