Winston Churchill is quoted as saying “history is written by the victors.” If anybody was qualified to make that statement, it was Churchill. The old statesman was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940 to 1945 and led the British to victory with the Allies in World War II.
After the war in 1948-53, he wrote a six-volume "The Second World War," followed by "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples," 1956-58. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
As Churchill wrote about the war, he wrote as a victor, and of course, the British were brave, smart and courageous as his history relates. And Churchill himself looks great (as he was) in the telling. To the victor also goes the privilege of making some of the characters in the story less important than they really were, or leaving our some of the history entirely. And, of course, the losers are shown in their worst light.
But history isn’t necessarily written about world wars in six volumes, epics about famous leaders, generals and dramatic global events. History is written every day about the lives of ordinary people and it’s written in the form of obituaries.
I have read several obituaries lately that suggest by their omissions, or by what they include, that the personal histories were written by the victors. In one case, the decedent had been married twice, but was single when he died. The obituary named the first wife but made no mention of the second (a wicked stepmother or what?). Who wrote the obituary? A brother? Sister? One of the children of the first marriage? The second wife obviously was on the outs with the historian/victor who wrote the obit. Maybe it was a group project and everybody in the group agreed the second wife would not be mentioned.
Somebody reading the obit years from now would assume there was no second wife. History isn’t necessarily accurate.
Another obituary tells of a man married only once who outlived his wife. But when she was living, in their later years, the wife was still working while the husband was at home golfing, gambling or watching crime dramas. Who wrote that obituary and why was that included? The usual writer of the obituary of someone who was married twice is the surviving second wife.
She is the victor and she can include the name of the first wife or leave it out. In the absence of a second wife, there are children or siblings. What they write, what they omit and what they include will depend on what axe they are grinding.
If President Trump runs for re-election and wins, the history of the election will list all his good qualities and why he won. It will itemize the mistakes of the loser. In other words, the history will be written by the victor. If he loses the many reasons why he wasn’t re-elected will be reported and the winner’s strengths and virtues will be explained in detail. Again, the history will be written by the victors.
So read history carefully. Was it written by winning generals or presidents? You will see the names of the authors. What are they including and what are they leaving out? Likewise, read obituaries carefully. You will not see the names of the authors. And you may not know what is being shaded or what is being left out. But you may be assured that the author is a “victor” in that family – the historian of that one life.