Friday, June 10, 2022


Do we learn from history? 

As my mother – a woman who lived through a lot of history – would say, "That's the question."  

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because of what’s been happening in the news.  First, there is all that terrible news about the Russian war against Ukraine.  It seems to go on and on and makes me think of all the wars I’ve known during my 74 years.  Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, we’ve started hearing a flood of news about the war in the United States against the children and the good people here.  So far there have been 232 mass shootings in our country since the beginning of the year.  I seem to go to sleep every night hearing about one mass shooting, and I seem to wake up every morning hearing about a different mass shooting.  

I read about all this and hear about it repeatedly on the news, and I ask myself repeatedly “Don’t we learn anything from history?”

Apparently not.  The wars and the killings that are happening today will also be happening tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The politicians who could change things are too busy appearing on the news shows to tell us why they can’t do a thing.

So what does history teach us?

Maybe what history teaches us is that the only good we can ever have is that SUV, that Lexus or Infiniti or Mercedes Benz we dream of.

Forget trying to stop the wars that are affecting so many.  Forget trying to prevent the deaths of school children. Forget trying to get justice for this or that person.  Forget trying to convince some murderous fool to appreciate the sanctity of other people’s lives. Forget trying to make the world a better place.

All there is -- all that we can really hope for -- is that shiny Lexus supercar or that chrome Samsung refrigerator or that brand new Apple iPhone with direct access to a world of games like Wordle and sudoku because grace, justice, brotherhood, love, the age of aquarius, harmony and understanding are all lies.

You don’t think so?

Here's something Saul Bellow, a guy from my old neighborhood in Chicago who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, said:

"You think history is the history of loving hearts?  You fool!  Look at these millions of dead.  Can you pity them? Feel for them?  You can do nothing!  There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers.  History is the history of cruelty, not love."

 I’ve known big-time history professors and sociologists who wonder about stuff like: What can history teach us?  But most people aren’t asking this question. It seems like most of the 7 billion people on earth are  asking, "Where can I get a good price on a Toyota Highlander?"

And why do they want to get that Toyota Highlander?  

Because they know if they don't get it now before the next horde comes down from the mountains or the next ice age descends on us or the next war starts or the next killer shows up at the Walmart down the street, they'll never get that Toyota Highlander, never touch something that once for a couple of minutes gave them the illusion that things were looking up.


My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy


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