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Author Topic: history is written by the winners
Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Is the phrase "History is written by the winners" or some variant of it, a generic proverb, or did someone actually say it, and it's been quoted or misquoted ever since?

I've seen it attributed to Alex Haley, author of Roots (1976), but the phrase was surely around before then? He's presumably quoting it, rather than inventing it.

I've also seen it attributed to German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). If he made it up, where did he first say it?

Anyone?

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Malruhn
The "Was on Sale" Song


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I will attribute it to me, yesterday afternoon at about 3:15 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.

But I do seem to remember that it was VERY hold - like Pliny the Elder/Younger old or similarly old.

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guruwan2b
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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So far I have seen it attributed to Churchill and Hitler, but not by any reliable source.... Off to google some more

Kim "googling - winner writes history; victor writes history - victorious write history...

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Danvers Carew

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I'mNotDedalus
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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I've read that "History is written by the winners" is a generalized adaptation of a quote that is only attributed to Napoleon: "History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."

But I suspect that there may be an older or even an exact source...

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guruwan2b
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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From a Celtic site "history is written by those who have hanged heros" attributed to the opening narative of Braveheart...

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Too much of this navel gazing and we'll disappear up our own arses.
Danvers Carew

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Thanks for your help - this one's a bit of a bugger really. I suspect it's very old, but it's one of these things that's attributed to lots of different people because lots of different people have said it, or have said something very similar.

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Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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guruwan2b
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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So many times when you see it, it is called an old adage, or axiom.

I have also seen the quote "There is only one version of history, the winner's."

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Too much of this navel gazing and we'll disappear up our own arses.
Danvers Carew

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Slainey
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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This is going to drive me nuts.

Nothing in the oxford english dictionary.

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The Ota Faction
Happy Holly Days


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A few others:

"History is the polemics of the victors." - Wm. F Buckley, Jr.

"Memory says, 'I did that.' Pride replies, 'I could not have done that.' Eventually, memory yields." - Nietzsche

"The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class." - Kwame Nkrumah

All cited in "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen

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Joe Bentley
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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You know while I don't doubt the literal truth of the phrase, isn't it rather nonsensical? I mean isn't one of the main tennents of a successful civilization its mark on history?

So isn't whether you got to write your place in history a major factor in if you "won" or not?

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"Existence has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long." - Rorschach, The Watchmen

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I'mNotDedalus
Happy Xmas (Warranty Is Over)


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quote:
Originally posted by Joe Bentley^2:
You know while I don't doubt the literal truth of the phrase, isn't it rather nonsensical? I mean isn't one of the main tennents of a successful civilization its mark on history?

So isn't whether you got to write your place in history a major factor in if you "won" or not?

But I think the nature of the OP's quote is driving more towards how you "won," and the supposition that a winner will gloss over their means in order to present a more successful history, free of scrutiny. This frame of thought, if we apply it to the OP's quote, is in line with Orwell's, "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."

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The salty fragrance of L’Eau I’mNotDedalus - made entirely of and entirely for sea turtles.

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damsa
The Red and the Green Stamps


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With the number of Jefferson Davis highways vs the number of Abraham Lincoln highways, one would think that in fact the South won.
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Linden
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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George Orwell wrote `History is written by the winners' in this essay (dated 4 February 1944) which points the way to what he went on to say in `1984'
http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/tribune/AsIPlease19440204.html

I don't know whether he was the first to say so, but it's a pretty well-known example.

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Yours, &c

Linden

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