When I was a very young child, I visit my great-aunt in New York. Being a voracious book worm, I asked her to give me from her library. She gave me a large book called History of Your World. The book, as far as I can recall, was published by the United States History Society in 1972. I read it several times over and then graduated to other texts as I grew up. However, I never would have become interested in history had it not been for that book.
Why study history? In order to understand ourselves, we must look at the past. The past has a great deal to teach us about the present day. By reading about presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, we are able to compare today’s leaders and their policies to the great presidents of the past. By examining the conflict in Ukraine through a historical lense, we come to understand that the tug of war between Russophiles and Europhiles has been going on for centuries.
History provides the context that the political commentators, the pundits, and the media do not. However, most people today are not interested in contextualizing what they read and hear every day. Instead, they take everything at face value. For example, I have seen many people drawing parallels between Weimar Germany and Obama’s America. However, that parallel is not a good one. The Weimar Republic was beset by chronic political violence from its inception following the German surrender in 1918. Additionally, Weimar Germany suffered tremendous economic woes such as mass unemployment that cannot be compared with what has happened in the United States during the last decade or so.
Many people draw the analogy that somehow the current presidential administration is similar to Hitler and the Nazis. However, there is a key problem here. Donald Trump may say and do many outrageous things, but he is not Hitler. In the United States, there is nothing that is analogous to the Nuremberg Laws which discriminated against Jews. Immigrants being vetted is not the same thing as Jews being banned from German schools, being fired from their jobs, forced to work in factories making toilet paper, and being crowded together because their houses had become Aryanized.
The current administration has not undermined, to the best of my knowledge, or repealed various laws and legislation that makes it possible for people to live freely in this country. For example, people who are disabled are not murdered by the state because their lives are expendable. Homosexuals have not been sent to concentration camps either or forced to wear a specific sign that designates them as such. Even though the Affordable Care Act will be revised, I do not believe that it will be thrown away or jettisoned.
The recent banning of CNN and the New York Times from White House press conferences is not and cannot be viewed as an infringement on the First Amendment. If a person doesn’t want to give an interview to a certain news organization, he or she has the right to refuse that organization and not give the interview. The same is true for a presidential administration. If the Trump administration sees CNN and the New York Times as biased, then they have every right to ban them from press conferences.
However, this is not a Nazi or Stalinist tactic as some people like to claim. President Trump hasn’t sent his goons over to the CNN and New York Times offices to complete destroy their printing presses, cameras, and equipment like the Nazis used to do to their opponents. He has not gone after editors and reporters and thrown them in jail for doing their jobs. Nor has he rigged the United States judicial system so that those reporters and editors could be held in jail for the rest of their natural lives because of their opposition to the regime. Nothing of the kind has happened.
As I have pointed out, the parallels between the current administration and Nazi Germany are false. There is a massive difference between what happened nearly eighty years ago in Germany and what is happening in the United States today. It would be wise for us to read books about this period of world history and to draw our own conclusions rather than relying on newspapers, pundits, and cable television to tell us what to think. As the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.