During a press conference on March 21, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was asked about the reluctance of many American reservists to serve in Vietnam. Kennedy responded with a comment regarding the inequities of life, for military members and civilians alike. “Life is unfair”, he concluded. For many, posterity is equally unfair. History records countless individuals as villains, when the evidence points to a different reality; these people are simply unfairly judged. Often the propaganda of enemies or opposing viewpoints leads to the erroneous conclusion. Perceptions of some historic personages as villainous persists in media, myths, and often repeated and embellished falsehoods. Many are advanced as part of modern agendas, further misinforming the already misinformed. A lack of knowledge regarding historical facts allows misinformation to flourish.
Many of the people from history regarded today as villainous are in fact worthy of more respectable regard. They emerge from ancient times to the present day. Many are used in the current day as representative of undesirable behaviors, criminal activities, and worse. Continuing to present them as villains does nothing to harm them personally, but it alters the perspective of history as fact. Instead, it presents history as fiction. Here are several historical figures who deserve a better accounting of their roles in the past. Far from being the symbols of evil as perceived, they instead performed different roles, forgotten and buried in falsehoods. Some are used today as the very symbols of wickedness, presented as lessons of evil.
1. Marcus Junius Brutus fought for republican principles throughout his life
Known to history as Brutus, the most famous of the assassins of Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus’s name ranks with that of Judas Iscariot as a betrayer. Dante’s Inferno places Brutus, along with Cassius (a fellow assassin of Caesar), and Judas in the three maws of Satan, in the ninth and final circle of hell. As Julius Caesar grew increasingly tyrannical and presented himself as above Roman law, the opposition of those determined to retain Rome as a Republic grew. Brutus became a leader of the Republicans. During the civil war which broke out in 49 BCE, Brutus sided with the legions of Pompey. Pompey suffered defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE, and Brutus surrendered to Caesar’s forces. He received amnesty from his conqueror, and returned to the Roman Senate. Caesar’s growingly imperious rule led to a conspiracy in the Senate to assassinate him.
Following the famous assassination on the Ides of March, chaos within Roman lands led to another civil war. Eventually Octavian assumed dictatorial powers and Brutus and other conspirators against Julius Caesar, having been previously granted amnesty, were retroactively condemned to death. Brutus assembled Republican forces in Greece to fight the armies of Octavian and Mark Antony. After being defeated at Philippi Brutus committed suicide rather than face execution by his enemies. The Republic of Rome became the Roman Empire, and the power of the Roman Senate waned before that of the Emperor. The Republic for which Brutus and his associates fought became a dictatorship, remaining one for the rest of its existence. The victors ensured Brutus’s name and reputation became one reflecting treachery and betrayal an unfair judgement for over 2,000 years.