“Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it. But this banality of violence can never excuse America, because America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept American innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done in all of our names.”

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2012).

There’s a fierce disagreement among educators about which bits of history should be taught, one traditionalist complaining that: “It’s all Henrys and Hitler now and some of the kids have never even heard of the Civil War.” An understandable complaint, perhaps, but the disagreement does raise the question of just what we are supposed to learn from history. However, in today’s world, where we are inevitably down a path of making the same mistakes again, it is necessary to stop and realize what we have already done in the past, and not do it again. The more we dismiss history—the more we exalt ourselves as unconstrained creators of new realities. If we learn nothing else from history, let us learn that.