Lessons From History

No matter where you fit into the political spectrum you are facing significant choices during this election cycle. One of the significant factors I use to evaluate such situations is my view of history and historical events. My undergraduate degree is in Ancient History, which leads me to consider historical lessons with more import than the average person. That is why I found this paragraph from the editorial review by Gregory McNamee to Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France by Ernest R. May genuinely disturbing, especially considering our current security crises. (emphasis added)

May continues in this penetrating study, while in the wake of his French victory, Adolf Hitler “became so sure of his own genius that he ceased to test his judgments against those of others, and his generals virtually ceased to challenge him.” The outcome is well known. Still, May suggests, Hitler’s comeuppance does not diminish the lessons to be learned from the fall of France–notably, that bureaucratic arrogance, a reluctance to risk life, and a reliance on technology over tactics will quickly lose a battle. Students of realpolitik, no less than history buffs, will find much to engage them in May’s book.

We have to be very careful that those we choose to lead us will not fall into the trap of repeating history. France tried to build an impregnable fortress rather than engaging Germany as it was building towards war. It had the Maginot Line, better tanks, and was in many ways technologically superior to Germany. However, contrary to its illustrious history, France after World War I had an aversion to risking its forces. It failed miserably.

The new war we are fighting against Islamic terrorism has significant issues that history can speak to. Fore example, areas such as the effectiveness or failure of grand alliances (such as the United Nations) when dealing ideological threats; the weakness of using law enforcement approaches as the primary methodology for facing what amounts to a guerilla enemy, and the dangers a government faces when it becomes difficult to identify even where the threats are coming from, all have historical precedents and historical lessons to teach us.

We live in perilous times and we can either learn from history through thoughtful analysis and study or we can have it unwillingly teach us as we become object lessons for future students. It is our choice, both by whom we choose to lead us and by what we demand of them.