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Old December 13th, 2012, 12:15 PM   #1
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People Crticize Mistakes likely the one to Repeat them (and often do IRL)?

This is an observation I notice within the field of History and the History community.

We all know the Saying "History Repeats itself" and other similar historical maxims and often I see people (especially in Military History) often attack past mistakes done by Historical figures such as the good old "they were arrogantly stupid to have underestimated their enemy!" and so forth.

Here's the big observation I noticed. People who often espout criticism on the past (especially Armchair Generals and Armchair Politicians) often are precisely the type who would commit these mistakes or actually even do commit them IRL!

To use an example is the good old on how Military Leaders and Politicians are criticized for "failing to learn from History so history repeats itself" in a certain conflict or political fiasco. I can list so many people I know who espout this but I'll use myself as an example as I would be the epitome of this.

I often criticized Military leaders from failing to learn from their predecessors when I was first getting into Military History esp. in regards to counterinsurgency in "guerrilla" wars like thos of the Vietnam War and the Afghan-Soviet War and the Maginot Line constructors failing to realize weaponry and tactics always change. Of course I learned the story was much more complex, but I'll just leave it at there. I was a know-it-all who criticized people like Westmoreland for failing to learn from the French War in Indochina or Chamberlain and other politicians back in WW2 for failing to learn from history of the German aggressive nature.

However when I look back in my life, I realized how much I Repeated History as though it was an intrinsic part of me and despite making the same mistakes over and over and suffering harsh consequences, I failed to learn and continue repeating them (particularly in regard to procrastination and college work).

So in other words I'm just as guilty for making the same mistakes of Repeating History and failing to learn from it as many generals and politicians are criticized when getting into future conflicts that are similar to disasterous past ones.

The underestimation of enemies is one frequently espouted in History but almost everyone who espouts it do it at their own game. Southerners today often boast proudly that the Union Army arrogantly underestimated the fighting ability of the Confederate Army and thus were beating the Union Army up really bad during the CIvil War.But what Southerners who espout this often tend to selectively forget that the Southern Army did the same-that they underestimated the Union Army's will to fight and military potential and made the fatal mistakes of attacking the North rather than staying on the defensive. So here is a live example of "failing to underestimate" your enemies coming into repitition by people who spout this maxim.

I can go on and on. How people criticize that Chamberlain committed the apeasement policy with Hitler and criticize Chamberlain for lacking the backbone to stand up to Hitler. They criticize even though Chamberlain was doing what the population felt was the best option, that "Chamberlain should have known better and just go straight out against Hitler!!!!"

To use an analogy, well in fact if these people just got out of the Hospital after a brutal fight that sent them injured so badly and forced to be hospitalized for 1 month, they wouldn't have the guts again to fight the same bully who caused such injuries (even if fighting back is the best thing to do at the moment to show that they won't let themselves get pushed around) as the injuries were so grave in the last fight and instead these people would try to do what they can to avoid conflict where they can get hurt.

Same thing with the Chamberlain story, except in this case Britain LOST an ENTIRE GENERATION of young men from World War 1 and was still struggling to rebuild the country's scars from World War 1 back at the start of WW2. I mean if you don't got the backbone to fight a bully who just beat your up last time because he caused such grave injuries requiring a month to stay in a Hospital, what the hell do you expect for a prime minister of a country as exhausted of war as Great Britain was to go out there and rush intoa fight without thought???!!!

I can put so many examples but these should show my points.What do you think?

To add another example is Colonel Peroth, the commander of the Algerian Artillery battalion in Dien Bien Phu. When I first read about DBP and later when I read Hell In a Very Small Place by Fall, I thought Peroth was a ****ing idiot for committing suicide after making the fatal mistake that would lead his entire bazillion to death.Other people who read Hell In a Very Small Place or DBP state the same criticism.

However when I look back in my life, I realized I literally broke down and cried over much smaller things that aren't even much such as not having a girlfriend and whatnot.If such small pointless matters made me collapse out of stress, I now realized that I would probably have committed suicide too or at least panicked and whimper in a corner if I was in a dangerous situation that I brought myself into such as Peroth's decisions prior to Dien Bien Phu. The same can be said for most people who criticized Peroth for his decisions that lead to the Slaughter of his Algerian Artillerymen-they break too at things that are relatively laughable compared to battle such as being overburdened by debt. I mean if you can't even take care of your basic finances and you're crying from the stress, how the hell do you expect to last with the scar of knowing you got all your troops killed because of stupid decisions?

See what I'm saying?
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Old December 13th, 2012, 12:57 PM   #2

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I agree. We recognize best ourselves in others. And learning is slow.
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Old December 13th, 2012, 01:04 PM   #3

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What you say is certainly valid- in the Army there's a common caution for those studying military history that you need to examine the information from the perspective of the people 'on the ground' at the time. The best example I can think of is the notorious Fetterman Fight, or Fetterman Massacre as it is commonly known. Poor Captain Fetterman made a series of assumptions that made perfect sense based on what his experience in previous campaigns against the Plains Nations of Native Americans. Unfortunately for him and his legacy, he was facing an unprecedented force with a hitherto unseen level of tactical skill and unity. Fetterman himself died in the battle, with his entire command.

It's easy to sit back and rail on him and his commanding officer for blowing off the signs that they were facing something new. But if you do that, you don't really internalize the lesson that should be learned from that event- in this specific case, commanders on what essentially amounted to a FOB need to have an active security screen of the base surroundings if they want to send a reaction force into the area. Fortunately for soldiers, modern leadership has indeed learned this lesson, though regrettably it came the hard way, as many do.

I do apologize for my long-winded response, but basically I agree with you and as historians, amateur or otherwise, we all need to be careful to examine all situations from the perspective of the participants, or we really miss the whole point of history.
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