No. History is written by the locals.
Modern Japanese history texts are criticized for portraying Japanese imperialism and its role in the subsequent war in an overly favorable light. Critics charge that these books mischaracterize the Japanese either as innocent victims or as noble heroes in this war. This is ostensibly because, having won the war, the Japanese can use the spoils to impose their version of history on the world’s children. True, except for the fact that the Japanese lost the Second World War, and only textbooks used in Japan are subjects of this criticism, not the ones in Australia, China, Siberia, or any other area in the non-existent Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
How about our other big opponent in the Second World War? German textbooks are nothing like Japanese textbooks. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) modern German textbooks portray Hitler as a villain just the way everybody else’s textbooks do. This is because there has been a sea-change in the way Germans perceive themselves. Things were very different after another failed German war effort: the First World War. It was easy for German reactionaries to blame German surrender on socialist “traitors”, shielding the Kaiser’s army from the shame of defeat on the battlefield - not exactly “winners’ history”.
Who won the conflict in Vietnam (1950s to 1970s)? The North Vietnamese. Do American school children learn Ho Chi Minh’s version of the events in that war? No. Granted, America didn’t exactly lose that war, but we definitely didn’t win either. Reunification of Vietnam under Hanoi’s terms hasn’t prevented the non-winning side from having its own version of events.
In the U.S., Northerners often charge that the Civil War was about slavery, yet Southerners seem to feel it was more of a matter of states’ rights. I’m not interested here in who is right, I’m just wondering how each side can have a different version of events … did both sides win? It would be easier to argue that both sides lost, but that’s not the point. The point is, no amount of carpet-bagging, Confederate Battle Flag-burning, or Gettysburg Address-quoting has convinced loads of Southerners of the typical Northern version of events leading up to the War of Southern Aggression.
All I’m saying is, let’s get our terminology right. It’s easy for an American to confuse the concept of “winners” with the concept of “locals” because we’ve won so many wars and lost so few. But the concepts are not synonymous, or even related. And certainly, there are counter-examples.
Feel free to add more examples or counter-examples. Does anyone know how the Vietnam wars are portrayed by the other non-winning sides (France, Australia, South Korea)? How about non-war situations? Comments on the early Soviet space program thread got me thinking about this … does anyone know how the Russians portray their successes and failures in this area? Other peacetime examples…?