“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” (Georg Hegel)
I’ve had that quote around for a week or so and it seemed to be appropriate for this weekend, with the anniversary of the attack on America by Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda that took 2,977 lives that day and which has claimed many more since from the ranks of first responders.
It has been 20 years since the American response to that attack was to launch the “War on Terrorism” which, considering our recent embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan and the reemergence of the Taliban, has largely been as unsuccessful as the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs or the efforts to end racism and discrimination in America. The protagonists in these wars, whether from outside or within, have all discovered that the best route to defeat America’s well-intentioned, if ill-conceived, wars is through patience and persistence.
There have been many articles written about factors that cause these failures, mostly about how ill-defined the goals were to begin with and about the constant “mission-creep” that kept re-defining what or who it was that we were fighting or the reason that we were even fighting. However, one of the most obvious is the lack of political will to see these “Wars” through to a conclusion. I hesitate to use the word victory, since that word has so often been usurped to cover our eventual withdrawals from the fights.
Even now, we are fighting wars on several fronts against cyber attacks mainly from outside our country, but from a few internal sources, too. We are also fighting an unseen enemy in the form of a pandemic that has turned us against ourselves with disastrous consequences. Diseases like other enemies patiently wait for us to let our guard down and then swoop back in to claim more lives.
Even Nature, to whom we assigned the benign personality of “Mother Nature”, is now exacting a terrible toll in retribution for our wanton disregard for the planet. I’m not sure that we ever declared “war” on global warming, but if we did, we are losing that war, too.
What have we really learned from the history of these failed wars? Hopefully that loud thumping of our chests as we declare “War” and military might alone does not assure victory; and perhaps that vigilance and preparedness are never-ending requirements for our nation’s safety. Both require patience and persistence, plus political will.
In our fights against diseases and global warming our efforts have been disrupted by misinformation or, even worse, by disinformation. So, we must also work to get back onto the team those whose “beliefs” have replaced the facts and work harder to combat the bad players who spread misinformation and conspiracy theories in place of the truth.
Perhaps Hegel is right that we don’t appear to learn what we could from history. We cannot change history anyway. But we do have choices in front of us that can change the future. Have we at least learned that? I hope so.