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Why Don't We Learn from History?
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book feels a little like a partially complete master work. In the forward B.H. Liddell Hart identifies history as the foundation of personal philosophy. The books seems like the framework of his personal philosophy.

Basic history tells you what happened. Elevated history is a theory of why something happened. The value of history is learning from other people's experience - Hart argues the student of history has a deeper knowledge base to draw from than someone with more personal experience. This broad historical knowledge is important because it leads to creativity and creative thought is more vital than courage or leadership.

Hart's stated purpose was the pursuit of the truth - "To face life with clear eyes - desirous to see the truth - and to come through it with clean hands, behaving with consideration for others, wile achieving such conditions as enable a man to get the best out of life."
Pursing the truth requires training. "He has to learn how to detach his thinking from every desire and interest, from every sympathy and antipathy - like ridding oneself of superfluous tissue."

Hart shares the lessons he learned studying history. Hart advocates a survey of history that is both deep and wide. Another key is to remain skeptical, documents often lie and the illumination of personality can obscure performance. Uncovering truth is difficult, we may fear the truth or we ignore our truth for the sake of promotion. "Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more."

In the next section, Hart explores the relationship between government and freedom. Hart is skeptical of those in power. Their rise in status is not evidence of their superior abilities. In fact, those in power are less likely to learn.
"All of us do foolish things - but the wiser realize what they do. The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority."
"The effect of power on the mind of the man who possesses it, especially when he has gained it by successful aggression, tends to be remarkably similar in every age and in every country.

The final section examines war and peace. While war can serve a purpose, it is useful pursued by vain leaders or due to clumsy alliances. War rarely produces the desired result - " We learn from history that complete victory has never been completed by the result that victors always anticipate - a good and lasting peace."
"What is the use of anyone sacrificing himself to preserve the country unless in the hope, and with the idea, of providing a chance to continue its spiritual progress - toward becoming a better country."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A must read for both the people and the leaders of ALL the dictatorial regimes around the world (democracies would also surely benefit) . A book for all times to come. His understanding and explanation of where the real power lies is outstanding. What s breathtaking is how relevent his arguments are today and how strinkingly similar the working of all governments turn out to be (as generalized by Hart). He deals with issues such as "patterns and psychology of dictatorship", "power politics in a democracy" and lastly the the "desire for power" and "War".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book is a gem. I am assuming the reader of this review is aware of who Sir Basil Liddell Hart is, and in this book---his last if I am not wrong---the reader will find a distillate of wisdom that only somebody who, like him, studied the difficult times, and lived through difficult time, could gather. Fools,” said Bismarck, “say they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people's experience.”

Consider for instance the following:

"Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level. A complete vision must extend vertically as well as horizontally—not only seeing the parts in relation to one another but embracing the different planes."

How much needed is this attitude, when the political discourse is minced and simplified to the extreme? Or consider this:

"We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about."

as an Italian living in USA I can certainly testify to that. And what about authority? Well, says BH Liddell Hart:

"The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority."

Sounds familiar? Especially when authority demands war. Then the methods are always the same: War is necessary, other ways are futile, the enemy is irreducible, essentially different, an absolute evil:

"It is a recurrent illusion in history that the enemy of the time is essentially different, in the sense of being more evil, than any in the past. It is remarkable to see how not only the impression but the phrases repeat themselves."

Future generations, however, have the tendency to put the past in perspective, and don't look kindly on the previous generations' war hysteria. Of course they have the advantage of weighting the results of those decisions, which invariably turn out to be disappointing:

"The germs of war find a focus in the convenient belief that “the end justifies the means.” Each new generation repeats this argument—while succeeding generations have had reason to say that the end their predecessors thus pursued was never justified by the fulfillment conceived."

And of course, when authority demands war, a climate of self-censorships immediately establishes itself in the media, in the public discourse. But in such cases, warns the author, when you present your interlocutor with criticism, watch his/her reactions:

"If he reacts to any such criticism with strong emotion; if he bases his complaint on the ground that is not “in good taste” or that it will have a bad effect—in short, if he shows concern with any question except “Is it true?” he thereby reveals that his own attitude is unscientific."

It would instead be better to think things through, and see them from different angles, as

"we learn from history that expediency has rarely proved expedient."

Would you like a practical example? There you go, as harsh as this:

"On that ground, in 1939 I questioned the underlying morality of the Polish Guarantee, as well as its practicality. If the Poles had realized the military inability of Britain and France to save them from defeat, and of what such defeat would mean to them individually and collectively, it is unlikely that they would have shown such stubborn opposition to Germany's originally modest demands—for Danzig and a passage through the Corridor."

Even before reading this book I had dared to offer the same reasonable observation in a conversation on WWII, only to be called a neonazi (which I clearly am not) by a pugnacious and opinionated interlocutor.

As you can see, being a military strategist and a military historian, the author is mostly concerned with issues of war, study of the causes that led to war, of the consequences of war (which he believe in most case prove that war was unjustified) and consequently on how to avoid war. Indeed commenting on the Roman maxim "si vis pacem para bellum" he writes:

"In studying how wars have broken out I was led to suggest, after World War I, that a truer maxim would be “If you wish for peace, understand war."

The author indeed cautions us to resist the propaganda of the dogs of war, and never act in hot blood, because:

"tension is almost bound to relax eventually if war is postponed long enough. This has happened often before in history, for situations change. They never remain static. But it is always dangerous to be too dynamic, and impatient, in trying to force the pace. A war-charged situation can change only two ways"

This book could be considered an ode to truth. Never sacrifice truth to myth, says the author, no matter how dearly you hold the myth: the consequences of avoiding truth are invariably horrific. Myth are justified in many ways, but truth needs no justification:

"Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more."

Unfortunately truth has few friends:

"How rarely does one meet anyone whose first reaction to anything is to ask: Is it true?"

Read this book. You won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book answers the question, Why read history? It also warns of many problems you will find with written histories, for examples, "Blinding Loyalties", "Fear of Truth", "P.R.-mindedness".

Two great quotes in this little book are "There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than three thousand years old in mind" and "`History is universal experience' - the experience not of another but of many others under manifold conditions".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Exceptional and realistic critique of human nature, which is at the heart of why few of our cultural mistakes are novel.
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on October 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book is a gem. I am assuming the reader of this review is aware of who Sir Basil Liddell Hart is, and in this book---his last if I am not wrong---the reader will find a distillate of wisdom that only somebody who, like him, studied the difficult times, and lived through difficult time, could gather. Fools," said Bismarck, "say they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people's experience."

Consider for instance the following:

"Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level. A complete vision must extend vertically as well as horizontally--not only seeing the parts in relation to one another but embracing the different planes."

How much needed is this attitude, when the political discourse is minced and simplified to the extreme? Or consider this:

"We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too "sacred" to think about."

as an Italian living in USA I can certainly testify to that. And what about authority? Well, says BH Liddell Hart:

"The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority."

Sounds familiar? Especially when authority demands war. Then the methods are always the same: War is necessary, other ways are futile, the enemy is irreducible, essentially different, an absolute evil:

"It is a recurrent illusion in history that the enemy of the time is essentially different, in the sense of being more evil, than any in the past. It is remarkable to see how not only the impression but the phrases repeat themselves."

Future generations, however, have the tendency to put the past in perspective, and don't look kindly on the previous generations' war hysteria. Of course they have the advantage of weighting the results of those decisions, which invariably turn out to be disappointing:

"The germs of war find a focus in the convenient belief that "the end justifies the means." Each new generation repeats this argument--while succeeding generations have had reason to say that the end their predecessors thus pursued was never justified by the fulfillment conceived."

And of course, when authority demands war, a climate of self-censorships immediately establishes itself in the media, in the public discourse. But in such cases, warns the author, when you present your interlocutor with criticism, watch his/her reactions:

"If he reacts to any such criticism with strong emotion; if he bases his complaint on the ground that is not "in good taste" or that it will have a bad effect--in short, if he shows concern with any question except "Is it true?" he thereby reveals that his own attitude is unscientific."

It would instead be better to think things through, and see them from different angles, as

"we learn from history that expediency has rarely proved expedient."

Would you like a practical example? There you go, as harsh as this:

"On that ground, in 1939 I questioned the underlying morality of the Polish Guarantee, as well as its practicality. If the Poles had realized the military inability of Britain and France to save them from defeat, and of what such defeat would mean to them individually and collectively, it is unlikely that they would have shown such stubborn opposition to Germany's originally modest demands--for Danzig and a passage through the Corridor."

Even before reading this book I had dared to offer the same reasonable observation in a conversation on WWII, only to be called a neonazi (which I am not) by a as pugnacious as opinionated interlocutor.

As you can see, being a military strategist and a military historian, the author is mostly concerned with issues of war, the study of the causes that lead to war, of the consequences of war (which he believes in most case prove that war was unjustified) and consequently on how to avoid war. Indeed commenting on the Roman maxim "si vis pacem para bellum" he writes:

"In studying how wars have broken out I was led to suggest, after World War I, that a truer maxim would be: If you wish for peace, understand war."

The author indeed cautions us to resist the propaganda of the dogs of war, and never act in hot blood, because:

"tension is almost bound to relax eventually if war is postponed long enough. This has happened often before in history, for situations change. They never remain static. But it is always dangerous to be too dynamic, and impatient, in trying to force the pace. A war-charged situation can change only two ways"

This book could be considered an ode to truth. Never sacrifice truth to myth, says the author, no matter how dearly you hold the myth: the consequences of avoiding truth are invariably horrific. Myth are justified in many ways, but truth needs no justification:

"Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more."

Unfortunately truth has few friends:

"How rarely does one meet anyone whose first reaction to anything is to ask: Is it true?"

Read this book. You won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Short (126 pages), erudite and wise. One of twentieth century's greatest historians reflects on the ways human nature dooms us to repeat the same mistakes in the context of war. Should be required reading for anyone who gets to vote.
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on November 30, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Words from the master of military history
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on July 4, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I love this book! A must read..
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
According to some, Liddell-Hart was one of the premier military thinkers of the 20th Century. He advised leaders in WWI and WWII. However, I do not agree with either the praise given him or the advice he gave leaders in the wars mentioned. Why? He did not know Sun Tzu. I will mitigate my statement somewhat by saying it is not his fault that the did not know Sun Tzu. The fault with his not knowing Sun Tzu, and thereby greatly handicapped in any advice he might give on military affairs, has to laid squarely the feet of the translations of Sun Tzu available to him. In "Why Don't We Learn from History?" he says that general staffs were taken by surprise of military developments in WWI. He says had they studied the previous 100 or so years of military affairs prior to WWI they would have been better prepared. He makes a very broad statement in saying this. Can he account for the study of every general. No, he cannot. Besides his statement is a conclusion not founded upon proven practice because the generals staffs of WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Desert storm, etc. learned nothing from all the wars previously fought for millennia though all military universities and colleges have these studies prominently on their curriculums. How can I say this? I can say this on the basis that except for weapons advancement, strategy and tactics follow the same old formula of destroying the enemies forces via pitched battle: tanks against tanks (a Liddell specialty,) solider against soldier, weapons against weapons. In other words, blood letting, massive destruction direct and collateral, waste of natural resources, massive expenditure and cost of lives. Liddell's advice did not advance the waging of war to make it less bloody, less destructive directly or collaterally, less wasteful of natural resources, expenditure and lives. His conclusions on why we do not learn from History, particular military history all come up short because he did not know Sun Tzu. History, military or otherwise, is greatly elucidated by Sun Tzu. Liddell-Hart does have Sun Tzu's precepts in the inner flaps of his book on Strategy, again a poor translation of Sun Tzu. In Sun Tzu: The Technology of War are the precepts of Sun Tzu translated to the full concept in English as they are in the Chinese of Sun Tzu's time. War has not advanced when it very well could have become less bloody, etc. With Sun Tzu: The Technology of War it can now advance to the level of skill Sun Tzu codified 2500 years ago. We are not going to end war overnight but with Sun Tzu: The Technology of War there is the means to change if not eradicate war.
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