Ask someone who first said, “History is written by victors.” Most people would misattribute that statement to Winston Churchill. Beyond the issue of misattribution, a more important point is whether it is true. Here is a historical example that raises questions about that assumption. In the late 30s, the Japanese army invaded China and Indochina. The austerities paralleled those of their European ally, Germany.
The Japanese rivaled Germany and often did more than the Germans. In the late 30s, the Japanese Rape of Nanjing resulted in the rapes of more than 20,000 Chinese girls and women before they were killed. The total number of civilian deaths is estimated at around 300,000.
The Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, often referred to as Unit 731, was in charge of researching how humans are affected by diseases. For example, they would give people the bubonic plague and observe their bodies respond to the disease until they died.
While the Japanese austerities were barbaric, they didn’t win the war. Nonetheless, they wrote the history of WWII, at least for the Japanese students born after the war. The schoolbooks in Japan don’t mention the killings and sadistic research on their captives, or only passing references were made. In those cases, the textbooks defended their actions because the Japanese Empire had been attacked.
The historian and writer, Stephen Ambrose wrote, “The Japanese presentation of the war to its children runs something like this: One day, for no reason we ever understood, the Americans started dropping atomic bombs on us.”
However, the Japanese issue of rewriting history isn’t a new phenomenon. Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind in 1936. The title of her novel came from a poem by Ernest Dowson.
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind.
Scarlett O’Hara used the phrase as she pondered whether her plantation home, Tara, survived Gen. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” or whether it was gone with the wind.
Mitchell was born in Georgia and possessed the ability to romanticize slavery, white supremacy, and the KKK. Gone with the Wind paralleled a similar racist mindset with the movie, The Birth of a Nation.
Interestingly, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a novel prior to the Civil War that addressed racism. Racists have even attempted to rewrite history within that novel.
Eight decades after Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, we have the archetype of white supremacist… Trump. Trump follows in the steps of the Japanese military during WWII, and Mitchell rewriting the Civil War. In all three examples, history was written by losers.