History repeating itself?

You know i was thinking.

All of my history teachers always said that you should study history because if you didn’t it would repeat itself. But for the life of me i can’t think of even one example.

Has this actually happened, or have all of us just been studying too much history?

One source for the aphorism “that history always repeats itself” is Karl Marx, who made this observation in The Communist Manifesto. He added: “and the second time it’s a farce”. There followed various examples of failed utopian plans, and even worse failed attempts which followed in their wake.

One can argue endlessly if one event or another is an instance of history repeating itself. One thing which seems clear is that the lessons generally becomes more apparent in hindsight after people ignored a supposed lesson.

Here are some arguable examples:

People cheered when the Tyrant of Syracuse was chased out of town, then toadied when he returned in triumph. When Napoleon returned from Elba a Parisian newspaper ran the headline “The Beast is in Calais”. A few days later the identical paper celebrated his trimphant return to the city.

Throughout history cult leaders have led their followers to destruction. And behind the Reverend Jim Jones’ throne was a placard which quoted Santayana: “Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them”.

Time and again in the 20th Century the U.S. did what it could to shore up an oppressive regime. And once the regime fell, we expressed surprise that the natives, by and large, didn’t seem to like us much.

It is also the case that the belief that history contains lessons and tends to repeat itself has in itself influenced history, although often the analogies which have guided the actions of leaders have been faulty. One of the many causes for the American involvement in Vietnam was the memory of how the western alliance did not stand up to Mussolini when he invaded Ethiopia, or to Hitler when he seized the Sudatenland, and then found themselves embroiled in a much larger conflict later on.

My history teacher has up on a poster in her room “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”

Just my AU$0.02 (and that was just my cliche… Sigh)

Military history is some of the best recorded and easiest to decipher, and history itself has been used for purposes of deception.

During the Gulf War, it was widely publicised that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s favorite historical battle was that of Cannae, where Hannibal shrank an apparently weak front before the advancing Romans and then attacked them at all four quarters of the Roman formation and destroyed them.

Iraq was, not coincidentally I suspect, facing lines of attack from at least five venues: from Turkey and Kurdistan in the northeast; from the Marines in the Persian Gulf near either Kuwait or the Shatt-al-Arab in the southeast; from the airborne divisions and the French which the Iraqis may have known were concentrating in the desert to the southwest; and from Syria and Jordan in the northwest, as well as the main-line deployment before the bulk of the Iraqi forces in the south.

I think the Cannae bit in Stormin’ Norman’s media biography of the time was part of a deception designed to disperse Iraqi forces to all four corners of the nation. As it was, the allied forces did not have nearly the concentration of force necessary to pull off a simultaneous attack from five fronts, but the Hail Mary maneuver–more reminiscent of Caesar at Illerda than Hannibal at Cannae–sufficed to serve as the turning movement which cut off and effectively destroyed the best part of the Iraqi armed forces–and ended the brief ground war.

Anyway, even if it wasn’t intentional, it’s a fine and recent example of leading an enemy into a classic trap through deception, a basic maneuver which has been repeated endlessly through recorded history.

IMO it’s just a way of saying ‘try to learn from the mistakes of others’.

I think I read this in a Stephen Fry Book

“History repeats itself, it has to, no-one listens”

I think one good example of this is the “asset bubble.”

You may have heard of the Dutch tulip-bulb mania; the South Sea stock bubble; the Florida real estate bubble, etc.

Information on all these fads is easily available, and yet lots of people lost lots of money during the dot-com mania.

‘The only lesson to be gained from a study of history is that man learns nothing from it’ – Hegel (very loosely)

I don’t know how we’d explain our scientific and technological progress if we didn’t repeat history. If we didn’t repeat it we would still be in the Stone Age doomed to reinvent the spear and fire over and over. I think the saying should be amended to “Those who do not study historical mistakes are doomed to repeat them”.

If we take history to simply mean something that has happened in the past, I most certainly have learned from it. Take this morning for example: Yesterday I was caught in a traffic jam in a construction zone and didn’t get to work on time. This morning I took a different route and arrived in plenty of time. Yes! I learned something and it wasn’t from the SDMB.

You know, Horseflesh , when you say

you imply that you made a mistake by taking the wrong route to work yesterday… I would think that you made a decision which was neither a mistake nor a correct decision. It was simply a “decision.”

Maybe it wasn’t the best choice, but that doesn’t make it a “mistake.” You had no pre-knowledge that there was a problem. If you had, and still took the route, then you made a mistake.

Hey! We can’t do it all. We’re working on our GPS, but it’s gonna take time. Have patience. :smiley:

Of course history repeats itself. There’s so much of it, it’s inevitable that current events echo events from the past. The difficulty is figuring out which historical event is being repeated. Political leaders considering war have to ask themselves whether they’re facing the equivalent of 1914 or 1938. Should they back down and offer appeasement to avoid a useless war or should they stand up and fight against an enemy that will only grow stronger and more aggressive? History tells them both answers might be correct.

Social and business history repeat constantly.

Both the 1920s and 1960s featured rebellious youth (the girls suddenly donning daring short skirts) dancing lascivious dances to odd rhythms derived from black-influenced music while devouring illegal substances.

Promotional and social hype accompanied the rise of the telegraph, the railroads, the airlines, and the Internet, and each had a burst speculative bubble to boot.

Religious movements sweep through the country in regular waves, usually accompanied by an “anti” crusade: abolitionism, temperance, anti-drugs, anti-abortion.

Controversies over milk in the late 19th century are eerily similar to controversies over milk in the late 20th century, both involving the health and safety aspects of milk, and whether breastfeeding should be encouraged over formula.

The English language has been declining and been being destroyed by lazy speakers every single year since the birth of the republic.

Any good social historian should be able to come up with hundreds more examples, so many that all adults who’ve lived to the age of 50 should just roll their eyes whenever anyone starts spouting off about how the latest new thing is so different from when they were young. Somehow they don’t, continually being surprised by the obvious.

So while the Internet was a New Thing, the response to it could and should have been precisely foretold by any and all sociologists, historians, and business leaders. (Some did, to be sure, getting themselves insulted by the true believers.) But that’s why a study of history is a very good thing, indeed, little as it might appear so in high school. I read more history every year; it’s a neverending source of fascination.