There is a popular maxim about history that is usually attributed to Mark Twain. …
“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” although no compelling evidence has yet been found that he ever uttered that nifty aphorism. –(The quote investigator)
Now what would that mean? History doesn’t repeat itself, but rhymes? And I understood, although not right away. I had been reading off and on during the past few weeks Anne Applebaum’s Goulag, A History, one of those non-fiction books, hundreds of them that I’ve downloaded onto my iPhone, mostly all books I never finish, that which drives my son up the wall because he unlike me, never doesn’t finish a book that he starts.
Anyway in the Epilogue, entitled Memory (I often jump to a book’s ending after having read the book’s introduction, which is often a summary), Applebaum has this to “say” in regard to History’s “rhyming.”
Every one of the twentieth-century’s mass tragedies was unique: the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, the Nanking massacre, the Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian revolution, the Bosnian wars, among many others. Every one of these events had different historical, philosophical, and cultural origins, every one arose in particular local circumstances which will never be repeated. Only our ability to debase and destroy and dehumanize our fellow men has been—and will be—repeated again and again: our transformation of our neighbors into “enemies,” our reduction of our opponents to lice or vermin or poisonous weeds, our re-invention of our victims as lower, lesser, or evil beings, worthy only of incarceration or expulsion or death.
The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. This book was not written “so that it will not happen again,” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again.
Mark Twain didn’t know, of course, of the richness of history’s rhymes in our own 20th. century. Just think about it, the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, the Nanking massacre, the Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian revolution, the Bosnian wars, to name just a few without even mentioning WWI and WWII, Vietnam, and now Syria and the Middle East. Not a one like another. Yet they go together as the rhymes at the end of the lines of a poem. Only here it’s the horror and the constant slaughter of the innocent that bring them together.