Many dangers are taking wing among America’s leaders in the Washington Beltway. One of the most disturbing is a dangerous ignorance of history’s lessons. There is reason to mistrust the decisions of any politician who lacks a good grasp of history, yet those types are swarming in the nation’s Capitol.
Not the least of these dangers is that when leaders like President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi display historical ignorance, their misstatements of history and facts become accepted by listeners as truth. This is because the liberalization of America’s educational system has never taught younger citizens anything different. Civics is ignored, or under-taught. Most schools no longer discuss facts, or teach logic and the ability to make decisions based on reason. Instead, the educational establishment concentrates on interpreting history in the emotional context of social justice, equal outcomes and diversity. Inconvenient truths are banished.
This is no trifling matter. When leaders do not understand history, they have no sense of the cultural bloodstream and no inkling of which policies have the best chance to work and which have been tried and failed. It’s like putting a general on the battlefield, or a commander in chief in the White House, without training in the history of military science and tactics.
History teaches how to learn from mistakes. The present cannot be understood without knowing the past. You can’t understand where you are and where you should go unless you know where you have been. Understanding history opens up the secrets of who we are, because the past is in us. People ignorant of history are destined to make poor decisions, because they believe they are doing something new. Ignorance of history leads to unneeded mistakes.
When leaders don’t know the “American story,” they have no sense of how exceptional America is on the world stage and in the world’s history. Even if you don’t believe America is exceptional these days, there is no question that America was exceptional at its founding. The Founding Fathers had a profound knowledge of 12,000 years of human civilization. America taught the world that a new covenant could exist between people and their governments. How many of today’s leaders have anything but a surface understanding of the value of American history?
Obama stands before crowds and tells them John Kennedy talked Nikita Khrushchev out of placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. He boasts that an uncle liberated Auschwitz. In July 2008, he referred to “the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor,” not Hiroshima. He claims that America built “the Intercontinental Railway.” He says, “Texas has always been a Republican state.” Maybe Obama never heard of Lyndon Johnson, but he is historically wrong on all counts. And, for oblivious listeners, he rewrote history to buttress his own agenda.
Politicians want to say that the world is quite simple, because that makes it easier for them to explain their own agenda. Historians, on the other hand, know that the world is complicated, that the past has caused the present, which is, therefore, defined by the past. Our civilization is not handed down; it must be learned anew by each generation.
We have far too many leaders who have learned nothing from history, and I mistrust them because of their ignorance and lack of wisdom about human nature. They refuse to look on history as valuable lessons teaching a sense of proportion, and as a torch that illuminates the present so that we will not repeat the mistakes of earlier days. The most important lesson of history is that leaders who do not learn the lessons of history will be failures. Washington, D.C., is full of such failures, and we can’t tolerate them anymore.