Our Historical Memories

By | April 26, 2019

[April 26, 2019]  What we do as humans, echoes throughout time.  While I was a new Lieutenant in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, we learned about the Mi Lai Massacre in Vietnam.  The massacre was a stain on our military reputation and the reason why we studied it so closely.  Leadership means keeping alive our historical memories.

Historically significant memories are important, like all those major lessons learned in life.  But historical memories are crucial as they makeup who we are as a culture and answer important questions, like why we exist. 

A few days ago, U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged the murder of 1.5 million Christian Armenians the Ottoman Empire, beginning in April 1915.  Keeping alive this the memory of so many killed and the failure of the modern Islamic Turkish government to acknowledge the atrocity, is an on-going issue that pits decendents against one another.

Too many peoples would rather forget about these events; both good and bad.  Those memories should always be used to better ourselves, to learn political and social lessons, to discover who we are as a people, and to preserve peaceful coexistence. 

To use those memories for evil purposes will only show the defects in national leadership.  Like so many, I’ve visited the battlefields of World War I, II, the Korean War, and the U.S. Civil War.  Yes, I learn “why” certain generals made decisions either this way or not.  But more important is “what” we can do to avoid the mistakes of the past.

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts,” – Edward R. Murrow, American broadcast journalist

Leadership is not easy.  It means learning lessons of the past and how to apply them to today.  One must look to the future with a vision but also look into the past for historical memories that guide us.

We cannot escape history but we can acknowledge it.  The path that we take in our lives will be looked upon by future generations and they will rightly judge us as honorable or dishonorable.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Our Historical Memories

  1. Bryan Lee

    Historical memories foster and define group identities, telling a group of people where they have come from, who they are and how they should act in the present and future. Not unlike individual memories, but these require collective communications via informal and formal contacts. Schools are the first and most powerful purveyors of historical memories in our young today. That is why we must all oversee that education to ensure bias is reduced as much as possible.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Excellent point, Bryan. For those who just dump your kids at school and leave, you are not being responsible. Schools in the USA are notorious for propagandizing kids into thinking the USA is a bad country when the opposite is true. Pay close attention folks.

    2. Anita

      Well said, Bryan. We should not ignore the formal aspects of what drives and instills our historical memories.

  2. Dennis Mathes

    Good comments, all. We should, however, remember that historical memories are subject to significant bias and thus we should be careful that our study of it takes that into account. Just saying! Great cup of coffee too this morning while I read Gen. Satterfield’s wonderful blog.

  3. Jonathan B.

    Historical memories help form the social and political identities of groups of people and they can be changed with respect to present moments. Just thinking that needed clarification.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Yes, historical memory refers to the way by which groups of people create and then identify with specific narratives about historical periods or events. Historical memory is sometimes also called collective memory or social memory.

    2. Kenny Foster

      This is where the whole notion of bias in historical memory comes in. Historical memory is fluid because history is not the same thing as the past. History is the interpretation of the past and because it’s an interpretation, the past can be skewed in a different light based on present moment and personal biases in time.

  4. Jonnie the Bart

    Those who purposefully forego the past are apt to repeat it often and with great failure.

  5. Xerxes I

    New reader here. I like the blog on leadership. Not as boring as others.

    1. JT Patterson

      Welcome, Xerxes I. I like your pen name.

  6. Eric Coda

    Great article again. Thank you for making my morning.
    Quotable quote, “This blog is best had with a cup of coffee.”

  7. Max Foster

    If you want to hear more about this, listen to Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield (see Gen. Satterfield’s Daily Favorites today). He shows us how historical memories are in need of greater, not less, study and appreciation. He’s right. The more we ignore lessons of the past, the more likely we will fall into old traps.

    1. The Kid 1945

      I’ve listened to Dr. Harvey Mansfield many times and read several of his books. It would do any of us good to listen carefully.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    There are folks who believe the past has nothing to offer us today. That is, of course, a worthless view.

    1. Mikka Solarno

      Thanks Janna. I always read your comments and think they are thoughtful.

      1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

        Yes, I was thinking the same thing this morning. You beat me to it, Mikka. 🙂

    2. Drew Dill

      Is it possible for history to be recorded in more than one way even when looking at exactly the same event? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, maybe you’ve had such an experience. Perhaps you recall that you beat your brother at a game of 21 when you were kids but he recalls that he actually beat you. This is where the concept of historical memory and it is associated (potential) biases come in.

      1. Mr. T.J. Asper

        As a society, how do we remember the past, and in what form? Does this remembrance change, and, if so, what does this tell us about our collective consciousness and cultural identity?

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