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The History of “History is Written by the Victors”

Late in the new movie The Report, Adam Driver’s Dan Jones argues with his prospective defense attorney over who really said, “History is written by the victors.” The lawyer (played by Corey Stoll) attributes the quote to Winston Churchill, but Jones counters by pointing to an earlier iteration of the sentiment by Hermann Göring, Churchill’s enemy in World War II. So: Who said it first, the victorious Churchill or the vanquished Göring?

Neither of them. At a bare minimum, Driver’s Jones is correct to point out that Göring is indeed recorded as having voiced this sentiment at the Nuremberg trials. In the original German, Göring is reported to have said, “Der Sieger wird immer der Richter und der Besiegte stets der Angeklagte sein,” which more or less translates to the quote Driver utters in the film, “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.”

As for Churchill, while he is strongly associated with the aphorism, as seen on inspiring Pinterest macros, at Brainy Quote, and in taunting tweets from WWE wrestlers, there’s actually no concretely documented instance in which he’s known to have uttered “History is written by the victors.” There’s a good chance part of the confusion here comes from a joke Churchill actually did say, in a speech before the House of Commons on Jan. 23, 1948: “For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.” Churchill was apparently fond of the line, as he had been trotting out versions of it since the 1930s. He even tried another version of the witticism on Josef Stalin.

Read entire article at Slate