Letters + Opinion » Mailbox

Doomed to Repeat



The "Names" column (July 30) cautioning against blotting out dark history (Confederate flag, etc.) is a reminder that the past evils we expunge we soon replace.

Barely a generation — 21 years — separated the two World Wars. Whatever humankind learned from World War I (the proclaimed "War to End All Wars"), it was not enough to prevent World War II.

Churchill foresaw why. Reviled as a captious, war-mongering Tory in the 1930s, he warned the Commons at mid-decade of what was afoot in Hitler's Germany. Few heeded the truth because the truth does not set us free, it sinks us in denial.

Churchill said history is "the long, dismal catalog of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind (his emphasis). Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history."

The 19th-century German historian Leopold von Ranke had dug into the human dilemma decades before. People soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them, he wrote. "But there is an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits, which they do not resist ... Most see their ruin before their eyes, but they go on into it."

In June, 50 B.C., Cicero dispatched a letter to his friend Atticus, saying, "Syria is ablaze with war."  

Well: As of August of 2015, 200,000 Syrians are dead (and counting) in a civil war that is producing millions of hungry, homeless refugees. Syria is ablaze again, one more wearying example of the "confirmed unteachability of mankind."

The 2,000-year history of Vietnam (remember Vietnam?) spans invasions by the Chinese, the Mongols, Thai, French, Japanese, the French again, the Americans, the Khmer Rouge and the Chinese again.

Churchill and Pogo were right: We have met the enemy and he is us — no matter the history we enshrine or deep-six.      

Paul Mann, McKinleyville

Add a comment