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Does History Truly Teach Us Anything?

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  • Does History Truly Teach Us Anything?

    Seriously. Think about this for the moment. With all of the historical information we have about the last 200 years on earth, does hindsight and historical research REALLY help us avoid committing the same errors our predecessors commited?

    Do we, as humans, truly learn from our mistakes, whether globally or personally? Or, as the old saying goes, does history truly repeat itself?

    I read many in-depth conversations here on subjects in history far above the time and effort I have to research them and think to myself, "Why would anyone care about the Russo-Japanese War and how could it possible drive what is happening today?!"

    I guess I admire people who DO know so much about history, however, I can't help but think that all of the time spent studying certain eras, wars, or "periods" can be considered an exercise in futility. To what end, other than a hobby or to gather background information for a specific endeavor such as creating a game or writing a paper for others with similar interests, can one possibly expect from it? Is there anyone here who has a direct effect or influence on the agenda of any nation?

    If not, then many of the arguments here are nothing more than mental exercises and "flexing" of one's "obscure and rarely used fact" muscles.

    I'm not trying to inflame anyone or attack anyone, just wanted to get some of your ideas on this.

  • #2
    Originally posted by CPangracs
    Seriously. Think about this for the moment. With all of the historical information we have about the last 200 years on earth, does hindsight and historical research REALLY help us avoid committing the same errors our predecessors commited?
    Yes and no. I believe as individuals, the study of history can certainly help ourselves to see the "big picture" more clearly. But at the same time, there are some people who know the historical errors still believe in them, because it's the only thing they can cling on dearly with their lives. Just look at communists. Jlbetin is an avowed communist, he knows the history of USSR and Stalin, yet, he refuses to drop his communist beliefs. Why this is so? I don't know. It's the same thing with the rest of people.

    Do we, as humans, truly learn from our mistakes, whether globally or personally? Or, as the old saying goes, does history truly repeat itself?
    If we truly learn from our mistakes, then we would have a more perfect world to live in. Unfortunately, it's not turning out this way, so, yes, I think we're going to repeat some mistakes regardless of whether we study history or not.

    I read many in-depth conversations here on subjects in history far above the time and effort I have to research them and think to myself, "Why would anyone care about the Russo-Japanese War and how could it possible drive what is happening today?!"
    Just having a knowledge of history means you can see the big picture better than most people. Also you can see where you come from and why this is so. It doesn't mean we're going to prevent mistakes from happening at all.

    I guess I admire people who DO know so much about history, however, I can't help but think that all of the time spent studying certain eras, wars, or "periods" can be considered an exercise in futility. To what end, other than a hobby or to gather background information for a specific endeavor such as creating a game or writing a paper for others with similar interests, can one possibly expect from it? Is there anyone here who has a direct effect or influence on the agenda of any nation?
    Well, as an individual, I can't do much about our nation's agenda, but I can very well influence it with my vote this coming election. I like to think my vote does count a lot.

    If not, then many of the arguments here are nothing more than mental exercises and "flexing" of one's "obscure and rarely used fact" muscles.

    I'm not trying to inflame anyone or attack anyone, just wanted to get some of your ideas on this.
    Well, to me, it's not done in vain, it helps to exercise my mind and gather every bit of information I can use to illustrate to the others not knowledgable on certain subjects. In all, I enjoy being here very much despite occasional liberal propaganda being spouted out here...hehe...

    Dan
    Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

    "Aim small, miss small."

    Comment


    • #3
      It's hard to give a definite yes or no to this question. Overall, I do not believe the lessons of History are remembered for very long by either individuals or even societies at large.

      For example, people will point out that racial genocides are still happening, even after the world said "never again" after discovering the extent of the Nazi death machine at the end of WWII. But during the 90s, racial genocide happened in Rwanda and Bosnia. It was at a smaller scale than the Holocaust (Rwanda had hundreds of thousands deaths though), but still it was a genocide.

      There are other examples of all to prove that in fact, things are often repeating themselves, albeit under different forms and eras.

      That does not mean though that we are worse off than we were. If you look over the course of centuries, I believe humankind, or at least parts of humankind, have made progress at all levels in spite of all the errors and tragedies. Life in the Western world is undeniably better now than it ever was during the Middle Age. The same can pretty much be said in fact for almost continents, except Africa, which is desperately lagging behind.

      We will continue, as humans, to make mistakes and repeat errors, whether individually or collectively.

      Comment


      • #4
        .

        Does history really teach us anything?

        Seriously. Think about this for the moment. With all of the historical information we have about the last 200 years on earth, does hindsight and historical research REALLY help us avoid committing the same errors our predecessors commited?

        Do we, as humans, truly learn from our mistakes, whether globally or personally? Or, as the old saying goes, does history truly repeat itself?
        History is a human fabrication and vulnerable to all the hazards of any human fabrication. People write history for a variety of reasons and it is not always to some universal purpose. Sometimes people lie when they write history. Sometimes the artifacts of history are themselves lies. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was supposed to be a real textbook of Jewish rituals and practice, but turned out to be a complete fake. Piltdown Man was supposed to be a real fossil and important scientific find and turned out to be fake. These are the extremes and easy to spot, but people are just as willing to skew history and facts to paint false pictures of the past.

        Even so, people still create important information about the past even when they lie. It is useful to study history because it points to clues and sometimes simple answers about the present. It may seem futile to go into detail if history can prove to be so unreliable, but it is always hoped that given enough detail, we might reach some conclusions about the course of human history that are both simple and broad reaching. Marx, for example, decided that the course of history reduced to a progression and evolution of human relations based on the way people treat property and its economics. His work inspired many to adopt this point of view and they call themselves "Marxists". This is the most dramatic case, but certainly there are others who study history with other broad conclusions. When they write history, they do so in the hopes that they reinforce this point of view. A Marxist would never be expected to contradict Marx with some historical observation.

        Can we learn from our mistakes? The problem is when one person's mistake is another person's profit. Even worse is when one person's mistake was engineered to create some benefit for somebody else. How can you learn from your mistakes if the real history of your experience is kept from you or constantly distorted? What if you can't even tell if you are making mistakes at all? Take the case of "the environment". Are we making mistakes with the environment? There is disagreement about this and you would hope that history provided some kind of clues as to whether this were true or not. But there are different interests involved on both sides of the posed arguments and it is very hard to tell. And recent history is very rarely evoked by either side.

        It is hoped that spontaneous experience is always recorded spontaneously as history. History is best when its record is incidental rather then formal. Human survival is based on our ability to learn from mistakes and if this ability is interrupted or corrupted, then we have no future. This is true both globally and personally.
        Get the US out of NATO, now!

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        • #5
          If you look at Europe today, you can say they learned much from their (our) history. It needed 2 world wars but now it seems it won't happen again (I hope). Of course as the time goes by the humans tend to forget the past, and can make things happen again.

          The researcher (and hobby historicians) should make the world remember for the past's mistakes, but surely we are not effective.

          Anyway reading real fight reports, and making indepth research on the same battle, and knowing more and more is as exciting as a crime novel, and much better than any Big Brother show. And helps to understand your father, grandfather, grand grandfather's environment of thinking, which helps to make the families better.

          Thinking on these extreme situation (war) helps you to find the real values of life: whether a ideology is worth to die or the family is the real value for you, etc...
          a brain cell

          Comment


          • #6
            In my opinion
            Gerda Lerner
            has given the best short answers for such a question:


            "What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are 'the lessons of history'? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past."

            "We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events."
            “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…” -1984 about the Big Lie

            Comment


            • #7
              History is something more than a hobby to me. Last year I decided to go back to the University to study History as a second career. But I don't believe in its usefulness to avoid committing the same errors committed in the past. Situations are never exactly the same and knowledge about the past may be of use when taking a decision, but it does not mean that future may be predictable.
              But I do think it may be useful to understand our world in two ways: First, learning the way that events in the past have built our world. Second, noticing similarities about past and present. When you study Ancient History you may find that Delian League was not very different of NATO and Punic Wars had similar consequences for men in the Ancient World that WWI and WWII for us.

              It also helps to take distance from our world and look at it in a more skeptical way. Sometimes we may feel that our world is collapsing but actually world has collapsed many times in dramatic ways: Rome was sacked and her Empire was lost; Constantinople followed the same way 1.000 years later, Eastern Europe were devastated by Mongols in the 13th century... everytime people felt that the world they had knew was dying. How will people look at the war on Iraq in 800 years time? Our troubles will be just a few lines in books and children will yawn in the classroom with WW2 events as children do now when they hear of Cannae battle.
              Cual lidian bien, sobre dorado arzón
              Mio Cid Ruy Diaz, el buen lidiador;
              Minaya Alvar Fáñez, que en Zorita mandó;
              Martín Antolínez, el burgalés de pro...!

              Comment


              • #8
                As long as our leaders aren't truly the best our societes can produce, in terms of morality, intelligence, education etc, they will keep making human petty mistakes. The human nature is improvable to a point, but the beast within us is there. Civilisation of man is a long project.

                As I see it, the brightest or noblest people choose not to go into politics, and what we get are highly fallible people in top positions. To get to the top, I cynically believe you have to be a prick.
                "You can't change the rules in the middle of the game."
                "Hey, you just made that rule up."


                Heil Dicke Bertha!

                Comment


                • #9
                  To be as short as possible but to maintain comprehension.

                  History may help to understand today situation from root of the past.
                  It helps to avoid missunderstanding of local behaviour, local hatred or fear about situations which would let us unresponsive, rude or let us appear as a danger to the people we meet, made business with or want to make diplomatic relationship with.

                  My 2 eurocents

                  Der WanderHistoryLover
                  The Best weapon ever:a good Joke. The Best shield ever: Humour
                  JLBETIN© Aka Der Wanderer TOAW Section Leader is a █ WHQ/SZO/XG/Gamesquad® product since 01/2003
                  The Birth of European Army Tournament round Three is opened

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jlbetin
                    To be as short as possible but to maintain comprehension.

                    History may help to understand today situation from root of the past.
                    It helps to avoid missunderstanding of local behaviour, local hatred or fear about situations which would let us unresponsive, rude or let us appear as a danger to the people we meet, made business with or want to make diplomatic relationship with.

                    My 2 eurocents

                    Der WanderHistoryLover
                    I quote myself to add that it can help us to better understand the ennemy we will fight.
                    The Best weapon ever:a good Joke. The Best shield ever: Humour
                    JLBETIN© Aka Der Wanderer TOAW Section Leader is a █ WHQ/SZO/XG/Gamesquad® product since 01/2003
                    The Birth of European Army Tournament round Three is opened

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      To study history is to study the behaviour of man. And in a large scale way conclusions can be drawn about how man will behave in related situations. Of course it's also the study of individuals too, and how one man can change the known world by his ability to understand the behaviour of his fellows.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        History can teach us a great deal; it's just that not everybody wants to learn. Some people just have to re-invent the wheel
                        Scientists have announced they've discovered a cure for apathy. However no one has shown the slightest bit of interest !!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          To end on my run, yes history is essential to understand your origin,the origin of your relatives, how you are arriving in this situation and to know in the same way your foreigner neighbours.

                          Without past memories your are marching toward a goal without knowing why, it is a case of amnesia.

                          Look at this thread, it is this one which can justify the need of history

                          http://www.warfarehq.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7607

                          Der WanderLookingBackwardToMoveForward
                          The Best weapon ever:a good Joke. The Best shield ever: Humour
                          JLBETIN© Aka Der Wanderer TOAW Section Leader is a █ WHQ/SZO/XG/Gamesquad® product since 01/2003
                          The Birth of European Army Tournament round Three is opened

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by CPangracs
                            Seriously. Think about this for the moment. With all of the historical information we have about the last 200 years on earth, does hindsight and historical research REALLY help us avoid committing the same errors our predecessors commited?
                            Only if we listen to the lessons learn from them and then apply them to what is going on

                            Thanks for looking!!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Some good posts here, ill just try to cover some stuff thats been left out and try to explain it at a personal level to you Curt, so im not trying to reignite any of our old arguments just point out a few things. Sorry in advance if i go off track im rushing it.

                              With the study of history there are certain theoretical frameworks that are used/supported by various researchers these can be transfered to current situations in comparitive way. However, there is also ideology which the reader and researcher inherently have, call them 'convictions' in your case Curt.

                              Now there is the argument that the Vietnam and current Iraqi conflicts are SIMILAR. You may disagree with this line of argument (cant remember if you do or not ), but what makes you disagree where there is obvious comparisons, I think it is your ideology that blinds you and others to certain truths if they don't align with your way of thinking. Vietnam was a costly excursion for the US and it ended in failure as the various administrations made the same mistakes over and over. You don't beleive this will be the case in Iraq so you reject the argument that they are similar.

                              I'm not saying im any smarter than you however i and most others that study history should be able to understand this concept and distance ourselves from the bias of our ideology, i say distance, theres no such thing as unbiaseness.

                              There is much gain from studying history which has nothing to do with historicity, the methodologies used give us the skills to analyse current situations, without prior knowledge. The ability to get into a subject and see it for what it really (as closely as we can) is, to the best of our ability, in a way that others who have not practiced these methodolgies can. Understanding how events unfold/come into being, is the main aim. As it has been said we obviously dont put into practice that which we learn from history in trying to read how events could unfold, but thats because the politicians are doing the decisionmaking not the learnered historian.

                              A politician will find a historical analysis which suits their agenda and ideology.

                              I see that many people here do the same thing yourself included, im sure im guilty of it too, however i have the skills to identify certain failings that lead to this, not in every case, but i beleive i have better analysis skills than you do, feel free to disagree

                              So in answer to your question, yes it can seem pointless learning history that will never be used to help better man because an individual has no real power, but there are those that use thier knowledge in their careers, and it is a usefull tool. Also in careers that are obscure from politics the epistomological aspect of history is still usefull.

                              I better stop here, i know i lose interest in long winded posts, but i hope that adds to your understanding of the subject.
                              Not lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs...the Australian army is proof that individualism is the best and not the worst foundation upon which to build up collective discipline - General Monash

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