History and Human Nature
In John Toland’s 1970 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Rising Sun, the author details the role of the Japanese Empire in starting and prosecuting the Second World War. Toland also noted America’s role stating, “every American would have to accept a share of the blame. The disaster was caused by a national unwillingness to face facts of a world torn from its stable course after World War I by economic and social revolution, fostered by nationalism and racism, and the inevitable realignment of power in both hemispheres.”
This sentence struck home for two reasons. First, if one were to substitute Cold War for World War I Toland’s comment strikes eerily familiar. Once again we fight with one another while failing to address national crises from Covid-19 on down (national unwillingness) while the world is torn by pandemic, globalization, income inequality and climate change. These challenges have created economic and social upheaval stoked by leadership fostering nationalism and racism.
The second reason this sentence seemed so prescient comes from comments I receive so often from students about history repeating itself. I often say that history does not repeat itself but humans have a peculiar way of responding to problems in the same way they have practiced for millennia. Or, as Toland would write, it’s not history that never changes but human nature.