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The Key to the Future Is the Past

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, numerous commentators (reporters, historians, politicians, various sorts of "experts," etc.) quickly compared it to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. And as soon as talk of a NATO-enforced "no-fly zone" surfaced, the talk morphed into discussions of another world war.

All of this commentary pushed my already intense thinking about history into overdrive. In the process, I recalled the following quotations about the value of studying and preserving our history--and learning the valuable life lessons they have to offer.

David McCullough, one of my favorite authors on historical topics, said, "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are." And boy, are we ever living in perilous times! But for history to show us who we are and why, we must study it. McCullough also warned, "A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia."

Even worse than forgetting our past, is to destroy it in some way. Marcus Garvey said, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots." Many people are actively seeking to destroy our history today, tearing it out by the very roots with the goal of obliterating it. In a sense, they care trying to murder it. Either way, whether suffering from amnesia, committing historical murder, or committing historical suicide, such people are shortsighted and failing to learn from history.

Author Pearl S. Buck said, "If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday."

Another author chose to express his thoughts about history poetically. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, "The great eventful Present hides the Past; / but through the din / Of its loud life hints and echoes from the life / behind steal in."

And William Murtaugh, the first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, noted, "It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future."

Maybe if the world were better at studying, learning from, and preserving our history, we wouldn't find ourselves living through such perilous times.

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