“Doomed to Repeat It”

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There’s an old line: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” I was thinking about that as I continued my marathon reading of American history filling in the numerous blanks left by my early schooling. The most balanced book I have read is These Truths by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore. She took up a challenge to write a one volume comprehensive U.S. history book after hearing that not only had not one been written since 1965, but also that it was impossible to do so. She incorporated much scholarship from the last 50 years and added it to what we generally(us non history professorial types) knew. It makes for challenging but enlightening reading.

No good comes from just highlighting the evils done by our forebears if we don’t learn from them. No good also comes from painting all who came before us as ignorant or intentionally destructive. It also serves no purpose to flip our sympathies from one group of people to another. All humans “fall short of the mark.” We are required to abandon simplistic “America All Good” or “America All Bad” and take up complex thinking. We live in a time of simplistic thinking, so it takes some effort!

But I am comforted by learning that the struggles going on in the United States have been going on for the duration of our nation. We have disagreed more often than we have agreed. We have even had Presidents as bad as the one currently in the White House. I am encouraged to know that I am learning more than the monolithic view of America than I was taught in high school. We are still living out a remarkable experiment in democracy. I pray that we will continue to work towards a “more perfect union.”

 

10 thoughts on ““Doomed to Repeat It”

  1. Well put Elizabeth. It applies everywhere. Life and history is nuanced and continuing. I grew up with the narrative that we fought a just war in 39-45 and we were on the side of the white hats. Then, at uni I read AJP Taylor’s the origins of the Second World War which made a compelling case showing how Britain, France and The US had a major role creating the environment within which fascism could flourish and then allowed it to. My father was furious when I echoed some if Taylor’s arguments. It was eye opening.

  2. Repeating mistakes seems to be an inescapable flaw in human nature. I have done that many times myself. I hope that the situation in your country can eventually be healed, but believe it may take a long time yet.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Absolutely. I just finished a book about the misuses of civil rights history to sanitize Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. I am old enough to remember that both were despised by many.

  3. I admire your “marathon reading of American history filling in the numerous blanks left by my early schooling;” and I have seen the Jill Lepore book – it looks pretty hefty. Do you think at some point you might post a list of the books that you’ve been reading?

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