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Why study history and WW2

LAURENCE REES: And then, the very last question. So why should anybody bother to learn history in general and study this war in particular?

ROBERT DALLEK: If you know no history or you know very little history it is very destructive to contemporary management of contemporary affairs. G.K. Chesterton said people who make history know no history and you can tell it or see it from the kind of history they make. But I think that maybe goes too far. Part of the problem is that people use history, but they also misuse it. The Munich analogy that the United States used for fighting the Vietnam War. A terrible blunder in judgement. You need to think about history in very careful, thoughtful, considered ways because I think it’s not something which can give you a day to day blueprint, but can give you general guidance and a kind of understanding of the human dilemma, of the miseries and difficulties that humanity always confronts. You don’t solve problems permanently, social engineering is the most difficult thing in the world to carry off, and in this country, the United States, we battle over this constantly.

What role should the Federal Government play in national affairs, in the economy and social life of the nation, in setting rules and standards? We fight like mad over this. And part of it is because people understand that social engineering is so difficult to carry off. And yet does it mean that you should throw the baby out with the bath water and not have any social engineering? Of course not, because human agency needs to be involved in trying to solve human dilemmas, human problems, and a very good starting point is to know an awful lot of history. Not because you take it en masse and apply it specifically to current events, but because it can give you general guidelines and can be very useful in helping you to understand what you need to do.

Now, as for World War Two specifically, one doesn’t assume that there will ever be another war like that again. But it should be an object lesson. People should understand that a world war of that kind as demonstrated by World War Two is so impermissible, and especially with the arrival of atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs, that the world with this technology can be decimated. These are not weapons that are useable, because if you use them what you’re doing is committing suicide. Civilisation would be destroyed if you use these weapons. And the prelude to this should be seen as World War Two. 50 million people, we’ll never know exact numbers, but roughly 50 million people perished in that conflict because the technology had become so advanced, the capacity to kill had become so improved, so to speak, over what you had in World War One, and of course the war ends with the two atomic bombings of Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that decimate both those cities and kill tens and tens of thousands of people. And the bombing campaigns earlier of Dresden and of Tokyo killed tens of thousands of people. And so it should be an object lesson, it should show people that this kind of militarism, this kind of affinity to fight these wars is just madness, human madness.