Time and Distance … Lessons From History

history

A comment on a Facebook post Saturday night greatly disturbed me and set my mind on a path, trying to understand how or why anybody in their right mind would make such a comment.  The original post was by my friend A, and it was a relatively innocuous political post.  Nothing to inspire hateful comments, not really anything particularly controversial.  But one of A’s friends who I do not personally know, responded with the following:

“Everyone has their opinions, yes I voted for him but I would have voted for Hitler himself before I would EVER have voted for Hillary! I don’t debate politics nor do I disrespect anyone that did… This is simply my opinion.”

I was so incredulous that I had to read and re-read the comment several times to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.  Surely NOBODY would EVER say such a thing!  But she did. I responded with relative calm, telling her that her remark was exceedingly inappropriate and adding a suggestion that she invest in a history book or two.

Within an hour or so, the comment and with it my response were removed, so either she realized the error of her ways, or was just angry and removed her comment.  I neither know nor particularly care which.  But I did a lot of thinking, wondering why she made that comment in such a flippant, off-hand manner.

I have always heard that history is cyclic, and perhaps it is so.  I was born a few short years after the end of World War II.  My grandfather had fought in World War I.  My father and uncles had fought in World War II. I grew up hearing of the horrors wrought on the world by Adolph Hitler, thus the war and the Holocaust were as real to me as if I had been there in person.  I vividly remember the story my father told of going to sleep in a building in Dunkirk and waking up a few hours later … in the only corner that remained of the building.  Stories of brutality, of man’s inhumanity to man.  It was real to me, and by the time I was about five, I hated Hitler with a burning passion.

history-7When I had children of my own, I spoke of these things.  My now-grown children understand what Hitler did, despise him for what he did, but with a few degrees less passion than I, because of distance and time.  I liken it to parents trying to teach a child a valuable lesson that they, themselves learned.  More often than not, the child cannot learn from the parent’s mistakes, but must go out and make his own in order to fully understand the lesson.  For twelve years I taught history to my homeschooled granddaughter, and I suppose my passion on the subject got through, because she was almost as offended as I when she saw the comment that began this post.  But other young people I know are pitifully lacking in even understanding quite what Hitler did that was so bad, and they really have no idea how he rose to power, the set of circumstances that enabled him to do so.  Is this a failure on the part of our schools, or is it that to these young people it is such ancient history that they do not feel a connection, and therefore lack interest?

If this line of thinking is correct, and I have no idea whether or not it is, then are we doomed to make the same mistakes … is history destined to repeat itself? Perhaps we are enough generations removed from the horrors of the Nazis and the Third Reich that it is much diminished in the minds of those who are in what is now called the millennial generation. How, then, will people see Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and others in another 100 years?  Will the memory, the lessons, be so diluted in another century that Hitler is seen as nothing much more than “just another bad leader”?

history-6And what does this say about us as humans?  Are we so self-focused that events not directly affecting us are irrelevant?  A fellow-blogger recently wrote a post where she suggests that we in the U.S. have been blind to the human tragedies in Syria, Aleppo, Sudan, Yemen, and many others.  And she is right … we have been, for the most part. Why?  Because they do not directly affect us?  Just as the past horrors that affected our ancestors no longer affect us.  I am reminded of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys that transcended multiple generations until finally nobody remembered what the original feud was about.

Where am I going with this?  I have no idea.  The comment that the person ‘would have voted for Hitler’ just sent my mind tumbling around trying to figure out how anybody could think it is okay to say such a thing, and what you have just read is the result of those mind acrobatics.  Just something to think about.

34 thoughts on “Time and Distance … Lessons From History

  1. Jill, it’s all awful, so many profoundly disturbing things. I think you could do with an injection of naive optimism… If you can face a trip over to mine, don’t bother with the words (did I really say that?) just play all the videos – have a singalong, a weep – and know that lots of the world weeps with you and hopes with you.
    Hope, not hate!
    (that is, btw, the name of one of the charities the memorial fund for murdered MP Jo Cox is supporting).
    And have a virtual hug on me.

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    • Your blog always cheers me, so I will pop over later this evening. I am pitifully behind on reading blogs … i am spending entirely too much time reading, reasearching and writing about dark topics. I haven’t even taken my Christmas decorations down yet!!! Thanks for the hug! Hugs are ALWAYS welcomed! 😀

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        • I am SO glad I found you … or you found me … whichever it was! I love your way of thinking! I always say the same about time … it is man-made and humans get entirely too caught up in the clock on the wall! I must admit that I had to Google kairological time … I learned something new today! 🙂 I will try that one! 🙂

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  2. I have sworn off writing about politics on my blog because I cant keep calm like you.
    I think history repeating is a function of it happening to someone else. And when that person is different in time that’s easier.
    Outrage for effect went a bit overboard on this comment. But Hitler has become a character and lost the true terror his name should instil

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    • I tried to swear off writing about politics back about mid-2015, but for me it is a compulsion … or perhaps an obsession, and I find I cannot ignore it for more than an occassional day. You have a point in your last sentence … he has become just another character from history for some, and his name no longer sends chills down their spine as it does mine. Thanks for your insightful comment!

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  3. Jill, I commend you for civilly make a point that such a comment is not well grounded. It shows also how an imperfect candidate was slowly and methodically built up to be this devil incarnate, when the truth was she was a very capable candidate, who made some mistakes and was too zealous to defend her name. Hitler’s rounding up and gassing of tens of millions of Jews is hard to match and the only person who could come close is Stalin.

    Even though our President has done things that are more totalitarian than democratic and is far too ego-maniacal, thin-skinned and ill-informed, he is not Hitler either. To me, I see far too many things that are called Nazi or Hitler-esque. It has to be a very atrocious thing to drum up those comparisons. When name calling begins, debate ceases.

    Also, we don’t learn from history, even recent history, as politicians try to pretend it did not happen. We did not learn the lessons of Vietnam, so we repeated them in Iraq and Afghanistan – trusting leaders we should not have, not understanding the terrain or people and fighting an enemy that hid amongst the civilians. All are contributors to our lengthy stay there.

    Keith

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    • I agree with you, however I still see apt comparisons between the start of Hitler’s ascent to power and Trump’s. Granted, the condition of 1930s Germany and 2017 U.S. differ significantly, but I believe that Trump has that same desire for total control. The other thing that most disturbs me is his base of support … mostly non-thinkers who are swayed by his demeanor and his rhetoric. My biggest fear, of course, remains his treatment of the press … I fear he will have the country so convinced that they are liars that the press will lose credibility and even more people will fall in line, believing every word out of the Trump-Spicer-Conway team. And Bannon also frightens me … that man is genuinely evil. So … question for you, as I always respect your insight: do we EVER learn from history?

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      • Jill, this is why we study history. This also happens in corporate America, when new CEOs come in from the outside and try things that had failed before, but no one has the chutzpah to tell them it failed. The bullying of the media shows a man and team whose message is not strong. He wants to distract from policies that do not make sense or will help the people at the top. His actions are what we need to report, not that he does not like Melissa McCarthy’s imitation of Sean Spicer. Keith

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      • The parallels are definitely there. The Germans had lost the First World War and their pride was severely bashed. We had “lost” in Viet Nam and our pride was also severely bashed — after all, this nation didn’t lose wars! And there is widespread poverty and unrest. As you say, there are parallels. There are also important differences. But, be that as it may, we really do need to read history and try to learn something from the past. It’s all we have to go on (other than the lies coming forth from the Tweeter).

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        • There are differences, the underlying truth is our nation is doing pretty well in spite of the problems noted. The other is we do have active groups that are calling poor decisions on the carpet. We will need them to continue.

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        • Yes, I agree, there are major differences that make it an apples-to-oranges comparison, but the ignorance of so many citizens, voters, amazes and frightens me. As to reading history … I’m doing my part … currently reading Devil in the Grove about Thurgood Marshall’s early days with the NAACP. Excellent book, by the way. 🙂

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  4. A couple of things. To begin with, the fact that this woman retracted her comment after you called her out on it suggests it was impromptu — simply a way of expressing her hatred of Hillary (which I really do not understand). But, then, Americans are notorious for their ignorance of history, including our own. And it is possible she really didn’t know what the hell she was saying. I thought your comments in general were spot on. I’m not sure history is cyclical, it may be more nearly a spiral, but events do seem to shadow one another and mimic them somewhat. We can certainly learn from the past because the future will resemble the past at least in broad outline. We do seem to be living through an age that echoes many of the horrors of Nazi Germany. But ours is a republic and there are checks and balances that Germany in the 1930s didn’t have. We can therefore hope that history will not repeat itself in any but a general sense.

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    • Thank you! I knew you would bring some valuable insight into the discussion. I agree that our system of checks and balances should prevent a repeat of Nazi Germany, but I wonder … with a Republican majority so intent on certain moves, if that doesn’t weaken the independence of the Congress. Time will tell. Thanks for reading … I appreciate it! I wasn’t quite sure where my thoughts were going on that one, just seemed to be swirling in limbo. 🙂

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      • There are some good, strong people in the Congress — even among the Republicans (McCain, for example) and Trump will have to deal with them. We also have a court system (so far) that seems willing to thwart Trump’s will.

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        • I want to believe you, and more than once I have applauded McCain … but he and his fellow senators certainly let us all down today with the confirmation of DeVos, so I’m not expecting much resistance to come from that sector. Maybe after a time they will wise up, but today they are wimps in my book. Sigh.

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          • The Republicans in Congress are experiencing euphoria. All that power: it is dizzying! They can sit back and let Trump do his thing — such as dismantle the EPA and cripple public education, things they have wanted to do. If he oversteps his bounds (!) they will pretend they have nothing to do with him. In the meantime, they are having a party. It is a sad commentary, indeed. Men and women of ambition and greed, but lacking totally in moral fiber.

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            • It is, indeed, and we seemingly have no immediate recourse. That is the most frustrating part … our voices do not seem to count for anything. I hope they choke on their nachos while they are enjoying their self-congratulatory party! Sigh. 😥

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  5. Can’t believe someone could really think like this (- and if it was just flippancy, it is really bad taste!) … But I guess we (as in “we Europeans”) are much closer to this part of history still. Having spent my school days in Germany and Austria, I can only tell you we have been taught about this topic a lot (not always in brilliant ways, but we did learn our facts). And today, when it comes up, I am telling my boys about it (age appropriate, of course). Throwing away the knowledge about our history is one of the most stupid things mankind can do. If we are not able to learn from the past, then what happens to us is really just what we deserve. And “you should have known better” will be the verdict future generations will cast. – But, to end with a more positive note, there are also a lot of hopeful signs I am picking up. Signs that many people will not accept the rule of hatred and ignorance. Let’s hope this will be the path we take in the end.

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    • In the past few decades, the education system in the U.S. has declined, and things like history, civics and literature are downplayed in favour of more technical subjects. That, as I see it, deprives our young of a well-balanced education, the kind that would help them understand the world a bit. From what I know of the education your boys are getting, it is far superior in that sense. Plus, as you say, Europe is more attuned to the lessons of the 1930s by merit of having been a part of it. And yes, I agree, there are some signs that we are NOT going to take this lying down. I cannot remember a time in my lifetime when there were so many organized protests as there are right now. I just hope it all does some good. Ours is not a pleasant place to live these days. Sigh. Hugs, my friend. 🙂

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      • Yesterday I read an article in the newspaper about how to counter “fake news” in our education system. The way the author saw it, it is not done by shifting our focus to talk more about internet/media etc. in the classroom, but quite to the contrary by doubling our efforts in teaching the “classic things”: history, mathematics, literature. The author argued that with a firm background in what you could call “general knowledge” you are better able to cope with the flood of (fake) information in our daily life. If you know how to interpret numbers, they cannot feed you faulty statistics so easily. If you know your history, you can look at today to see parallels. If you are good at language, you can detect hollow rhetoric phrases. – I kind of liked that concept, although I have to say it is also important to teach them how to navigate their way in the digital world. How to look at a website and gauge its reliability, for example.

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  6. Hi Jill.

    The axiom that “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it” rings truer now than at any other point in modern times. I haven’t been in school for a long time so I don’t know now if they teach such things about Hitler, Stalin and other world leaders who foisted inhumane, unbelievable brutality on either their own people or other groups for which they held unfathomable contempt but the people who worry me the most are those who simply don’t care about history and feel that it is irrelevant.

    Unfortunately, when I was in college, my history professor was quite a bore and didn’t present the subject in a way that felt relevant or meaningful to the students and so for a long time, I also held the assertion that it really didn’t matter either.

    Some people say that we are becoming “Rome 2.0” and though I can’t say that I agree with the notion that some opponents of the president believe him to be another Hitler, and though I didn’t vote for him, I don’t have much confidence that the current press paints him accurately either because they have demonstrated time and again that they hold nothing but contempt for those people in politics who don’t hold with the values of the left.

    those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it not because of some conspiratorial cosmic device that makes it so but simply because if one doesn’t learn the point of a lesson, it will be repeated until the message is clear to the individual or group who haven’t learned from such a teachable moment.

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    • They still teach history, civics, etc., but it rather takes a backseat to the more job-oriented, technical subjects, I believe. My biggest fear is that Trump will keep putting down the press, calling them liars, and eventually the masses will stop believing what they read and believe only what Trump tells them … which, I think, is his goal. I try not to be an alarmist, but frankly I AM alarmed by what I have seen the past two weeks, and even before he took office. I still wake up in the middle of the night wondering how the heck this man became leader of the nation. Sigh.

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  7. This makes me really think, what would this world be like without villains. Hitler, Bashar al Assad, I guess Trump is next in line. In the line of prejudiced leaders, one thing has remained common. Prejudice still exists. Hatred still exists. Racism still exists. It’s all still here, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. This past year of political upheaval has left me feeling so mentally exhausted and bewildered at our reality. We’re going in circles, history repeats. As helpless as I feel sometimes, staring at my computer screen with my jaw dropped at least once a day, I’m going to throw a (possibly naive, possibly wise) notion that hope is worth holding onto. Not in the world as a whole, but on the people within it that, little by little, sprinkle some more good to extinguish the bad.

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    • I fully agree with you … my jaw drops multiple times a day. I think … I wonder these days … when we thought we had mostly overcome racism … were we kidding ourselves? I mean, all those who are spewing hate for minorities and talking about white supremacy … they didn’t just pop out from under a mushroom one day. I am depressed by it all … I thought we were better than this, but now I’m not so sure. Yet, I still have hope because there ARE good people out there and they ARE beginning to stand up and make their voices heard. I love your analogy about ‘sprinkle some more good to extinguish the bad.’ Let us hope …

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