Do We Ever Learn From History?

Mikael Wagner
7 min readAug 4, 2022

History gives us the opportunity to learn from others’ past mistakes. It helps each of us to understand the many reasons why people may behave the way they do. As a result, it helps us to come more impartial as true decision makers. Well, at least that’s what I once believed growing up and studying so much history. One of my goals in life was to become a professor of World History. I lost that dream a very long time ago after observing political leaders all over the world and the greed and incompetence of global corporate leadership.

As a young boy, I was taught to learn from my mistakes and use the information to improve. History shows us that humanity does not learn from its mistakes, it does not learn from its past. The shocking part is there is no evidence that we know how to learn from our history. Every day I watch, read, and listen to negative current events that are happening around the world, and I struggle to avoid them as much as possible. It’s so painful to watch the daily destruction as a result of greed and the desire for power.

When dealing with fake friends or colleagues, we learned the lessons well every time you struggled to remove the sharp blade out of your back. It only takes a few times until you can spot an imposter that pretends to be your friend. You only need a few reminders in life before you can smell the moment they walk into a room.

So, why don’t we learn from history? When reading American History, for example, it’s very clear that everything that is happening today, happened a long time ago and the results were negative. World history is only a general guide that never offers precise details or blueprints to deal with current and future events in life. Real lessons in life come from history’s negative value in learning what to avoid because it not only records the common mistakes many others made before us, but how and why mistakes were made. Yet, there seems to be a hidden agreement to not use the information to avoid more mistakes. My view of history is obvious, what we learn from history is that no one learns from history. George Santayana, a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist said, “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” When I look at the politics and controversy happening all over the world, I feel anger and frustration. America is a prime example of a nation headed for devastation. So many of the laws have been changed or reversed to a time that was the worse in history. Today, many human rights are being violated in America. When reading the history of today, I can’t figure out what century we are living in. You may ask, what human rights are being violated in the USA? Here are a few of them:

· Racial Justice

· Poverty and Inequality

· Criminal Legal System

· Children in the Criminal & Juvenile Justice System

· Drug Policy

· Rights of Non-citizens

· Health & Human Rights

· Voting Rights

· LGBTQ Rights

· Women & Girls Rights

· Environment & Human Rights

· Right to Education

· Older People Rights

· Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

· Freedom of Expression and Assembly

· National Security

· Foreign Policy

The grossly disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of color, connected to longstanding disparities in health, education, and economic status, revealed the effects of past overtly racist laws and policies with impediments to equality. The many police killings of Black people continue to spark massive and largely peaceful protests, which in many instances were met with brutality by local and federal law enforcement agents. Even working with large public health departments in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was a nightmare to provide accurate educational materials to priority populations because those in charge of key programs designed to educate them were not interested in doing so because of the color of their skin. For several years I battled against racist leadership. I will never forget or forgive them in my lifetime. People died or became ill because of the lack of attention or care from the health system. Communities of color quickly learned to arm themselves with authentic information so they could educate their own communities, neighbors, family, and friends.

The true test in America will be if the worse President in history, Donald Trump will be allowed to run for President again in 2024 to continue destroying the system and encourage hatred and racism. His administration continues to dismantle the U.S. asylum system, limit access to women’s health care, undermine consumer protections against predatory lenders and abusive debt collectors, and weaken regulations that reduce pollution and address climate change. He encouraged the January 6th riots on the Capitol, not to mention all the other unpresidential crimes he has committed without being held accountable. Why would such a person of no integrity be allowed to run for President again when he should be serving time in prison? In addition, his administration hijacked the Supreme Court by appointing people to serve that would vote against women’s rights and overturn Roe vs. Wade, ending the right to abortion that has been upheld for decades. Certain Supreme Court judges have admitted their next attack will be on the LGBTQ communities. It makes me wonder how smart the men and women are that support a person of his character.

We don’t have to read old history books, just read what happened from 2016 to today and you may notice that no lessons were learned since we are repeating them. Some states are attempting to ban inter-racial marriages. Makes me wonder how that will affect Uncle Clarence Thomas and his wife. The great part about learning the true history of America is that everything that happened 300+ years ago is still happening today. Police violence and racial profiling have increased. African Americans are the #1 targets to be murdered by police across the country because they fear for their lives even though the victims are usually unarmed or asleep in their beds when they kick down doors. It’s happening all over the world. In parts of Australia, especially where indigenous people live, they get harassed, picked up, and placed in the back of police vehicles but for some reason, they all seem to die while in custody. Oh, they committed suicide is the typical explanation. How long has this behavior been going on around the world?

Recently, books are being banned from libraries so that we can’t read them if we never read them before. For me, it was an encouragement to find all the banned books, order them, and read them before sharing them with many friends and colleagues. History lessons taught me when and why books were initially banned. From 1497 to 1498, Savonarola, a Florentine religious fanatic with a large following, was one of the most notorious and powerful of all censors. During these years, he instigated great “bonfires of the vanities” which destroyed books and paintings by some of the greatest artists of Florence, Italy. In 1614, Sir Walter Raleigh’s book, The History of the World was banned by King James 1 of England for “being too saucy in censuring princes.” In 1597, the original version of Shakespeare’s Richard II contained a scene in which the king was deposed from his throne. Book banning became widespread in the late 18th century, continuing into the early 19th century until writers began to fight back with the explosion of the modernist movement. Modernist writers broke the boundaries of what acceptable literature was and wrote about topics that were once considered taboo. So why don’t we ban guns in America? They obviously cause more harm, and they are easier to possess than a banned book. Over 1,100 of the greatest books of all time have been banned. Fortunately, I have read many on the list. Check them out, you may be surprised.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Gun ownership in the U.S. is deeply rooted in the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people, or ‘certain people’, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. America has less than 5% of the world’s population but has 46% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. America also ranks #1 in firearms per capital, proudly claiming the highest homicide-by-firearm rate of the world’s most developed nations. Meanwhile,

gun violence has surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 2022, guns killed some nineteen thousand people in the United States. Mass shootings, those with at least four victims — were occurring at a rate of at least one per day. So how much money does the NRA (National Rifle Association) donate to the campaigns of elected officials to continue putting guns into the hands of a vicious population of people killing Black and Brown folks as a sport? Do you know which country has the highest gun ownership and homicides? The correct answer, if you had any doubt, is America.

So back to the original question, do we ever learn from history? The correct answer is No. It’s a challenge to know if the history is based on truth or lies by whoever is in power or painting the picture. Time has taught me that most of the history I learned in school is all false information, positioned in the favor of those creating the stories. So maybe it’s time that we all start creating our own history with our true friends and trusted family.

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Mikael Wagner

Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.