Talking point | History

Do people learn lessons from the past?

A black and white portrait of Niall Ferguson. He is looking directly into the camera. His hands are folded, the outstretched index fingers touch his lower lip.

Historian and author Niall Ferguson

The great English historian A.J.P. Taylor once said, “Men only learn from history how to make new mistakes.” That may be too pessimistic a view.

I think we have learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki that atomic bombs were weapons too terrible to use again. However, we learned too little from SARS about the threat of a new coronavirus – and from the war in Vietnam we learned too little to avoid failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that’s because we don’t take history seriously enough.