Those who cannot remember the past…

Monday, January 14th, 2008

are condemned to repeat it.

We all have heard this, and, of course, it is true.

It is also true that those who remember the past too well are condemned to go on fighting the same battles for 4000 years (or more).

When history is remembered with absolute accuracy, old injuries are never forgotten. We see this happening in the Middle East and Africa. Tribe one killed someone 300 years ago so tribe two needs to even the score. Somehow the injuries are remembered better than the revenge, so there is always a score to settle.

This seems to happen most often in places who use oral history (which is transmitted with great accuracy) and written history where there is one important holy book to record the history.

In Western cultures there is a tradition of rewriting history. When intelligent victors write the books, they can say things like, “Japan was once our enemy, but now they have changed and are our friend.” It only takes a generation or so before this is the general belief. There are some real advantages to this. The biggest being that it is possible to switch alliances relatively quickly and create peaceful relations where there once was war.

So, when we look at history, it’s good to remember it to avoid repeating it. We need the ability to remember. However, it’s also good to be able to forget some of the past so that memories of old injuries don’t also condemn us to repeat history.