Why does history repeat itself? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 18, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 18, 2008

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Why does history repeat itself?

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SYRIAN writer and painter Kahlil Gibran famously said that an exaggeration was a truth that had lost its temper. If truth is often stretched too far, it is also as frequently squeezed because conniving people fabricate lies through suppression of facts. That makes truth a binary determination. The account is either more or less than what actually happens. Truth is hardly revealed in its exact strength.
Robert Stinnett brings us that chilling prospect with a jolt. In his book “Day of Deceit: the Truth about Roosevelt and Pearl Harbour,” he claims that President Roosevelt and his top advisors knew about a planned Japanese attack, but kept the military in the dark. Economic sanctions were used against Japan to provoke the country to make this attack, which created public outrage in the United States, bringing support for Roosevelt to enter the war.
French poet Georges Braque as if knew that secret when he quipped that truth existed, while lies were invented. Truth is used to create lie, just like face is used to create mask. Truth is hidden in lies like the sun is hidden in solar eclipse, the luster of a jewel buried in gunk. So, there is always an element of indecent exposure when truth is spoken, written or expressed in any other form. Put your fingers in your ears, because truth is when facts are caught with pants down.
In the real world, credible facts follow certain dress codes. If George Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's connection with Al Qaeda, and his weapons of mass destruction, it's because he wanted to justify the theatrics of an invasion through these false facts, dressed like actors in their deceptive costumes. And it isn't the first time that truth has been camouflaged. Even in the Roman days, understated or overstated scenarios were manufactured to turn people against their enemies and win over their opinion.
History is rife with examples when lies were masqueraded as truths to alter perception. It's commonly believed that Hitler was the madman intent on ruling the world. If you read his Mein Kampf, it appears that his main aim was to unite all Germans in a single state against the growing Bolshevik Russian threat from the east, and to recover territories severed from Germany by the Versailles Treaty of 1919.
More surprises, if you have time. Hitler initially hoped that France and England could be persuaded to join Germany against Russia, which had annexed Finland and effectively taken military control of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and parts of Eastern Europe. It was only after Britain was the first combatant to violate Norwegian neutrality, and hinted that Belgium might be used as a base for an attack on Germany, that Hitler ordered German forces to enter Norway and launch blitzkrieg to knock out England and France.
Even then, Hitler is said to have exercised restraint. He refrained from ordering his Panzer divisions to destroy the British army in Dunkirk, because he still believed that Britain could be wooed for an honourable peace. The final attempt by Germany to make peace with Britain was the secret flight to Scotland by Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess. He was arrested and confined in Berlin's Spandau jail for more than 40 years after World War II, and not once allowed to make public appearance.
There are many instances when truth immersed in history and displaced facts. What it means is that history is not always based on infallible accounts, because facts, tampered by victors and conquistadors, are shaped by historians appointed by them. One example is the number of Jews killed in the holocaust. The total count of 6 million was based on the number given by the Russians who took control of Auschwitz. By 1989, this number was reduced to approximately 1 million, and since then the plaque claiming 4 million deaths has been removed from the remains of that concentration camp.
In so much as truth is the recipe for lies, Joseph Goebbels has told us how to cook. When a lie is repeated, he concluded, it becomes an accepted truth. Human civilisation is based on that repetition where truth is denied again and againanimal by rational, eternal by ephemeral, real by imaginary and face by mask.
If civilisations have risen and fallen, it has changed nothing but new denial of new truth, lies varying not so much in substance but in style. From primates to toolmakers to hunters and then from quest for fire to origin of language to clothes making, the human race evolved until consciousness came much later. At some point, man also learned how to bury his dead. Perhaps that is when it occurred to him that what was hidden ceased to exist.
How much remains intact in history after all that truth has been hidden? Civilisation diminishes humanity in that hiding as lie corrodes truth, and guilt erodes innocence. The idiot believes what he is told. The wise man tells others what they should believe. History repeats itself, which repeats lies sufficient number of times so that truth will be reasonably erased.
A British essayist writes that believing truth is like staring at the sun. It destroys the power of perception. And that destruction happens in the full glare of intellect, when brilliant minds butcher truth, because they know more than others where to look for the best parts.
Hypocrisy is a disjointed beast born out of that perversion. It has the face of truth and body of lie when words and actions walk apart. Charles Higham claims that during WWII, US firms collaborated with their German sister companies in full knowledge of the British and American governments. Standard Oil of New Jersey shipped fuel to the enemy and Ford trucks were built for use in France by the occupying German army, amongst many other things.
History repeats itself. Why? It's the specter of truths slaughtered in the past. It can frighten us, but why should it enlighten us? We can correct it more than it can correct us.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.

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