For me, history is not just an interesting fact, or a story to be read. It is something that connects me to the past struggles and triumphs Soldiers have had to face and go through. I had some rough times on my deployments to Afghanistan, but reading about some of the stuff that prior generations had gone through really helped me keep my head about myself and be thankful that I was not caught up in a massacre. A close friend of mine once said to me (as we were being shot at by some RPKs and RPGs) “This isn’t a fun situation. Thanks for boring my ass of with all that history stuff. Now I can’t even complain. It’s not like I’m being forced marched out of Corregidor.” It was a tongue in cheek comment that we later laughed about, but he had a good point. We were getting shot at by 6-8 men from a hill 600 meters away, hardly anything to complain about when heroes like SFC Alwyn Cashe sacrificed so much in a lot more dire situations.
To me, the stories told and the books I have read over the years were more than just words. It was a little snippet to keep me motivated in combat, or a reminder that waking up at 6AM isn’t so bad after all. As a veteran, it is also a reminder that I need to try and conduct myself somewhat decently enough to honor the legacy of the men and women who came before me.
History is also a shared collective (rarely a consensus) on what happened before us and how we got here. If you believe an unjust treaty was signed (say, the Versailles Treaty after WWI), you will be angry and blame said treaty for a lot of your problems, leading to problems and complications down the road (like WWII). If you believe that a belligerent nation caused the then most brutal war in history, you will have no qualms in clamping down on them after the hostilities (a position taken by France and England after WWI). And, if you have a big enough sense of history, maybe a deal can be worked out so there is some semblance of peace for a while (The Congress of Vienna gave Europe a long peace).
I doubt my buddy and I could have worked out some mutual understanding with the Taliban by debating the political, historical and economic factors that put us into conflict, but I hoped (and still hope) that someone with a bit more experience and smarts than me could find a way to work things out. Since I left the Army, I continue to read about history and keep things in perspective. More importantly, I encourage my friends and family to check out books that sheds light on the struggles that came before us. Through exposure to these hardships, without suffering through them ourselves, we become somewhat grateful, even if we aren’t in the best situation at the moment.
This Veteran’s Day take a second and talk to an old Vet you know or share a a fundraising campaign on facebook. It’s never been easier to make an impact.