“History repeats itself“.
I always wondered what that saying meant. My answer is that history repeats itself because people fail to learn from the past. This brought up another question. Why people fail to learn from history?
To find the answer, I looked up what the word “history” means. For me, history was the recorded past. According to Google Search Engine, “history, the study of past events, particularly in human affairs“.
Simply enough and I agree with it.
But there is more to history than just reading about it. As someone who has studied military history in great detail, there are two things that must be kept in mind:
So what do I mean by those things?
History must be studied in context in order to be understood.
We who sit in the present have a unique gift. We can look at the consequences of decisions. We can see the results of the choices. But what we tend to do is to offer comment on the choices of dead people. Without considering if the information we control would have been accessible to the people we are studying.
Example: the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War Two.
Most people automatically think that the use of nuclear weapons was always a bad idea. But what is forgotten is the events surrounding the use of nukes.
Consider the following facts. The three major Axis powers were Italy, Germany, and Japan. By 1945, Italy had capitulated and Germany had fallen. Japan’s military forces were being pushed back to the homelands by American sea power. Sea power that it could not match or damage the American industry base. In addition, the Japanese military thinking. In short, to surrender was dishonorable and the Imperial soldier would rather die than be dishonorable. In light of the Imperial thoughts, the military estimated that American military casualties alone could be in the millions.
Disclaimer: the use of nuclear weapons should be the last choice and not the first.
History must be studied honestly.
We have a tendency to look at history through colored eyes. We look at our heroes as if they can do no wrong. At the same time, we see the people we despise as being utterly evil. The same can be said for the causes and the actions taken in their name. History study also includes anything from the past such as painting styles or building structure.
Example: ancient civilizations.
I know that I often look at ancient nations with a degree of awe. To see what they built without the aid of modern tools or industry. Such as the ancient wonders or great works of art. But what I sometimes forget are the black spots of those nations. Ancient civilizations employed thousands of slaves and many believed in human sacrifices.
At the end of the day, we can only control what we do. History can be a great thing to study and learn. But if we are to learn from history, we must honestly look at history and we have to look at history in context of the event.
Otherwise, we will learn nothing.