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Historical revisionism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In historiography, the term historical revisionism identifies the re-interpretation of the historical record. It usually means challenging the orthodox (established, accepted or traditional) views held by professional scholars about a historical event, introducing contrary evidence, or reinterpreting the motivations and decisions of the people involved. The revision of the historical record can reflect new discoveries of fact, evidence, and interpretation, which then provokes a revised history. In dramatic cases, revisionism involves a reversal of older moral judgments.

At a basic level, legitimate historical revisionism is a common and not especially controversial process of developing and refining the writing of history. Much more controversial is the reversal of moral findings, in which what had been considered to be positive forces are depicted as being negative. This revisionism is then challenged by the supporters of the previous view, often in heated terms, and becomes an illegitimate form of historical revisionism known as historical negationism if it involves inappropriate methods such as the use of forged documents or implausible distrust of genuine documents, attributing false conclusions to books and sources, manipulating statistical data and deliberately mis-translating texts. This type of historical revisionism presents a re-interpretation of the moral meaning of the historical record.[1]

The term "revisionism" is used pejoratively by those who claim that revisionists are distorting the historical record. This is especially the case when it is applied to Holocaust denial.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Playing the Victim | Historical Revisionism and Japan
  • ✪ Why we need a New Term for "Revisionist Historians"
  • ✪ Metatron Calls out Historical Revisionism
  • ✪ Introduction to Holocaust revisionism


If I asked you to name as many movies and video games as you can where Nazis are the bad guys, you could probably come up with at least a dozen before you even had to take a breath. But if I were to ask you to do the same for Japan, you’d probably struggle. Aside from the greatest movie ever made and maybe one of the Call of Duties, they really aren’t portrayed as evil in our popular media. There actually is one Call of Duty, but if you’re not a die hard fan I bet you can’t even name it. This is despite the fact that they killed just as many people as the Nazis during World War 2. Why is that? As with most stories about World War 2, we need to go back several decades to get the full picture. We’re going to start the clock in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor of Japan became the supreme leader of the government. Before that, it flip-flopped between the Shogun and the Emperor – who am I kidding, we’ve all seen bill wurtz’s video, and if you haven’t you should, because I’m going to reference it several times. In 1890 the Meiji Constitution was adopted, which set up a western-style government, with a parliament, a prime minister, and a monarch – very similar to what Great Britain has today. For several decades prior to this, Japan was a closed-off, isolated country. But now they wanted to burst onto the world stage, quite literally with a bang. China had always been the dominant power in Asia and since Japan borrowed so much of their language and culture from China, they kind of felt like a little brother. China is to Japan what Great Britain was to the United States. And like a younger brother, when they matured a bit, they decided to test their strength against the elder, which resulted in the First Sino-Japanese war in 1894. To sum it up into a single sentence, this war was over who would control Korea and Japan won. They had beaten their older brother in their first real fight. However, Japan also captured the Liaodong Peninsula, just north of Korea. It previously belonged to China, who was leasing Port Arthur to Russia. Now that the Japanese controlled it, they offered to extend the lease with Russia if Russia recognized Korea as belonging to Japan. Russia refused, wanting to exert its own influence on Korea. So in 1904, the Russo-Japanese War started when Japan surprise attacked the Russian navy in Port Arthur. This is apparently a recurring strategy for Japan. Long story short, Japan won, which was a pretty big deal. This was the first time an Asian power had defeated a European power since the Mongols. Ten years later, World War 1 began and I’m not entirely sure it should be called a World War since it was almost entirely fought in Europe. German-held territories in the Pacific, of which there were many, all fell to the Allied forces in the first six months or so. The rest of the war would go on for another four years. Japan was one of those Allied forces, having captured several islands and ports from the Germans. So when it came time to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, they got to sit at the table with everyone else. Can you ever find him? There he is. Yeah, Japan didn’t take too kindly to being relegated to the end of the table and basically forgotten, because, you know – Japan is all about the respect. They had just beaten China, and Russia, and now Germany. They felt like they should be treated with the same respect as all of the other world powers. And much like a younger brother with a chip on their shoulder, when they felt disrespected by their allies, they stomped off to their room and plotted their revenge. Japan’s role in World War 1 was fairly minimal. There was some action in the first few months, but then they mostly played a support role. Their manufacturing and military industries took off during the war, because they were one of the only allied nations not digging trenches in their backyard. So the economy was booming and the population soared. But then the war ended and people stopped buying Japanese goods… and then the Great Depression hit, and people stopped buying Japanese goods even harder? Japan had convinced itself that it was the target of a global conspiracy to crash its economy. Things were going great during the war and now that the world was at peace, things were making a turn for the worst – which is the opposite of what you’d expect. So nationalism began to take hold, much like it did in European countries at the time. Why is the economy bad? Because of terrible trade deals, a global conspiracy against us, and a lack of the respect that we deserve. This should sound familiar, but draw whatever parallels you like. Japanese schools began pushing conformity, obedience, and ultra patriotism. Many school teachers were former soldiers and ran their classrooms like boot camp. There were even a few teachers who killed themselves out of shame for messing up words to patriotic songs. Again, draw whatever parallels you like. But perhaps worst of all, was the indoctrination of the idea of Japanese racial superiority. The Nazis recognized the Japanese as the Asian master race – which is why they entered into an alliance with them. The Japanese still saw the Chinese as somewhat of an older brother, but Koreans… were the red-headed stepchild. Now Japan had a new problem. In order to feed their expanding population, they would need more land and I wish this was a joke… but they actually called it manifest destiny and invaded China in 1931. Except it wasn’t actually China, it was Manchuria, which was kinda sorta part of China… kinda… Maybe I can help? Please. You're right, Most carefully worded historical resources will call the Japanese offensive between 1931 and 1932 the “Invasion of Manchuria” not the “Invasion of China” because “China” was not one unified political entity at the time. With the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912 the country had split into numerous states ruled by warlords called cliques, who fought both with and against each other in shifting alliances. The Republican Kuomintang under Chiang Kai Shek and the Socialist Chinese Communist Party united to fight the warlords but soon started fighting each other beginning the Chinese Civil War. The Fengtian clique ruled most of the area we call Manchuria and it was this state the Japanese invaded in 1931 because of the vast economic and military ties they had in the region. The “Invasion of China” is a name reserved for the offensive in 1937 because it was the first time Japan had invaded territory actually controlled by the Republic of China politically. However both invasions were done under fabricated incidents of Chinese aggression such as the Mukden incident and the Marco Polo bridge incident respectfully, betraying Japanese obvious military interest in crushing Chinese rule in the area. If you’d like to learn more, check out my history of China series over at the Suibhne channel when you’re done here As he said, in 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred, which was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. And depending on who you ask, the beginning of World War 2. There are obviously dozens, if not hundreds, of battles to talk about here – but battle history isn’t really my thing, so let’s just focus on two. The Battle of Shanghai started in August 1937. While Japan still viewed China as an elder civilization and held them in somewhat high regard, they expected Shanghai to fall quickly. China was broken and fighting amongst itself – Japan was clearly superior, at least in their minds. But it didn’t, the Chinese held out for three months until November 1937 when they retreated to Nanking. The Japanese pursued them for all 200 miles absolutely obliterating anyone or anything along the way. The city of Suzhou, which is on the road between Shanghai and Nanking, went from 350,000 people to just 500. Single cities in China suffered as many casualties as entire countries in Europe. If you remember Bill Wurtz’s video, here’s where he talks about the Japanese advance. And Japan invaded more and more and more and more of China and was planning to invade the entire East. Did you catch it? I bet you didn’t, because you probably had annotations turned off. Here it is again, with them turned on. And Japan invaded more and more and more and more of China. And they did some rapes. What a wonderfully lighthearted way to put that. And as an annotation, which means it wasn’t much more than an afterthought. So let’s talk about Nanking, which was the capital of China at the time. Chiang Kai-shek pulled the government and air force out of the city and ordered the skeleton crew of troops to hold Nanking at all cost. It was pretty clear to the soldiers that he had left them for dead. But being the capital of China, it was still a fairly important political prize for Japan, so the Emperor appointed his uncle, Prince Asaka, to lead the charge. This becomes incredibly important later. The siege and battle for Nanking lasted four days in the beginning of December 1937 – remember, Shanghai lasted 3 months. The Chinese soldiers in the city either ran, surrendered, or tore off their military uniforms and looted stores, homes, and sometimes random people on the street in order to steal their clothes and hide among the civilian population. The Japanese who entered the city had a completely different mindset. They felt humiliated after Shanghai and were looking for revenge. At the same time, they were absolutely disgusted by the soldiers who were surrendering. One of the main tenets of the Japanese warrior code, or Bushido, is death before dishonor. There is nothing more shameful than surrendering. Among Western military powers, there was 1 surrender for every 3 dead. Among the Japanese, there was one surrender for every 120 dead, they just didn’t do it. This was compounded by the fact that the Chinese outnumbered the Japanese 7 to 2. Journals from Japanese soldiers at the time wondered why are they surrendering? Even unarmed they could overpower us. The Chinese were cowards in the eyes of the Japanese and the only explanation they could come up with was that they were subhuman. Once they took the city, things only got worse. Prince Asaka, or one of his subordinates, issued a “kill all captives” order. The stated reason was to preserve food. Where have we heard that one before? All 90,000 Chinese soldiers, now prisoners of war, were killed. Every military aged male in the city was killed. In fact, almost everybody in the city was killed. If I asked you to list one hundred ways to kill a person, you still wouldn’t come close to what the Japanese did. Prisoners were used for bayonet and machine gun practice. Officers ordered new recruits to kill unarmed prisoners in order to break them in and desensitize them to war. Those are just the nice ways, I hope you’re not eating right now, because it’s about to get a whole lot worse. Chinese were lined up in rows and beheaded. They even made contests out of it, where officers would compete to see who could behead 100 Chinese the fastest. These contests were reported in Japanese newspapers in the same way you’d read about a baseball game. After they were beheaded, the row behind them would push them into the mass grave that they dug themselves… and then they were beheaded and pushed in by the row behind them. And that’s if you were lucky. There are cases of the Chinese being forced to bury their own countrymen up to the neck alive, and then being buried up to the neck alive themselves. Bodies were used to fill in trenches so that tanks could drive across. People were forced to drink kerosene and then shot so they exploded. People were forced to walk out on the ice. Babies were impaled on bayonets or thrown into boiling pots of water. Yes, that is a real picture, you wouldn’t have believed me otherwise – it’s blurred for obvious reasons though. Basically every way you could possibly think of to kill a person and then some. At least 200,000 people were killed, which was half of the population of Nanking at the time. This is why the event is known as the Nanking Massacre. But it’s also known, perhaps more appropriately, as the Rape of Nanking. Do you have any notion of what happens when a city is sacked? The Japanese raped every woman they could find. I hope you have a strong stomach, because between 20,000 to 80,000 women were raped. Why does that number have such a large range? Because after women were raped by anywhere from 15 to 20 soldiers each, they were killed and then their bodies were left in the street with bayonets stuck in them. Again, blurred for obvious reasons, I’m not making this up. Why were they killed? Well, rape was explicitly forbidden in the Japanese military, but dead women tell no tales. Asian cultures value female chastity and purity, so many surviving women never spoke about it or just killed themselves out of shame. To this day, no woman will admit that their child may have been born to a Japanese soldier and infanticide was rampant during the occupation. And if you think that’s the worst of it, you’re still wrong. At gun point, Chinese fathers were forced on their own daughters, sons on their mothers, basically every combination that you’ve all looked up on pornhub. I’m so done trying to understand millennials. There were rape contests as well, but honestly, even I have my limits, so we’re done talking about this. You might be thinking: How have I never heard about this, this must have been carried out in secret or something. No, this was front page news at the time. There were a number of foreigners in the city, including reporters, businessmen, and ambassadors – it was the capital of China after all. These foreigners established the Nanking Safety Zone, a two and a half square mile area reserved for civilians that was supposed to be safe from the Japanese military. Many former Chinese soldiers hid in the zone and were subsequently captured, so the military justified regularly raiding the zone. It eventually sheltered 250,000 refugees and was maintained by two dozen foreign nationals led by John Rabe. The official Nazi Party representative in Nanking. Nazi Germany was allied with Japan, so he had every reason to portray Japan in a positive light. But he didn’t. His letters and journals from the time tell the gruesome story of how thousands of women were raped and thousands more were murdered. Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped... You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they're shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers. (Dec 17, 1937) He would walk the streets and night and stop rapes in progress – like a Nazi Batman… but his only superpower was his swastika armband. The idea of a “good guy Nazi” is just so weird that you couldn’t make it up if you tried. Upon his return to Germany, the Gestapo ordered him to never speak of Nanking again. He is celebrated as the Oskar Schindler of Nanking and there are multiple memorials to him in the city today. This lasted for six weeks. Reporters were barred entry to the city the entire time, and it didn’t take long for foreign governments to figure out why. Then the stories started coming out. There are very few media depictions of this incident, but this one, called Flowers of War, came out in 2011 and starred Christian Bale. They definitely put some coin into this one so it’s worth giving a watch. Had I not read about this event prior to seeing the movie, I would have thought it was an exaggeration. They even go through the effort to recreate several of the iconic photographs of the massacre, including this one, which we saw earlier. To Wurtz’s credit, he does mention the Rape of Nanking in his “history of the entire world.” Japan is finally conquering the East and they’re so excited they rape Nanking way too hard. They should probably just deny it. We’ll get to the denial later, but this event, combined with the “accidental” sinking of the USS Panay in Nanking during the evacuation turned US opinion against Japan. But the final straw was when Japan invaded Indochina in 1940. The United States decided to cease all shipments of oil and other goods to Japan as well as ban them from using the Panama Canal. Japan’s response to this was… But then Japan spits on them in Hawaii and challenges them to war. And they say yes. An event he leaves out of his history of the entire world, despite how important it is – and despite the fact that it wasn’t just Pearl Harbor. They attacked dozens of islands in the Pacific all on the same day in order to secure their own sources of oil. I made a video about this. Pearl Harbor was where the US Pacific Fleet was based, so it’s the one that got the most press. The attack was designed to stall US response long enough for Japan to fortify its other positions. Which worked actually… for a little while. I’m not going to get into the specific battles of the war, but I do want to talk about the prisoners of war. As I said before, the Japanese rarely, if ever, surrendered – but for western militaries, surrender is a perfectly acceptable option. At the beginning of this video, if you were able to name any movies about Japan in World War 2, one of them was probably the 1957 movie Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Obi-wan Kenobi, and maybe you knew about the 2014 movie Unbroken. Both of these movies are about the hells on Earth that were Japanese POW camps. Of American POWs in Nazi Germany, one out of every 25 prisoners died in a camp. Of American POWs in Japanese camps? One in three. They surrendered, in the eyes of the Japanese, they were dishonorable cowards and they are enemies of Japan. You will be treated accordingly. The infamous Bataan Death March in 1942 was the forced relocation of 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino POWs over 70 miles. It’s often referred as the POW Trail of Tears, which is an apt comparison because just as many people died. In an act of perpetual defiance, the march is repeated annually at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. So let’s end the war. Bonus Round, United States versus Japan, fight. Finish him. I don’t want to get into whether or not it was right to use the bombs. But I will say that destroying cities wasn’t all that new. We’d been firebombing cities for a while at that point, this was Tokyo – again, I made a video about this. So if I were to tell you that this was done by a single bomb, you’d probably think I was lying. And rightly so, because that one’s actually Tokyo, the first one was Hiroshima. The point is that you couldn’t tell the difference. So when we told Japan “we are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man” their response was: “Yeah, sure you are buddy.” Because we had been levelling cities for some time. So we dropped a second one and forced an unconditional surrender without having to invade mainland Japan. The United States installed a new government, inspired by the United States government. Whoa wait. And they did some rapes? Rapes did occur in occupied Japan. But to use the same “whoops, and they did some rapes” tone to suggest that it was anywhere near the same scale as Nanking is just intellectually dishonest. It was measured in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. This, along with playing up the horrors of the atomic bomb, helps paint a sympathetic picture of Japan as a victim of the war rather than an aggressor. Along with a few other subtle narrative changes. Like that the war was to free Asia from western imperialism, not world domination. And Pearl Harbor was just a reaction to being backed into a corner, not an aggressive land grab. Those really are the versions of history being taught in Japan today. And that’s only recently, for decades after the war, Japanese schools didn’t even teach that Japan and the US were at war – or who won. But there’s something else I want to say about that segment. The United States installed a new government, inspired by the United States government. No we didn’t. Firstly, it’s much more inspired by the constitutional monarchy that Great Britain has, but secondly, there’s very little new about it – all of the positions are the same. The Emperor is still the Emperor, the parliament still exists, even the Prime Minister – the current-day Prime Minister is the 63rd Prime Minister. We’ve only had 45 presidents. The position goes all the way back to the Meiji Restoration. And while all of the positions remained the same, so did many of the faces. The 56th Prime Minister of Japan was previously being held as a Class A war criminal. To put that into perspective, there is nothing higher than Class A – if Hitler were captured alive, he would have been a Class A war criminal. This is why Nazis are always the bad guys in our World War 2 media and not Japan. Nazis don’t exist anymore… or at least they’re not in charge anymore. There is a clear disconnect between Nazi Germany and present-day Germany. But if you make Imperial Japan the bad guys, you are by extension making current-day Japan the bad guys. Everything about the government, and most people in it, were the same. Many Class B and C war criminals, including the lower level officers and soldiers, were tried by the Nanking War Crimes Tribunal. Many of the foreign nationals who administered the Nanking Safety Zone testified against them. The two lieutenants who participated in that 100 beheadings contest were tried there and their defense was… and I wish I was joking here… “It was only like, 70 people.” Weirdly that didn’t work and they were found guilty and executed. One of the lower level generals was also tried, but blamed the massacre on Koreans… Which also didn’t work and he was executed. But most of the Class A war criminals were tried in Tokyo by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Or IMTFE for short. While the IMTFE found that the Nanking massacre was “secretly ordered or willfully committed” – they weren’t allowed to prosecute the top commander, who, if you remember, was Prince Asaka. The entire Imperial family was given immunity from prosecution by Douglas MacArthur. This infuriated the Chinese, but at least they could go after the other high-level officials… Until 1949, when Mao seized control of mainland China and the Bamboo Curtain fell on Asia… is that racist? It feels racist. Then the Korean War happened and the West needed a non-communist ally in Asia, so the IMTFE just… sort of stopped. This was when the future Prime Minister was let off the hook and was allowed to continue being a politician. As long as he was pro-American. While present-day Germany paid war reparations, Japan never really had to, and since the chief culprits of the Rape of Nanking never stood trial, Sino-Japanese relations were sour for decades. Eventually the government of both Communist China and the Republic of China “forgave” Japan in order to open up trade relations, which infuriated Chinese citizens. Japan has never formally apologized for any of its war crimes. The United States helped with that cover-up narrative. How do you convince millions of citizens that the people they just fought a few years ago are now our friends? Mostly by repeatedly apologizing for and playing up the horrors the atomic bombs. Because you know, two wrongs make a right. They cancel each other out. If you look at history, we have bombed the masculinity out of an entire continent. We dropped two atomic bombs on f***ing Japan and they’ve been drawing Hello Kitty and s*** ever since. As funny as that is, he’s also not wrong. Hello Kitty, Keroppi, more recently Gudetama were all created by Sanrio to play into the victimization and pacification of Japan. They are all designed to look vulnerable. All of these characters are so cute and defenseless and you just wanna hug them and protect them, oh m- It’s also known as Kawaii culture and really grew during the 70s and 80s but continues today. Until the cold war ended and the stories came out. Japanese soldiers who no longer feared prosecution talked openly about what they did. Books were published, like Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, movies were made like Flowers of War and Unbroken. And still Japan, officially anyway, denies their part in the tragedy. Saying it was all just Soviet and Chinese propaganda – which is kind of true by the way, even some blaming the United States for it, which… Saying that it was only 3000 people who were killed – even though there are single mass graves with more bodies than that. Or that it was Chinese looters or that all the women who were raped were actually paid prostitutes or “comfort women” – which is the same reason Japanese-Korean relations are still on the rocks. The Japanese government thinks that apologizing for the sins of the past would be an insult to veterans – those responsible have already been prosecuted, how many times must they apologize? Once would be nice, you know, for starters. Having any sort of academic or political discussion on Japanese war crimes in Japan usually results in career suicide. And more often than not, death threats. Whenever a Japanese politician makes the mistake of apologizing in a personal capacity, not an official one. They either retract it shortly afterwards or are voted out. The current Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe made that mistake in 2006. And now repeatedly claims that comfort women were not forced into sexual slavery but were private entrepreneurs. On a visit to the Yakusuni Shrine, which memorializes over a thousand convicted war criminals, fourteen of which are Class A, he said: “The men convicted by the Allied tribunals are not war criminals under the laws of Japan.” Japanese denial of their war crimes, and especially Nanking, is akin to denying that the Holocaust happened. The most successful historical revisions are those that only tell one side – but in recent years, we’ve finally started to hear the other sides of this story and it’s important to listen. The saying goes “those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.” You no longer have the luxury of saying you did not learn, because now, you know better. I promised I’d make this video almost two years ago, and here it is… finally. Big thanks to Suibhne for helping me with this video, make sure to check out his channel and videos on China. I’d also like to thank my legendary patrons Eric and Hamzah. If you’d also like me to butcher the pronunciation of your name or at least have your name up on screen, head over to In the mean time don’t forget to… uh… no, nope, not saying that. We’re going generic on this one, click that subscribe button. Also follow me on twitter and facebook and join us on the subreddit.


Historical scholarship

Historical revisionism is the means by which the historical record — the history of a society, as understood in their collective memory — continually integrates new facts and interpretations of the events commonly understood as history; about which the historian and American Historical Association member James M. McPherson, said:

The fourteen-thousand members of this association, however, know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue, between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable “truth” about past events and their meaning.

The unending quest of historians for understanding the past — that is, revisionism — is what makes history vital and meaningful. Without revisionism, we might be stuck with the images of Reconstruction [1865–77] after the American Civil War [1861–65] that were conveyed by D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation [1915] and Claude Bowers’s The Tragic Era [1929]. Were the Gilded Age [1870s–1900] entrepreneurs “Captains of Industry” or “Robber Barons”?

Without revisionist historians, who have done research in new sources and asked new and nuanced questions, we would remain mired in one or another of these stereotypes. Supreme Court decisions often reflect a “revisionist” interpretation of history, as well as of the Constitution.[2]

In the field of historiography, the historian who works within the existing establishment of society, and who has produced a body of history books, from which he or she can claim authority, usually benefits from the status quo. As such, the professional-historian paradigm is manifested as a denunciative stance towards any form of historical revisionism — either of fact or interpretation, or both. In contrast to the single-paradigm form of writing history, the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, said, in contrast to the quantifiable hard sciences, characterized by a single paradigm, the social sciences are characterized by several paradigms that derive from a “tradition of claims, counterclaims, and debates over [the] fundamentals” of research.[3] About resistance against the works of revised history that present a culturally comprehensive historical narrative of the U.S. — the perspectives of black people, women, and the labour movement — the historian David Williams said:

These, and other, scholarly voices, called for a more comprehensive treatment of American history, stressing that the mass of Americans, not simply the power élites, made history. Yet, it was mainly white males of the power élite who had the means to attend college, become professional historians, and shape a view of history that served their own class, race, and gender interests at the expense of those not so fortunate — and, quite literally, to paper over aspects of history they found uncomfortable. “One is astonished in the study of history”, wrote Du Bois in 1935, “at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. . . . The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value, as an incentive and [as] an example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth”.[4]

After the Second World War, the study and production of history in the U.S. was expanded by the G.I. Bill, which funding allowed “a new and more broadly-based generation of scholars” with perspectives and interpretations drawn from the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and the American Indian Movement.[5] That expansion and deepening of the pool of historians voided the existence of a definitive and universally accepted history, therefore, the revisionist historian presents the national public with a history that has been corrected and augmented with new facts, evidence, and interpretations of the historical record. In The Cycles of American History (1986), in contrasting and comparing the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Russo–American Cold War (1945–91), the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. said:

. . . but others, especially in the United States . . . represent what American historians call revisionism — that is a readiness to challenge official explanations. No one should be surprised by this phenomenon. Every war in American history has been followed, in due course, by skeptical reassessments of supposedly sacred assumptions . . . for [historical] revisionism is an essential part of the process, by which history, through the posing of new problems and the investigation of new possibilities, enlarges its perspectives and enriches its insights.[6]

Revisionist historians contest the mainstream or traditional view of historical events, they raise views at odds with traditionalists, which must be freshly judged. Revisionist history is often practiced by those who are in the minority, such as feminist historians, ethnic minority historians, those working outside of mainstream academia in smaller and less known universities, or the youngest scholars, essentially historians who have the most to gain and the least to lose in challenging the status quo. In the friction between the mainstream of accepted beliefs and the new perspectives of historical revisionism, received historical ideas are either changed, solidified, or clarified. If over a period of time the revisionist ideas become the new establishment status quo a paradigm shift is said to have occurred. Historian Forrest McDonald is often critical of the turn that revisionism has taken, but he nevertheless admits that the turmoil of the 1960s in the United States changed the way history was written:

The result, as far as the study of history was concerned, was an awakened interest in subjects that historians had previously slighted. Indian history, black history, women’s history, family history, and a host of specializations arose. These expanded horizons enriched our understanding of the American past, but they also resulted in works of special pleading, trivialization, and downright falsification.[7]

Historians are influenced by the zeitgeist (spirit of the time), and the usually progressive changes to society, politics, and culture, which occurred after the Second World War (1939–45); in The Future of the Past (1989), the historian C. Vann Woodward said:

These events have come with a concentration and violence for which the term revolution is usually reserved. It is a revolution, or perhaps a set of revolutions for which we have not yet found a name. My thesis is that these developments will and should raise new questions about the past, and affect our reading of large areas of history, and my belief is that future revisions may be extensive enough to justify calling the coming age of historiography an “Age of Reinterpretation”. The first illustration [the absence from U.S. history of external threats, because of geography] happens to come mainly from American history, but this should not obscure the broader scope of the revolution, which has no national limitations.[8]

Developments in the academy, culture, and politics shaped the contemporary model of writing history — the accepted paradigm of historiography; the philosopher Karl Popper said: "each generation has its own troubles and problems, and, therefore, its own interests and its own point of view", and that:

it follows that each generation has a right to look upon and re-interpret history in [their] own way. . . . After all, we study history because we are interested in it, and perhaps because we wish to learn something about our [contemporary] problems. But history can serve neither of these two purposes if, under the influence of an inapplicable idea of objectivity, we hesitate to present historical problems from our point of view. And we should not think that our point of view, if consciously and critically applied to the problem, will be inferior to that of a writer who naïvely believes . . . that he has reached a level of objectivity permitting him to present "the events of the past as they actually did happen".[9]

As the social, political, and cultural influences change a society, most historians revise and update their explanation of historical events. The old consensus, based upon limited evidence, might no longer be considered historically valid in explaining the particulars — of cause and effect, of motivation and self-interest — that tell How? and Why? the past occurred as it occurred; therefore, the historical revisionism of the factual record is revised to concord with the contemporary understanding of history. As such, in 1986, the historian John Hope Franklin described four stages in the historiography of the African experience of life in the U.S., which were based upon different models of historical consensus.[10]

Negationism and denial

The historian Deborah Lipstadt (Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, 1993), and the historians Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman (Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, 2002), distinguish between historical revisionism and historical negationism, the latter of which is a form of denialism. Lipstadt said that Holocaust deniers, such as Harry Elmer Barnes, disingenuously self-identify as "historical revisionists" in order to obscure their denialism as academic revision of the historical record.

As such, Lipstadt, Shermer, and Grobman said that legitimate historical revisionism entails the refinement of existing knowledge about a historical event, not a denial of the event, itself; that such refinement of history emerges from the examination of new, empirical evidence, and a re-examination, and consequent re-interpretation of the existing documentary evidence. That legitimate historical revisionism acknowledges the existence of a "certain body of irrefutable evidence" and the existence of a "convergence of evidence", which suggest that an event — such as the Black Death, American slavery, and the Holocaust — did occur; whereas the denialism of history rejects the entire foundation of historical evidence, which is a form of historical negationism.[11][12]


Some of the influences on historians, which may change over time are:

  • Access to new data: Much historical data has been lost. Even archives have to make decisions based on space and interest on what original material to obtain or keep. At times documents are discovered or publicized that give new views of well established events. Archived material may be sealed by Governments for many years, either to hide political scandals, or to protect information vital for national security. When these archives are opened, they can alter the historical perspective on an event. For example, with the release of the ULTRA archives in the 1970s under the British 30 years rule, a lot of the Allied high command tactical decision making process was re-evaluated, particularly the Battle of the Atlantic. The release of the ULTRA archives also forced a re-evaluation of the history of the electronic computer.[13]
    • New sources in other languages: As more sources in other languages become available historians may review their theories in light of the new sources. The revision of the meaning of the Dark Ages are an example of this.[citation needed]
  • Developments in other fields of science: DNA analysis has had an impact in various areas of history either confirming established historical theories or presenting new evidence that undermines the current established historical explanation. Professor Andrew Sherratt, a British prehistorian, was responsible for introducing the work of anthropological writings on the consumption of currently legal and illegal drugs and how to use these papers to explain certain aspects of prehistoric societies.[14] Carbon dating, the examination of ice cores and tree rings, palynology, SEM analysis of early metal samples, and measuring oxygen isotopes in bones, have all provided new data in the last few decades with which to argue new hypotheses. Extracting ancient DNA allows scientists to argue whether or not humans are partly descended from Neanderthals.
  • Nationalism: For example, when reading schoolbook history in Europe, it is possible to read about an event from completely different perspectives. In the Battle of Waterloo most British, French, Dutch and German schoolbooks slant the battle to emphasise the importance of the contribution of their nations. Sometimes the name of an event is used to convey political or a national perspective. For example, the same conflict between two English-speaking countries is known by two different names: the "American War of Independence" and the "American Revolutionary War". As perceptions of nationalism change so do those areas of history that are driven by such ideas.
  • Culture: For example, as regionalism has become more prominent in the UK some historians have been suggesting that the English Civil War is too Anglo-centric and that to understand the war, events that had previously been dismissed as on the periphery should be given greater prominence; to emphasise this, revisionist historians have suggested that the English Civil War becomes just one of a number of interlocking conflicts known as Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Furthermore, as cultures develop, it may become strategically advantageous for some revision-minded groups to revise their public historical narrative in such a way so as to either discover, or in rarer cases manufacture, a precedent which contemporary members of the given subcultures can use as a basis or rationale for reform or change.[15]
  • Ideology: For example, during the 1940s it became fashionable to see the English Civil War from a Marxist school of thought. In the words of Christopher Hill, "the Civil War was a class war." In the post World War II years the influence of Marxist interpretation waned in British academia and by the 1970s this view came under attack by a new school of revisionists and it has been largely overturned as a major mainstream explanation of the middle 17th century conflict in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
  • Historical causation: Issues of causation in history are often revised with new research: for example by the middle of the twentieth century the status quo was to see the French Revolution as the result of the triumphant rise of a new middle class. Research in the 1960s prompted by revisionist historians like Alfred Cobban and François Furet revealed the social situation as much more complex and the question of what caused the Revolution is now a closely debated one.[citation needed]

Revised versions

The Dark Ages

As non-Latin texts, such as Welsh, Gaelic and the Norse sagas have been analysed and added to the canon of knowledge about the period and a much more archaeological evidence has come to light, the period known as the Dark Ages has narrowed to the point where many historians no longer believe that such a term is useful. Moreover, the term "dark" implies less of a void of culture and law, but more a lack of many source texts in mainland Europe. Many modern scholars who study the era tend to avoid the term altogether for its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages.[16][17]


The concept of feudalism has been questioned. Revisionist scholars led by historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown have rejected the term.


For centuries, historians thought the Battle of Agincourt was an engagement in which the English army, though overwhelmingly outnumbered four to one by the French army, pulled off a stunning victory—a version especially popularised by Shakespeare's play Henry V. However, recent research by Professor Anne Curry, using the original enrollment records, has brought into question this interpretation. Though her research is not finished,[18] she has published her initial findings,[19] that the French only outnumbered the English and Welsh 12,000 to 8,000. If true, the numbers may have been exaggerated for patriotic reasons by the English.[20]

New World discovery

In recounting the European colonization of the Americas, some history books of the past paid little attention to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, usually mentioning them only in passing and making no attempt to understand the events from their point of view. This was reflected in the description of Christopher Columbus having discovered America. The portrayal of these events has since been revised, avoiding the word "discovery."[21]

In his 1990 revisionist book, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, Kirkpatrick Sale argued that Christopher Columbus was an imperialist bent on conquest from his first voyage. In a New York Times book review, historian and member of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Committee William Hardy McNeill wrote about Sale:

he has set out to destroy the heroic image that earlier writers have transmitted to us. Mr. Sale makes Columbus out to be cruel, greedy and incompetent (even as a sailor), and a man who was perversely intent on abusing the natural paradise on which he intruded."[22]

McNeill declares Sale's work to be "unhistorical, in the sense that [it] selects from the often cloudy record of Columbus's actual motives and deeds what suits the researcher's 20th-century purposes." McNeill states that detractors and advocates of Columbus present a "sort of history [that] caricatures the complexity of human reality by turning Columbus into either a bloody ogre or a plaster saint, as the case may be."[23]

French attack formations in the Napoleonic wars

The military historian James R. Arnold argues that:

The writings of Sir Charles Oman and Sir John Fortescue dominated subsequent English-language Napoleonic history. Their views [that the French infantry used heavy columns to attack lines of infantry] became very much the received wisdom.... By 1998 a new paradigm seemed to have set in with the publication of two books devoted to Napoleonic battle tactics. Both claimed that the French fought in line at Maida and both fully explored French tactical variety. The 2002 publication of The Battle of Maida 1806: Fifteen Minutes of Glory, appeared to have brought the issue of column versus line to a satisfactory conclusion: "The contemporary sources are ... the best evidence and their conclusion is clear: General Compère's brigade formed into line to attack Kempt's Light Battalion." The decisive action at Maida took place in less than fifteen minutes. It had taken 72 years to rectify a great historian's error about what transpired during those minutes.[24][25]

World War I

German guilt

In reaction to the orthodox interpretation enshrined in the Versailles Treaty (which declared that Germany was guilty of starting World War I), the self-described "revisionist" historians of the 1920s rejected the orthodox view and presented a complex causation in which several other countries were equally guilty. Intense debate continues among scholars.[26]

Poor British and French military leadership

The military leadership of the British Army during World War I was frequently condemned as poor by historians and politicians for decades after the war ended. Common charges were that the generals commanding the army were blind to the realities of trench warfare, ignorant of the conditions of their men and were unable to learn from their mistakes, thus causing enormous numbers of casualties ("lions led by donkeys").[27] However, during the 1960s, historians such as John Terraine began to challenge this interpretation. In recent years, as new documents have come forth and the passage of time has allowed for more objective analysis, historians such as Gary D. Sheffield and Richard Holmes observe that the military leadership of the British Army on the Western Front had to cope with many problems that they could not control, such as a lack of adequate military communications, which was not known before. Furthermore, military leadership improved throughout the war, culminating in the Hundred Days Offensive advance to victory in 1918. Some historians, even revisionists, still criticise the British High Command severely, but they are less inclined to portray the war in a simplistic manner with brave troops being led by foolish officers.

There has been a similar movement regarding the French Army during the war with contributions by historians such as Anthony Clayton. Revisionists are far more likely to view commanders such as French General Ferdinand Foch, British General Douglas Haig and other figures, such as American General Pershing, in a sympathetic light.

Reconstruction in U.S.

Revisionist historians of Reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War rejected the dominant Dunning School that stated the blacks were used by carpetbaggers, and instead has stressed economic greed on the part of northern businessmen.[28] Indeed, in recent years a "neoabolitionist" revisionism has become standard, that uses the moral standards of racial equality of the 19th century abolitionists to criticize racial policies. "Foner's book represents the mature and settled Revisionist perspective," historian Michael Perman has concluded regarding Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (1988)[29]

Guilt for causing World War II

The orthodox interpretation blamed Hitler and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan for causing the war. Revisionist historians of World War II, notably Charles A. Beard, said the U.S. was partly to blame because it pressed the Japanese too hard in 1940–41 and rejected compromises.[30] Other notable contributions to this discussion include Charles Tansill, Back Door To War (Chicago, 1952); Frederic Sanborn, Design For War (New York, 1951); and David Hoggan, The Forced War (Costa Mesa, 1989). British historian A. J. P. Taylor ignited a firestorm when he argued Hitler was a rather ordinary diplomat and did not deliberately set out to cause a war.[31]

Patrick Buchanan,[32] an American conservative pundit, argued the Anglo–French guarantee to Poland in 1939 encouraged Poland not to seek a compromise over Danzig, though Britain and France were in no position to come to Poland's aid, and Hitler was offering the Poles an alliance in return. He argues that they thereby turned a minor border dispute into a catastrophic world conflict, and handed East Europe, including Poland, to Stalin. Buchanan further argued the British pact with Poland ensured the country would be invaded, as Stalin knew the British Empire would not be able to declare war on Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.

American business and the "Robber Barons"

The role of American business and the alleged "robber barons" began to be revised in the 1930s. Termed "business revisionism" by Gabriel Kolko, historians such as Allan Nevins, and, later, Alfred D. Chandler emphasized the positive contributions of individuals who were previously pictured as villains.[33] Peter Novick writes, "The argument that whatever the moral delinquencies of the robber barons, these were far outweighed by their decisive contributions to American military [and industrial] prowess, was frequently invoked by Allan Nevins."[34]

Cold War

In the historiography of the Cold War a debate exists between historians advocating an "orthodox" and "revisionist" interpretation of Soviet history and other aspects of the Cold War such as the Vietnam War.[citation needed]

Vietnam War

America in Vietnam (1978), by Guenter Lewy, is an example of historical revisionism that differs much from the popular view of the role of the U.S. in the Vietnam War (1955–75), for which the author was criticised and supported for belonging to the revisionist school on the history of the Vietnam War.[35][36] Lewy's reinterpretation was the first book of a body of work by historians of the revisionist school about the geopolitical role and the military behavior of the United States in the country of Vietnam.

In the Introduction to America in Vietnam, Lewy said:

It is the reasoned conclusion of this study . . . that the sense of guilt created by the Vietnam war in the minds of many Americans is not warranted and that the charges of officially, condoned illegal and grossly immoral conduct are without substance. Indeed, detailed examination of battlefield practices reveals that the loss of civilian life in Vietnam was less great than in World War II [1939–45] and Korea [1950–53] and that concern with minimizing the ravages of the war was strong. To measure and compare the devastation and loss of human life caused by different war will be objectionable to those who repudiate all resort to military force as an instrument of foreign policy and may be construed as callousness. Yet as long as wars do take place at all it remains a moral duty to seek to reduce the agony caused by war, and the fulfillment of this obligation should not be disdained.

— America in Vietnam (1979), p. vii.[37]

Other reinterpretations of the historical record of the U.S. war in Vietnam, which offer alternative explanations for American behavior, include Why We Are in Vietnam (1982), by Norman Podhoretz,[35] Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (2006), by Mark Moyar,[38] and Vietnam: The Necessary War (1999), by Michael Lind.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, by Richard J. Evans, 2001, ISBN 0-465-02153-0. p. 145. The author is a professor of Modern History, at the University of Cambridge, and was a major expert-witness in the Irving v. Lipstadt trial; the book presents his perspective of the trial, and the expert-witness report, including his research about the Dresden death count.
  2. ^ Revisionist Historians
  3. ^ Kuhn, Thomas N. (1972) [1970]. "Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research". In Lakatos, Imre; Musgrave, Alan. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-521-09623-5.
  4. ^ Williams, David. A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom.(2005) pp. 10–11.
  5. ^ Williams p. 11
  6. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. The Cycles of American History.(1986) p. 165.
  7. ^ McDonald, Forest. Recovering the Past: A Historian's Memoir. (2004) p. 114
  8. ^ Woodward, C. Vann (1989). The Future of the Past. Oxford University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0195057447.
  9. ^ Novick, Peter (1988). That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge University Press. p. 395. ISBN 978-0521357456.
  10. ^ African-American History: Origins, Development, and Current State of the Field | Joe W. Trotter | Organization of American Historians Magazine of History
  11. ^ Lipstadt 1993:21; Shermer & Grobman 200:34
  12. ^ Ronald J. Berger. Fathoming the Holocaust: A Social Problems Approach, Aldine Transaction, 2002, ISBN 0-202-30670-4, p. 154.
  13. ^ In 1972, before the release of official documents about ULTRA, Herman Goldstine wrote in The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann page 321 that: "Britain had such vitality that it could immediately after the war embark on so many well-conceived and well-executed projects in the computer field." In 1976 after the archive were opened Brian Randell wrote in The COLOSSUS on page 87 that: "the COLOSSUS project was an important source of this vitality, one that has been largely unappreciated, as has the significance of its places in the chronology of the invention of the digital computer."
  14. ^ Obituary of Andrew Sherratt in The Independent 6 March 2006
  15. ^ Shindler, Michael (2014). "A Discussion On The Purpose of Cultural Identity". The Apollonian Revolt. Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  16. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400–600. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-271-01780-5., for example. This work contains over 100 pages of footnoted citations to source material and bibliographic references (pp. 263–387). In explaining his approach to writing the work, he refers to the "so-called Dark Ages", noting that "Historians and archaeologists have never liked the label Dark Ages ... there are numerous indicators that these centuries were neither "dark" nor "barbarous" in comparison with other eras."
  17. ^ Jordan, Chester William (2004). Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Supplement 1. Verdun, Kathleen, "Medievalism" pp. 389–397. Sections 'Victorian Medievalism', 'Nineteenth-Century Europe', 'Medievalism in America 1500–1900', 'The 20th Century'. Same volume, Freedman, Paul, "Medieval Studies", pp. 383–389.
  18. ^ Page 288. Matthew Strickland The Great Warbow. Pub Sutton, 2005, ISBN 0-7509-3167-1
  19. ^ Anne Curry. Agincourt: A New History, Pub Tempus, 2005, ISBN 0-7524-2828-4
  20. ^ Richard Brooks Henry V's payroll cuts Agincourt myth down to size May 29, 2005
  21. ^ Kay Larson, and Edith Newhall, "It's a Map, Map, Map World" New York Magazine Nov 1992 25#43 pp 97+  online
  22. ^ William H. McNeill, Review of Kirkpatrick Sale's The Conquest of Paradise, The New York Times, October 7, 1990.
  23. ^ McNeill, October 7, 1990.
  24. ^ Arnold, James R. A Reappraisal of Column Versus Line in the Peninsular War Oman and Historiography, The Napoleon Series, August 2004.
  25. ^ James R. Arnold, "A Reappraisal of Column Versus Line in the Napoleonic Wars" Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research LX no. 244 (Winter 1982): pp. 196–208.
  26. ^ See Selig Adler, "The War-Guilt Question and American Disillusionment, 1918–1928", Journal of Modern History, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Mar., 1951), pp. 1–28 in JSTOR
  27. ^ Lions Led By Donkeys
  28. ^ Bernard Weisberger, "The Dark and Bloody Ground of Reconstruction Historiography", The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Nov., 1959), pp. 427–447 in JSTOR
  29. ^ Michael Perman, "Review: Eric Foner's Reconstruction: A Finished Revolution", Reviews in American History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 73–78 in JSTOR
  30. ^ Samuel Flagg Bemis, "First Gun of a Revisionist Historiography for the Second World War", Journal of Modern History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Mar., 1947), pp. 55–59 in JSTOR
  31. ^ Gordon Martel, ed. The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: A.J.P. Taylor and the Historians. (2nd ed. 1999).
  32. ^ Patrick J. Buchanan (2009). Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0307405166.[page needed]
  33. ^ Kolko, Gabriel. "The Premises of Business Revisionism" in The Business History Review, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Autumn, 1959), p. 334
  34. ^ Novick, Peter (1988). That Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical profession. Cambridge University Press. p. 343. ISBN 978-0521357456.
  35. ^ a b Horwood, Ian. "Book review: Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965". Institute of Historical Research.
  36. ^ Divine, Robert A.; Lewy, Guenter; Millett, Allan R. (September 1979). "Review: Revisionism in Reverse". Reviews in American History. 7 (3): 433–438. doi:10.2307/2701181. JSTOR 2701181.
  37. ^ Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam, p. VII.
  38. ^ Mark Moyar (2006). Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965. ISBN 0-521-86911-0.
  39. ^ Michael Lind (1999). Vietnam: The Necessary War. Free Press. ISBN 978-0684842547.[page needed]
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