When I study or contemplate the past, especially when I’m reading or watching a book or program with strong point of view, I have to remind myself that all stories can be seen from different perspectives. This is because every event in recorded history was seen from at least 2 sides and usually more. Whether it’s the opposing views in a massive conflict in world history like the American civil war or an even more massive event like a failed test in AP U.S. history, each side had their own logic and point of view e.g. I thought telling my parents would only worry them; they thought “As long as you live under this roof and we pay for your school, you will tell us when you fail a test!”. Because it’s so easy to contemplate only one side of an argument or event, historians need to remember to think not in terms of a single sided history, but in terms of a multi-dimensional set of intertwined Histories. This is the only way to see the world for what it is and uncover the truth that lies, usually, somewhere in between the multiple narratives.
As Churchill said, “History is written by the victor” and this is true of all wars. I see this in what the entire world sees as the most evil man. The title is generally given to Adolf Hitler, and make no mistake, the lunatic was most assuredly deluded, insane, and evil, but interestingly enough, most people don’t put Joseph Stalin in that slot. Even though he stayed and power for a longer period and killed millions more than Hitler did, his crimes against humanity go under the radar and throughout his lifetime, unpunished. What’s the difference? The reason we remember Hitler is because he lost. HadGermanyandRussiaswitched positions, people would be putting photo-shopping Stalin Mustaches onto politicians and we would remember the toothbrush mustache for Charlie Chaplin.
While it has little to do with history, we can see another example of point of view affecting how we perceive an event in the Star Wars trilogy (what other three movies?). We see the whole movie from the perspective of a rag-tag team of rebels gong against insurmountable odds and winning despite their disadvantage. We really don’t see much from the perspective of anyone working for the Empire. Granted they used extremely questionable methods, but they just wanted the same thing that the Jedi wanted: To hold and maintain power. Granted, they were kind of bad at it, but they weren’t all truly evil. When the death star blows up, they aren’t just killing the emperor Vader (they don’t kill either in the first death star explosion) they’re killing thousands, perhaps millions of mostly innocent workers trying to earn a living by protecting the galaxy.
The fact is that when we look at an event, we have to look at is from all the perspectives. We do this partly because it’s easy not to, but mostly because without a clear understanding of the past, we can’t see the present for what it is. Whether that means we have to consider views we disagree with or to find entirely new ways to look at the past, the world will never be quite as real if we don’t.
Rosenbaum, R. (2011). Stalin’s Cannibals: What the new book Bloodlands tells us about the nature of evil. Slate.com.
Wagner, J. (2005). Finding a Roadmap to Teach Kids about theMideast. NBC News:New York City.