The Importance of History

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Across the English-speaking world, if not the West, there is an appalling lack of knowledge of history but also more importantly, a profound and ingrained disrespect for it. Memorizing dates may not be sexy stuff but it puts you, your existence, and your world in perspective. In history class you are taught to always see things in context. This means that you have to look back to find the origin to a problem. Only then can you find the solution to your problem. The problem is clearly visible in schools where the statistics are truly horrifying and I’m not even referring to those young kids who did not know who Osama bin Laden was. I refer to the more basic facts about our common past; in Canada only 8 percent of citizens knew that Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The woman is on the back of all the coins for a reason! In America more than one-quarter of college students believe that it was the Civil War battle of Gettysburg that had ended the War of Independence. While in Great Britain a survey of 16 to 24 year olds found that a third of them thought D-Day marked the end of World War II. Perhaps a saving grace is that more than 10% believed knowledge of history made them more attractive to the opposite sex!

It also exists at the political level where, arguable, it is vastly more important. Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain felt that it would be horrible if some MPs (who had abused their parliamentary expenses about a year ago) were to go unpunished “because of some law dating from 1689”. The law that he refers to is the Bill of Rights which gave England and later the rest of the English-speaking world, protection from the power of the state. Yes, the men need to be punished but certainly not by brushing aside the most basic set of laws in the West. What is missing is principle. It was definitely missing during the Bush Administration in the United States as well as during the Conservative minority (now majority) government in Canada.

Everyone big or small needs to look at the past; at what made their country great, prosperous, and free when deciding what changes to make (if any) for the future. In practice this means that they need to respect individual freedoms and liberty and keep the interference of the state to a bare minimum. That’s what history tells us.

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