History has never really been my thing. When I was at school I thought that looking to the past was a waste of time as it was the future that lay before us. In a similar way I thought that science would solve all our issues and art was an irrelevance. How wrong could I be?
Since I have grown up I have taken a greater interest in history though. I am still not interested in all that stuff about kings and queens but have been engaged by the events that led to the global turmoil in the first half of the twentieth century. Modern history is more my thing.
As a young man I saw history as a collection of random events but as an old man, or at least an older man I have come to realise that they are a series of interlinked events and that human society can take a long time to change. The events that led to the second world war, for example went back at least a hundred years and probably as far back as the sixteenth century.
It was on the back of this interest that I picked up a copy of ‘In the Shadow of the Winter Palace’ by Edward Crankshaw which covered the period immediately preceding the Russian Revolution. They were certainly turbulent times and the book gave a fascinating insight into how Europe and then the world became embroiled in total war.
It seemed, as a layman, that all of the troubles were caused, in simplistic terms by a group of autocrats that played with countries like pieces on a chess board. They would form alliances and divide the countries up amongst themselves as was their God given right. Everyone wanted a piece of what the others had yet in the main it was always the common folk that ended up paying, either through appalling living conditions or quite often with their lives. Borders change, power is shifted and new alliances are created yet the story remains the same.
Have we really learnt these lessons from history? Even today the world is peppered with conflicts that set mankind against itself, where petty differences are taken as excuses to raise arms and kill each other. Those in power do the bidding on our behalf and it is the common folk that are displaced, put upon and who pay with their lives.
This cannot be the way it is meant to be.