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Historical Perspectives

Reflecting on History
“A Road Not Taken”: But a Road to Where?

Thomas L. Ahern

The impulse to draw lessons from history reflects the more general human urge to use the past as a guide to predicting and influencing the future. But the exercise succeeds in helping to deal with that future only if it correctly identifies causes and effects and avoids abusing history with faulty analogies, counter-factual assumptions, and reliance on preconceived explanations.

The current renewal of the debate over the outcome of the Vietnam War is a case in point. Nearly everyone agrees that it has, or ought to have, powerful lessons to teach about the handling of 21st century challenges in the less-developed world. But people draw different, even contradictory, conclusions about what those lessons are, and the student who really wants to learn them has to try to sort out the competing interpretations.

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Posted: Jul 16, 2018 03:14 PM
Last Updated: Jul 16, 2018 03:14 PM