If one are on top, they get to decide how an event or conflict will be perceived by others because there will not be anyone to refute that story or account. Just as every story has two sides, history itself has many sides to look at. In any given war or conflict, it will be looked at different in the history books. In the Revolutionary War, Americans saw themselves as people who were treated unfairly and were fighting to break away from the unfair tyrant that was Great Britain.
In Great Britain, Americans were not patriots, they were rebels. They were anarchists who would rather kill their countrymen than be part of Great Britain. Jill Lepore looks at this idea even further. Her book is a “story of war, and how people write about it.” The central argument is based on the fact that because history is often written by the victors, there is usually more to the story that one does not hear because it is covered up and lost with ones who lose the battle.
When the victors are able to write the history how they want, they are essentially winning the battle all over again.
By using King Philip’s War, she is able to look at a war that only has written accounts. There was no media. People could not see news reports or pictures. Everything historians have learned has been from written accounts. Generally when people hear oral histories, they are more likely to believe that they are myths or have been exaggerated over time.
Those same people generally accept that written history is true and is accurate. Lepore basically sets out to show that written history is just as likely to be based on myth and one cannot always believe what one reads.
Before the conflict, there were relatively good relations between the Indians and the colonists. The big change that set off this conflict was the murder of John Sassamon. After this, there was a dramatic decline in attempts to convert the Indians to Christianity. This shows a major change in the relations between the two groups. She describes the conflict, but uses it more as a tool to explain the power of the written word. Things such as the printing press made a difference in the conflict because it allowed documents distributed by the English to be read by more and more people. Generally, one does not consider things like that to be such a large factor in a war and how it is looked at by others. Read about anarchists demand the impossible
When the author discusses some of the horrors that took place during the war, she describes that there was cruel, savage behavior. However, she describes that this type of behavior took place with both the Indians and the colonists. Using a few different examples, she discusses how it created a bit of confusion for the colonists as far as their identity. One account that she describes involves Indians that were apparently allies to the colonists savagely torturing an Indian from a rival tribe. As they watched this cruel, uncivilized behavior, the soldiers that were present did not necessarily approve and were disgusted by the torture. However, they still did not stop it. They watched this all take place. If they show their pleasure and fascination with this ritual, though, they will feel more like the Indians and barbarians. This is something they could not accept and so in writing, they generally denounced this behavior, even though they probably approved and that is why they stayed to watch these rituals take place.
Lepore makes many points in this book but one of the points she continues to make is how history is relative. Take, for example, the burning and destroying of towns and villages. When the Indians destroy an English town, they are seen as savages and barbarians. On the other hand, when the English soldiers destroy the property of the Indians, this was not seen as a barbarous act. This was just part of war and what they needed to do to win. Out of the same actions came different outcomes and emotions. The power of language allows the same acts to be viewed in two completely different ways and there was not much that the Indians could do about it.
There are many examples from the book that could be used in its analysis, but the same major theme comes through from most of them. That is that the power of language can shape history and how it is perceived not only at the time, but by future generations. One line that stuck out all the way in the beginning of the book was, “can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses?” Not only were the Indians fighting the English soldiers and their allies, they were also fighting anti-Indian sentiment all around because of the one sided stories that were being printed all over. Lepore also claims that the war never really ended. Because of the influence of words and the perception that the English were able to put out due to their language, it would reopen wounds and the vicious words would be spoken again. And those words would continue to claim that the Indians were barbarians and savages.
“Out of the chaos of war, English colonists constructed a language that proclaimed themselves to be neither cruel colonizers like the Spaniards nor savage natives like the Indians.” Since the English were the victors, they were able to turn the events into whatever they wanted. Not only could the Indians not give their version of the story because there was very little writing or accounts from that side of the war, they would not have been looked at anyway because the victor gets to write history. Even today when historians can be more objective in their views of events, and can learn more about both sides of conflict, the power of language makes it difficult to clearly see the Indian side of the story. The winners can change history (especially back then before television, news, etc.) to make themselves out to be the rightful winner, whether they are or not. They say that “to the victor go the spoils,” and the power of language allows that to be true in many different ways.
*I have never used footnotes or Chicago style before to I did not use many quotes. Please let me know if I did them wrong so they are better for the next paper.