Changing History
“History is written by the victors” Winston Churchill famously stated. George Orwell
exaggerated the theory of history being controlled by the victorious and powerful by creating a
totalitarian dystopia that puts previous dictators to shame. Through Orwell’s idea of doublethink, the
importance of consistency in leadership, and the constant need to manipulate the past to maintain
power, Churchill’s belief in history being controlled by the victorious and powerful is becoming closer
and closer to reality.
Orwell’s idea of doublethink accurately predicted how only the good side of history is taught
and the rest ignored. Winston is reading The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by
Emmanuel Goldstein, and he comes across a section detailing the Party’s control over the past. “For to
change one’s mind, or even one’s policy, is a confession of weakness (Orwell 175). This vaguely
represents how leadership works today. Nobody will feel threatened or follow an indecisive leader.
Strong leadership comes from having a firm point of view and preserving it against all odds. Later in the
same book, Goldstein begins connecting the flexibility of the past to doublethink. “Doublethink means
the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of
them (Orwell 176). This understanding of two contradictory beliefs is what occurs all the time in the
teaching of history. At first, a historian learns and understands what actually happened during a period
in history. At some point down the line of teaching and learning, a higher power decides that certain
points, which are known as truth, should be changed to better represent the nation or group in control.
Also by George Orwell, an essay titled Politics and the English Language adds even more to this idea.
“Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable states the essay.
This is exactly correct for the political system in the United States and still accurate for how history is
taught. For example, if the US was to commit a war crime with good intentions and that event was to go
down in history, only the good intentions would be taught in school. All in all, the idea of doublethink,
which is purposefully believing what is false while knowing the truth, plays a key role in any controlling
power maintaining their power.
Throughout history, it has always been important to maintain consistency in order to maintain
control over a population. In the case of the Party in Orwell’s 1984, this consistency is more important
than ever. As Winston Smith exercised along with the telescreen’s routine, he thought deeply about the
past shifts in alliance that Oceania had with Eastasia and Eurasia. Winston questioned how everybody
else in Oceania believed that nothing had changed. “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party
imposed if all records told the same tale then the lie passed into history and became truth (Orwell
32). This accurately explains how, in today’s day and age, people are convinced to believe the fabricated
history is true. If a falsification is taught enough, then it will eventually be considered as truth. This
obviously doesn’t only occur in the fantasy world of Oceania systems of government today attempt to
remove inconsistencies from history. “Computer users . . . working on the NYPD headquarters' network
have edited and attempted to delete Wikipedia entries for several well-known victims of police
altercations states an article by Capital New York. This is a prime example of how history is altered for
the betterment of a single group. Here, the New Your Police Department does not want the
embarrassing facts to go down into history, so they try to change that. This all comes back to
doublethink, which Winston reads all about in Goldstein’s incredibly informative book. “Ultimately it is
by means of doublethink that the Party has been able . . . to arrest the course of history (Orwell 177).
This points out how the Party members use doublethink to know both the falsified history and the truth.
While not entirely prominent in today’s world, this was essential in Oceania in 1984. It should be
obvious that maintaining control relies heavily upon upholding consistency in what is considered true
and what is not.
Tying right into consistency, a controlling power must maintain control of the past in order to
control the present. Goldstein’s book really details the inner workings of the Party. Again in that book,
Winston continues reading: This day-to-day falsification of the past, carried out by the Ministry of
Truth, is as necessary to the stability of the regime as the work of repression and espionage carried out
by the Ministry of Love (Orwell 175). This brings to light how the “falsification of the past” is the most
important thing that occurs in the Party and is a backbone that keeps the Party standing strong.
Considering how well Orwell’s dystopia of Oceania is synonymous to North Korea, it should be no
surprise that the same events happen regularly there. “All North Korean periodicals . . . were regularly
removed from common access libraries and could only be perused by people with special permission …
This rule was obviously introduced to ensure that the changes in the policy line of the regime would
remain unnoticeable to the populace writes online newspaper The Guardian. While definitely an
exaggeration of what occurs outside of North Korea, this event still shows how frequent history can be
changed. Returning to Goldstein’s book again, Winston reads some more: “But by far the more
important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party
(Orwell 175). This shows again how in order to maintain dependability, a controlling group must change
the past to their desire. Both doublethink and consistency play into the fact that the past must always
be changed in order to convince the people what to believe.
In order to maintain consistency, a firm grip on the past is needed. In order to have that firm
grip, one must understand what is actually true and what should be true. Orwell’s doublethink, the need
to maintain a consistent leadership, and the requirement to always alter history has drastically changed
how today’s history is taught and learned. As Orwell iconically stated: Who controls the past . . .
controls the future: who controls the present controls the past (Orwell 32).
Works Cited
Branigan, Tania. "North Korea Erases Online Archives." The Guardian, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Orwell, George. 1984 with Connections. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2002. Print.
Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. London: Horizon: A Review of Literature and Art,
1946. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <>.
Weill, Kelly. "Edits to Wikipedia Pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo Traced to 1 Police Plaza." POLITICO New
York, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. <