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History Rhymes

Does Our Present Echo Our Past?

The Forum In Roman

"What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? ... History is more or less bunk." Henry Ford didn't think very highly of the study of the past. Why should any of us? Is there value in reading about dead guys in dusty books?

Undoubtedly, history has its limitations. It's written primarily by the victors, who were subject to the prejudices, misperceptions, and errors of judgement that cloud interpretations of how events really unfolded. It doesn't allow us to predict the future. There is no formula for the past that allows us to plug in variables of the present and reach a clean solution that unlocks the future’s mysteries. Our reality is much too chaotic for this. It is influenced by the whims of man, the forces of nature, and the acts of God, none of which generally follow any predictable pattern.

But this does not mean there is no value in history. I would argue that the reflection on the failings of humans throughout history affords us moral contemplation on our own present and illuminates the methods to follow and pitfalls to avoid when creating the best version of our own future.

We also look to the past as a road map for how we arrived at our present. It provides understanding of how humans, and by extension, governments, corporations, and armies, have behaved in times of war and peace. Is this not a useful starting point for making sense of the world around us today?

To stop here would be to ignore how entertaining history can be. If written well, we share a bit of the suspense of past battles and the sorrow of the death of kings, all while experiencing the joy of fusing a bond between our past and our present.

Each of the entries that follow will highlight a historical event and attempt to explain its significance. Parallels will be shown between it and the events shaping our world today, drawing on context from the past to help us understand the present and, in so doing, better prepare us for the future. Above all, the intention is to entertain.

Leave it to Mark Twain, America’s greatest wit, to sum up the previous paragraphs in a single quip: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” History is a collection of dishes cooked with the same ingredients, the tastes varying only slightly at each serving. It is my hope that these writings will help improve your palates.


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