“History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill
Or maybe a better known proverb, “To the victor, go the spoils.” I have often been taught these ideas in history classes and explored them on my own opportunity, but have recently had a chance to think about these terms in a new light. How does history influence cultural and the understanding of one’s own identity?
I still believe that the winner of any conflict gets the advantages associated with winning and the loser the disadvantages, but how these can have larger ramifications either immediately or later on. For example, in Kinzer’s novel Overthrow, there is an intriguing example of how a group of people overthrow a person. To be more specific, the United States (a country seen as having a noble and just history) with all its power stages a coup in order to overthrow a man named Mossadegh, at the time, in the 1950’s, was in charge of Iran.
Why would the U.S. do this? Was he a Communist? An enslaver of people? No. He was more or less a democrat and was focused on transforming Iran into an economic powerhouse. However, Britain did not want that to happen and asked for help from the U.S. because they could not do it alone. It also could have been something to do with Britain losing power over its empire during this time period.
Nothing about this has ever been brought to my attention in my schooling career. Why? “History is written by the victors.” And due to this event, it explains a lot why many people in the Middle East are not trusting of the United States because we have a history of overthrowing governments in that region for economic gains, a.k.a. oil.
But let us move to something different than hostile action, and instead actually consider what history is written. A current, progressing problem in the U.S. is the Texas Textbook Controversy. It entails what is actually written down inside textbooks for K-12 students.
In Texas, the current board of education has changed much of the curriculum that needs to be taught to students. Most historians say that “Many of the changes are historically inaccurate and that they would affect textbooks and classrooms far beyond the state’s borders” (Washington Post). For example, a change that would be quite inaccurate would be the change to say all the founding fathers had Christian faith. However, Thomas Jefferson has been known not to be all that religious and after historians looked at his personal Bible, many passages are crossed out. Especially the passages containing supernatural events.
Why would Texas do this and why would it expand beyond its borders? It would expand because Texas is such a large state that publishers generally make many more than Texas needs and other states will buy these books since they are lower in price because they do not need to spend the money for a new book to be printed. Texas is doing this because the board of education is a group of elected officials who have the power every 10 years to change the curriculum.
I do not know why these officials would want to create falsehoods for the students, but I do know that they are creating a censorship, at least, in the history classroom. It is a demonstration of power that can and has been abused in order to change the cultural significance of an event and how we as Americans view ourselves in the context of our own history.
So, what should we do? Voice our opinion. Make the others sit and listen to our side of the argument. Because it take as much courage to listen as it does to speak. Or more plainly as Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”