George Santayana said of war, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Variations and paraphrases such as “Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” have all too frequently been invoked as conflict after conflict reap their bloody harvest of children, women and men.
Simply put Santayana and others were saying the study of history is necessary in order to stop mankind endlessly repeating the mistakes of the past. And for years I observed these prophetic words, usually as I read or heard of yet another conflict tearing humans from this life.
In the past few months however I’ve began to revise my views on these quotations. The Gaza onslaught by the IDF this summer saw the relentless bombardment and slaughter of innocent civilians in in this tiny strip of land by the IDF.
It isn’t a matter of Israel not remembering its past. Nor is it a case of Israel being ignorant of history’s mistakes. How would they considering their history of persecution, pogroms and the holocaust.
No, it goes deeper than that. Israel, the US and the UK, countries with bloody pasts, don’t enter into conflict situations misguidedly. They haven’t perused the books of history and somehow misinterpreted the message.
We need only to look at the way the Tories are trying place a revisionist spin on the ‘Great War’. Instead of viewing this war, as generations have, as a bloodbath on a mass industrial scale waged by belligerent Empires vying for power, the Tories are now trying to sell it as a ‘just war’.
In conclusion, people and more particularly countries don’t forget or repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead they set out wilfully to add their own to an already oversubscribed catalogue of wanton death and destruction. So maybe we should begin to regard history and its lessons merely as theoretical abstracts whose only purpose is to hold up the past as a mirror of what will surely happen in the future.
"Only the dead have seen the end of war."