The last two weeks I have read a lot, including some historical fiction and have had time to ponder how much history has been lost. Yes, the flu kept me on my back for two weeks, but I am recovering.
Winston Churchill and others made statements that have been widely misquoted to read, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Yes, everyone seems to get the words wrong, but the meaning is correct. As I lay there reading, I pondered how much history I had failed to learn from and how much more the modern world seems to be ignoring the lessons of history.
Among other books, I have read books by Brodie Thoene. She is an excellent writer of historical fiction. The characters and subplots kept me engaged. Her books are firmly grounded in historical fact. She credits her husband Brock is credited with the research behind the books. He is a trained historian. The fictional parts of these books are hung on a brutally accurate historical backdrop. Because these books were written 25 years ago, the author could not have been taking political pot shots at today’s leaders, but the historical frame of reference makes some of our current leaders look suspect.
I read three books from her Zion Covenant Series. This series takes place with the “phoney war” period of Europe in the mid to late 1930’s. During that period, Hitler was acting to purify the Aryan race. Jews were being increasingly persecuted by the Nazis. Hitler was also quietly establishing his military machine, and world leaders were ignoring the fact that he was not only rearming Germany, but using stealth to expand his Reich. Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia were taken without shot. This was part of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy to keep the world at peace. Today we see some world leaders ignoring the way Radical Islamic movements move through their parts of the world by violence and threat of violence.
The books remind us how Hitler and Mussolini basically hijacked their governments through the use of violence and propaganda, but that occurred before the start of the Zion Covenant series. As the Zion Covenant series starts, Hitler is firmly in political power and simply rams through is plans in spite of opposition from some of his staff and opposition from civilian leaders. With the use of his blackshirts and his gestapo the use of force simply imprisoned or killed opposition such as church leaders who opposed him. We see similar physical violence occurring in North Korea and in parts of the Islamic world. We see some Western world leaders ignoring the restraints of constitutionality to mold their government policies to their liking.
I also read the first book of her Zion Chronicles series, a series that follows European Jews trying to immigrate to Israel (or Palestine as it was then called). The Arabs, used violence to keep the Jews out of this British protectorate. To keep peace, the British tried to stem the flow of refugees into Israel.
I am abhorred at how easily Hitler use propaganda and the racial issue to turn a large segment of the German population against the Jews. Hitler was not the only one. Muslim leaders in the middle east linke arm in arm with Hitler to eliminate “the problem”. Today, Hitler has been conquered, but radical Muslims have taken over his crusade. If we condemn Hitler for genocide, why then do we allow radical Muslims to carry out the same program? Why, in recent years, have we let African tribes carry out genocidal attacks against one another?
Thoene reminds us that the world was still recovering from the effects of The Great War. World War I had been a disastrous event that had killed millions of men. On top of that, the 1930’s were a time when the US and Europe suffered from a great depression. People wanted peace. People wanted prosperity and security. It appears that most people were more concerned about themselves than people in other countries. No one was willing to look beyond their own problems to foresee what a madman in Germany might do if he was not held accountable. Indeed, many Americans today are more interested in pulling out of Afghanistan and restoring the economy than facing possible threats some foreign governments pose to their neighbors, or recognizing how terrorist groups threaten the lives and liberty of people in their way.
National leaders were looking to the interests of their own countries to the extent that they were not willing to enforce treaties or support threatened allies. The League of Nations decayed into an organization that could not uphold its charter. Politicians became more concerned about becoming reelected than following principle.
We now see todays leaders following similar paths. We have some world leaders who are grasping power by independent action. They do not have the luxury of military might like Hitler enjoyed, but many of our world leaders take actions as though the were not accountable to anyone. Shockingly, the voters and members of their governments allow them almost total freedom of action. In many ways we are like the British and French voters who liked, Chamberlain because he promised to keep the boys out of the trenches of a war involving small country. While it is commendable not to rush into any war, history tells us that Chamberlain’s appeasement simply meant the eventual involvement of France and England in a greater war, one they were not prepared to fight.
We condemn Hitler for persecuting on the basis of race, and yet today’s leaders continue to use the “race card” against opponents. Why are we not wise enough to reject any leader who tears down opponents on the basis of race? On the other hand what about those who call, “Racist,” against critics who have presented a valid argument? We should have settled antisemitism during and following World War II. We should have settled our own civil rights issues during the 1050’s yet our bickering and prejudice lingers on in spite or historical warnings not to base to much on race.
In fact we find a new form of racism rising. Various ethnic and nationality groups are claiming they deserve preference just as Germany’s Aryans were claiming to be a superior race.
At the same time, we see many leaders and followers who would prefer simply not to be bothered by the problems of others. Will be become isolationists again in this world of global communication?
Those of us who remember at least a little of history know that this era of isolation and appeasement eventually lead into World War II, a greater catastrophe even than World War I. It would be easy to play the “What if?” game. What if someone had stood up to Hitler when he marched into Austria? We will never know.
What we do know is that parallel scenarios are ongoing in our nation and throughout the world. The issues and players have changed, but the problem remains the same. There are bullies who prey on the weak with the help of those who ignore or tolerate their actions.There are politicians who hinder the work of the United Nations and frustrate world peace in order to forward their own political agendas. If we do not remember the lessons of history, we may eventually face another world wide conflict of some kind. The lessons of history could help us to mitigate some of the problems of the future.
The characters in these stories are contemporaries of my father and grandfathers. Not only did I learn this history in school, but heard bits of it from the lips of my parents and grandparents. Yet, the lessons of history are slowly fading. When I taught school in the first decade of this century, few of my students knew much about World War II. In fact I fielded many questions about Vietnam, because my students were also generally ignorant of that conflict. How quickly we forget.
These books make me wish to salute those who write honest and reliable historical fiction. Keep it up. The research is hard work. Since few of us are willing to spend time in history books, these writers do us a great service teaching us history in the guise of an interesting novel. Keep up the good work.
Reynold Conger is the author of:
Chased Across Australia and My Knight in Shining Armor