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It’s all fiction

13 August 2012

Something my eighth-grade history teacher said always stuck with me:

“Yes, Mr. Kupfer, you can drink coffee in my class.”

OK, two things he said always stuck with me. On the first day of class, he asked us to define the word “history.” A brave student (not me — brave was not one of my character traits at 13) immediately answered “things that happened in the past.” My teacher nodded as if that was an acceptable answer before saying:

“Not quite. History is the most likely interpretation of past events.”

And that’s very true. We’ve all heard the old adage that “history is written by the winners,” but it goes deeper than that. We really don’t know for sure what happened before now, because none of us was there. And even if we were there, we’d still have an inaccurate picture of past events, because we’d filter them through our own experiences, our own prejudice. All we have are interpretations of past events, with no way of gauging accuracy.

Take something as recent as the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 — or Operation Gothic Serpent, or the Day of the Ranger, depending on which side you’re standing on when you look at the event. It’s the battle most of us know as Black Hawk Down, either from the film or the excellent book of the same name. But that book comes from a newspaper reporter from Philadelphia. The film comes from Ridley Scott. Each person who works on telling that story, no matter how impartial they try to remain, filters it through their own lens. We get interpretations of the event, and we’d get a different interpretation than those above if we asked a Somali militiaman, or a Red Cross volunteer.

History is debatable. We just come together and agree on what we think was most likely, but not all of us agree, and none of us can really know what happened, specifically. We might have a decent idea of the broad strokes, but then again, we might not…

The point of all this? No idea. Just wheels that are turning in my brain today. But what’s your favorite historical event that’s in contention? What are some of the alternate history theories you find interesting, or the oddball events not necessarily accepted by the mainstream historical record?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 August 2012 1139

    My favorite historical event in contention? This:

    I know there are those who maintain that the raptors won the war, but here’s photographic proof of the defining moment in the battle that ended it all…

    • 13 August 2012 1139

      Well hell, it’s not very funny if the photo doesn’t show… 😉

    • 13 August 2012 1142


    • 13 August 2012 1146

      Okay, so maybe the comment field isn’t cool with tags…

      This if you’re still interested and want to copy and paste in your browser’s address field:

      (I’ve just become the equivalent of that old relative at Thanksgiving trying to tell a joke only THEY think is funny and repeatedly missing the punchline. I’d understand if you put me in a nursing home and only came to visit around the holidays out of a sense of guilt…)

      • 13 August 2012 1206

        Rather than the Thanksgiving parallel, I had a mental flash of Martin Lawrence in Black Knight (I watch everything, regardless of quality, apparently), where he’s trying to impress the locals with fire and can’t get his lighter to work. 😉

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