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Learning from history


Today is the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki; three days ago marked the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. For a lot of people, this is the most horrific event in world history. I understand the impulse– it is horrific that we now harness such massive killing power.  It may be because I would not exist if the War in the Pacific did not end when it did and how it did, but I am one of those who believe that dropping atomic bombs was absolutely the right decisions. Low-end estimates were that there would be one million American causalities in an attack on Japan.  Both of my grandfathers fought in the Pacific, and the likelihood that both would have survived–or survived intact is slim. This lengthy article explains why we should be thankful for the atomic bombs.

Right now we’re studying World War II. (We are very behind and have 6 decades to get through in 3 weeks. Wish us luck.) Those who forget history may be condemned to repeat it, but those who study history are condemned to find similarities everywhere. We were studying World War I a few weeks back, and I was sure we’re on the verge of another world-wide conflict. (I still am, actually.) Looking at the beginning of WWII, and President Obama looks an awful lot like Neville Chamberlain. Actually, he makes Chamberlain look competent. And of course, it’s difficult to teach the kids about the holocaust under any circumstances, but it’s made harder when we know “never again” was a load of crap.
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One thing studying history will teach you is that today’s hot spots have been hot spots for millennium. That just when you think people have been as awful as they could possibly be (see: Mongols), they pull out all the stops. (Warning: graphic, awful, evil content at that link.) But time and knowledge of how things turned out tend to make us rather smug judges of our ancestors’ actions. Of course they should have seen this, known that, taken different action. And we would never make similar mistakes. We’d never have stood by while whole populations are being wiped out. We’d do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

And I’m pretty sure my grandchildren will say the same thing about us.

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