Written by the Winners

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"On this battleground in 1886, 300 Native Americans lost their lives, and 4 brave Americans lost their hats". Oh, those poor hats!

"If you win, you need not have to explain.
If you lose, you should not be there to explain!"
Adolf Hitler note 

When the official history of the setting is overwritten by the ones in power and their Propaganda Machine. As such the real heroes and good guys are given Historical Villain Upgrade, the bad guys build a Cult of Personality around their actions and all the bad sides of the past is submitted to a Rose Tinted Narrative.

In Real Life and actual history, it is certainly true that historical accounts can be subject to the personal bias of the writer and readers have to be wary of them, which is what the saying warns us about. However, applying the saying in such a simplistic manner can potentially be as reductive, misleading, and more importantly just as binary as "the winners' narrative". To say that history is written by the winners should mean that we should treat both the winners and losers fairly and not present a one-sided view. Academic historians would qualify this by stating that our knowledge about our past, certain figures and events, is based only on a few sources and furthermore, our understanding of history is never static and unchanging. History is, in truth, written and rewritten by all sorts of people with different agendas. Historiography is a separate discipline that actually studies and keeps track of how people's opinions about the past and certain events change throughout history. The reason for those changes is that people who win in one era, would lose in the other and their conquerors will be as generous to the defeated as they were to their defeated. Likewise, "winners" and "losers" mean a variety of things. In the military-political sense, losers at times do end up writing history; since they've often been deprived of actual power after their defeat, they often spend their time sulking and writing about how things would have been so much better had they won - just ask a Neo-Nazi or a Confederate apologist. The "real" actual and potential losers in this situation would be in the racial-economical sense, (African-Americans, Jews, LGBT and other minorities).

Also worth pointing out that not every "winner" is going to be slick and sly about their crimes, simply because they don't view them as crimes. Many of history's "winners" will be surprisingly honest about atrocities or even write proudly of how they brutally crushed their opponents, because it would serve their self-interest and their careerist aspirations. For example, Caesar wrote of his borderline genocide of the Gauls in his personal memoirs, and historians doubt that account and other Roman accounts only because they feel Caesar is exaggerating, not only his actions but also those of his enemies, since Romans always did like painting its wars as "defensive" and their victories as underdog triumphs, so historians are skeptical about the moments when Romans invoke Worthy Opponent on their enemies as well. It likewise appealed to the vanity and pride of an Empire to preserve trophies and symbols of their conquest of foreign peoples, after all if the winner is writing a history, they would need losers to make themselves and their achievements look special. You can't be a King without a Kingdom and a People to rule over, so in every work of propaganda there are, for lack of a better term, Freudian Slip and other bits and moments that actually do allow the multitude to peep over the shoulder of their rulers. It's also worth pointing out the most obvious fact that even people on the same side will often disagree wildly on events and motivations.

This is also connected with Grey and Gray Morality and Morality Kitchen Sink in that picking one side of the story over the other in this context does not necessarily make it correct. After all, Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters.

A prime belief of every Conspiracy Theorist. Sub-trope of Might Makes Right. Supertrope of Internal Retcon and Pop-Cultural Osmosis and Hollywood History. Contrast You Cannot Kill An Idea.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The motto of Big Bad Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin.
  • In Scrapped Princess, Earth was conquered by the aliens who then rewrote history, presenting the heroes of La Résistance and Les Collaborateurs as evil and good gods, respectively.
  • In One Piece, this is more or less the case with the Void Century, though it's less "written" and more "entirely ignored". The World Government absolutely forbids any research into the century immediately prior to their founding. They will murder anyone and raze entire islands to keep that secret. The only record of that time is found on indestructible tablets called Poneglyphs, written in a dead language that only one living person knows how to read. Others could before, and the government had them systematically killed.
    • This trope is an explicit belief held by Donquixote Doflamingo, who says that whoever wins the war between the World Government and Whitebeard will be the ones to define what "Justice" means. Considering that Doflamingo is one of the descendants of the "winners," this is not surprising in the least.
  • Saint Seiya - Cancer Deathmask subscribes to this theory, but was in the wrong side of the conflict. However, in the Hades arc, he could've been subscribing to this and just been smart for once.
  • One of the tools that 20th Century Boys' Friend uses to win over all of Japan and, later, the rest of the world. It's so much easier to be a Villain with Good Publicity when the public at large is convinced that you saved the world instead of from that Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
  • In Death Note, Light tells the Task Force that if Kira wins, he's justice, if he loses, evil. He loses.
  • Ravages Of Time so literally runs on this trope that in chapter 209, a historian employed by Prime Minister Cao Cao discusses with an old friend named Chen Gong how the historian is going to demonize the prior Prime Minister to make the current one look better.
    Chen Gong: That's what happens after a dynasty change. In order to justify the rule, the enemy would have to take all the blame. Historians are but tools for propaganda.
  • The backstory of the former La Résistance in the anime of RideBack, which becomes a global military, is only vaguely discussed to the mostly-cheerful populace, but there is clearly some betrayal that forms the antagonism between former teammates.
  • In Pandora Hearts, it turns out that the most detailed records of the Tragedy of Sablier were written by Arthur Barma, who was manipulated by Jack Vessalius. Jack was the one who tried to throw the former capital into the Abyss, killed Glen Baskerville and put all the blame on him. As a result, the Baskervilles and their allies were treated like criminals for a century.
  • In Campione!, Athena used to be Queen of the Gods, as well as the Goddess of Death. Then Zeus defeated her in battle and took over as ruler. He rewrote history and the myths so that her true role was forgotten and she was demoted to being one of his daughters. This is the underlying principle of all Divine Ancestors. Earth goddesses defeated by warrior gods have their power stolen and memories sealed, rendering them obedient daughters or wives of the victor. This usually appears in mythology as a hero conquering a dragon (earth goddesses often manifest as dragons) and rescuing a maiden.
  • In Attack on Titan the history of the Eldian people sees this from both sides. During their reign, the Eldians depicted themselves as bringers of civilization and wealth; the Marleyans who replaced them depict the Eldians as bloodthirsty racists who tried to exterminate the Marleyans. Even their link to the Titans is subject to this, with Eldians claiming it as a divine blessing and the Marleyans as a demonic pact. Owl admits the truth is likely lost at this point, but probably lies somewhere between the extremes. The Eldians were imperfect humans and so could not have been perfect rulers; at the same time their rule was so long that if they had truly tried to exterminate the Marleyans none would remain.
  • Gate: Three years before the main story, the Empire invaded the Kingdom of the Warrior Bunnies. The Warrior Bunnies fought back, but Queen Tyuule realized that if this continued, they would lose. She bravely offered herself to Prince Zorzal as a Sex Slave if he would spare her people. Unfortunately, he took her as a slave and then had the Kingdom razed anyway, with anyone who couldn't escape killed or enslaved. The Empire then recorded in their public records that Tyuule cowardly sold out her people and offered herself to Zorzal to save her own life. As a result, the survivors hate Tyuule's guts and think she is a traitor. Sometime after Tyuule's death, the protagonists find out the truth of the matter and manage to clear her name.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Peter David's Captain Marvel, Rick Jones and Genis-Vell travel to a far-flung After the End future where the Earth is covered in desert and has been colonized by aliens. The only surviving history was written by Doctor Doom. Notably, this means that all superheroes were portrayed as evil villains who stood in the way of progress. Hitler was still a bad guy, though, because he persecuted the Roma (Doom's ethnic group).
  • In another issue of Peter David's (this time X-Factor), Quicksilver offers his own version of the phrase: "The future is written by the winners. History is written by the survivors."
  • Once upon a time, the Shi'Ar were almost destroyed by the Mephistoids, an Always Chaotic Evil race with Compelling Voice. But, in their darkest hour, T'Kyll Alabar managed to inspire bravery in the Shi'Ar troops, who fought with renewed strength and managed to turn the tide of the war and win. The Mephistoid leader was sentenced to roam the space in a Sleeper Starship, alongside the hero that defeated him. Legend Fades to Myth, until the day the ship crashed on Earth. Alabar, the living legend, explained to the Shi'Ar Deathcry that it was all Shi'Ar propaganda, that the reviled mephistoids were actually noble aliens defending their homeland from an invading Empire. And the Vision figured out something else as well. Legend says that Alabar inspired bravery on the soldiers all by himself, but does not mention how did he do it. It would be better to forget that little detail...

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Conspiracy Theorist Lemony Narrator seems to think that all of Equestria's history was rewritten by Celestia, despite clear evidence that this is not the case. However, Celestia does alter history a few times in eliminating Discord's name before his return, sealing away the records on the Crystal Empire, and altering some aspects of the Equestrian Civil War, which hints that the Lemony Narrator was not entirely incorrect.
  • Night's Favored Child: After defeating Celestia, Nightmare Moon spends the next thousand years not only removing all traces of her from history, but also of the very concept of day, including removing words like "dusk", "dawn", "sun", and (notably) "twilight" from the lexicon.
  • Legends of Equestria: When Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon, her actual goal was to re-acquire equal footing with her sister, who had taken all the power in the country for herself. Luna fully intended to restore the day and go back to business as usual afterwards. Rather than give up sole power over the country, Celestia disposed of Nightmare Moon and vilified her in the history books.
  • Pony POV Series:
    • Celestia reveals she erased Discord from the history books because, in her mind, he didn't deserve a legacy after all he'd done. She also explained that she didn't want the memory of those like Shady who were related to Discord to be tainted by association with him.
    • We later see the Sea Ponies in the Epilogue timeline are fed a completely rewritten version of history that's the complete opposite of what happened, right down to Discord blaming the Alicorns for the genocide he committed.
    • The Hooviet empire does this via propaganda, so that they never have to admit to having ever lost a war.
    • Cadence defies this after the Changeling battle: Cadence beats Chrysalis and becomes the Changeling Queen, Chrysalis dies of her injuries and is reincarnated as an innocent filly. Cadence then tells the Changelings to remember Chrysalis for the good she did, but also not deny the evil either.
  • In Black Book of Arda, one of the most prominent Russian J. R. R. Tolkien fanfics, The Silmarillion is revised this way.
  • The Last Ringbearer points out that the Red Book, which is the basis of The Lord of the Rings, is actually a history written by the winners. It's bursting full of examples. In it, the Orks and Wild Men of the south are simply people of color. The Red Book dehumanizes its enemies, makes light of Aragorn using Necromancy to defeat the Mordorians and condemns the scientific nation of Mordor as corrupters by blaming the desertification of their homeland on them. The war was started by Gandalf because the enemy technology was becoming stronger, while the magic of the eldritch elves and the wizards became only weaker as knowledge was lost. Saruman saw that the only way to stamp out science was to commit genocide and wanted nothing to do with it. Further, Aragorn taunts the Mordorian general after having him shot in the back during a honor duel: "The history books will say you got killed by a midget and a broad."
  • Bad Future Crusaders: The official story of Twilight Sparkle's rise to power is that Princess Luna once again became Nightmare Moon after Celestia's death, conveniently "forcing" Twilight to strike her down and assume complete control of the country for herself. Even those loyalist to her don't hesitate to call this out as BS (in private, at least).
  • In Of Her Story, Starlight Glimmer admits that she saw herself as the hero and Twilight Sparkle as the villain, and if she had won, the history books would have reflected that. Even though Starlight has pulled a Heel–Face Turn, she fears that history will only remember her as a lunatic who almost destroyed the world. This attitude is defied by Twilight, who asks Starlight to tell her everything about her so that it can be properly recorded.
  • The Life And Times Of A Winning Pony: In The Lunar Rebellion, the Pegasopolan ephors, and Swift Blade and Bright Charger in particular, claim that Celestia rewrote much Equestria's official history to make herself look better, considering the tale of Nightmare Moon to be a smear campaign created by Celestia after unjustly overthrowing her sister to make herself sole ruler of Equestria, and further justify their alliance with warlocks and lunar cultists by the reasoning that assigning such titles is simply a way for Celestia to discredit political opponents. Subverted in the end, as this is all portrayed as being completely incorrect — Nightmare Moon is still a self-centered Mad God, the warlocks are genuinely horrible people, and this belief in general seems to be more than anything a way for the Ephorate to retroactively justify their rebellion against Celestia — and not all ephors buy much into this line of reasoning, for that matter.

    Film 
  • The documentary The Act of Killing is essentially about what happens to society after war criminals win.
  • Braveheart, the opening monologue: "I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes." Note, however, that both the English and the Scottish were united in calling out the film for its blatant historical inaccuracies (on the Scots' side, it sidelined an even greater national hero — the future King Robert the Bruce — in favor of Wallace, whom he is falsely portrayed as betraying).
  • Evoked in The Devil's Advocate: Kevin Lomax tells John Milton that Satan and his progeny lost in the Bible, and they're destined to lose again at the end of time. Milton retorts that of course the Bible would say that, considering who it's written by. The ironic part is that the Bible has very little to say about Satan and "the Heavenly argument", and in earlier Jewish tradition, he was even considered an ally of God. Much of the Satanic role came from later traditions of Christianity and was informed by the poet John Milton's "Paradise Lost", who was famously called "of the devil's party without knowing it".
  • Directly addressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, who admitted that firebombing 63 Japanese cities and following it up with 2 nuclear bombs would be considered a war crime if not for the fact that he was on the winning side, and then wonders why that should make any difference.
  • Invoked by Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, when he sings about Sir Francis Drake:
    ". . .The Spanish all despise him / But to the British, he's a hero, and they idolize him."
  • In the Underworld movies, Viktor rewrote vampire history to appear as if he was the original vampire, when, in fact, it was another Elder, Marcus. So this is a literal case of history being written by the Viktor. Despite this, he doesn't hide the fact that Marcus is a son of the first immortal Alexander Corvinus, although he claims it's a children's story.
  • An important theme in Wang De Sheng Yan, where control over records and histories is shown to be a powerful tool. Empress Lü Zhi takes it Up to Eleven by having scribes record events that will happen to her enemies at court. The she makes them happen. Something of An Aesop about how powerful people falsify history.

    Literature 
  • Referenced in 1632 by Cardinal Richelieu, as to why he isn't surprised or bothered all that much by how villainous he looks in our uptime media.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was the whole purpose of MiniTrue (The Ministry of Truth), which constantly rewrites history to suit the Party's current needs and destroys and replaces "inaccurate" accounts and records with today's official version of events — which is in turn likely to be "corrected" again tomorrow, when the Party's needs change. ("He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past.")
  • Animorphs. Interestingly, it's the humans that do this, refusing to put Jake on trial for war crimes while happily trying Visser One for the same charge.
  • In Arcia Chronicles, The Church rewrote history of the War of the Deer to remove all positive mentions of those heroes who didn't comply with its official doctrine.
  • Artemis Fowl has a quote invoking this:
    “If I win, I'm a prodigy. If I lose, then I'm crazy. That's the way history is written.”
    • A side story in the series has a copy of Artemis' report card. The headmaster says that Artemis proposed building a Time Machine to get around this trope, and doesn't doubt Artemis would succeed if he tried.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, history classes are mandatory for commoners' children, where they're taught a version of history that uplifts the magicians on the side of the British government and casts commoners in general as weak and unable to rule. Foreign governments are vilified, and the Czechs have a particularly bad time of it, this being the ruling government prior to Britain. Questions are generally discouraged and regarded with disdain. Ironically, the government has whitewashed things so thoroughly that even the magicians themselves are never taught the full truth and actually wholeheartedly believe the state line in many things. This being ironic because if they did know the real history it would help them identify certain recurring patterns and thus, at least for a time, help them maintain their faltering power.
  • In a BattleTech novel, a character counters to someone stating this that "History is written by the survivors" and that "given my track record, you should hope I remember you fondly".
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted... kind of... in Small Gods:
      Winners don't have glorious victories. That's because they're the ones who get to see what the battlefield looks like afterwards. It's only the losers who have glorious victories.
      Most people will take any excuse they can get to have had a glorious victory, but meh...this is the Discworld, after all. And the quote is from a tortoise.
    • Another Discworld example, from Hogfather, as Susan tells a bedtime story:
      "And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions."
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Just War, the Doctor deconstructs this mindset in a Russian Roulette confrontation with a captured Nazi, pointing out that even if you get to write the history books it doesn't make you and your cause good:
    The Doctor: You can't create anything with a gun, Herr Wolfe, let alone Utopia, authority, or truth. You can dress up in a scary black uniform and talk about destiny. You can use the full power of the state to rewrite biology, mythology, genealogy, history, and geography. Burn all the books you disagree with, burn all the people who wrote or read them. Hold a parade in every street, attend a thousand Party rallies. Gang up on the weak, persecute the minorities. Win the war. It still won't make you right.
  • In The Egyptian, Sinuhe muses that due to Horemheb's rewriting of history, no one will ever remember the three Pharaohs that preceded him: Ay, Tutankhamon and Achenaton. Horemheb was, obviously, less than successful.
  • Played with in Ender's Game. The eponymous character wins the war, and then goes on to write its history from his defeated enemy's point of view, leading him to be vilified as a war criminal for thousands of years. The winners write the history books, but that doesn't mean they have to cast themselves as the heroes.
  • This is a major theme in For Want of a Nail, an Alternate History of the North American continent following a quelled The American Revolution. The In-Universe persona of the author has very little sympathy for them, and is called out on it by an In-Universe peer review at the end of the book, who invokes this trope to some extent.
  • A couple examples from Larry Niven's Known Space universe where victors wrote the original history of a colony world:
    • In A Gift From Earth, the official histories say that the social stratification of Plateau was initially agreed upon by the crew and colonists because the crew had done the work and taken the risks. In fact, the original crew "convinced" the original colonists at gunpoint.
    • In Fleet of Worlds, the official histories say that the Puppeteers rescued a crippled human colony ship and settled its occupants on one of their worlds. In fact, the Puppeteers themselves had attacked the ship out of panic that it had discovered one of the worlds being moved into the fleet, and then enslaved the occupants in order to breed a compliant population.
  • Orientalism by the Palestinian-American critic Edward W. Said is a non-fiction work that explores in detail how colonialist nations abuse their control of the media and command of universities and textbooks to spread stereotypes and Flanderization of a complex, subtle and regionally diverse culture and how this comes to define the general perception of the Middle East well into the 20th Century.
  • The same is done in Reflections of Eterna, particularly in the prequel Flame of Eterna: Rinaldi Rakan was sentenced to death by his royal brother and left in history as a monster, while he was framed by his brother and Beatrix Borrasque. In the Taligoian Ballad, his distant descendant Ramiro Alva was killed by Alan Oakdell for regicide and betraying the Cabitela City to the Maragonian Bastard. 400 years later, the last will of the "murdered" king was found and revealed that the king himself ordered Ramiro to give up the city.
  • Subverted in the Alternate History novel Resurrection Day, in which the Cuban Missile Crisis turned into WW 3. The Soviet Union has been obliterated while the United States has been reduced to a virtual Third World country. President Kennedy, who died in the war, has been blamed for the situation, but the actual culprit is the General Ripper who now runs the US as a military dictatorship. As one character states, in this case history has been written by the survivors.
  • Santa and Pete: where young Pete asks his amateur historian grandfather, "Who was right, the Indians or the Dutch?" His grandpa laughs and answers, "Depends on who's telling the story."
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire deals with this trope. In the present timeline, Robert Baratheon is loved as a glorious rebel king but hated by Targaryen loyalists for being The Usurper. Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who was regarded as The Wise Prince in his lifetime, is smeared after his death as a rapist and villain.
    • The tragic and poignant consequences of this trope is explored more subtly in The Sworn Sword in the case of Ser Eustace Osgrey who lost his entire family fighting for the defeated Blackfyres but continues to believe that their fight was just and honorable. He claims that because the Blackfyres lost the rebellion they're condemned as traitors and rebels, but had they won they'd be idealized heroes.
    • Played with over the events of the Dance of the Dragons, particularly in that there were no winners. Black history books portray Rhaenyra as a woman trying to reclaim her birthright from a murderous usurper and his scheming mother. Green history books portray her as a mentally unstable harlot who tried to steal the throne from her brother, male-preference primogeniture be damned. In all reality, it's become increasingly clear that they were both mentally unstable murderers, and were not so different. Aegon had Rhaenyra eaten by his dragon in front of her son, as well as having one of his supporters murder Rhaenyra's son for seeking support with the Baratheons. in retaliation, Rhaenyra had two men sneak into the Red Keep and force a mother to choose which of her children she wanted dead, and then proceed to murder the other one, so the living child would spend the rest of his life knowing his mother wanted him dead. What would have happened had either of them kept the throne may never be known, but it probably wouldn't have been good.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Lost Stars shows that the Empire wasted no time doing this after its establishment: There's a scene where protagonists Thane and Ciena, who were born the year the Empire was established, are studying for a history class in their Imperial school. They're specifically studying how the Clone Wars started, and the version they learned in school portrays Jedi Master Mace Windu as the leader of a criminal gang that interfered with a legal execution on Geonosis. Anyone who's seen Attack of the Clones will know that's ... incorrect.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Addressed but averted in Timothy Zahn's Vision of the Future:
      Shada: What do you mean by "true" [history]? What does anyone mean by "true"? We all know history is Written by the Winners.
      Jorj Car'das: History is also written by the bystanders... peoples who had no park or stake in what happened. Would you accuse them all of lying?
  • The Sundering reimagines The Lord of the Rings with an aversion of this trope.
  • Swordspoint: In The Fall of the Kings, earlier in the setting world's history, the kings and their wizards were overthrown and the ruling nobility burned all the works about magic that they could find and made it illegal even to claim that magic was real. This causes some frustration for one of the protagonists, a historian living 200 years later who has trouble finding reliable sources for his research on the wizards. Especially when he proposes a debate to prove that the wizards' magic was real, disregarding the fact that the aforementioned law is still on the books...
  • The book Victoria is literally written by the winners, being the in-universe memoirs of the Christian Marines' supreme commander. Small wonder all the enemies are cartoonishly evil and incompetent.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game. Gregor hasn't heard any of the stories about his father except stuff he could dismiss as propaganda. Miles is able to assure him that the stories he has heard are not all true.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: After conquering the Narns a second time, the Centauri lay the blame for the conflict squarely on their shoulders, to the point of placing every member of the Narn ruling council on trial for war crimes (this just after the Centauri used orbital bombardment with meteors on the Narn homeworld, something which is outlawed by every civilized government in the setting). Then again, the two powers have been taking stabs at each other ever since the Centauri overthrew the Narns the first time. And the Centauri are still not willing to acknowledge that the first time even happened either. They keep claiming that they landed peacefully on Narn and uplifted the primitives, who repaid their generosity with violence. The Narn on the other hand claim they peacefully greeted the strange alien visitors, who then conquered and enslaved them. Given that G'Kar's father was hung from a tree by his thumbs until he died three days later (for the crime of accidentally spilling a cup of tea on a Centauri woman), it renders the Centauri account a bit questionable.
  • Tom Zarek uses this theory to gloss over murdering Laird and The Quorum on Battlestar Galactica. He loses.
    • Not that it mattered since history was one of the many, many things that the Colonials decided to jettison upon reaching Earth.
  • Blackadder shows how Henry Tudor, after winning the War Of The Roses, completely removed Richard IV and his family from the historical timeline and changed Richard III into a child-killing madman.
  • Becomes a plot point in the Community episode "Alternative History of the German Invasion", which helps the study group come to a Heel Realization regarding their presence at Greendale.
  • Farscape: A variation in that they didn't really "win", but the version of the Peacekeeper battle against the Venek Horde that Aeryn relates in "Different Destinations". Subofficer Dacon was a cook and only ended up negotiating the ceasefire because everyone else was killed. Alternatively, if this is a case of a Stable-ish Time Loop, he was just following Aeryn's instructions in the first place.
  • Generation Kill gives us a more "unique" interpretation of this trope.
    Sgt. Eric Kocher: If something happens to me, I want my wife to know the truth. If they say we fought valiantly here, I want her to know we fought retarded.
  • Lost Girl. Trick mentions that this is the only reason people have a favorable opinion of the ancient Blood King. Considering that the Blood King has reality warping powers when writing with his blood, he may mean this literally. Also, since Trick is the Blood King, this doubles as him recognizing his own past crimes and mistakes.
  • The Man in the High Castle: This trope is in full effect here.
    • Several characters of the Greater Nazi Reich sometimes mention the "American genocide", referring to the mass murder of the Indians in their history. By accentuating these negative events, the victors portray the Americans they conquered as a savage people with a tendency to brutally kill off whoever gets in their way, making the victors look more sympathetic (or, alternatively, as proof that the Americans already had Nazi-like tendencies before the Axis invaded).
    • The Nazis also refer to their genocide against the Jews as their war against Semite terrorists. This chillingly shows that the winners of a war can portray the losers as terrible as they want them to be, distracting the people from their own wrongdoings.
    • The opening of Season 2 shows some Nazi students praising the fact that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned 600 and 300 slaves, respectively. It is fitting since in our timeline, these facts are glossed over or underappreciated.
  • Crops up in the Once Upon a Time episode "Tallahassee". Captain Hook tells the Human-Giant wars as a war against brutal giants who came down to pillage the land and kill humans. Humans drove them back up the beanstalk, and killed all but one, the most vicious of them all. The last surviving giant claims humans started the war and slaughtered giants for no real reason, but since they won got to paint history how they wanted.The giant was telling the truth. Humans started the war for the giant's gold and magic beans, and gleefully slaughtered them.
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer invokes this with regard to Robert Scott, pointing out that his diary is the only record of Laurence Oates' Heroic Sacrifice, and that if Rimmer had been Scott he'd have bludgeoned Oates to death with a frozen husky and eaten him, telling everyone that he had sacrificed himself. As is immediately pointed out by Lister, however, Rimmer is an exceptionally self-centred and ignoble person.
  • Julius Caesar in Rome is a walking, talking example of this.
    Caesar: It's only hubris if I fail.
  • Spartacus: War of the Damned:
    • Invoked. Crassus muses that both he and Spartacus see themselves as the hero of the tale, and their opponent as the villain. Crassus then states that only history will judge who the hero was; he, of course, wins.
    • Defied, however, by Agron, who swears that it is ultimately Spartacus who history will see as the hero.
    Agron: One day, Rome will crumble and fall. But your name will be remembered forever.
  • Referenced in Stargate SG-1. Woolsey initially helps Kinsey in trying to shut down the SGC. He eventually realizes what kind of person Kinsey is, and then gives the President evidence of Kinsey's crimes. The following conversation then takes place:
    Woolsey: I also hope that one day history recognizes that I tried to do the right thing.
    President Hayes: Whose version of history, Mr. Woolsey?
  • Star Trek: Voyager - In an inversion, in the episode "Living Witness", the history was written from the perspective of the losers who were relegated to second class citizenry, and the winning faction was very annoyed at being portrayed as vicious, bloodthirsty tyrants who slaughtered innocents and made martyrs out of people that turned out to be pirates and raiders. As it turns out, both sides weren't exactly saints to begin with. Ultimately subverted at the end of the episode when we flash forward to the future to see that both sides have reconciled their differences (thanks in large part to the Doctor). The old anti-Voyager propaganda simulations are still on display, but only as an example of how past prejudices once pushed them apart.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • "Contagion": Picard says this in reference to the Iconians.
    • "Unification" has Picard asking for some help from his good buddy Gowron. Gowron himself was letting the press know that he did not have as much help from Picard as there really was; this trope's name was given word for word.
    • "The High Ground" has Kyril Finn point out to a captive Dr. Crusher that if George Washington had lost his war, he'd be remembered as a terrorist, and not a revolutionary.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - the two-parter "The Way of the Warrior", Gowron quotes it again just before the Klingon fleet and Deep Space Nine engage in battle.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise. The Mirror Universe episode opens with the conclusion of Star Trek: First Contact, but instead of returning the Vulcan's Strange Salute, Mirror!Zephram Cochrane pulls out a shotgun and murders him, whereupon the humans storm the spaceship brandishing firearms. Mirror!Archer is later shown proudly showing off this shotgun from his antique Wall of Weapons.
    Archer: I wonder how history would have played out if Cochrane hadn't turned the tables on your invasion force.

    Music 

     Professional Wrestling 
  • Since WCW was bought out, WWE mostly only provides its own account of the Monday Night Wars, and spends a lot of time mocking WCW for its silly gimmicks (while the WWF had plenty of its own) and the mismanagement that led to its downfall. You'll seldom hear much about why Nitro beat Raw in their ratings war for so long, just that it happened. ECW, on the other hand, gets treated like a Worthy Opponent and gets much more respect (perhaps because it's more marketable, perhaps because they were writing checks to ECW during its run). WWE will seldom admit to getting most of their ideas from ECW during their so called "attitude era" all the same.
    • In the past decade it seems as if this trend has slowly been changing. Eric Bischoff wrote his pro-WCW, anti-WWE expose book Controversy Creates Cash while still working for WWE. And with Sting's long-awaited arrival in WWE in 2014, the WCW legacy has been getting a lot more respect from its vanquisher, with Triple H depicted as a heel for wanting to expunge Sting's existence from the wrestling archives. Heck, at the WrestleMania match between these two, D-Generation X were the heels and the New World Order (one of the most notorious heel stables of all time) were the faces!

    Religion 
  • Virtually every religious text will describe the founder of their religion as a impossibly perfect and good human being. They're all basically hagiographies in which you're never able to check how much of it is true or how much less heroic stuff has been left out.
    • This goes so far that some theologians in fact apply a "rule of embarrassment" to find out which things are likely to have happened. A tale of Jesus being wrong would have no place in a hagiography and hence some theologians argue that it only found its way into a story written by a Christian because it actually happened.
  • Some Satan Is Good beliefs held this about The Bible which would make some sense if only because the modern idea of Satan and the role of the Devil is more or less medieval traditions, fused with left-over paganism and is not really part of classical Judaism.
  • Hijacked by Jesus is this trope for some scholars who note that a lot of pagan myths and beliefs, especially Norse Mythology were written down after most of its original practitioners and faithful were converted and unlike Greek, Roman and Hindu myths we don't have works written by the people who believed in it.
  • Averted in Classical Mythology, where it is established that Chronos ruled over a Golden Age, so the Olympians didn't bother to hide that.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Eberron, there was the War of the Mark, the first half of which was basically genocide preformed by the dragon mark houses against those with aberrant dragon marks, and the second half was a war because the victimized party got organized and put up a valiant effort; anyways, it didn't end well. Most people don't like and fear aberrant dragon mark wielders, although the extent of the prejudice is up to the DM. The dragon marked houses, however, are quite accepted, and while many people know of the War of the Mark (despite it happening almost 2,500 years ago), almost none know what actually happened.
  • This helps explain the untidiness affecting a lot of Warhammer 40,000's backstory. The Space Wolves know that the Thousand Sons were traitorous sorcerers that their forebearers rightfully punished for using forbidden magics, while the Thousand Sons know they suffered an unjust and unprovoked attack ordered by the Emperor they up until then had loyally served. The Horus Heresy novels reveal that while the Thousand Sons were using sorcery, they were trying to warn the Emperor about the imminent rebellion, but then the true traitor, Warmaster Horus, changed the Space Wolves' orders from "bring in for questioning" to "kill them all," and the psyker-hating Space Wolves were happy to oblige. Nowadays the idea that the Space Wolves were played or that the Emperor should have believed the Thousand Sons' warning are treated as heresy.
    • Another example is the history of the Dark Angels. Outsiders know the chapter to be one of the original First Founding legions and exemplars of loyalty. The chapter itself is wracked with guilt over how fully half their members turned traitor during the Horus Heresy, a secret they jealously guard and which drives them to obsessively hunt these Fallen Angels. Meanwhile, there's hints that the Dark Angels' primarch may have been sitting out the civil war altogether, and the "Fallen" were merely defending themselves against their possibly traitorous kin...
      • This Trope and the Lion's ultimate allegiance are dealt with in the Age of Darkness anthology story Savage Weapons, Lion'el is absolutely loyal to the Emperor, but his campaign against the Night Lords, and the Chaos Gods' intervention in the Warp will prevent him from ever reaching Terra to aid in the defence. Night Haunter himself directly taunts Jonson stating that the Lion's character will always be questioned because he not was at Terra.
  • Paranoia: It's the year 214. It's always the year 214. We are at war with the Communists, always were, and always will be. The Computer Is Your Friend, and this is the history the Computer tells you. Questioning the Computer's history of the world is treason. Treason is punishable by death.
  • The history of the Realm in Exalted proclaims there was a time when the world was ruled over by demonic "Anathema" who harrowed and tormented mankind, and it was only through the overwhelming force of the Dragon-Blooded that they were driven back into the shadows. While this isn't entirely inaccurate from what sometimes happened under the rule of the Solars, it sure does obscure a lot of the nuances.
    • Some of it is flat out wrong — namely, they say that the Anathema are humans possessed by demons (or demons in human form) rather than humans given power by gods that steadily drives them mad.

    Theatre 
  • The majority of William Shakespeare's Histories (That is: King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VIII) feature this to a greater or lesser degree, seeing as how Shakespeare wrote histories for the winners, his 'sponsors' The House of Tudor and since he, without any inkling, became the most important and influential writer in the centuries that followed, the Tudor-Shakespeare propaganda is and remains Pop-Cultural Osmosis. The other wiki's article is a brief introduction to this.
  • The Wizard's song "Wonderful" in Wicked is all about this. ("A man's called a traitor — or a liberator. A rich man's a thief — or philanthropist. Is one a crusader, or ruthless invader? It's all in which label is able to persist.") Of course, he's used this to his advantage by wielding the Propaganda Machine against his political opponents.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, the musical, has the Villain Song called "A Story Told", referring to how "history is a story told by the men who make the laws". The three conspirators convene and choose to frame Edmond Dantés for crimes to further their own cause with the understanding that because he can't disprove the accusation, he will be remembered as guilty by everyone, and that's more real to the rest of the world than what actually happened.
  • Invoked mockingly in The Complete History Of America Abridged:
    "I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, 'History is written by the winners.' Well, tonight it's our turn."

    Video Games 
  • Valkyria Chronicles: The known history has The Valkyria as demigods who arrived from the north and saved the land from the Darcsen race, who were fighting devastating wars with Ragnite weapons. The Valkyria are still worshiped as gods and saviors, and the Darcsen are prosecuted and marginalized. In truth, the Darcsen were peaceful, and the Valkyria were invaders who enslaved them - as well as causing enormous destruction with their ragnite weapons. They rewrote history to suit themselves, and hid the truth from all but their own descendants.
  • Star Trek: Birth of the Federation - When you choose to play the Cardassians, their opening claims this as one of their motivating principles.
  • Dragon Age: Origins: Discussed. At the Dalish Camp, the Warden can walk in on a Dalish storyteller recounting the history of his people, and how they were conquered and basically enslaved by Andrastian humans for refusing to convert to the worship of the human Maker. If a non-Dalish Warden points out that the Chantry says that the elves weren't so innocent either (kidnapped human children for human sacrifice blood magic rituals, attacked the helpless human village of Red Crossing, etc), he'll counter that history is written by the winners, and since humans won that war of course they'll demonize the elves to justify what they did to them afterwards (invaded, conquered, and stole their homeland; forced their people to convert or hide out in the woods; kept those who did convert as second-class citizens, etc).
  • Fire Emblem Tellius reminds you that Chaos Is Evil. Uh, then you uncover the millenium-long cover-up setup by the one survivor of the Law vs Chaos War. And he's the King of Dragons!
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones has a variant of this. The common myth is that the Demon King was defeated by the "Five Heroes" led by Grado. It turns out that the "Five Heroes" were led by Morva, the leader of the dragonkin. Together, they defeat the Demon King; Morva is even the one to land the killing blow. However, as centuries pass, the human nations which the heroes founded eventually forgot about Morva. The people of Caer Pelyn are rather unhappy about this, believing the other nations are being ungrateful to the Great Dragon who saved mankind, but Morva himself doesn't really mind.
  • ''Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword has a rather half-hearted version of this. The prologue states that the Scouring, a brutal war between dragons and humans, began when humans broke the peace for no explained reason. Yet it doesn't go on to question the fact that the human "heroes" of that war are held in religious reverence and the one who joins your party is something of the mentor.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, quite a bit of the legend of Mithos the Hero is false, created by Mithos himself.
  • In Last Scenario, pretty much all of the standard history is a load of crap. This is used as part of the game's subversion of Video Game Tropes of all kinds, as it means the opening Info Dump lies to you.
  • Legacy of Kain
    • Legacy Of Kain: Defiance This is what Raziel says upon finding out what the Hylden have to say about their war with the Ancients.
    • In Blood Omen 2, Kain combines this with In Their Own Image;
    Kain: "Oh, Sebastian. Our destiny could have been glorious. The land was ours for the taking. History would have been rewritten in our image."
  • This point is made by Captain Price and General Shepherd in Modern Warfare 2. One of them is very much counting on it.
    History is written by the victor. History is filled with liars.
  • Assassin's Creed posits that all of history is deliberately distorted by The Knights Templar to strengthen their position, cover up their existence, and vilify the Assassins. This Hand Wave permits the dev team to stuff the series with exquisite research while still taking creative license with history when necessary for the sake of the story.
  • Invoked in the Thief series, as the Keepers' motto is "Propaganda is written by the winners. History is written by the observer."
  • In Red Dead Redemption, after the final mission, no matter how high or low you go on the Karma Meter, Edgar Ross sees to it that John Marston is remembered by most as a vile monster.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics is full of this trope. Saint Ajora, the leading messiah of the Church, was not a saint, but in fact a human possessed by a demon at best, and a actual demon at worst. The official history of Ramza has him as a heretic and usurper, while the truth is that he was just as influential, if not more so, in the kingdom's history that the eventual peasant king Delita. The Church, however, refused to acknowledge his role as his actions would have exposed massive corruption and generally unethical behavior, and suppressed everything that tried to tell the truth, including burning the author of the Durai Reports at the stake as a heretic. Possibly subverted by the Durai Reports though, causing Ramza to be Vindicated by History.
  • In Guild Wars, White Mantle history records Saul D'Alessio's final battle against the Charr as a defeat. In fact, D'Alessio won the battle, but his gods murdered most of his followers and abducted him, never to be seen again. Ironically, this would lead to D'Alessio being villified by the people who overthrew the White Mantle when he would have likely sympathized with their cause.
    • Charr history of the Searing and the following war against Adelbern has been written largely to reflect the glory of their victories, excising all mention of how it was Shamans who gave them their greatest victories and the important role of the Ebon Vanguard in killing their "gods".
    • Likewise, Ascalonian history tends to focus on the Charr attempting to invade from the north many times before the Searing while conveniently glossing over the fact that Ascalon used to be Charr territory before the humans invaded, drove them north, and built a wall to keep them out.
  • Mentioned by developers of League of Legends as the reason why Demacia is perceived as "good", while Noxus is "evil".
    • The Journal of Justice is written by the League (neutral organization) and averts this trope (see also Morgana vs Kayle).
  • Mentioned in the Russian campaign of Empire Earth.
  • The Fallout 3 expansion Operation: Anchorage has this as part of its backstory — a General Chase commissioned an elaborate virtual reality simulation of the Alaska campaign of the Sino-American War, in which he played a key role. But instead of serving as an adviser, he kept tweaking and changing the script, even as the world shuddered towards nuclear war, until the events depicted in the simulation bore little resemblance to what actually happened (including entirely fictional Chinese secret weapons). The technicians developing the program privately worried that the man had gone insane. Then they all died in a nuclear apocalypse.
  • The aptly named Borderlands 2 mini-mission "Written By The Victors" has you take a quick tour of the history of Hyperion and Handsome Jack. Naturally, every word of it is utter bull.
    • Hyperion hasn't "won" anything yet, but they're winning, and they own the news media on Pandora. Hyperion spreads its version of events through Hyperion Truth Broadcasting, where DJ Hunter Hellquist is always spinning reality to make Handsome Jack look like the hero and the Crimson Raiders look like the most vile villains imaginable. Luckily, you get to shoot him in the face.
  • In Captain Qwark's log in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, he claims to have defeated the previous game's final boss, which ate him before Ratchet defeated it.
  • Baten Kaitos is centered around the aftereffects of an ancient mythical battle between the god of evil and the gods of good. The prequel reveals that this essentially has the morality of the parties backwards - it's just that the good guys (who were a group, not an individual as history recorded) had made a Deal with the Devil with an unrelated and forgotten third party.
  • In Dragon Ball Online, it is revealed in the guide Dragon Ball Online Chronicles that the majority of humans in the future have forgotten the protagonists' existence in favor of Mr. Satan.
  • Singularity has a variation:
    Demichev: History is rewritten by the victors. YOU LOST-
    *Renko shoots the pistol out of Demichev's hand*
  • In Robopon, Dr. Zero calls out Prince Tail for this; the King was defeated by Zero and only 'won' due to nearly killing him, but told everyone that he defeated Zero to begin with.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In the backstory, as shown most prominently in Morrowind: Because of Nerevar's death, the disappearance of the Dwemer, Dagoth Ur's presumed death, and the fact that Azura is a Daedric Prince who doesn't often openly communicate with mortals, the Tribunal were the only ones present for the events following the Battle of Red Mountain left in a position to declare how the events there took place. As such, the Tribunal Temple's official story about what happened is the most widely accepted version, even though it is clearly the version most full of Blatant Lies and Metaphorical Truths out of those that comprise The Rashomon once you've done a little research. All stories to the contrary are considered heresy, kept alive only by the actions of the Ashlander Nerevarine Cult and the Dissident Priests.
    • Speaking of the Dwemer, following their disappearance, the only groups in positions to know much about the Dwemer were the Dunmer (having been turned from the Chimer) and the Nords, both of whom warred with the Dwemer and wouldn't have had any reason to say anything good about them. In the years that followed, the Dwemer would be demonized by the Dunmer and popularized by ahistorical tales like Marobar Sul's Ancient Tales of the Dwemer series. Not helping matters is that their language was quickly lost after their disappearance, making it impossible for anyone to read the Dwemer's own records. (A means of translation was discovered around the time of Morrowind, but was apparently lost again by the time of Skyrim 200 years later.)
    • Also from the backstory, the Ayleids (Wild Elves) are the "losers" to the Alessian Empire "winners". While there is plenty of evidence that the Ayleids committed atrocities against their human slaves, there has almost certainly been some exaggeration of the centuries since. Even though several rebel Ayleid lords supported Alessia during the revolt and were permitted to keep their lands and culture after the war, even they would be demonized once the monkey prophet Marukh came to power and founded the Alessian Order. In addition to the persecution of any elves within the empire, the Order also destroyed any records and cultural artifacts of the Ayleids that could be found. Eventually, only the (almost certainly heavily biased) Imperial records of the Alessian Revolt remained.
    • In another backstory example, The ancient Falmer (Snow Elves) were nearly exterminated in a war with Ysgramor and his 500 Companions from Atmora. As part of destroying all traces of the Falmer culture in Skyrim that he could find, Ysgramor also destroyed any evidence of anything that happened other than what his official histories record. For instance, he claims that the Falmer attack on Saarthal was "unprovoked". However, surviving records of the Elves claim that the attack was in response to repeated "provocations and blasphemies" committed by the early Nords.
    • Additionally, the Septim Empire would later play up the relationship between Alessia's Nedic people (ancestors of most of the modern races of Men) and the Nords, whose support Tiber Septim badly needed to forge his empire. The Nedes were extinct as a unique race centuries before Septim's rise to power.
    • Between Oblivion and Skyrim, the Thalmor took credit for ending the Oblivion Crisis which brought them great support in their homeland. They assassinated Potentate Ocato 10 years later, irreparably destabilizing the Third Cyrodiilic Empire. Under their leadership, the Altmer quickly seceded and annexed Valenwood in order to reform the Aldmeri Dominion of old (and to give them a buffer state between their homeland and Cyrodiil). They then took credit for resolving a crisis with the moons that brought them Elsweyr, homeland of the Khajiit, as a client state.

    Webcomics 
  • Blindsprings’ winners are the Academists and the losers are Orphics. Cue 300 years of Fantastic Racism, Unequal Rites style.
  • Discussed by the messenger of the Conclave in Roommates, when he declared the winner of the Kings War arc and said winner protested the late intervention:
    Ariel: History is written by the winners, not in the middle.
    • And as the spin-off Girls Next Door parodied it, when the Sarah (the winner) got confronted with the distorted account of her adventure:
    Jareth: History is written by he who rules despotically over the goblin scribes.

    Web Original 
  • One of the SCP Foundation's more bizarre entries is Bigfoot. According to the general clearance section, just seeing it causes you to have a percentile chance of instantly dying that increases the longer you spend looking at it. Except that's complete bull. The truth is that Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti were a nocturnal sentient race far more advanced than humans, being masters of Organic Technology, while humans were basically their own wild men of the forest. Man went from hunted to hunter, destroying 70% of their population in a single day and using their newly-acquired technology to rewrite the Sasquatch and their own memories to what we know today. They can communicate, and this is what they have to say:
    we forgive you;
    given choice for now, not forever;
    let us back in
  • Spoofed on Twitter by the popular comedy account The Tweet Of God:
    People say history is written by the winners, but actually history is written by historians, and most of them are losers.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Headband", Aang (in disguise) attends a Fire Nation school for a day. During the class's history lesson, the teacher quizzes the students on how Fire Lord Sozin defeated the "Air Nation Army". Of course, Aang (and the viewers) know full well that the Air Nomads were a mostly peaceful population of monks, who didn't even have an established government, much less an army, and that Sozin's attack against them wasn't so much a battle as it was outright genocide. When Aang tries to point this out, the teacher snaps that, unless he was actually around 100 years ago, he shouldn't be questioning the Fire Nation's history books. Aang's quest to topple the Fire Lord would ultimately fix this.
  • In the Christmas Episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the quartet gets taken back to the time of A Christmas Carol and accidentally catch the spirits of Christmas past, present, and yet to come. Now with nothing existing to make him undergo his Heel–Face Turn, a vengeful Ebeneezer Scrooge proceeds to write a bestseller making him look like the big hero and the holiday to look like one huge joke, which in turn causes everyone to hate Christmas.
  • In the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Mewnipendence Day", Star is horrified and saddened to realize that her ancestors were not heroes who cleared the land of evil monsters like she had been taught, but invaders who kicked the land's original inhabitants out because they were stronger and better armed than the natives.
  • In Gargoyles, Macbeth is shown to have been an honorable man and a good and wise king, while Duncan was cruel and spiteful. Word of God is that the account given in Shakespeare's play is largely due to the King of England at the time being one of Duncan's descendants.
  • Goes both ways in Steven Universe.
    • Gems raised on Homeworld largely believe the Earth was destroyed, and all life on it was wiped out, rather than the Homeworld forces having been driven off Earth by the Crystal Gems. Peridot wasn't even aware that there had been a war, only that Earth was no longer a viable colony. There is information available about Rose Quartz, but she's much more treated as a monster; not for starting the Civil War but instead for killing Pink Diamond.
    • On the flipside, Steven and Amethyst, the two members of the Crystal Gems who were born after the war, are kept in the dark over some unsavory things their seniors have done. Neither knew until they were told that Rose shattered Pink Diamond, which Garnet and Pearl later tell them was a necessary step for victory. Rose Quartz herself also poofed and bubbled Bismuth, a Crystal Gem rogue who was willing to take the war in a darker direction, and then allowed the other members of the group to believe she'd gone missing.


Alternative Title(s): Written By The Victors

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WrittenbyTheWinners