The Lessons of History

Today is presidential inauguration day in the USA. Given the events of the past few months, especially the storming of the Capitol two weeks ago, the inauguration is being watched around the world with intense scrutiny.

It is part of the human condition to view important events in our lives through the lens of “now.” Nothing could be more significant than this moment. The moment that matters most to us, now. For some reason, we really do not care to remember our history.  Why else did George Santayana warn “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“, or Churchill embroider the phrase to say “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”  Note the word condemned. Repeating history is seen as a bad choice.

Perhaps that’s because our record of history concentrates on wars and revolutions and disasters and bad choices by men in power. Of course, we don’t want to repeat those times. 

But, on looking through an “on this day” chart I discovered some good news for January 20 in our past.

  • For example, in 1265 First English Parliament summoned other than by royal command (in this instance by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester) met in Westminster Hall. This was the beginning of parliamentary democracy. An institution we hold dear to this day.
  • 1613  Peace of Knarod ends War of Kalmar between Denmark & Sweden.
  • 1788 Pioneer African Baptist church organizes in Savannah, Georgia
  • 1809  1st US geology book published by William Maclure
  • 1885 – The roller coaster was patented by L.A. Thompson. (Squeals of delight!)
  • 1886 – The Mersey Railway Tunnel was officially opened by the Prince of Wales.
  • 1920 – The American Civil Liberties Union is founded.
  • 1896 – George Burns, was born. American actor, comedian, and producer (d. 1996) and much laughter entered our world.

These are only a few events that happened in the Western world in modern history on January 20.  Let us not forget that all our modern institutions, church, libraries, museums, art galleries, orchestras, and hospitals were founded hundreds of years in the past. Our cultural imperatives of democracy, citizenship, compassion, hospitality, protection of the weak; these philosophies developed over centuries from the minds of dreamers.

I have no wish to repeat history — too many wars, plagues, natural disasters, brutal rulers–but I like to remind myself that we did not arrive in the 21st century out of a vacuum. I salute the dreamers and builders of history. I am grateful to the women who marched to ensure my right to vote. I am grateful to the scientists, like Sir Frederick Banting who discovered life-saving medicines. I am eternally indebted to Johannes Gutenberg and his press.

I wish the 46th President of the United States of America health and happiness. May his term in office bring peace and prosperity to his country. May he remember the lessons of history and use them to the benefit of all.

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2 Comments

  1. Anne Atkinson

    A good read. Thank you Alice.

    • Alice Valdal

      Thanks for writing Anne. Did you watch the inauguration? I took advantage of CBC’s full coverage and saw it all. Very exciting.

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