History. What is it to you? For many, it may seem dull and boring because why would anyone find joy looking at records of events from the past. ‘Let go of the past and move on.’ the saying goes. Well, the story was different for me.
How It All Started?
I found history alive and fascinating. How did it come to this? I can remember as far back as a Primary 4 Social Studies lesson several years ago. That lesson (If my memory has not failed me) was about the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore.
A lasting impression of that class was my Social Studies teacher’s mention of Michael Bay’s 2001 film Pearl Harbor. Excitedly, when I got home, I searched about to see if we had the movie, and to my astonishment, we did! I grabbed the VCD and hurriedly watched it.
That movie made me want to learn more about the Second World War and thus, a trip to the library or bookstore would bring me to the history section looking for related content. Every show or video game with a historical background would also automatically draw my attention. Over time, my interest in history broadened out of the Second World War into other aspects such as Chinese History and the Cold War.
What Interests You Never Dies Out
My childhood interest did not die out but grew stronger and deeper. So strong that I had even attempted to apply for a degree in History in NTU – with a result I knew unlikely to gain admission with. Eventually, I applied for a degree in International Relations in SIM-UOL, and that’s when my interest in history was brought to the next level.
Those three years exposed me to various subjects, theories and concepts, deepening my decade-long fascination. I began to appreciate that history wasn’t simply a record of events, but also a form of life science where one organism affects another, or in this case, where the actions (or inaction) of one nation affects another.
There are certainly many lessons we can take away from the events of the past, and I’ve listed how a number of them are applicable in our daily lives, as we interact with one another.
1) Everything That Has a Beginning Has an End
Throughout human history, various empires have come and gone, including the Mongol Empire and the British Empire. These two empires are said to have been two of the largest empires in history, stretching across the continents.
The Mongol Empire had an army that was equipped with the most advanced weaponry of its time: Composite bows and light leather armour. They were also fast-moving, well-trained and ruthless. This played a part in helping them expand their territories.
However, no empire in history thus far has stood the test of time. All of them collapsed within a few hundred years of its existence.
The Mongol Empire enjoyed nearly a hundred years of peace, prosperity, and stability before Kublai Khan’s death in 1294. From then on, the empire began breaking up. Khans (Chief) within the empire began to fight each other and take the territories of the empire for themselves. By 1405, the great Mongol empire was no more.
The British Empire was weakened as a result of the Second World War and was outshadowed by the United States whose land had not been devastated by the war. Within two decades following the war, one by one, colonies of the British Empire one by one gained independence and the empire was no more.
Ultimately, our time here on earth is limited, and all that we have accomplished cannot be brought along with us to our graves. Of course, this is not to say that we cannot strive for the best while we are still alive here.
All you can really do is to make the best out of your life, live it well, so that at the very end, you can look back and say that you’ve lived it full.
2) “Your Past Determines Your Present, But…”
Every year on 15 February, we commemorate Total Defence Day – the day Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942. When the British surrendered to the invaders, the horrors from this particular event taught us that we – and only we – alone are responsible for the safety of our people and to never take our sovereignty for granted.
This is one of the reasons why Singapore takes a serious view of its defence, making conscription mandatory, requiring all eligible male Singaporean and Permanent Residents (PR) to serve National Service, and also allocating a suitably-sized budget. (S$16.4B in FY2022).
Similarly, our individual upbringing and past experiences shape us into who we are today, affecting how we view life and resulting in the decisions we make. Who said that the past does not have any bearing on the present?
3) Be Kind
History itself is full of ‘grey’ areas, where everything is relative, and the ‘truth’ is dependent on which side of history you’re in.
Events happen but they are interpreted differently by different people through their lenses, biases and experiences. It would be up to us to investigate and decide for ourselves what is true.
The Vietnam War, being one of the most devastating conflicts in the history of modern Southeast Asia, is viewed differently by both sides of the conflict.
The United States, one of the main parties in the war, deem the Vietnam war a necessary conflict that served as a bulwark against Communism. In 1965, they sent troops to South Vietnam so as to prevent it from falling to the Communist North.
There was also mass opposition to the war, especially in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968. This was mainly opposed on moral grounds by many Americans as a result of the devastating effect of the war.
Vietnam (North Vietnam before 1975), on the other hand, saw the conflict as a national liberation war against Imperialism which they prevailed in April 1975 when they captured Saigon.
In life, we encounter people with different beliefs and experiences, so one’s perception of life may not necessarily apply to another. While there might be a collective sense of ‘correctness’, no one can be absolutely right about every single thing. Be kind.
4) “This too shall pass”
Human Civilisation has faced many crises over the centuries, one of them being health. As awful as Covid-19 has been so far, we need to realise that pandemics are not an uncommon occurrence in human history.
The Black Death in the 14th century was a form of bubonic plague caused by a type of bacteria called Yersinia Pestis which is mainly spread by rat fleas. Such diseases can be spread between humans and animals.
The disease was carried from Asia to the Middle East and Crimea by the invading Mongol armies. In 1347, it arrived in Genoa by a ship carrying infected sailors. Most were dead by the time it arrived. From Genoa, it quickly spread all across Europe with devastating effects.
The plague resulted in the death of around one-third of the population in Europe and the Middle East. While it had caused the devastation of Medieval society, the human race has thankfully been resilient enough to pull through the pandemic.
History has shown that human beings are resilient in that we’re somehow able to pull through every challenge we encounter.
In this imperfect world, having a smooth-sailing life is a fantasy. But, whenever you feel down, think about how far you’ve come and how you’ve managed to overcome challenges in your life thus far.
5) Step Up – Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Throughout the course of history, there have been significant events that impacted us in a huge way.
The Women’s Rights movement beginning in the 19th century eradicated the feudalistic perception of women being subordinated to men and that their only responsibility was to keep their houses neat and in order, tend to the needs of their husbands, and give birth to children.
It was this movement that introduced concepts that are the norm today, such as equal employment, the right to vote, freedom of movement, and the right to education.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s America was caused by years of racism, segregation, disenfranchisement, and socio-economic inequality faced by African Americans. There were mass demonstrations and civil ‘disobedience’ such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in an attempt to end the widespread discrimination.
This movement eventually led to the passing of federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Fair Housing Act of 1968 which brought about greater opportunities for African Americans.
While there is still much to be done, one thing for sure is that both events were monumental milestones in human history.
Progress often requires us to take radical steps – radical in this sense could mean doing things out of your normal routine. If you want to fulfil your goals in life, you’ll possibly have to get uncomfortable.
6) Respect One Another
Despite the fact that conflicts and wars have happened across the span of human history, civilisations have co-existed and interacted with one another with mutual respect and commonality, through diplomacy, trade, and culture on vast explorations. One very prominent example in history would be the Silk Road.
The Silk Road was a trade route that linked Europe to China and was first opened during the days of the Roman Empire and still has an impact today.
Empires throughout history traded things such as paper, gunpowder, spices, fruits, vegetables and tools. The trade of paper indirectly led to the development of Gutenberg’s printing press which allowed for the mass production of books and subsequently, newspapers which brought about a greater spread of information and news.
The Silk Road enabled the exchange of cultures and religions – both Christianity and Buddhism were spread to China through the Silk Road. Marco Polo’s travels to China were written into a book that introduced Europeans to China, including food like noodles which were later adapted into different forms of pasta.
We are each capable in our own way. Regardless of class, race and ethnicity, all of us deserve respect from one another and not have one’s ideas imposed on another.
When we prioritise harmony in relationships, there are few things we as human beings can’t achieve together.
7) Cooperate and Collaborate
Our world is more likely to be saved from armageddon so long as we learn to cooperate with one another.
One of the main causes of World War One is the intense arms race between great powers. All were keen on outdoing one another in this intense competition so that with more power, they could feel safer.
During that time, Britain then had the largest navy in the world. Feeling insecure about their position, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany announced his intention to build up the navy.
This state of the world, coupled with divided alliances between great powers, as well as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in 1914, brought about the First World War.
Due to the disastrous outcomes of the First World War and the subsequent Second World War, world leaders realised that wars of such a large scale have the unfortunate potential to utterly devastate mankind.
The United Nations was thus created to prevent conflicts from escalating and to encourage greater communication and cooperation between nations.
So far, this international organisation has generally been successful in preventing another full-scale world war from breaking out. Nations are also willing to use diplomatic means to resolve disputes and conflicts as compared to the pre-war years.
Even in our daily lives, rivalry and intense competition among the people around us are bound to break relationships and cause things to remain stagnant. On the other hand, if we put our hearts into cooperating and collaborating with each other, so much more can be achieved.
To sum up, history plays a crucial part in humanity because it shows us the patterns and activities that human beings have come to pass thus far and how they affect one another.
Understanding history also helps us to have more self-awareness, knowing what has happened before us and carrying out the necessary actions to prevent us from entering into another unfavourable outcome.
Knowing and understanding our past allows us the choice to make suitable decisions in our present, with the goal of a brighter future.
I hope this article has been informative, and you’d be able to apply to your life whichever lessons you can draw from.