History is the way that humanity understands its past. In fact, the word breaks down quite easily into two others: his story. And history is just that. The history we are told about the past rarely comes from firsthand or even secondhand accounts. Instead, stories are passed on, sometimes modified and embellished, and eventually, history becomes fact. This gives world leaders, historians, politicians, and authors an undue influence on what we perceive as history.
Throughout time, this has happened many times (and probably even more times that we will never know about). For various reasons, people have tried to change history by either rewriting it or removing something from it altogether. The reasons for these changes are rarely wholesome. Rather, the people and organizations on our list below wanted to make themselves (or a group they associated with) seem less culpable in atrocities.
Propaganda and historical revisionism have been around since humans started keeping records of our history. The list below outlines ten examples of people who tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to rewrite history.
10 Battle of Agincourt (Henry V)
One of the most famous wars in the history of humanity is the Hundred Years’ War. It was fought between the English and the French in the 14th and 15th centuries. The most well-known and studied battle from this war is the Battle of Agincourt.
The Battle of Agincourt (according to many historical reports) is considered to be one of the greatest military victories ever. That is because (again, reportedly) there were five times as many French soldiers as English ones. Incredible, right? Almost… unbelievable!
In fact, it turns out that there were not five times as many French soldiers. It may have been about twice as many. Some scholars believe that the numbers were nearly equal. The Battle of Agincourt was one of Henry V’s greatest victories as a king because of the reportedly uneven numbers. Shakespeare was even inspired by this battle, leading him to write Henry V. It makes you wonder whether Henry V would even be as well known as he is today without his attempt to rewrite history.
9 Lost Cause of the Confederacy (Confederate American Historians)
Somehow, arguments about the United States Civil War persist. Many still believe that the war was not started over slavery but for another reason. Many American historians (sympathetic to the Confederacy) attempted to rewrite history.
These historians claim that the Civil War was a war of northern aggression. They link the war to State’s rights, argue that slaves were well treated, and include economic issues that were not fundamental at the start of the war. While sadly, this myth still prevails, most modern historians agree that the American Civil War had one root cause. The Confederate states wanted to own slaves, while the Union wanted to outlaw slavery.
The lost cause of the Confederacy is an impressive and terrifying example of how false information can spread. The evidence? Many people still believe that the Civil War was not about slavery and the right to own slaves.
8 The Pink Swastika (Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams)
In Nazi Germany, there were many persecuted peoples. This includes people of Jewish descent, homosexuals, Sinti, black people, and more. For identification, Jewish people were forced to wear a star of David, while homosexuals had to wear pink triangles. While this was generally accepted history for many years, two authors came along to challenge these ideas and rewrite history as they saw fit.
Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams wrote the book The Pink Swastika to challenge what was previously known. The two authors indicated that the Nazi party was not against homosexuals but, instead, against effeminate men. They went on to say that the Nazi party actually started in gay bars, referencing symbolism throughout the party.
To put it simply, Lively and Abrams had a plan with their book. They wanted to change how history was perceived so that gay people were not seen as victims of the Holocaust, but rather, they were in some way responsible. Fortunately, this book was not taken seriously by academics or really people of any background.
7 January 6th, 2021 (Republican Politicians)
The next rewrite is the type to make you feel crazy. Didn’t this just happen? On January 6, 2021, supporters of President Trump stormed the United States Capitol in response to the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Many people were watching the news live as it unfolded. This was a traumatic event where citizens literally breached the door to the capital, leading to numerous injuries and several deaths.
Yet, many Republican politicians are already attempting to rewrite this very recent history. There have been many claims, including one that states the insurrection was carried out by paid “crisis actors.” This claim was spread by United States Congressman Matt Gaetz, among others. Other politicians claim that the protestors were non violent.
Representative Andrew Clyde even likened the insurrection to a visit from tourists. Another Republican Congressman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, said that January sixth rioters were “political prisoners.” Scary stuff. The attempt by Republican politicians to immediately rewrite what happened on January 6 is a terrifying precedent, but fortunately, most people do not seem to be buying their rewrite.
6 Tiananmen Square Massacre (Chinese Government)
Oddly, you have probably heard about the massacre in Tiananmen Square that happened in 1989. Tiananmen Square is in the capital city of Beijing, China. There were protests from workers and students for weeks against the country’ s political and economic systems.
Protesters numbered around 100,000 people in Beijing alone. The Chinese workers and students eventually protested in Tiananmen Square. The government responded with the military, including tanks and live rounds. The military forced all the protestors into the square, killing them before running tanks over the wounded and dying protestors.
The Chinese government regained control, and protestors who were not killed were forced to leave the country. This massacre ended in the deaths of many people, estimated to be anywhere from 8 to 10 thousand. The Chinese government does not acknowledge this, however. Their official death toll for the event is less than 300 people.
For such a traumatic and bloody event, it is shocking that the Chinese government has had so much success in rewriting this history (at least for their citizens).
5 Japanese War Crimes in World War II (Japanese Government)
With good reason, often, the first thing that many people associate with World War II is the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. However, Japan’s government performed its fair share of atrocities as well. Some of the war crimes carried out by the Japanese in the course of World War II include:
- Attacks on downed airmen
- Attacks on neutral countries
- Human experimentation
- Biological warfare
- Torture of war prisoners
- Forced labor
- Attacks on hospital ships
While historians have accepted the majority of these, there were members of the Japanese government (including Yuji Iwanami, the granddaughter of General Tojo) who suggested that Japan’s involvement in the war was not aggression but, rather, a response to racist Western imperialism. Despite efforts by Iwanami and others, this attempt to rewrite history fell short, and Japanese citizens generally accepted their role in the last World War.
4 Irish Slaves Myth (Various)
A rewriting of history that still affects us today is the Irish Slaves Myth. The Irish Slaves Myth compares the forced slavery of African-Americans to the indentured servitude of Irish Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is commonly used as a justification not to provide reparations to families of former slaves.
The myth suggests that Irish indentured servants were treated equally (or worse) than African slaves. Sometimes it goes even further, suggesting that Irish people were also enslaved. Another purpose of this myth is to undermine African-Americans’ discrimination. After all, Irish Americans apparently had it worse.
Fortunately, most people understand that this comparison is completely invalid. First, it is important to note that Irish indentured servants had a choice; they entered into indentured servitude willingly. Unfortunately, some people believe this myth or pretend to believe it. There have been multiple academic responses to the Irish Slaves Myth. According to IrishCentral publisher Niall O’Dowd, these claims are “attempts to trivialize and deny centuries of institutionalized, race-based slavery.”
3 Turkey Denial of Armenian Genocide (Turkish Government)
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire Turks led a genocide committed against the Armenian people, with more than a million being massacred. Turkey’s government has been unwilling to accept responsibility for this atrocity and, instead, has tried to rewrite its own history. This came to a head in 2006.
Turkey was (and still is) trying to join the European Union as a full member state. Five Turkish journalists were tried for insulting the judicial institutions of the State. They were questioning Turkey’s “version” of the Armenian genocide. Thankfully, all five of the journalists were eventually acquitted.
It turned out, however, that the five journalists were a sort of test case for the European Union. Because they denied their role in the Armenian genocide and their attempt to prosecute journalists, Turkey was denied entry to the European Union. The Armenian genocide remains a taboo topic in Turkey today.
2 Nanking Massacre (Japanese Government)
Several names also refer to the Nanking Massacre. The “Nanjing Massacre” or the “Rape of Nanjing” is the most common. Whatever you call it, it is truly one of the most horrific slaughters in human history. Japan’s army invaded the Chinese mainland. For six full weeks, they slaughtered the citizens. The death toll is estimated to be anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000.
Reportedly, there were mass rapings committed as well, more than 20,000. As if that weren’t enough, Japanese invaders looted and burned the city and terrorized its inhabitants. Two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, even held a contest to see who could slaughter 100 people fastest with a sword. It is easy to see why the Japanese government would want to distance itself from these atrocities.
In 2012, two Japanese mayors denied that the massacre occurred on such a huge scale. Overall, however, historians and the majority of Japanese citizens understand the Nanking Massacre happened.
1 Holocaust Denial (David Irving)
Sadly, some people try to deny or rewrite the most tragic events in human history. Holocaust deniers have existed in one way or another ever since the Holocaust occurred. One of the most well-known is David Irving, the author of Hitler’s War. In 2000, he sued Penguin Books and American scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel after Lipstadt wrote that he was a denier and a pro-Nazi ideologue—a case he lost. He also served three years in prison in 2006 in Austria for denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Fortunately, Irving is not taken seriously by real academics. As the judge in his Austrian trial said, “for his own ideological reasons, persistently and deliberately misrepresented… he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he is associated with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.”
Even with his prison time and legal defeats, Irving has maintained his stance and endless attempt to rewrite history. Unfortunately, despite incredible evidence, Holocaust deniers still exist and try to convince the rest of the world that they are right.