Learn from history

“For Hitler, the German defeat demonstrated that something was crooked in the whole structure of the world; it was the proof that Jews had mastered the methods of nature.”
Timothy Snyder, Black Earth

They say that only history
can teach us to improve.
To not repeat mistakes,
reclaim, revenge,
to win and win.
When grass has grown on battlefields
can you sense the taste of blood in soil?
Have you smelled cremation fumes?

Who says that past has not been faked?
That bronze or marble tells the truth?
Do we even see how poppies are like wounds?
That war can not be won, just lost the least.

When you cannot smell the rot or gangrene,
hear the blasts and ricochets;
when all the veterans have passed away.
we see the paradox
that history can make us blind
repeating old mistakes.

Rommy ask us to use a sentence from a book at toads to start a poem. Mine come from a book by Timothy Snyder telling the history of the holocaust. There has been a lot of discussion of history lately. I think we need to dig deep, there is nothing more than simplistic historicism.

August 25, 2017

35 responses to “Learn from history

  1. Great lines, Björn….too true that ‘When you cannot smell the rot or gangrene’ (and have you smelled cremation fumes)….humans happily forget/ignore the warnings from history. We seem to be wired for a version of Groundhog Day….

  2. Very good Bjorn. Tearing down statues, trying to wipe the slate clean ofvthe evils we have committed does nothing except to spray perfume over shit and expect it to smell sweet. We should keep the ugly in front of us so we are always reminded and tp hopefully learn.

      • Exactly. Context is what is missing. Where they stand now and how they are displayed they are objects of veneration and pride. Auschwitz was not torn down, but it is not lauded. Visitors have no confusion about what that place was and what horrors happened there. Many of those old statues were placed precisely to laud a disgraceful past and intimidate victims of that past.

      • Exactly. while the heroism was real at the time, it does not transcend to this day and age. Yes, put up a card or something that puts the statue into context. Robert E. Lee was not a fake coward nor was Butler. They just fought for their ideals which are now no longer needed.

  3. ‘Do we even see how poppies are like wounds?’ is my favourite line here – so true as well, that we preserve our history in symbols but lose the strong feelings and understanding connected with them.

  4. What powerful and assured writing! And what excellent points it makes. I am particularly struck by,
    ‘When grass has grown on battlefields
    can you sense the taste of blood in soil?’
    and,
    ‘Do we even see how poppies are like wounds?’

  5. We can’t learn from history without understanding the human side of things and we’d need a Tardis to do that! We can’t trust everything that was written down as history as everyone sees things differently – you only have to look at the situations in the world today. Your wonderful lines express that all so well:
    ‘When grass has grown on battlefields
    can you sense the taste of blood in soil?
    Have you smelled cremation fumes?’

  6. Having grown up during WW2 and seen the bloody aftermath in the following years as other power struggles continued and colonies sought independence, and the fires of hate were stoked again and again we have learned almost nothing except to hate.

  7. This is so powerful! Especially; “Who says that past has not been faked? That bronze or marble tells the truth? Do we even see how poppies are like wounds? That war can not be won, just lost the least” left me breathless!

  8. They say history is recorded by the victors – at least no-one cares for the viewpoint of the losers. But you have made the point which should be obvious;
    Do we even see how poppies are like wounds?
    That war can not be won, just lost the least.

  9. Chillingly true. After WWII, the world wanted to believe that we had ‘learned our lessons’ and that things would never be allowed to get that heinous again. But it is beginning to look like we were living in a fool’s paradise.

  10. Powerful lines, Bjorn. Cremation fumes remind me of the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Ah, war – there ‘s winner in war.

  11. “Do we even see how poppies are like wounds? / That war can not be won, just lost the least.”….Few, very few think like this. So History repeats itself.

  12. Powerful words, Bjorn! A wake-up call for today’s world…where I again see the “boots” beginning to march, march, march. I agree that wars cannot be won, just lost the least. It is the best that can be accomplished, and is it worth the cost…. I fear there is a lot of repeating of old mistakes at present. It scares me, as I think perhaps this generation (here) did not learn history well. The grass has grown over the battlefields of old….the old vets are dying…I fear the future and instead of cremation fumes there are other tortures humanity has devised.

  13. WOW!!!!! In the USA, it’s slavery that comes to mind in the view of forgetfulness in your poem. I love this:
    “Do we even see how poppies are like wounds?
    That war can not be won, just lost the least.”

  14. You are right: There are no real winners in war. The so-called victors have “just lost the least.” And so it goes…

  15. On the third reading of this, it does not lose its power. We cannot erase history just by tearing down statues. Mistakes and evil cannot be erased. We should instead learn from it. I remember going to Auschwitz….we should never tear down that horrible place just to make us modern day folks feel more comfortable. We should learn from it and never ever repeat it.

  16. We can’t erase history, we don’t learn from it and now it’s causing violence in our time. Maybe we rehash the past too much, maybe we should live in the here and now. Have some faith, forgive and perhaps forget? There are no easy answers but nothing worth while is ever easy. Great words, Bjorn!

  17. Powerful words. It’s sad how so many don’t learn from the past…we must never repeat history and yet…so many are consumed with hate.

  18. Very powerful piece, Bjorn. When stench is gone, does history disappear from our memories? We need reminders of heroes and villains to keep from repeating the same atrocities over and over.

  19. History needs to be retold, over and over and over… Each new retelling needs to contain the lessons we’ve learned. The nasty needs to be remembered, shown as such–never destroyed in hope that horrors like it will never return. We cannot allow history to make us blind.

  20. A sign of insanity is to repeat the same things expecting different results. Your poem makes me think that humanity is insane. But, I have hope that we will become healthy, sane and refuse to repeat our obvious mistakes.

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