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Real Event, Fictional Cause

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This trope is when a real-life historical event is revealed to have a fictional cause behind it in a work. This can be due to a case of Been There, Shaped History in some cases.

This may be done to lend a darker context to tragic historical events.

Compare Beethoven Was an Alien Spy (with real people instead of events), Been There, Shaped History (which can overlap) and Historical In-Joke (same). Also compare Fictionalized Death Account, and also We Didn't Start the Führer and Demon King Nobunaga for when this is combined with a Historical Villain Upgrade. Related to Famously Mundane, Fictionally Magical, where a Real Life object has greater significance in fiction. Also compare Painting the Frost on Windows, for when a fictional/mythical cause exists for a mundane phenomenon that may be an extremely common everyday event. Contrast Secret History, where historical events are said to actually have causes other than the commonly accepted ones.


A supertrope to The Tunguska Event, Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs, Caused the Big Bang, Who Shot JFK?, Alternate Landmark History and Historical Rap Sheet (when an In-Universe Big Bad is mentioned to have caused, or at least been part of, some historical atrocity or disaster).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Giant Impact (also known as "First Impact" in-universe) is stated to have been the result of Lilith's starfaring vessel, the Black Moon, crashing into primordial Earth about 4 billion years ago, with said vessel's rocky exterior separating from the vessel and coalescing into the Moon; as for the real-life explanation, it's a cover-up story by Seele in-universe.
  • Rurouni Kenshin does this with the assassination of Okubo Toshimichi. In real life, Okubo was assassinated by a group of samurai unhappy with his rapid modernization/westernization and abolition of the privileges the samurai had enjoyed. In the story, Social Darwinist Shishio has his dragon assassinate Okubo as a step to weaken Japan and make it easy for Shishio to take over the country. The group of samurai who killed Okubo in real life were also planning to kill him, but they only find Okubo's body after he is already dead and claim credit for the deed.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Strange Times Are Upon Us has Brokosh and the crew of the IKS HoSbatlh accidentally cause the solar storm of 1859 after they accidentally Time Travel from 2410 and trigger a solar flare to destroy a Breen warship that was dragged along with them.
  • In Know Thyself, according to the Oracle, the Salem Witch Trials were orchestrated by the machines as a culling method for the wizards in the matrix.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: Given the location of where it's found, Dib and his friends come to the conclusion that the Tunguska Event was caused by the Meekrob cargo pod containing Project Domination crashing to Earth.

    Film — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the American Civil War was caused partly because the vampires want to support the Confederacy's racism policy against the black people, as the vampires feed from those people. The war also has vampires becoming the Confederacy's troops.
  • In Forrest Gump, the titular character is an Accidental Hero who routinely shapes history by being at exactly the right place at the precise time. Who discovered the Watergate burglary? Gump. Who sparked the T-shirt phrase "shit happens?" Gump. Who designed The '60s Smiley Face? Gump. If it's a critical juncture in American history, Forrest Gump went jogging through it.
  • Godzilla (2014): The many nuclear "tests" the United States conducted in the 1950s in the Pacific Ocean were actually secret attempts to destroy a gargantuan prehistoric sea-beast that they accidentally stirred from dormancy. The prologue shows the Castle Bravo detonation at Bikini Atoll being used to try and kill Godzilla.
  • Men in Black:
    • The 1977 New York Blackout was caused by an alien releasing a Hyper-Destructive Bouncing Ball into the area as a prank.
    • The 1964-65 New York World's Fair was a cover operation so that the first alien ambassadors to Earth could land — their ships became the flat circular tops of the observation towers. The movie jokes that this was the only reason the fair was held in Queens. It becomes a Chekhov's Gun later when MIB are trying to stop the Bug from leaving Earth — all the other New York-area spaceships registered in MIB's database are gone and they're trying to figure out how the Bug intends to leave when Agent J looks over a picture of Flushing Meadows, sees the observation towers, and asks whether those still work.
  • According to Space Jam, Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls after saving the Looney Tunes from a horrible fate, because Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson believed he couldn't play the game anymore.
    Podolak: Did you hear that, Michael? They think you can't play basketball anymore.
    Jordan: Only one way to find out.
  • In Wonder Woman (2017), Diana hypothesizes that World War I is caused by Ares' influence on humanity. It's actually zig-zagged. Ares may have given humanity the means to destroy each other, but humans decided to go to war all on their own. That said, Ares actually was manipulating things in an attempt to lead towards World War II, but had no role in its actual occurrence, as he was long dead by then.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men Origins: Wolverine has a fictionalised version of the Three Mile Island incident, in which the nuclear plant is actually a secret laboratory for mutant experimentation, and a fight between Wolverine, Sabretooth and Weapon XI caused one of the plant's cooling towers to collapse.
    • In X-Men: First Class, the Cuban Missile Crisis was instigated by Sebastian Shaw as part of his plan to have mutantkind become widespread from the nuclear fallout and dominate over humans.

  • In sci-fi/horror novel DARLAH, the NASA lunar missions were discontinued not because of dwindling funding and public interest, as in real life, but because of dangerous and possibly supernatural happenings on the Moon.
  • In The Divine Comedy, one saint on Venus attributes the creation of Florence to the Devil.
  • The Dresden Files: Ebenezar McCoy, Harry's mentor and grandfather and one of the most powerful wizards in the world, has claimed responsibility for not only Tunguska but also the New Madrid earthquake of 1812 and Krakatoa.
  • A Net of Dawn and Bones has several catastrophes as being the result of a sorcerer managing to complete a Demongate. The Great Fire of London and the 1692 Jamaican Earthquake were both the result of Demongates opening while being opposed. The 1257 Mount Rinjani explosion was the last Demongate to open unopposed, and while it was later sealed by Heroic Sacrifice it still released enough curses to cause the catastrophes that occurred in the next few centuries, including the Black Death.
  • The Pendragon Adventure: In The Never War, the Hindenburg disaster was the result of a mobster igniting it with a firework to destroy his rival's fortune, which was secretly on board.
  • The Camp Half-Blood Series:
    • In the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians novel, it's revealed that World War II was basically a case of the children of Zeus and Poseidon (part of the Allies) fighting against the children of Hades (part of the Axis). This was actually the reason that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades agreed not to have any more children, as they were too powerful. Zeus and Poseidon violated their agreement, however.
    • The Heroes of Olympus reveals that the American Revolutionary War and American Civil War were caused by Roman and Greek Demigods fighting for supremacy. During the former, the Romans sided with the British, and the Greeks sided with the Americans. During the latter, most Romans sided with the South, and most Greeks sided with the Union, but not all in either case, in line with that war being "brother against brother".
  • Serpent (part of the Kurt Austin Adventures) opens with the sinking of the Andrea Doria. In this version, the sinking was deliberate on the part of the Stockholm's helmsman. It isn't explained why until later.
    • Zero Dawn reveals that a secret government experiment of an unstable energy source caused the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
  • Animorphs: Towards the end of the Cretaceous, two alien species were warring with each other for control of Earth: the antlike Nesk and crablike Mercora. The Animorphs side with the Mercora and drive the Nesk off-planet, but as a parting gesture the Nesk redirect a passing comet onto the Earth. The Animorphs had stolen a nuke with which to return to their own time, but willingly give it up to the Mercora to destroy the comet. Or that was the plan: Tobias, who knew full well what the comet meant, had Ax disarm the nuke in order to ensure the complete eradication of the Mercora, the slow death of the dinosaurs, and the subsequent rise of mammals and later humans. The Mercora's only legacy would be that they introduced broccoli to Earth.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Kid Stuff": The elf from Avalon says the country is in the Atlantic Ocean, hidden using psychic powers. When the RMS Titanic crashed into the island, it took the focus of the whole population to make the island look like an iceberg.
  • Leviathan: In the third novel, Goliath, Nikolas Tesla's Death Ray contraption (a massive Lightning Gun) apparently caused the Tunguska event in this universe. Later subverted, the Tunguska event was caused by a meteorite, just as it was in real life; Tesla either lied and said that his weapon caused it or mistakenly believed it did.
  • Harry Potter: Some of these examples are from the website Pottermore.
    • Apparently, the eruption of Vesuvius was caused by a Roman warlock named Zaccaria Innocenti when he launched a dance spell.
    • An ancestor of Malfoy (whose name is also Lucius Malfoy, adressed as "Lucius Malfoy I" by in-universe historians) apparently attempted to marry Queen Elizabeth I, of all people. But she rejected him, and since he's Not Good with Rejection, he put a jinx on her, resulting in her well-known reluctant behaviour towards marriage. However, many historians believed it's just an exaggeration of the story, not mention that Malfoy family is well-known for their fanaticism towards blood purity and thus it's unlikely that he actually considered to marry her at all. This story was also denied by subsequent generations of the Malfoy family, but there has never been solid evidence for either side.
  • In Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars, the titular Eugenics Wars are portrayed as a Secret History full of proxy conflicts rather than a full-on open war, which go on to include events from Smiling Buddha to the Yugoslav Wars and Watts Riots.
  • In Crooked, several events are portrayed as consequences of American leaders having occult dealings: The Roanoke colony was destroyed by demons, the spanish flu was a consequence of Woodrow Wilson's releasing an Eldritch Abomination to help win the war, and the moon landing was faked after the real inhabitants of the moon attacked the astronauts.
  • In Dracula Unbound by Brian W. Aldiss, the dinosaurs are wiped out (as collateral damage) by a nuclear bomb set off by a time traveler in order to destroy the vampires, which are actually a parasitic species predating humans.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Alternity campaign setting Dark*Matter core rules. When a Grey spaceship on Earth was close to being discovered by humans, its commander followed standard procedure and re-directed a comet to impact and destroy the landing site. He made a mistake, and the result was The Tunguska Event.
  • In Call of Cthulhu, The Tunguska Event was caused by Azathoth (one of the Cthulhu Mythos deities) being summoned to Earth.
  • After a while, you begin to suspect every single event of any import in human history in the Old World of Darkness had at least some supernatural involvement.

    Video Games 
  • In the Assassin's Creed series, nearly every major event in human history, from wars to assassinations to the rise of capitalism, was engineered or affected by the Secret War between Templars and Assassins.
    • Assassin's Creed II: The Pazzi Conspiracy isn't just a (failed) conspiracy of the namesake family to bring down the Medici, it's also a Templar plot to purge the Auditore family, which is a prominent house of Assassins (the Pazzi are Templars in the game).
    • Assassin's Creed III: The Boston Massacre is portrayed as a Templar plot to destabilize the colonies and fan the flames of war.
    • In Assassin's Creed Rogue, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was triggered by a Precursor artifact.
  • Control has a lot of fun with its in-universe documents by the Federal Bureau of Control alluding to bizarre, unexplained real-world phenomena as being related to "Altered World Events" that created Artifacts of Doom.
    • The "Havana AWE" is based on the Havana Syndrome outbreak between 2016-17, where American and Canadian embassy staff inexplicably developed symptoms such as hearing loss, memory loss, nausea, and even brain damage. FBC agents recovered a mysteriously vibrating cowboy boot that was determined to be the cause of the outbreak, with them also planting the baseless rumor that it was some kind of sonic attack (perpetuated in real life by then-US president Donald Trump following the incident) as a means of covering up the discovery.
    • The Kyiv AWE is based on a series of incidents from 2011 in Kyiv, Ukraine, where loud screeching noises could be inexplicably heard all across the city, which in the AWE was also said to have caused additional afflictions like aphasia and sleep paralysis. The FBC weren't able to determine a definite source from it, and their conclusion was that the area was experiencing "planar friction".
    • The Arctic Queen Refrigerator item was recovered from the wreckage of the Grand Central Hotel in New York City, which collapsed in 1973. In real life, it came down because of improper maintenance of its load-bearing walls, but the game also implies that the fridge (which is demonstrated to have a tendency of making things violently unstable) was involved as a catalyst.
  • According to Empire Earth II, the Cold War really ended when the U.S. stole the stealth bomber the Soviets had developed and used it against them.
  • Eternal Darkness attributes the death of Charlemagne to a plot by the Ancients to end a period of enlightenment brought about by the emperor unifying Europe under his banner.
  • In Touhou, the failure of the Apollo 13 mission is caused by Lunarians who don't want Earthlings on the moon.
  • Vampyr (2018): The 1666 Great Fire of London was caused when vampire knight Sir William Marshall fought against a witch responsible for The Black Death in the city the year before (in reality, she was a Disaster, another of the Red Queen's minions. The battle lasted for hours to a stalemate, so Marshall was forced to trap her under St. Paul's Cathedral and set it on fire to make sure she was dead.
  • Goro Majima of the Yakuza series inspired the tax hikes that led to Japan's bubble economy bursting in the late 80s after rescuing a politician from a mugging and getting a little too into a conversation on taxes.
  • In the Watch_Dogs series, the 2003 blackout that took place in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario was due to a rogue hacker instead of a software bug found in the computers of FirstEnergy Corporation. This gave Blume Corp. the opportunity to provide ctOS with a safeguard against future incidents, while causing another: the 2007 crash is the result of Blume meddling with an already tense trading market.

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    Western Animation