Is History a Bad Teacher?

Posted on January 8, 2012


My previous post, “The Hypocrisy of Disarmament”, which compared current affairs with the past, made me think about how hard it has been for people to learn history’s lessons. Hegel thought that all history teaches is that it doesn’t teach anything at all. This post will further develop the idea that Western and Israeli fears for Iranian rearmament and Iran’s aggressively defensive attitude are elements we often find in recent history.

 Ahmadinejad desperately needs the West’s current and future economic sanctions and retaliation threats in order to make his anti-Israeli and anti-Western rhetoric appealing to the people, so that he can make nationalism central to his propaganda. People, historically, seem more willing to accept tyranny when the homeland is thought to be in danger, and Ahmadinejad is fully aware of this. In the tyrants’ eyes, Hitler’s Germany was threatened by France and the Jews, Mussolini’s Italy was threatened by French and British imperial arrogance, Gaddafi’s Libya was threatened by European and American economic imperialism.

Iran’s ambitions confront the West with a dilemma: is Ahmadinejad to be appeased or to be opposed? History may offer many precedents to this situation, yet it is hard for today’s governments to face rearmament coherently, while economic sanctions seem nothing more than a compromise between appeasement and active opposition. History has taught us many things about situations of this nature. Many will say it taught us that appeasing armament-junkies like Hitler will only encourage them to stack up weapons and armies and wage war. Yet, it may be reasonably argued that the same history teaches that Hitler was able to achieve popularity and finally power thanks to the iron fist policies imposed by the Allies at the Paris Peace Conference. But again, if history’s lessons were easy to learn and to interpret, we would live in a much different world.

Is history a bad teacher? No, I think we are bad students.

Posted in: History, Opinion