The famous German philosopher Georg Hegel once famously said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” As gloomy as that sounds, it might be comforting to many today that the period between the early 2000s to the 2020s has been considered humanity’s most peaceful years. This statistic gives a relative measure of peace, for even in 2003, at the height of global peace, the world was still plagued with around 30 wars. Today as many first-world nations still battle between right and left-wing ideologies, it falls on Generation Z (also labelled “Gen Z” or “Zoomers”) to make their conclusions to shape the future. To come to a suitable and accurate inference, one must conduct a literature survey, as it reduces the probability of errors. Gen Z would have to complete their literature survey through history.
There are two trails of thought that the modern-day Zoomer will have to consider from historical figures. Must we repeat what they did to achieve something better? Or must we learn from what they did so that we know what NOT to do, hence do better?
Let us consider the former trail of thought. The Ancient Greeks began to revolutionize the study of philosophy and science (then called Natural philosophy) in the 6th century BC. This pre-Socratic era was the tide that eventually would not only shape the political schools of thought but also bring generations of scientists who would commit their lives to improve the world's ways. In a way, searching for answers could be considered a tradition passed down through time. Great men inspired scientists and philosophers in the Middle Ages before them to carry on the act of seeking answers. This, in turn, was followed by the political and industrial revolution in the renaissance, which created a ripple effect seen around us today. Ergo, the pursuit of seeking answers was a repetition of acts from the past. Another context of repeating a historical feat was how the French revolution inspired America to bring about constitutionalism and parliamentarianism. Does this mean that the repetition of historical acts is beneficial to humanity?
To find out, we now consider the second trail of thought. To not repeat history. For this, let us consider one of the most famous case studies of history that were repeated. During the summer of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte launched a campaign to conquer Russia. The campaign failed. Only one-third of Napoleon’s army were French, two-thirds being soldiers from armies he had previously beaten and absorbed. These soldiers did not feel the importance of Napoleon’s conquest, and hence, the French suffered a monumental loss by December. To add to the damage, the Russian winter had not favoured the French Army. Eventually, Napoleon lost many of his men to the harsh Russian winter.
German dictator Adolf Hitler was a man who admired Napoleon and set out to achieve what Napoleon could not. He ordered a Russian campaign called Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. In this instance, the panzers of the Third Reich were inefficient on the muddy and bumpy Russian roads, which slowed the progress of the German army. Like Napoleon, Hitler’s army faced the wrath of Russian winter, with many soldiers abandoning the conquest. This was the turning point in the Allied efforts to win the war.
These case studies should not be confused with Hitler trying to emulate Napoleon because he intended to achieve what Napoleon could not. They should be examined in the context of how similar the events were, even with the separation of a hundred years. Hitler had undoubtedly not learned from Napoleon’s mistakes which ultimately led to his failure in World War 2.
Perhaps the two world wars had made humanity all the wiser. To add to that, they had also learned from the failure of the League of Nations to set up the United Nations to solve Global Conflicts, not only with countries disputing against each other but also to help humanity against a common setback (considering how the WHO contributed to solving the Global Pandemic crisis in 2020).
This would entail repeating successful historical acts, and learning from historical mistakes would bring success to shape today and tomorrow. And that is pretty much what humanity has been trying to achieve since 1945. However, that is not enough.
Learning history is not just about learning events from the past. Learning history also involves a critical dive into human identity and perception. Every event from the past has been influenced by human sentiment. Be it the holocaust, the crusades, or even revolutions and wars of independence - events have occurred due to humanity resonating with a collective identity. This collective identity would then be challenged by another tribe or individuals with a contrasting set of ideals. But, the challenge of “us” versus “them.” Humanity has never honestly looked at itself from a global standpoint and has always identified itself with a tab of nationality, beliefs, or religion. The grim truth is that, as of today, most of humanity is involved in putting off fires of hurt sentiments that have been historically caused. Germany only just finished paying off their WW1 reparations in 2010. India continues to demand an official apology from the UK for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Even today, the Indigenous and African American communities in the United States are fighting for their rights. The South Koreans still seek an apology from Japan regarding the atrocities committed on Korean comfort women.
With this, a collective conclusion must be drawn. In the post-pandemic era, Generation Z will have global conflicts to solve, not to mention the added burden of the Climate Crisis. Comprehensive knowledge of history would most likely aid that. After all, humanity has shown itself capable of tackling crises such as a pandemic with collective global collaboration between nations.
The idea of Utopia might be a palpable case of what can only be presented on paper. But aiming toward a melting pot of global harmony is undoubtedly a start.
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