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Why study history and WW2

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

ROBERT SERVICE: This is an absolutely vital period of history for us to understand, firstly because it really does matter that we all comprehend the iniquities of totalitarianism of the left and of the right. We absolutely all have to understand the alternatives to liberal democracy and the rule of law, and we really don’t have so concentrated an example of it anywhere else than in the Second World War. And the other reason we ought to study it is that we have to understand that we can’t always get what we want and that politics is a messy business and that international politics is messier even than most, and that temptations are always on offer for politicians to take less than they actually can get in the pursuit of immediate ends. And mistakes were made by the Western Allies, in 1945 in particular, that are understandable. It was a very complex and exhausting situation that they were operating in, but it’s a pity that some greater attempt was not made to drag more out of the Soviet Union than was actually done.

So it is partly that we have to understand what the alternative to liberal democracy is, and it’s partly also to see that crises in the world offer options in decision making and that we have to take the best ones available. If we look more recently in history there’s probably a third lesson, that the more public discussion there is in international relations, the more informed the public is, the less likely it is that disasterous decisions in foreign policy will be taken.