[September 27, 2019] Someone once said of humankind that there are very few things that are new and original. Fortunately, humans have not changed that much in the past several thousand years; having the same desires and needs. But we also keep repeating our mistakes. History does have a way of repeating itself in our behavior and in our failure to act.
The study of military history is required at all great institutions of higher military learning because it shows us how great and terrible things were done and why. We can learn from them; those who came before us. That is why so many military history books are written, refined, studied, and rewritten. We can’t seem to sort out what keeps us from duplicating past errors.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and political activist
Playwright G. Bernard Shaw observed correctly that there repetitiveness in human affairs but also that we might be hesitant to learn from it. This is an everyday experience. My friend’s daughter, who is about to have her first baby, refuses to talk with her mother because “there are new and better ways of delivering babies today.” The inference is that the today’s baby-delivery methods are not just physiologically better but also so significantly superior so much so that there is no need to discuss it.
We are often myopic in our view of the world. The hubris of the modern citizen may build up our confidence but it can be our downfall as well. To the ancient Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. This character flaw can be found in classical Greek tragedies, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before the fall” is basically talking about hubris.
This is why it is of great importance to study history from the perspective of learning about how others have succeeded or failed, what the circumstances were at that time in the past, their thinking, and any event or issue that may have affected a behavior. Obviously, we cannot put ourselves totally in the position of those from the past. But we can certainly infer a great deal. Lessons that we derive from the past are worthy but we should also know that they are also defective and therefore we must exercise caution.
“Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, and novelist