The Only Thing We Learn From History, Is That We Do Not Learn From History

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The quote from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel reads: ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history’. I first encountered this quote during Sixth Form when I had the privileged opportunity to be part of the Lessons From Auschwitz project. The poem I am posting today came out of participating in the project and the reflective questions I asked (and haven’t stopped asking) as a student of history and archaeology.

Historian

Historian,
Do you ever think?
Stop and take the time to wonder
About all those people
You reduce to textbook figures?
Put yourself in their shoes
Worn through by the ‘Trail of Tears’
The ‘Long March’
Until Death passes them on.

What can it be
To take your wife and children
And hide for 2 years in an attic?
A small space in the house of spiders
Is of little comfort even to butterflies.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’
4 million Tibetans dead
But we fail to look at the individual,
The demographic population –
Instead all heaped together
In piles of politics.

Focusing on little time capsule bubbles:
American policy in the Cold War,
Allied actions in the Second World War,
The Western Front.
We fail to look at the bigger picture
The other side of the story –
How the world lives together.
The fear of Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao
Being power-driven and hungry for land
Are not valid reasons for so much destruction.
Stop looking through a clouded lens
At Allies vs Nazis
Green vs grey
West vs East –
See instead the men, women, children.
80, 50, 30, 20, 10, 5 years of age
Blues eyes, green, brown, grey.
They were the same – we are the same
Although we may speak with different tongues.

Look instead through the glasses piled in cabinets
At Auschwitz- Birkenau –
Broken and bent,
Creating one big body of wire.
6 million Jews
Lead to abattoirs like cattle –
Have we learnt history?
Tell me historian,
Have we learnt?

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