Wake up, your ancestors are calling

March 15, 2019

History is a really funny thing. We, as humans, are inclined to believe that people change, and what happened in the past will not happen in the future. But, in my humble opinion, human nature does not change: Only circumstances do. It does not matter if you change the picture frame—the picture remains the same.

A few years ago, I, like a lot of people, believed that history does not matter. Who cares, they’re all dead anyway, right? Well, firstly, not all of them are dead; some are still alive today. I do not know if this change in opinion came about because I started taking modern world history rather than the history of older civilizations, but I definitely think that history, at least modern world history, is important for everyone to know. Although it is a record of the past, in a way, it is also the key to the future.

I started noticing this more and more after I moved here. I am not trying to personally attack anyone, but a lot of the people I met here seem to have slept through all the history classes they ever took (if they ever took any in the first place). This also causes them to sometimes have a very odd perspective on the world around them.

As a very basic example, Americans are surprised that Cubans generally do not really like them. The relationship between the two countries is something that is not the most ideal. Or, to give another example, someone who told me that Americans were the first to go to space? I am not even talking about not knowing the specifics of the Iranian revolution or the Chinese Civil War (don’t get me wrong, both are very interesting historic events but might not be as close to home), I am talking about historic events America took part in, or general important turning points for humanity.

I understand that in something like history, interest and personal proximity are a lot more correlated than in other subjects. As a Ukrainian, the two World Wars and the Cold War were very interesting and close to me because members of my family took part in these events. This might not be as interesting to someone from a country that did not take part in these events. Sure, maybe the South African Apartheid might not be as interesting to me, but it does not mean that it is not significant or that I should not learn about it.

Similarly, while studying the American Civil War in my senior year, I really struggled to pay attention in class. Unlike the two World Wars and the Cold War, the Civil War felt very distant and insignificant. Now, about a year later, living in the U.S., I really regret not paying more attention during those lectures because even the limited amount of things I remember from that class really show how contemporary American society is shaped.

Sure, maybe it is not necessary to know all the names and dates in history (though I still believe having a general idea is good), but understanding the causes and effects of significant (and maybe even those that don’t appear significant) historical events is important. The thing is, human nature, and thus human actions, do not change. Sure they might take different forms (i.e conventional warfare vs. informational wars), but the general principles and motivations behind them do not change.  

I honestly think if more people knew more history, a lot of conflicts that occur today could be mitigated if not avoided. If we know what mistakes we made in the past, we are one step closer to avoiding them in the future. Furthermore, you could also use history to understand the possible consequences an event can have because chances are it happened before. I am not claiming to be a history expert by any means. I also should learn more history, particularly, non-European centered history, but I am definitely not the only one who needs to do more learning. To quote a famous Russian idiom, it’s time to stop “treading on the same rake.”

Menu Title