I like to call myself a Historian. I do have a degree in History first and education second, so I believe I am justified in saying so. In recent years, there has been an awful lot of talking about going “Forward” and “Moving Forward” and, while it is always a sound strategy (or perhaps you’d prefer Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow) there is always a necessity to look backward perhaps 5-10% of the time. Now, this is looking backward as opposed to thinking backward or legislating backward, and the old adage still stands that “those who cannot remember their past are doomed to repeat it.” There are simply things that happened in History that are still valid today; there are simply things you cannot argue History with, no matter how loudly or authoritative you attempt to be. Some things happen, and will continue to happen, because History says so.
For example: 1929. A worldwide financial meltdown brought on by a massive lack of regulation of the financial industry featuring prominently many people who borrowed beyond their means and couldn’t pay back. Compare this to the crisis that began in 2007, where massive lack of regulation of the financial industry featuring prominently many people who borrowed beyond their means and couldn’t pay back. Thankfully, President Roosevelt was brought into office to introduce regulation over the rampant and corrupt financial sector, along with ballooning public spending in order to jumpstart the economy.
It’s that simple: if the people have money, they spend it, and a business owner gets that money. If the people have more money, they put more money in. When Richard Nixon, a Republican President, was faced with an economic downturn, he admitted that Keynesian economics were necessary, and government had a duty to create jobs. Dwight Eiseinhower, the wholly successful Republican President had tax rates set at nightmarish levels for today’s Republican legislatures. This led to one of the most productive and egalitarian society America has ever seen. In fact, it is the very society that comes to mind when one pictures “The American Dream.” You must raise taxes on the wealthy to balance the economy and encourage opportunity in times of economic strife. It is a fact you cannot argue with; History Says So.
1954. The Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education paved the way for integration of African Americans into full and equal standing with the other members of American society. Immediately, those in the former Confederate South cried foul, claiming it was violating their very way of life. However, in the book of History, this is seen as a positive step toward a better future free of such arbitrary discriminations as a percentage of melanin in one’s skin. Fast forward to today, where there is a continuing debate over the issue of Same-Sex Marriage or Marriage Equality. Immediately, those in the former Confederate South cried foul, claiming it was violating their very way of life, but public opinion is already swaying toward a tolerant approach and popular support is behind allowing people to love who they want and marry accordingly. Those who oppose Marriage Equality today will be treated as those who supported segregation in the 1950s and 60s. History Says So.
1898: A battleship is destroyed in Havana Harbor. The Yellow Journalism of the day howled for War with Spain, resulting in several new Imperial colonies for America and a good deal of money for a chosen few, most notably by issuing tainted beef to the US Army.
1964: An incident in the Tonkin Gulf. The United States begins to commit more and more soldiers to the conflict in Vietnam, establishing several no-bid contracts for entrepreneurs for infrastructure in Vietnam.
2003: Following flawed logic and bad intelligence, the United States enters into a senseless war in the country of Iraq for seemingly no reason. The media howls for war. Several companies pocket millions in no-bid contracts.
The American people must be better informed about the reasons and necessity for military action, or unscrupulous people will do all they can to profit from war, regardless of the possible deaths of American citizens abroad. History Says So.
1873: Silver speculation causes financial panic.
Gold reserve issues caused a panic in 1884.
1890: a banking crisis due to the risky investments of one man, Edward Baring.
A panic caused by shaky railroad financing hit in 1893.
Thousands of small investors were ruined in 1901 when the rich and powerful men behind Standard Oil and the Norhern Pacific Railway had a spat.
Unregulated side bets and lack of depositor confidence contributed to a Panic in 1907.
The United States did not have a banking crisis for another 68 years, until the regulations put in by FDR were repealed and the same problems from the 1920s were repeated in the 2000s.
We need to regulate the banks back to the way they were, or we will endure banking panics and crashes repeatedly due to the feckless actions of morally bankrupt banks. History Says So.
As a historian, you can’t help but notice these things, and you often wonder if everyone else is too busy “looking forward” to see what might be coming up from behind to devour us. It really wouldn’t be so bad if we had a few Historians in Congress to stand up once in a while and say something like “we tried this 70 years ago, and it didn’t work then.” or “do we really want to make the same mistakes as the crumbling empires of previous eras?” or maybe even simply “this plan will fail.”
And when asked why, the reason can be simple: History Says So.