The philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote is more popularly credited to Sir Winston Churchill, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
The point isn’t so much who said what as much as the lesson to be learned. If we don’t study our past we will likely become victims of those same mistakes made by generations past.
The United States is a young country with a short but very powerful history. In comparison, many other nations of the world have significantly longer histories and deeper rooted cultures than the U.S. In roughly 237 years we’ve evolved from being a struggling set of colonies carved out by foreign powers to being the world’s superpower and leader.
To many we are role models; to our adversaries, we are the competition that must be surpassed. I challenge not just our Airmen, but all our countrymen, to study those who came before us from all walks of life and see how they made us who we are.
The history books often reference the iconic figures known as the “Founding Fathers.” Even if you don’t know their exact contribution to our nation’s past you’ll likely recognize their names – Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and Adams. These men risked much with only the very simple goal of freedom and the ability to set not just their own destiny but the destiny of future generations.
To the average third grader these men had similar looks … old men wearing wigs not far removed from British gentleman. Their opinions differed in what exactly the future United States of America should look like. However, in the end they not only united themselves, but an entire country.
We often fail to study less famous individuals who possibly had just as much influence as the Founding Fathers. How did a foreign officer by the name of Gen. Baron Von Stueben infuse good order and discipline into the rag tag militia known as the Continental Army? How did a woman by the name of Mary Ludwig Hays or “Molly Pitcher” become the Army’s first female NCO? How did Spanish Col. Bernardo de Galvez not just hold off the British in Louisiana, but also smuggled much needed supplies to General Washington? Finally, there is the story of James Armistead, a black man who served as a double agent leading to America’s final victory at Yorktown Va.
The American Revolution is just one of many key wars in our past when Americans from diverse backgrounds fought to make us free. These individuals are just a few examples of many. The point is that we are a nation of diverse backgrounds and influences. In 237 years of American history we have continued to define what freedom is, and who it applies to.
Our fundamental doctrine is our Constitution, which we are all sworn to defend. That same Constitution has been interpreted many ways and evolved over many generations. It took many people and many ideas to form what has become the greatest nation on earth.
What’s important is that we not become complacent and disconnected from the human sacrifice and risks which previous generations took. They provided us what we have today. We cannot be a culture that lives in the moment, fails to learn from the past and invests no focus on planning for the future.
For the survival of our country and future generations, what we need is those who learn from history, challenge the ways we govern, and contribute to making us stronger for the future. My charge to you is to learn from our history.