The last veteran of the First World War died in 2012. There are now no living voices to tell us what it was like at the Somme or Passchendaele and what we should learn. We can only rely on history.
Could it happen again? Well, as we know in less than a generation it did happen again. The first part of the twentieth century will be forever remembered for its two world wars. Since then technology has changed and warfare is different. The nuclear threat has brought a right caution. Many of us, including me, have not lived through a world war, and I am grateful. But that can being a complacency. It’s so easy to think that we know better now. But do we? Human nature is the same. That’s why history is so important. It helps us remember.
If we don’t remember, then what? According to journalist Cooper Allen, ‘it may depend on the mindsets of the leaders we choose and whether they choose to follow the lessons of history.’
We are shaped by our history much more than we realise. Martin Luther King realised this, famously saying that ‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history.’ That’s why knowing our history is important. Telling the stories of what happened and what we can learn is crucial – in our schools and homes and communities. But so often it doesn’t happen. David Kennedy, Professor of History at Stanford University recognises this, saying that ‘the human record is littered with lessons unlearned.’ We need grace to forgive. And wisdom to remember.
The Bible tells us this. We’re instructed to remember our history, with Deuteronomy 32:7 saying ‘Remember the days of old; consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.’ Romans 15:4 similarly says: ‘For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ ‘Hope’ is a strong biblical word, describing a better future. This reminds us that God has a better future for us, particularly as we put our hope not in ourselves, or in our often tainted historical record, but in the person of Jesus Christ. He’s the One who gives proper perspective to our history.
History – be it biblical history, British history or any kind of history – doesn’t have to be dull. In fact it’s as dull as we make it. Rather, it’s the story of real events that happened to real people. Just like us. Most of whom did their best. And many who, in the Great War a hundred years ago, gave their very lives. For their sakes, and so that we might have hope, we need to remember.
So how’s your history? What are you remembering – and helping others to remember – so that we all might learn?