“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We are all mortal. Eventually each and every one of us will die. The only way our thoughts and beliefs will carry on once we are gone is through recorded history, whether that be in the form of the written word, photographs, digital media or even our most ancient of methods, word of mouth. Although the world is constantly changing, seemingly hurtling headlong toward the future in faster and faster bursts, it would behoove us to look back and truly study our past. It seems that in this day and age, when access to humankind’s rich and colorful history is the most accessible it has ever been, available to all with access to a computer and the internet, that more and more the citizens of the world give only lip service to those who came before us.
We have been charmed by soundbites, headlines and narratives fashioned by others, by those who should know better, who should act better, who should be better. They focus on the now without truly understanding that “now” only exist because of “then”; that without “then” there would be no “now”. But their biggest folly in ignoring the dusty pages of history is that mankind is essentially stumbling into the future with blinders on. Though no one can truly “see” the future, studying the past can at least reveal some of the pitfalls that lie ahead and help us avoid repeating the same mistakes.
The focus in the news for the past week or so has been whether or not we should bomb Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons. It would seem that our President has stumbled through this “crisis”. Polls show that the majority of the US is against any kind of military intervention – it’s not our business – stay our of Syria – we don’t want to get into another quagmire. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do wonder this – do any of the people who are so adamantly opposed to punishing Syria for its use of chemical weapons have any idea of just how horrific chemical weapons like mustard gas are? People of my generation do not remember the horrors of soldier suffocating in the trenches; the unpredictability of a gas let loose to the wind, sometimes bringing the gas right back to the armies that had deployed it or into towns and villages in the surrounding area.
It is possible that President Obama was bailed out of this mess by an off the cuff remark by Secretary of State Kerry and an opportunistic move by Russian President Vladamir Putin. Opponents of President Obama are howling that he has been shown up by Putin and now Russia, that paragon of diplomacy, has won and the USA has lost. To paraphrase Jon Stewart from the Daily Show, who cares? As long as those chemical weapons are being taken off the shelves and locked up for good, we ALL win. Up until this point, no one else was willing to take a stand on the use of chemical weapons. All war is horrific, but it was decided long ago that the use of chemical weapons were beyond the framework of the battlefield, were much too unpredictable, much too uncontrollable.
On the surface it might seem an odd segue to bring up the topic of vaccines, but this is the very topic that came to mind while I was watching the news coverage of the opposition to bombing Syria. So many have begun to eschew vaccinations for fear their child might get autism or some other neurological disorder – the knee jerk reaction to a study based on bad science continually spread by bubble headed celebrities. It has left us, all of us, more vulnerable to the horrors of disease. People of my generation and younger do not remember little Johnny or Janey disappearing in the middle of the school year, sometimes returning with a disfigured leg; sometimes never returning at all – victim to the crippling, often lethal effects of polio. People of my generation and younger do not remember the near 30% fatality rate of measles or the sometimes resulting infertility from mumps. We don’t see these horrors anymore because science found a way to protect us from these diseases. Many of those horrors have been relegated to the pages of history. We have rid the world of smallpox. We are close to eradicating polio.
They are history.
There is a reason why those who come before us feel compelled to record their time in history.
A parent will inevitably tell his/her teenage child, “trust me, I’ve been there, done that and you don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made.” What will the teenager do? Exactly what the parent doesn’t want them to do. It is the natural order of things; the circle of life – but mankind is not a teenager; governments and communities are not teenagers – they are run by adults who should know better, who should act better, who should be better.
George Santayana’s quote is worth repeating – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.