News, World History

What We Can Learn From History and Ukraine

When I was a boy my grandmother told me that learning history was useless. She inferred through a night of educational television that it was merely a cycle of human error; the greatest of which was going to college to teach history. After all, those senseless people just teach history too and repeat that useless cycle. Divining at this point in her life included a solid inhale and exhale of oxygen from her tank and an immediate puff on the cigarette. History might have taught her something about oxygen and lighters.

On the way home from work today I was listening to NPR news and was able to catch the aftermath of the recent Russian invasion into Ukraine. This, and the scores of other war rumors chanting around the globe, has had a profound effect on my view of history. It seems trite to say that history repeats itself, but it’s just that simple. My grandmother, incendiary extraordinaire, didn’t see the future as I do today. Frankly, it’s alarming when you view this crisis through eyes of those who lived in Ukraine during the Stalin induced genocidal famine of 1932-1933. I warn you that researching this little recognized but profound atrocity is not for the faint of heart or children and viewing images can be sickening.

It’s estimated that during that 2 year period an average of 25,000 people died per day in Ukraine. In the end, an estimated 8 to 10 million died. Videos I’ve watched of survivors giving their heart-felt and tear-ridden account of those days weakened and humbled me greatly. The entire country was drained of any food and starved to death. People desperate for a single grain of wheat would go and carry bodies out on carts to be buried. When no dead bodies were found, those close to death were grabbed and carted away. One women I listened to said that large sections of the burial grounds were moving with those still alive and buried. Cannibalism also ensued.

If I were Ukraine I too would be very weary of a Russian occupation. Edmund Burke said that “[a]ll that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I tend to agree with him in most cases; especially today.

If my grandmother were still alive I would tell her that a healthy dose of history can save us from repeating our mistakes, and in this case, it could save an entire nation. Also, knowing what I know now about oxygen and fire, I would stand further away while she divining.