To the victor, the Wikipedia authoring rights…

May 12th, 2011 | Filed under Politics

I was reading about Idi Amin yesterday, as you do, and was reminded again how history isn’t told according to fact so much as story. That’s not to say the stories are invented, but their structure is specifically crafted so as to conform to the expectations of a story – beginnings, middles, ends, good guys, bad guys, and so on.

Of course, I don’t mean real history – I mean Wikipedia history, but to many people those are broadly the same thing.

So Idi Amin… First paragraph talks quickly about his rise to being head of state of Uganda. Second paragraph talks about human rights abuse, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, then goes on to talk about how many people his regime killed, and then says that he was backed by Libya, the USSR and East Germany. Third paragraph goes on to talk about a few other things he did.

So there, we’ve established in one paragraph that he did a lot of bad things, a lot of people died, and he was backed by the Bad Guys from the Cold War. The bulk of the article itself, however, scarcely mentions this, presumably because it’s not entirely relevant to much. The only mention of the USSR comes when Uganda stopped buying arms from Israel, and used the USSR as its supplier instead. The only mention of East Germany was that they were “involved” in Uganda’s oppressive secret services. These take place within a single paragraph amongst a much lengthier article, which perhaps positions their importance more accurately in context.

I just wonder how history would be written if the shoe was on the other foot, if Capitalism had collapsed in the late 1980s…

Instead of talking about regimes backed by Libya, the USSR and East Germany, our bogeymen would instead have been backed by Israel, the USA and the UK. Whose Википедия entries would in the same breath list atrocities, and supporting Western nations? Articles about, for example, Augusto Pinochet are far more subtle in the way in which they choose to link his regime with its Western supporters, presumably because Wikipedia is after all largely written by Westeners. This is “history is written by the victors” being taken to its logical conclusion, in which editorial control over the way in which the past is presented in popular culture is by consensus of the consuming masses.

I wonder how different our collective self-image would be if we were more clearly reminded of the regimes we have chosen to support over the years (or outright controlled ourselves) and their respective violations of human rights. If we’re going to reduce regimes to lists of death tolls and sponsors, then let’s get a tally going and double-check that we’re actually “the good guys” here…

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