“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” wrote Spanish-born philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952).
Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) had his own take on the concept, writing, “History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’”
That credo is a cornerstone for progress in all things in life, and one that I pursue in every story I write — whether it makes it into print or is merely background. I take it for granted that I must research anything with a past to discover how it began, who started it and what that story might be. Recently, however, a fellow reporter asked, “Why do you care? Who gives a rat’s glasses?”
It caused me to reflect on that obsession and why I believe it has so much value.
Ever since childhood, I was fascinated by history and the great civilizations that emerged from the primordial ooze, developed, thrived and then disappeared. Although I was more interested in the golden age of each culture, I always encountered its inevitable demise.
Why did a culture fail? What were the causes of its downfall? Why did no one stop its descent into ignominy?
Santayana didn’t know all the answers, but he did know the consequences of not caring. In our current world, history seems to have lost its place — especially among our current political leadership.
But whether it be the rise and fall of the Roman empire, of the melting of the polar ice caps or the Dodge County sales tax, everything has a past. Everything springs from something. Everything has a prelude, an action and a consequence.
Take, for example, a story about a home. Even something being currently constructed has a beginning, middle and end. A home must be earned. It must be constructed — whether it’s a shack or a palace. Every structure has a story to tell — including challenges, struggles, victories and perhaps even a death.
My favorite Beaver Dam home story is that of Percy (D.P.) Lamoreux’s mansion on LaCrosse Street, demolished in 1982. It was designed by a renowned Milwaukee architectural firm, financed by a local industry and housed one of Beaver Dam’s most illustrious families. Like all great marvels, it faced the trials of conversion, adaptation, neglect and abandonment. It was demolished in 1982, and the site has been a controversy ever since.
The past is very much present at that site and will continue to be a factor in its future. I can’t wait to see what they find when they start digging.
There are countless examples on the world stage as well. The conflicts of Jerusalem go back thousands of years — something our president might have considered when he poked that hornet’s nest with a stick. The Nanking Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, occurred in 1937 and 1938. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese citizens were killed by Japanese troops, which explains why no one ever talks of a Japanese/Chinese alliance for any cause or mutual benefit.
Everything that was born or created or imagined or tried or rejected has a history. Every thing has a history, and to be unaware of that story is missing something vitally important to understanding its present and future.
When we’re talking about a wheel tax, a park, a facility or a governmental position, it has a past that needs to be considered in the present. If an elected official — Democrat or Republican, or neither — has a shady past, it needs to be revealed. A diamond thief should probably not work in a jewelry store. An alcoholic probably should not tend bar. A mass murderer should not be a prison guard. A pedophile should not run a day care.
The past is always with us and even though it may possibly be forgiven, it should never be forgotten.
Every story needs that, too, no matter how much easier it might be to overlook it.