In Response to: Essay: Truth in History

Of course professional historians know that history is not just what happened but how it has been treated over time and what lessons can or cannot be derived from events. The public does not know this and perhaps never will. Non-professional readers of history seek answers from history to important questions but rarely are they inclined to accept the radical subjectivity of our attempts to understand the past. This could call into question -- for some it has -- the value of studying history. The old saying, those who know no history are bound to repeat it, is not true. One can repeat many errors because one cannot know all the ramifications of an event, a decision, a motive, or a likely outcome.
I think the value of studying history is not to find answers but to understand better and more intimately the problems of understanding anything, anyone, any problem. We hardly understand one another -- that is, what people are really motivated by when they make decisions, trivial and important alike. Do I really understand why you disagree with me about taxes, Trump, war, or peace? Can I really get behind the mask you wear to conceal your real person and to mislead others into thinking better of you than you deserve? History teaches the weakness of our efforts. That does not mean we need to abandon our efforts. There is still a difference between propaganda and fact. But a recognition of our weaknesses cannot ever be bad. Humility is not just a theological virtue, it is a human requirement for justice.

Norman Ravitch *62
Savannah, Ga.