History is indeed cyclical and history does sometimes repeat itself, despite our best efforts to learn from the past. There are a number of not-so-shining examples around the globe today that may ultimately prove this point.
- With anti-Semitism seemingly on the rise in much of Europe, Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf is being re-published (the new version is 2,000 pages compared to the 800 page original) and it is reported that the German Teachers Union is in support of the new, annotated edition being used in German schools. I am conflicted about the re-publication of the book, as I certainly do not advocate the banning of books, however I am not eager to see this book on shelves at my local bookseller. I don’t think there is any danger of your average citizen grabbing it up and adopting the ideology of Hitler. However, I do not see a reason to re-publish the book in the first place … it is nothing more than a treatise on anti-Semitism … and I am thoroughly against using it as a teaching tool or as required reading in schools. When I hear the phrase “we will not forget”, whether in reference to the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or any other historic episode, I wonder whether that is true. Certainly those of us who lived through any of those events will never forget, but what about future generations? Has enough time passed that we have actually forgotten the lessons of Hitler’s domination and of the Holocaust? Very few Holocaust survivors are still alive today, and those are 70+ years old. In another twenty years, there will be none left to remind us. Certainly there are enough books and films, but is that enough? Is it possible that we might forget the lessons and be lured once again into the mentality of bigotry, narcissism and racism that was Hitler’s dark legacy? I hope not, but I am not sure. To use Mein Kampf in teaching school children seems a recipe for disaster. Despite an overall decrease in the number of members of “official” neo-Nazi groups in Europe, neo-Nazi propaganda and activities have nearly doubled in the last three years. (Felicity Capon, Newsweek, 24 March 2015)
- It is becoming increasingly obvious that Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and a former KGB officer, is working toward a goal of resurrecting an empire similar to the USSR of yore. In an address to the nation in April 2005, he is quoted as saying “ …we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” In March 2014, Putin annexed Crimea, then a part of the Ukraine, saying that “Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia”. He has also made statements that Ukraine and Russia are “one nation” on more than one occasion. More recently, in September 2015, Putin lent military aid to support the crumbling al Assad regime in Syria. (Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy, 7 October 2015). Due to falling oil prices, the Russian economy is already crumbling, and yet Putin has somehow seen fit to involve his country in the war in Syria. One must ask the question: WHY? It is a situation that bears watching.
- At here in the U.S., racism is yet again on the front lines. A 2015 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in conjunction with CNN found that 49% see racism as a big problem, as compared to just 28% four years ago. Another 33% see it as “somewhat” of a problem, while only 12% think it is either a small problem, not a problem at all, or don’t know/don’t care. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s rhetoric in his bid for president seems to have given a boost to white supremacist groups such as Stormfront, a white supremacist group referring to themselves as “white nationalists”. Much of today’s racism against African-Americans can be seen in events such as the murder of Trayvon Martin and the exoneration of his killer under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland as well as numerous others. The question becomes, are these events a cause of increased racism, or the effect? I do not know the answer to that question, but before it goes any further, lawmakers, police departments and courts need to analyze and, in the words of Donald Trump, “figure out what’s going on”. We cannot tolerate a return to the racist environment of the Civil Rights era, and that appears to be precisely where we are heading.
None of the above examples, taken at face value, indicate a return to the past. There is still a long way to go until a neo-Nazi party comes to power in a European nation, or the Soviet empire returns to power in Eastern Europe, or the United States returns to the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s-1960’s. But these are indicators that the winds may be blowing in that direction and I think it is prudent to realize this, be ever-vigilant and carefully elect leaders who will use their power to stop any further progression toward a return to a past that holds nothing but shame … a past that is made of “we will never forget” moments.