Tuesday, April 16, 2013
On Reading History
“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” --Edmund Burke (1700s)
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."--George Santayana (1800s)
Monsters live among us. Yes, I am thinking about the bombings in Boston yesterday. It was a scene that would be very familiar to those living in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and so many other places around our battered world.
I've always enjoyed history. It is the story of people. I have actually learned a lot of history through reading historical novels. I remember several years ago that I read a novel that featured some incidents involving France's "Sun King" and life at the great palace of Versailles. I don't remember much else about that novel, but it piqued my curiosity about Louis XIV and I did a lot of reading in the encyclopedia about him, his times, life at Versailles, and life of the common French people of the times.
While most of my reading is recreational or escapist type reading--the love of a good story--I also include some nonfiction, whether biographies, Bible, or more generalized history. Over the past year or two I have been reading, a bit at a time, books in the "for Dummies" series of histories. I've finished the Egyptians and the Greeks, and am working on the Romans. I still have the Irish and the Europeans to go. Although I won't remember all the details and people that fill these books, what I will remember is the general overview of their times.
A few things always stand out for me when I read history, whether from secular or Biblical writings.
1) Human nature doesn't change. In every society in every time in every part of the globe there are basics that always show up.
2) The "common" people of every society are the ones who keep the social order functioning. They are the ones who do the necessary work, raise the children, care for the elderly and the ill. Life could not go on without the everyday activities of the unsung ordinary folk.
3) The death, destruction, and horrors of war are created by the privileged elite who seek ever more wealth, territory, and power. The more people they manage to get killed through their greed for those things, the more they are apt to be awarded the title "the Great." They are the ones the historians write about, but their power and wealth are gained on the efforts and the sacrifices of thousands of other people who are pulled into their orbits and their armies, or who are killed for the acquisition of their lands, wealth, or power.
Knowing something about history is truly important. It can also be discouraging.
My heroes are the ordinary folk who work so hard to keep life functioning and without whom we would lack all the things that make life possible and society workable.