Learning the lessons of history
Considering the repeated mistakes states and polities
make in efforts to handle their issues on the domestic and
external fronts, the question could very well be raised whether
the lessons of history are ever learnt by them. Indeed, some
cynical quarters have gone so far as to pronounce that the
principal lesson that should be learnt from history is that
mankind never ever learns from history!
Modern history could be found to be having adequate proof of
this curious and brain-storming contention. For instance,
despite Fascism in Europe and Asia in the early and middle
decades of the twentieth century, providing some of the grimmest
chapters of modern history, sections of political opinion in
contemporary Europe seem to be aligning themselves behind the
Fascist ideology, in these times economic distress.
Accordingly, Fascism is enjoying a new lease of life in
sections of the West along with its correlative in the
ideological sphere, racism. Despite Fascism having figured as a
principal factor in the triggering off of the Second World War,
which was, of course, a most ignominious episode in the history
of mankind, and is still regretfully remembered for the millions
of lives which it needlessly claimed, Fascism is back in vogue,
being idolized by more than scores of followers in particularly
the West. What, then, has ‘mankind’ learnt from history?
Religious bigotry has claimed lives in the tens of thousands
and brought devastation and bifurcation to countries and
communities even in South Asia, but there is no end to religious
bigots in societies such as ours. In fact, they seem to be on
Some Western polities have repeatedly turned their backs on
social welfarism, expecting the ‘free market’ system to liberate
them from their pressing material needs, but no such favourable
state of affairs has come about, as the present ‘Winter of
Discontent’ in the West demonstrates, but the majority of
Western polities continue to swear by the ‘free market.’
Therefore, the conclusion seems inescapable that mankind
learns very slowly or not at all from history.
Such reflections give special poignancy to Secretary to the
President Lalith Weeratunga’s recent pronouncement that it is of
the utmost importance that Sri Lanka learns from local history,
in its current efforts at bringing normalcy in these
Well, the simple and incontrovertible truth is that those
societies which tend to forget the lessons of history are
tragically prone to commit the mistakes of the past.
Accordingly, every effort must be made to learn the lessons
of history and charter our way forward on the basis of these
We need to keep these insights in mind as we try to bring to
birth a new Sri Lanka, on the basis of the National Action Plan
for societal rejuvenation, which is in turn based on the
insights of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
It cannot be emphasized enough that we need to go full steam
ahead with the National Action Plan if we are to win increasing
The observation of friendly countries is that Sri Lanka must
help them to continue with their support for this country by
losing no time in forging ahead with the National Action Plan.
While going ahead with this process of implementation, the
lessons learnt from history need to be borne in mind.
One such lesson is that every section of our polity must own
and appropriate the LLRC Report. There can be no prevarication
on this question.
Over the decades, efforts at ending the national conflict
came to nothing essentially because not all our significant
political actors were united in their support of such
initiatives. Therefore, a united peace effort is an imperative
of history. This is a most valuable lesson of history, Sri Lanka
could forget only at its peril.