That the future is just the past with the inclusion of the lessons learned today…

We have seen this all before. The madness. The chaos. The confusion. World leaders puffing out their chests in stubborn defiance, daring one another to test their mettle and challenge their resolve. Though recently it has become the stuff of political thrillers in paperback and on the big screen, the genesis of the powerful flaunting that power goes back to the earliest of human struggles for prominence, wealth, and recognition. The tales of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan are the stuff of legend; two of the most powerful world leaders in all of human history conquering whole populations and expanding their respective kingdoms, often through cruel and gruesome means. These men feared no one, and through it all felt just in their righteous cause because in their minds it was preordained and guided by gods and spirits. More modern examples include the infamous world leaders who loudly trumpeted their convictions during the first half of the twentieth century. Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo sent shock waves across the globe, only to be intercepted and rebuffed by FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. There are still many alive who experienced the transition from this boisterousness and propaganda into what would become World War II. In a private moment I imagine many of them are experiencing déjà vu, perhaps even feeling real trepidation over what they’re hearing today.

He who fails to learn history is destined to repeat it. A simple yet poignant phrase we’ve all heard before. But what I noticed this week is that this ominous phrase might have gone in one ear and out the other. On one side we have President Trump warning that “North Korea is looking for serious trouble” adding “if China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.” Meanwhile as we wait for North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s response, Russian President Vladimir Putin declares, “we call on all states involved in the region’s affairs to refrain from military rhetoric and seek peaceful, constructive dialogue.” This seems like a reasonable and level-headed suggestion (if only it had come from any other source). The old saying “do as I say, not as I do” applies beautifully here as only weeks prior the Alaskan coast was awoken by the sound of Russian fighter jets skirting the US border two times in the span of a week. Putin’s not-so-subtle display of military capability is echoed by Kim Jong-un as North Korea responds to Trump’s warning by adding some new friends into the game: “it would be a piece of cake to nuke Japan” leaving the US ally “blanketed in radioactive clouds.” Tongue-in-cheek, perhaps. But not so subtle at all.

JFK and Khrushchev played this game fifty years ago, resulting in thirteen days of tense global trepidation. In the end however, cooler heads prevailed. Today’s players though might be quite different. Sean O’Grady from The Independent puts the US/North Korean situation this way: “In the whole of human history there has never been a bigger powder keg. Nor men so strange playing with a box of matches near to it.” We have been here before, and we swore we learned our lesson. We promised to heed the lessons of history and save ourselves from tomorrow’s destruction. But did we, really? How quickly can mere words turn to destructive action? History will repeat itself, if we let it, because there is a close tie between where you’ve been and where you’re going-if you forget the past and neglect the future, that tie will break and you’ll plummet into a never-ending present…

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