History is written by the winners, as the old saying goes. But that's not exactly true -- sometimes history is written by wishful thinking. When the real event isn't quite inspirational or romantic enough, we just make up a prettier version and call it history.
Just consider the way we remember ...
It was the beginning of the modern era of celebrity activism. Bono would not be out there doing what he's doing without Live Aid.
Which would be a shame.
How History Remembers It:
It was 1985, and the music world got together to raise money for starving children in Ethiopia via an intercontinental 16-hour music festival known as Live Aid. With record sales, merchandise and video sales, it was estimated that Live Aid had raised a massive 150 to 170 million pounds, or $250 million. You can feed a lot of damned children with that kind of cash. Probably more than once.
No question, it was one of the feel-good events of the decade, and was called "the greatest concert of all time." The event played to 77,000 attendees in England, and 100,000 more attended in the U.S. It was beamed to TV sets worldwide to an audience of 1.5 billion people. Organizer Bob Geldof was given an honorary knighthood in 1986, and to this day, the event is heralded as "the standard by which other all-hands-on-deck rock and charity events are known."
"Have fun, but not too much because of the children."
Here is where we learn about the sad, unintended consequences of African humanitarian aid efforts. As is often the case in Africa, the famine they were trying to fix in Ethiopia wasn't just a result of not growing enough food -- it was because people were A) being displaced by war and B) under the thumb of a bullshit government.
Now, when another government gives foreign aid to an impoverished country like Ethiopia, the donor government can set conditions, and enforce them. If you blow the money on weapons to fight your civil war, you don't get any more money.
"Toss the food. We'll break the crates up into cudgels."
But a fundraiser like Live Aid doesn't work that way -- the money is given to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and in order to do their work, they have to work under, and obey, the bullshit government. In other words, all those piles of well-meaning cash wind up propping up the assholes who helped create the famine. It's like buying Christmas presents for the poor kids down the street, only to see the abusive dad sell them for drug money.
Before inviting Castro over and shooting the breeze.
So for instance, the aid workers who traveled to Ethiopia were forced to exchange the aid money for the country's currency at highly inflated rates, thus inadvertently funding and reinvigorating the evil government. That money also helped fund the government's forced relocation program of thousands of starving people from the south of the country to camps in the north. It is estimated that one in six of those who made the journey died.
Did Live Aid feed a lot of starving people? No doubt. But as others have pointed out, it's entirely possible that the horrible things done with the cash killed as many or more people than the food saved. In the real world, good intentions don't always stand a chance against a bunch of shitheads with AK-47s.
"We're not poor, look at all the war we can afford."
4The Battle of Thermopylae (From 300)
You've probably seen 300. We're guessing that you didn't think that it was an exact portrayal of history -- something about the man with the axe for a hand should have given that away. But whatever liberties the filmmakers took with details like the number of monsters in the Persian army, the basic elements are surprisingly accurate.
That's an authentic ancient Persian weapon grafted onto his hand, we'll have you know.
How History Remembers It:
Xerxes actually did lead the huge Persian army to invade Greece via a narrow mountain pass with steep cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. They were met by King Leonidas (who really was a badass that spouted James Bond-like tough guy lines), and 300 Spartans (well, among others -- we'll get to that). Their brave last stand has gone down in history to the point that today, the word "Spartan" conjures connotations of bravery, heroics and dogged survival. Their name is attached to everything from football teams to engine chassis companies. Hell, they even entered our language as an adjective -- dictionaries define "Spartan" as "rigorously self-disciplined ... courageous in the face of pain, danger or adversity."
Waving a sword around your exposed dong is pretty adverse, we'd say.
There's even a Facebook group dedicated to renaming Trojan condoms to Spartan condoms, because "nothin gets thru em." Tell us Leonidas wouldn't be proud of that shit.
"What the hell are condoms?"
Regardless of how brave and selfless the Spartans were in their sacrifice, the facts have gotten a little skewed in the telling. First of all, you need to add a zero to the end of Leonidas's force -- there were about 3,000 troops, if you count the various groups who stayed to help the 300 Spartans.
"This is SPARTA! And THESPIAE! And THEBES! And ..."
But more importantly, here's the part they didn't mention in the movie. In 300, after Leonidas and his men make their valiant last stand and are killed, the film skips forward to the Persians about to get crushed by a wave of Spartan reinforcements. It implies that the brave 300 had delayed the Persians long enough for help to arrive and finish them off. In reality, Xerxes still managed to invade and ravage Greece, completely sacking Athens after the citizens were forced to abandon the city. They leveled the huge temples on top of the Acropolis and destroyed the city and all the surrounding countryside.
"It may look bad now, but come back in 2,000 years and there'll be a tree or two."
The Greeks would eventually get their shit together and beat back the Persians (specifically, the Greek Navy), but the Battle of Thermopylae was more like an amazing, miraculous play to stop the opposing team on the goal line, only to have them go ahead and score the touchdown on the next play. Yes, it makes for a great clip in the highlight reel. But it didn't win the game.