Misusing History

Stop ransacking the past for analogies. The lesson of history is that there usually isn't one.

Issue: May-June 2014

THE LESSON OF HISTORY, the British scholar A. J. P. Taylor once observed, is that there is no lesson. It is not a stricture, however, that has ever enjoyed much acknowledgment, let alone acceptance. Quite the contrary. In the past few months, a fresh spasm of analogizing the past to the present has taken place as politicians and journalists, at home and abroad, draw upon a rich treasure chest of events—World War I, whose one hundredth anniversary arrives this August, the Munich agreement in 1938 or the Cold War—to explain foreign affairs.

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