The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

The Dangers of Diplomatic History

LAURENCE EVANS


I

Today, when so much of the nation's attention is turned to international questions, it must surely be disturbing to historians to note what a small part history plays in the attempts of our society to understand and master the problems we face in our relations with the rest of the world. Vast resources are brought to bear on these problems by the government, universities, and private interests in support of investigations ranging from anthropological studies of emerging peoples to computer mathematics, from economics to psychology, not to mention the enormous sums spent on improving our military capabilities. But in the midst of all this activity, history, measured by the use to which it is put by policy-makers and the public, and measured by the coarse but ready yardstick of the cash the country is willing to invest in historical studies of foreign policy, would appear to have as much relevance to international politics as theology, and rather less than tourism.

I think we owe it to ourselves as historians and to society at large to consider why history seems to have so little to say to our fellow men about the problems that beset us; why we seem to be antiquaries scratching about in an irrelevant past. Of course, it may be true that history has little to teach mankind about international politics today; the study of the past may indeed be irrelevant to our present difficulties. I for one do not believe it. Santayana's warning is as true in the realm of international affairs as it is in any other sphere of human

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