My 88 year old father was one of many who ran from, and survived, World War II, and for the past several months I’ve been working with him to document his family’s flight from Lithuania. This required me to do some research on the generalities of this war; dates, places, etc, to ensure my father’s recollection coincided with historical facts, and I must say, it was an eye opener.
As students growing up we all studied history as it related to our country and our people but somehow, at least for me, they were just words on a page, a story. Until I could relate it to someone I knew I didn’t fully comprehend what they actually went through. It was sobering and sad, often painful, and always unsettling.
Once I completed his memoirs, I decided I needed a break from the tragedy of war time stories so I went to the library and took out a book to lighten my mood. I tend to choose books by their cover and I’ve only rarely been disappointed so this method of selection was one I used again this time. Much to my surprise when I started reading I discovered the book was about a 93 year old woman recounting her experience in this same war. She was of similar age and her story rang so familiar. I debated returning it because I’d had enough of painful war stories but once I started to read I found I couldn’t put it down. It reinforced again, the suffering endured by too many during war time, and the impact it had on their whole life.
It was beautifully written and once I finished it I found myself wondering how something like war, any war, can happen, again, and again, and again. Did World War 1 teach us nothing? For that matter, did we learn anything from any war? Throughout the ages we’ve encountered countless dictators and ruthless leaders, many of whose patterns of destruction were repeated.
For example, in the year 247 BC Qin Shi Huang ruled as the first emperor of the China. He was a ruthless and single minded ruler who commissioned the construction of a wall to protect his dynasty. (Granted he didn’t hold his own people in financial ‘hostage’ to enlist their cooperation – he just forced them into labour and worked them to death) Sound like anybody we know today? (what is it with these power hungry leaders and their walls?)
Wars of religion, or trade, or acquisition have replayed since the beginning of time. From the early days of Viking invasions to modern day revolutions the pattern repeats itself. Power hungry rulers brainwash or overpower citizens, forcing them to ‘cleanse’ their world of those they want to dominate or deem unworthy of existence, and they succeed only long enough to severely cripple humanity for decades to come.
We’ve evolved as a society in so many ways with advancement in industry, technology, and philosophy. We have fine-tuned our brain capacity to act in an intelligent, conscious, and moral fashion, but when it comes to conflict in the masses we resort to school yard bullying behaviours. How can we call ourselves the intelligent species when we don’t learn from past mistakes?
I realize this is simply my naïve struggle with something I fear will never change. As long as there is man, there is conflict, and it seems we will never learn that no resolution ever comes from conflict. It appears we are destined to repeat destructive patterns. We acknowledge our mistakes, after the fact, and we might even ‘learn’ from them, but if we don’t put into practice that which we ‘learn’ how can we say that we have, as a civilized society, progressed? I will never, ever, understand the wisdom of war. Peace be with us all.
3 thoughts on “Do we learn from past mistakes?”
A brilliant and well written article!
Sad but true. As individuals we try to learn. But some politicians are demagogues. I did not know the meaning of that word until this year…but now have seen one in action on the international stage.
Qin Shi Huang. The Great Peace-Maker and Nation-Builder