My expertise is as a historian, a bird that flies backward and knows where it has been better than where it is going. Oddly, however, my analysis and predictions on the Iraq War and the so-called Global War on Terror in articles published since 9/11, a good number in this journal, hold up better now than those of most of the supposed experts.
There is a reason for this. The main intellectual defect in current American foreign policy is the lack of any sense of history, particularly as the British historian Lewis B. Namier defined it: a trained intuitive sense of the way things do not happen. (How they actually happen depends on the evidence.) America’s leaders and their advisers, including some so-called historians and political scientists, not only are ignorant of history and insensitive to it, they despise and repudiate it. Their favorite epithet for opponents is to accuse them of having a pre-9/11 mentality, of believing that history before September 2001 still tells us something. ~Paul Schroeder, The American Conservative
One of the most important things you can gain by the study of history is the perspective it provides. It broadens your mind and shows you the myriad ways in which humans have lived and organised themselves, which teaches you a certain humility about the universal application of your own habits, while also reinforcing lessons about the basic structures of human existence that cannot be ignored, overcome, wished away or denied, which reminds you of your finite existence and limited power in this world. History teaches the attentive student the tragic sense of life, which most Americans cannot grasp at all, and an awareness that some problems are not meant to be solved but are to be endured. History provides the perspective that allows you to recognise flawed ideas because the same ideas have been tried and found wanting in another form before. For instance, when some of us accuse certain people of being neo-Jacobins, it is not exactly to be pejorative and dismissive, but to drive home that the same contempt for history and inherited custom that they possess has motivated revolutionaries in the past and always brings them and their peoples to grief.
History does not repeat itself, of course, but it does provide cautionary lessons to those who would take heed of them. Among them are these basic truths: that great powers sow in the exercise of their own dominance the seeds of their collapse; that no victory is complete, no cause is ever truly vindicated by force of arms, and no defeat is final so long as people retain memory of it; that concentrated power is the ruin of a nation; that natural affinities and attachments to kith and kin are more enduring and powerful than almost any idea or belief known to man; that man has a deep need to worship and find meaning beyond himself, whether in the divine or the demonic; that man is impractical and irrational and will ensnare himself in fetters to acquire what he desires; that most men, if given the chance, will betray themselves and all they hold dear for the acquisition of power.