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History, Part 1: Why Bother?

Posted in All, Economics, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2010 by marushiadark

“Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.” ~ Proverb.

When I was in middle school, I really hated history.  In eighth grade, I literally failed my history class because I didn’t want to do the work, because I felt the subject was difficult and boring.

That changed as I went on to high school.  I started watching The History Channel back before every other show was about Nazi Alien Templars.

Back then, the programs were fun and compelling and I enjoyed watching them.  It didn’t even occur to me at the time that I was actually learning something in the process.  Part of it may have been the subject matter being taught (I very much enjoyed Medieval castles), or the fact that they used computer models to render cities and events in a spectacular way.  Whatever it was, it managed to change my perception that history wasn’t fun or easy to learn.

Now that I’m an adult, I understand the significance of history and have a greater fascination in learning more about what happened in the past, and that has actually helped me a great deal in other areas of my life.  As a result, I’ve become more self-motivated in figuring out the context of the world around me and am always learning something new about history.

“History is written by the victors.” ~ Winston Churchill.

For most people, when they think of history, they think about the political history of countries, the formation and fall of nations or empires, possibly even ancient history with Egypt and Stonehenge and such.  This is the history taught in most schools today.  Much of it is quaint and irrelevant and omits the really interesting or important stuff.

Have you ever noticed, for instance, the amount of coverage devoted to battles in WWII?  Everyone knows about D-Day and Midway and the fact that Hitler committed suicide; yet I bet you’ve probably never heard of I.G. Farben, have you?  Who’s I.G. Farben, you ask?  Good question.  Too bad no one ever asks that question.  Maybe they should.

In America, students generally learn American history, starting with the Revolutionary War or just a bit before that with the colonization of America by the British, shortly after Columbus “discovered” America.  I suppose for little kids growing up in America, this would be an easy and somewhat relevant place to start, but as I said, it omits a great many things.  Moreover, it is biased towards American interests.

Most countries have a lot of dirt on them and do not wish to teach their citizens about this for fear that we may cease to give our government the support it wants.

Of course, in doing so, we fail to teach our children how to make our countries better by learning what they really need.  Why is it that when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that 9-11 was an inside job or when Ali Khamenei says that the reason other countries hate America is because we’re occupiers … why is it that when our enemies tell us why they hate us and what we’re doing wrong do we not listen?  It’s because we’re arrogant and think that we are perfect and can do no wrong; when the truth is we’re far from perfect.

They may not be right about everything, but neither are we.  There are always two sides to everything.  One usually cannot be objective about something when that person has a vested interest in the thing it’s talking about.  So it is with our government-sponsored public education when it comes to the matter of its own history.

“We fight over an offense we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended.” ~ Kingdom of Heaven.

Many people ask, as I once did: why is studying history important?

History is all about context.  The reason they say that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it is because history is all about context.  The reason things are the way they are now is because of events that happened before.  It’s simple cause and effect.

If you can better understand the motivations and context of the past, then you can better understand the present.  All life’s problems are technical.  Understand the cause and you can find the cure.

For instance, say you have a problem with your car.  If you can’t remember when the last time you changed the oil was, you may wanna start there.  Find out if you’re in need of an oil change.  Your problem could be as simple as that, and knowing a bit of history about your car can go a long way in correcting the problem.  If the car is old and passed through many hands, there could be something less obvious that occurred during the history of the car.  Maybe a part was replaced and never reported and the part was of poor quality and that’s what’s causing the problem now.

When you go to the doctor, one of the first things they do is check your medical history.  Things you may have eaten, things that may be in your environment, places you might have been to, people you might have fucked, drugs you might be on, … such things can provide a better context to your current state of affairs.

The reasons for needing to know the history of a country or the world are no different than the reasons to know the history of a person or a car.

In recent history, America has become heavily involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the threat of war with China, North Korea, and Iran ever looming.  Many people wonder why this is.  To understand the current situation, we would have to go back to the first Gulf War, which would require us to go back and look at the Cold War, which would require us to look at WWII, which leads to WWI, and so on and so forth.

Understanding current affairs allows us to make predictions about the way the future will unfold.  That is simple Newtonian Mechanics: an object will continue what it’s doing unless acted upon by an outside force.  Learning about those outside forces then allows us to update our predictions.

Learning history can even help you in ways you wouldn’t normally think it can.  Understanding global trends can help you economically and medically.  You will be able to predict, broadly speaking, what will happen when and where and this can help you make better financial decisions, avoid certain foods or places when traveling, and otherwise fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle for yourself and your children.  Knowing economic history can help you invest your money.  Understanding the history of famous scientists can help expand your knowledge of what medical treatments are out there.  Knowing political history can tell you which politicians are really looking out for your best interests.  And so forth.

Long story short, learning history helps us to better understand the present and the future, and thus increases our chances of survival.