There is a little saying, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.” And that is the basic nature of history: it is subject to individual interpretation, manipulation and wishful thinking, especially in the past where the evidence was not as carefully preserved, well documented and accessible as it is now. So history is obviously a poor teacher, otherwise it would be more representative of our humanity, not just those with the power, and we would have learnt much more from it.
History cannot be our teacher because we would not be repeating the errors of yesterday, repeating almost the same results without learning any new lessons. Iraq and Vietnam are a case in point. Despite the awful loss of life in Vietnam, the frustration with winning that war and it’s sheer viciousness, the capitulation at the end and the general dissatisfaction about US involvement, President Bush is happily revisiting the sins of his father to do even worse in Iraq. Throwing caution to the wind, he has squandered American reputation and billions on something he could never hope to win, proving beyond doubt that history had nothing to teach him.
History is also dominated by particular slants, pervasive manipulation as excuse for bad memory and it mainly favours those who can give a good narrative and those well known, not the unsung and silent heroes who actually helped to make the substance of that history. We only hear of the great works of great people while every brutal act is downplayed and desensitised to favour the victor, like the British Empire, an oppressive, racist, colonial regime which forced British customs, administration and language on many races across the world under the guise of ‘discovering’ new lands and peoples and ‘civilising’ them, while robbing them of their resources and extending British power. Yet that has been reported in history as something glorious, a time which put the ‘Great’ in Britain without acknowledging, until recently, the insensitivity, sheer brutality and racist nature of some its administrations, not to mention the legacy of displacement and loss o local pride that was left.
History could teach us a lot, but it is not the nature of man to learn, otherwise it would curb our innovative spirit through fear of repeating the consequences shown in history. Our nature is to keep creating new history with the hope of changing what has already happened, and definitely bettering it. Not to really learn from it. Hence President Bush’s rash actions. So we are the teachers of history through the mark and legacy we strive to leave behind us, while history leaves a never ending trail of people who failed to learn from its recurring and ever potent lessons.