Why Study History?

by Colonel Dan


The Cowboy Chronicle

January  2007

Like most in our SASS gang, I think the history surrounding our great country is intriguing.  Intriguing yes, but why really study it?  The best reason for studying the past is to help shape the future.  And it’s not the major events of history that I focus on—it’s those preliminary events that led up to and prepared the way for those major events to occur.  It’s only through constant vigilance and our ability to recognize the significance of preliminary events that enables us to take the action necessary to shape the direction and nature of major events that may follow—that’s why I study history.

Norman Cousins said, "History is a vast early warning system" and George Santayan, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"– two of the more profound observations ever made.

Constant vigilance coupled with timely and effective action is the key to retaining freedom.  As two stellar Americans once told us:

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."  Thomas Jefferson

“But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.  It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government." Andrew Jackson

Other than to help shape our future or merely satisfy idle curiosity, there is no reason to study past events. 

Question—are there common threads that weave their way through history that we should watch for that would shape our own future?  You bet. 

Tyrannies throughout history have followed amazingly similar paths in taking over nations and millions of people worldwide.  A few of those common threads I’ve seen have included the confiscation of private property, restricting or denying free speech, confiscation of firearms and concocting national threats or enemies as an excuse for expanding governmental control over just about everything. 

In every historical episode, I look for nuggets of wisdom that can be related to current events.  Let’s focus on one familiar example as a case study.  What lessons can we learn from the Holocaust?  People that lived through this era vividly describe the human catastrophe in detail and the German words “Nie Wieder” (Never Again) tolls a warning to all generations.  But what exactly is it that we should never again allow to happen?  Is it the concentration camps or the torture and slaughter of millions?  Most certainly that was a chapter in history that should never recur.  The camps however were but the end result of a series of ground laying events that led to that major tragedy.  By the time the concentration camps were operating, it was too late to turn back the clock—prevention was no longer possible.

To my way of thinking, it was the incremental violations of rights that paved the way to the Holocaust and Germany’s eventual destruction that are the lessons we should vigilantly recognize, study, and learn from so we can prevent their recurrence.  What were some of those preliminary events that led to this particular disaster—what were the “warning signs” along the trail?

Pitting one group against the other—Hitler and crew vilified the Jews and targeted them as a major cause of evil and misfortune in Germany.  The government simply created a common enemy.  Jews were painted as a plague that had to be eradicated for the good of Germany’s future—for the children so to speak.

Loss of private property rights—The Jews were subject to losing everything they owned with no due recourse to an out-of-control regime.  The government simply concocted a reason to take private property and they took it—eminent domain run amuck as it were.

Extreme government control—Who was ever better at this than the Nazis?  Government papers, permits and approval were required for everything.

Registration and confiscation of personal firearms—In 1928 and 1938 Germany passed gun control laws that called for all firearms to be registered which eventually provided the comprehensive list used later to confiscate those weapons.  Jews were denied the means to fight back—denied their God-given right of self-defense under the guise of a law that was in the interest of protecting society.

“This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!"  Adolf Hitler

The combination of these few examples, among others, enabled Hitler to lay the groundwork required to undermine Germany’s freedom and implement the slaughter to come. 

Stripped of their dignity as citizens, their property, their independence and their means of self-defense, the Jews and Germany were vulnerable to all that followed. 

Consequently, to me, the phrase “Nie Wieder” refers to the acceptance of incremental violations of inalienable rights.  Never again should people benignly accept such erosion of their God-given rights—that is a proven pathway to hell. 

Had the German people risen up in unison to strongly resist their government when the first violation was imposed, the story could have been much different.  Although easy to say, such unified/coordinated action is tremendously difficult for any nation’s people to undertake against a despotic government growing in power and wildly out of control.  Not all of the general population thought things would or could ever go as far as they eventually did.  Only those within Hitler’s inner circle could have known the full extent of that “Final Solution.”

What are the most important lessons from this?  Is it the lesson about life in the camps or would it be more beneficial for the world to be able to recognize the preliminary signs along the way that warn of a potential recurrence of tyranny?  That ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure and the pound of cure in the 40’s came at a price of a world war and tens of millions dead.

It’s those seedling little signs from history’s lessons people must learn to quickly recognize because when those seeds sprout, they have a bad habit of growing rapidly.  We simply can’t afford to ignore history’s lessons and expect to remain free.

Patrick Henry gave us a critically important mission when he instructed, “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force.  Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.” 

And just how valued should our liberty be?  “Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.”  John Adams

What of the consequences then for any nation that’s either ignorant of history or fails to vigilantly guard the jewel Henry and Adams referenced?   Ben Franklin addressed that. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”  Jefferson added If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be."

Indeed true and I’ll add that those who remain ignorant of history’s little lessons today will most probably have to face its big ones tomorrow.

Just the view from my saddle…

Contact Colonel Dan:  coloneldan@bellsouth.net  


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