Shortly before I started this blog, I signed up for a Quora account. On Quora, you can write detailed answers to people’s questions, complete with editing tools absent from standard comment sections. It allows you to find, ask, and answer pretty much any question related to any topic under the sun.
But while this is a useful and fun tool, the information available from Quora is not infallible. Although useful for finding specific and arcane knowledge from people of various walks of life, it shares all the shortcomings of any social media outlet. This includes the tendency of people to give extremely lopsided, ax-grinding accounts of rather prickly issues.
For example, one thread involved a handful of people comparing Winston Churchill to Hitler and Stalin. Comparing just about anyone to Hitler is not new on the internet, but as a lover of history, I found this assertion incredibly asinine. The topic in question involved Churchill’s stance on the British Empire’s rule of India.
I am hardly an expert on Churchill, but I knew enough about history to think a detailed response was warranted. I was fully prepared to do so, except I was out of internet range and my phone was nearly dead, if I recall correctly.
The long and short of it is that I completely forgot about this incident until a few days later, and then got the idea to write this blog post. Mercifully, my now cooler head prevailed and I did not write a reply to that Quora comment.
Nothing I say is going to stop people from getting information online. Plenty of people continue to do so, and I think it’s for the better. More information, true and false, accurate and mistaken, is readily available to more people than at any other point in history. The question is being discerning enough to sort out the good from the bad.
But there is a reason that I prefer books over the internet. It is easier (for now) to qualify the author as a reliable source, whereas on the internet, literally anybody could be writing about anything. Typically, when one seeks an incisive record of past events, they either get a sterile catalog of the raw facts, or else they get a polemic infused with the most virile historical revisionism.
It is absolutely possible to find trustworthy information on the internet. It’s only a matter of seeking out the right sources. It’s no good trying to find a completely “unbiased” account of history, as so many people foolishly yearn for. But it is equally foolhardy to believe that no account of history is to be trusted, from which we get the moronic truism, “History is written by the winners.”
(A more accurate statement would be, “History is written by historians.” Please remind me what Herodotus or Thucydides “won” that made them able to write their historical accounts.)
If you really want to learn the history of Winston Churchill, find an article about him on the internet which has citation notes. Yes, Wikipedia counts. Then find citations which refer to books. Read those books, and then you’ll have a good idea both of what actual historians have to say about Churchill, and you’ll know the context of the hodge-podge of information you read on Quora.
Just don’t, by all that is holy, get your information about history from comment sections, whether on Quora or anywhere else. Even the History Channel is better than that.