What is the importance you ask?. Why should we bother to look back? We have to manage what’s going on today. What happened a long time ago is past. What does it have to do with me? What can possibly be the benefit of studying history? Here is my list of 10 really important reasons that history is important:
In a short span of time, humans have put themselves on the verge of extinction. There used to be huge flocks of birds that would nearly blacken the sky. Polar bears and tigers, butterflies, and frogs were plentiful, the air was clean and we were not plagued by the horrific storms that have battered us the last few years. We must remember our natural history and how beautiful the planet was and how much beauty there still is and that if we try, we might preserve it. History is about learning about our mistakes, our victories, and what we can do to make our lives better.
Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. The official German program of elimination of all Jews was ruthlessly and meticulously carried out throughout Europe. This was perpetrated through terrorizing the population and the systematic rounding up of Jews. This sort of hatred, terror, and autocracy, must be remembered so that we do not repeat it.
The legal selling of human beings in many countries including the United States. Slavery has been a scourge for thousands of years. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, it became part of the fabric of the American colonies and then of the United States. Slaves planted and picked the crops, built the homes, cared for the babies, and built the infrastructure - all of this helped to build the United States. The U.S. was, in large part, built by slaves. Slaves were bought and sold and ripped from families, from their children, beaten and raped. Slavery is a legacy that we must remember so that we never repeat this sort of inhumanity.
The destruction of Indigenous People’s lives and cultures around the world. There have been people living all over this planet for thousands of years. It was not until the 1500s that white men began to colonize outside of Europe. From then on, indigenous people were subjugated, killed, and their cultures decimated. In North America, it is estimated that the loss of life is in the millions, from racism, murder, and disease. The indigenous people were tossed aside as a nuisance by a new population that wanted the land. This is a horror, the U.S.’s original sin, which was repeated in other countries by European colonists. We need to learn about and remember this brutal chapter of our history so that we never repeat it.
Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, etc.:
Locations of brutal wars in the 20th Century that cost thousands of lives but with little to show for the effort but death and destruction. These wars of aggression, ethnic conflict and cleansing, lasted for years. We need to know their names, where they are on the map so that we can learn about their horrors in hopes of preventing another.
Atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima killed hundreds of thousands in minutes. Atomic weapons are the ultimate horror. They are the last resort that keeps huge powers from direct confrontation, the game of chicken that conflicting sides hold over each other. We must remember the decimated cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We must remember them, see them clearly, so that we never again repeat their destruction.
Civil wars rage when 2 factions of a country turn on each other without finding compromise. Civil wars are perhaps the saddest of wars, when a country breaks into two and wars against itself, neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. These wars are our history. They happen and they are horrible and if we don’t know about them and just how horrible they are, we may be doomed to repeat them.
Women fought for years around the world just for the right to vote. Women have been jailed, killed, attacked, simply because they wanted the right to vote. Our rights are fragile and hard won. Women and men must remember that rights are easy to take away and difficult to restore. We need to know this history so we remember to fight for our rights.
When the entire globe is engulfed in irreconcilable differences - when no one can come to compromise. We have had two such wars that we must never repeat. We depend on compromise, cool heads, and courage to defeat tyranny before it takes hold. Our burden is to remember lest we forget how lovely life can be.
The Pony Express:
Before there were telephones or radios we communicated by sending letters in a leather bag carried by a rider on horseback who would run miles to hand the bag of mail to another rider who would then run to another rider until the last rider came to the end of the mail route. You may think there have always been cell phones but it wasn’t so long ago that a handwritten letter might take weeks to travel, via pony express, across the country. Perhaps knowing that your phone, where you might be reading this blog, is miraculous in the history of communication might be the simplest explanation of why history is important.
History matters because we must not forget how far we have come, at what cost and that mistakes are so easy to repeat, but also that we can progress. The quieter stories of life on this planet, your stories of life in our towns, at our houses of worship, at our schools, are all important. They may not be not be about wars and conflict or monumental changes but they are our history and our progress and our hope. More than anything else, they show how our world has changed over time. Remembering and reflecting over them we gain wisdom from our mistakes and appreciation for the positive arc of humanity. Your stories matter!