In a Bible passage so powerful even those who don’t believe the Bible unknowingly quote it an arrogant young ruler is so enamored with his exalted position he thinks he can disregard the traditions of his predecessors with impunity. In the midst of a celebration of his greatness the proud young man calls for the sacred vessels captured when his father conquered Judah so that he can drink toasts to himself. Suddenly before a stunned king and his smug courtiers a hand appears in mid-air writing on the wall of his palatial palace. Never having seen a teleprompter the king had no idea these words would come to define his reign. He called for the wisest man in his kingdom to tell him what they meant.
When Daniel arrived he told the haughty king, “The writing reads: ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin.’ The meaning of the words is this: Mene: God has measured your sovereignty and put an end to it; Tekel: you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; Parsin: your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.” That same night through an unperceived chink left by neglect in their previously impregnable defenses Babylon was conquered, the king was overthrown, and the rest is history.
If History doesn’t help us in the world today it’s useless. We might as well study tea leaves if we can’t learn from the past to live in the present and shape the future. There are numerous old sayings which attempt to pass this wisdom along to the oblivious young who always act as if youth was a new invention or something clever they have personally devised instead of a fleeting possession most of us squander. These sayings include; “Those who fail to learn from History are doomed to repeat it.” “The past may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Or, my personal favorite, “It's like déjà vu all over again.” However you say it if we fail to do it we’ve sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind.
History tells us that on New Year’s Eve 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist. A Cold War which had often blazed hot ended in the unequivocal demise of one super-power and the undeniable triumph of the other. What lesson did we learn? What truth did we walk away with that would allow us to avoid the dust-bin of history which had devoured them?
Before the dust had a chance to settle the joy of victory over the agony of defeat was turned to political maneuvering, military mission creep and economic chicanery. The same people who wanted us to unilaterally disarm during the darkest days of the fifty year confrontation, since it was obviously our belligerency causing the Soviet dictators to follow their oft announced plan to bury us, wanted to cash in the peace dividend the people who had ignored their previous advice had earned. After George the First shot himself in the foot by going back on his no new taxes pledge the man from Hope was only too eager to comply since he had been one of the people marching in the streets and leading the charge to disarm in the face of aggression. Cutting defense and expanding government, the Clinton administration partied its way across the stage of history leaving us weaker then they found us. George the Second rallied the world to punish the terrorists who assaulted us on 9-11. Then instead of declaring victory and coming home he opened a second front, and frittered away the admiration and allegiance of the world and our truncated military capacity in a pre-emptive war he knew how to win but didn’t know how to conclude. Now ignoring the fact that it was in large part a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan that set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union our current commander believes we can win a war by dispatching more troops with a pre-announced date of departure.
Recalling the “Those who fail to learn from History are doomed to repeat it” truism here’s a history lesson. Great Britain led the world into the Industrial Revolution becoming the number one manufacturer on earth by 1780. This led to over a century of British ascendancy. The United States over took Britain and became the number one manufacturer on earth after Europe committed suicide on the Fields of Flanders and assumed the acknowledged lead of Western Civilization after Europe administered the coup de grace in World War Two. If current trends continue, China will become the number one manufacturer on earth by 2011 while at the same time America is seeking a cure through bleeding itself in two hot wars with no end, open borders and one-way free trade. Is there something we should learn here? Is there some remedy we could apply?
We must stop the hemorrhaging. We must stop the invasion. We must insist on fair trade. We must rebuild our industrial base. If we don’t, one day we’ll wake up to hear a mighty voice, saying, "Fallen, fallen, Babylon the great is fallen!”
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens firstname.lastname@example.org