In “Reason in Common Sense,” volume one of his four-part examination “The Life of Reason,” philosopher George Santayana wrote:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience.
Santayana stresses something even more grasping than a respect for the past.
Perpetual infancy? An ease for distraction to take hold? A comparison, in this sense, between children and barbarians? Progression stymied due to lack of persistence?
At this very time in this nation, due to our collective infancy, our constant state of distraction, our progression stuck in the mud like a car tire, spinning furiously but only digging a deeper hole, we are condemned to repeat the past.
In fact, we are well on our way to getting there.
The first thing that is done, when someone(s) is reaching back into the past in order to give it relevancy in the present, is to make sure that no one else can take comparative notes about that same past.
In other words, steps will be taken to erase portions of the past, to disallow the lessons of history to be taught either by a teacher or by one’s self (via reading a book).
When history is being hidden, it most definitely is not out of shame of what may be learned, but instead the likelihood of an ulterior motive attached to it.
We recall January 6, 2021 with great clarity.
It was shocking and anger inducing.
But very few people know about something that was dubbed the “Wall Street Putsch” that took place in 1933 when wealthy businessman hatched a plot to get FDR out of power and replace him with Marine Corps General Smedley Butler.
Fascism was the rage across Europe at this time.
Was this a true threat to this nation?
Maybe, maybe not depending on who you ask.
But had it not been for the courage of General Butler to go public with the offer he was given, one never knows for sure.
The fact of the matter is that now it is up to you to research this very incident.
Scour the primary and secondary sources and determine just how much of a threat you consider it.
But it did happen.
It took place.
Serious talk was brought up to forcibly remove a president who had just gotten started.
The New York Times headlines on November 21, 1934 declared:
“Gen. Butler Bares ‘Fascist Plot’ To Seize Government by Force; Says Bond Salesman, as Representative of Wall St. Group, Asked Him to Lead Army of 500,000 in March on Capital – Those Named Make Angry Denials – Dickstein Gets Charge”
History is there for the taking if only you look for it and not make the assumption that nothing like this has ever happened before.
Often times in history, we are given warning far ahead of time and yet we do nothing with the information.
Japan naval forces launch a surprise attack on the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur Manchuria on February 9, 1904.
Thirty-seven years later, Japan would use their naval forces to launch another surprise attack against a foreign navy apparently safe in their port.
FDR had been Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.
Should he have not considered the possibility?
Or was his focus aimed squarely at Hitler and Nazism, thus giving Japan the added cover they needed?
History allows for such debate.
In Hitler’s follow up to Mein Kampf in 1928, he stresses:
“For Germany, a future alliance with Russia has no sense, neither from the standpoint of sober expediency nor from that of a human connection.”
He goes on to add, “It would prevent us from seeking the goal of German foreign policy in the one and only place possible: space in the East.”
The original Mein Kampf had very poor sales in France and England.
Hitler’s thoughts from his follow up mirror his sentiments in Mein Kampf.
Did Stalin ever read Hitler’s intentions from over decade before?
Did the English or the French in the mid-30s?
You’d be surprised what you can learn if only you can revert to the past.
Ho Chi Minh famously stated, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”
He warned French colonialists this in 1946, even before he went to war with the French and long before America’s involvement in Vietnam.
But his strategy never wavered.
And it was not until late in the game when we shifted our strategy in fighting to that of counter-insurgency.
Did we not take history seriously?
That is always the first domino to fall.
In Eric Johnson’s “What we Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany,” he writes:
“In early March 1933, the Nazi vote reached 43.9 percent. This was, however, only a partially free election and must be seen as a special case: Communists, who were accused of having set fire to the Reichstag building shortly before the election, were de facto banned from voting and their party’s functionaries were incarcerated; other political parties were also greatly hindered.”
Seemingly, there was a method to the madness.
History dictates there is always a “Reichstag Fire” that sets the wheels in motion.
It is your job to go back and make the appropriate comparisons and superimpose them upon current events.
Johnson went on to gather the following, from a citizen who lived through the “early days” when inquiring about Hitler’s early acceptance:
“One has to remember that in 1923 we had the inflation … nobody had anything, everybody was unhappy. Then Adolf came to power with his new idea. For most that was indeed better. People who hadn’t had a job for years had a job. And then the people were all for the system. When someone helps you get out of an emergency situation and into a better life, then you’re going to give them your support. Do you think people would then say, “This is all such nonsense. I’m against that”? No. That doesn’t happen. How things were done later on is something else. But the people at that time were happy, even full of enthusiasm, and they all joined in.”
This is historical research coming only three decades after WWII.
Is this citizen’s reasoning any different than it could be today in this country given the proper circumstances?
Is it worth knowing such a mindset, an honest assessment?
We are constantly on the lookout for Communism.
See: Joe McCarthy.
Most recently, we had a House resolution passed with bi-partisan support bringing up the dangers to this nation regarding socialism/Marxism.
Weimar Republic Germany was on the lookout for Bolshevism, and in doing so, slowly but surely embraced a man who was infatuated with Benito Mussolini and his form of government.
Are there lessons to be learned now from what took place back then?
As a military historian whose concentration was on irregular warfare (war after 1945), who has studied presidential history/theory, I answer with a very enthusiastic “Hell yes.”
But the population cannot be spoon-fed.
An inquisitiveness needs to take hold and guide you to areas where you can research events of the past.
You can start with Wikipedia and go straight to the bibliography and check out sources.
Then check out their bibliographies and so on and so forth until you get near the elusive primary source.
In the Island Trees School District v. Pico, The Supreme Court ruled in Pico’s ( a high school student) favor on First Amendment grounds, holding that the right to read is implied by the First Amendment.
The government cannot curb its speech because it stood against the content of that speech.
And still, at least in Florida, the rules are being rewritten.
Where is that 1982 argument now? Is it no longer viable? Did you even know about it?
Again, today’s answers, today’s ability to argue a point has its roots firmly planted in the past.
That is why history is usually the first causality of the “war.”
By the way, a tad of trivia: Orwell’s “1984” is the most banned book in the United States.
The next obvious question is why?
If you could get that answered, more questions would surface.
The secret to life will not be answered here.
This is more of a clarion call to get people to do their own research, to ask questions, then search for the answers (which almost without fail have their genesis from past events and/or missed signs and warnings.)
Beware the person who looks to erase history in some shape or form, who makes excuses why it should not be taught.
I started this with a quote regarding history from Santayana.
I will end it with another perspective on history from Voltaire.
“History does not repeat itself. Man always does.”
David Magnusson is a retired police chief with 36 ½ years of law enforcement experience having spent 30 of these years with the Miami Police Department retiring as an assistant chief. He was chief of the Havelock Police Department in the Marine Corps City of Havelock, North Carolina, home to Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. He returned to South Florida as chief of the El Portal Police Department.
He chaired the COVID and Domestic Violent Extremism Committees for the Association of Miami Dade County Chiefs of police. He teaches about Hate Crimes, Violent Extremism, and Inclusive Policing to law enforcement agencies.
A historian, Magnusson has written on military and presidential history topics. He is a diehard baseball (St. Louis Cardinals) and boxing fan. Magnusson resides in South Florida with his wife. Their children and grandchildren are never too far away.