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Why study history and WW2 in particular

LAURENCE REES: Why should anybody bother to study history in general and this period in particular?

ANTONY BEEVOR: Bismarck said that the only thing we learn from history is that nobody learns from history. Now, that’s only half true. The real danger is that politicians tend to make false parallels with history. There was nothing more ghastly than seeing George Bush immediately equating 9/11 with Pearl Harbour, because it meant that he was going to follow the wrong strategy. There have been many other cases of other modern leaders making these terrible political parallels. But what we can learn from history is basically what not to do. If we don’t learn that we haven’t learnt anything at all.

LAURENCE REES: And why this period in particular?

ANTONY BEEVOR: The Second World War is in many ways the defining moment of the modern world. The whole geopolitical balance that lasted for 50 years after the Cold War is still maintained to a certain degree. The power of China would never be what it is, if Japan had won the war. If the Soviet Union had been destroyed one would see a totally different balance in the whole of Europe. So all of these things have created, if you like, the world we have today. The only danger in the study of the Second World War is the obsession of many newspapers, and also even politicians, to make parallels with the Second World War; because that gives them a grandiose sound, and it sounds important when you make a comparison to something that everybody has heard of but nobody has sufficiently studied.