The Study of Prior History

The Study of Prior HistoryWinston Churchill is reported to have said: “Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it”. And yet since the beginning of time, from biblical and ancient history to the present, history seems to be repeating itself. Going back about 2000 years ago, the Romans did not learn from the Babylonians when they invaded the Hebrews and a few hundred years later the Persians did the same. In the last century, Nazi Germany did not learn from Napoleon Bonaparte when they invaded Russia in 1941 and neither did the United States learn from the French experience in Vietnam. And even much more recently with the war on terror, we seem to be repeating the same mistakes in Iraq that were made in Afghanistan. For this reason alone, it is important to study the experience of those involved in the happenings of prior history. It is a way to learn and understand the “who, what, were, and when” of that particular time in history. Today with the internet at our fingertips, history students need just log on to get a whole world of information on any topic. The resources available on line are endless and much could be learned. Scholarly articles, government statistical websites, and the Devry elibrary can all be accessed. But to best understand the context of history and the values of the participants, nothing is as valuable as personal accounts of people having experienced it. When studying Vietnam and other events of the twentieth century, many eyewitnesses are still around to report their experiences, although with each passing day, these numbers are dwindling. One very good and recent example of this is the experience of holocaust survivors. After the Anschluss and Kristallnacht in 1938, and the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939, the Nuremburg laws went into effect. The laws, aimed at Jews and those of Jewish descent, was the start of what would later be referred to as the holocaust.

Jews were made to wear a yellow star; assets were confiscated, they were confined to ghettos, and finally deported to concentration camps. Many Jews were gassed upon arrival, usually the elderly, infirm, woman and children, and those unable to work as slave laborers. In total, 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were murdered during the holocaust. Whole communities and generations of families were wiped out without a single survivor. No history book or documentary can accurately explain what gave these people the will to continue living while experiencing such horrors day in and day out for many years. It is hard to understand what inner strength gave them the will to be able to endure the starvation, torture, and heavy slave labor without knowing if they will live to see tomorrow. With death and disease all around them, what made them not just want to succumb and cease living amidst such horrors? Only one having experienced it can have answers.

On March 5, 1946 Winston Churchill gave a speech at Westminster College known as the “Iron Curtain Speech” and which marked the onset of the cold war. In his speech Churchill explains why it’s important that the spread of communism be stopped. He compares Hitler’s need for power with those of the Russians and how we might see a repeat of one country dominating others if we sit back and do nothing. “Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed if we close our eyes to them”. Churchill also states how World War II might have been prevented and that we should learn from it with regards to the USSR and communism. “Last time I saw it coming….but no one paid attention”. Perhaps that is what Churchill meant when he said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Perhaps we did learn something from World War II…there was a cold war but no World War III.