Sometimes we think that we live in a society which is radically different from anything that existed in the past. We go about our daily lives, certain that we are unique and that there is very little that we can learn from history. Certainly, it is true that we have made unprecedented technological advances, and that we live in a society that is more globally connected than ever before. However, it’s a mistake to assume that, just because we have the Internet and can get anywhere in the world in a couple of days, that we are somehow different.
Image source: http://cdn1.warhistoryonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/World-War-Two-Soldiers-Training.jpg
Of course, we are still fascinated by the past – the incredible interest in genealogy is perfect evidence of this. We do want to understand where we came from, even if we’re not always sure how relevant it is to us today. Major websites such as ancestry.com attract huge followings, and there are genealogical societies and local web sites throughout the nation. These help us to start to put some context around our existence – fulfilling that basic human need to know where we come from. However, to feel truly connected to history – and to learn from it – we need to find a way of getting even closer.
One of the incredible opportunities that we waste is talking to our seniors. While we make sure that they are comfortable and receive in home senior care services or institutional care if they need it, we don’t take the time to listen to them – leaving them lonely and with countless untold stories. This is a deep loss, both for ourselves and for them. They have lived through some of the most tumultuous times in world history – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and more. If we think that we have nothing to learn from these, and from accounts of everyday life in America, then we are sadly mistaken.
For instance, consider one of our local National Guard units here in Missouri, the 35th Infantry Division. They have seen the action going all the way back to the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and while there aren’t any veterans left from that era, there certainly are from the Second World War and later. In fact, the division went ashore at Omaha Beach, and fought its way across Normandy and up to the Netherlands, liberating towns and villages along the way. It then went on to be one of the units that pierced through the Siegfried Line and drove through to the Ruhr River.
Image source: http://andrewlove.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/gpa2.jpg
If we think that we can’t learn from someone who has experienced this, then we are sadly mistaken. Not only do they have tales that illustrate our ability to persevere and sacrifice ourselves for comrades, they have also learned incredible things that should be preserved through the generations. If we take the time to listen to what they have to say, we can gain insights into the challenges of our modern globalized world – the need to fight intolerance and aggression, to work together as communities, and to stand on principle when it really matters.