Faithfully yours - Learning from our past


By Neil Strohschein

Neepawa Banner & Press

As I write these words, I have just finished watching a 13-part BBC series on the second world war. It’s about the fifth or sixth time I have viewed this series; and whenever I do, the anger I feel when observing the carnage of those days is something I find difficult to control.

I am also reading William Shirer’s book on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Winston Churchill’s 6-part series on WWII. And when I get tired of reading that stuff; I spend some time reading Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church and Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Incidentally, if you are prone to extensive periods of anxiety, despair or depression, I wouldn’t recommend that you read any of the above books or watch any of the videos. What you see and read will only add to what you’re already feeling.

That being said, you may wonder why I spend so much time reading or viewing such distressing material. In my younger years, I was fascinated by what I read. Today, I am looking for specific clues to help me understand why, at different times in history, countries have gone to war and in the course of the fighting, have come close to obliterating their enemies and themselves.

Most of the wars I’ve read about were started by people who were driven by political ideology, religious zeal, racism or (in most cases) all three to various degrees. They did not go to war immediately. Most spent years spreading their beliefs through books and public speeches.

Then, when they had what they believed to be a firm base of support among the common people in their own country, they seized power (sometimes democratically, sometimes not) and used the power afforded them to demand concessions from their neighbors. Those who refused to give in to their demands were invaded and in many cases conquered. The conquered appealed for help, other countries offered assistance and were drawn into what ultimately became a world war.

In today’s world, we tend to take a very limited view of history. We are quick to condemn (as we should be) some of the extreme beliefs and practices of the past. We are committed (again, as we should be) to doing what we can to address the lingering effects of these actions and seek to be reconciled with those who still carry the scars of those activities.

Sadly, that is often as far as we go. We are quick to condemn beliefs and actions—but in doing so, we often display the same bad attitudes that afflicted and corrupted those whose actions we condemn. The end result is that we use extremism to fight extremism—and while one side will make its point and will win the argument, the hurt feelings and animosity remain.

By carefully studying history, we will discover the attitudes that created the conditions that lead to war. And since humanity hasn’t changed all that much from creation to the present day, our study of history will do two things. It will help us identify those attitudes in those who lead us; and it will help us identify them when we display them ourselves.

Then, having identified those attitudes and seen how prevalent they are, perhaps we will feel the urge to look for a better way to treat people—for a better way to settle disputes when they arise so that they don’t result in argument, fighting, war and bloodshed.

We’ll explore that alternative in greater detail next week.