A Perception Of History

It is said that those who do not remember the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. A perception of history is always at the forefront of academics, as they analyse history to see the shortcomings and downfalls of societies, people and cultures, and history teaches many valuable lessons which people can strive to emulate, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

A perception of history leads to a more favourable view on certain figures, than they received in their contemporary era. An example of such is Socrates, who was revered before he started questioning the Athenian democracy and the morals of the city-state. This led to his execution, as detailed by Plato in the ‘Apology’, and his followers mourned him. However today Socrates is given credit as one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy, and his execution is revoked as an example of why freedom of speech is so important to the Western world; that a great philosopher perished because his opinion could not be tolerated. There also have been figures receiving the opposite treatment in that they have been perceived more negatively as time has gone on.

Society’s perception on certain aspects of history also varies from culture to culture, and in many cases deviates from actual events that occurred, due to propaganda and general animosity towards another culture or country. For example, there were four polls conducted in 1945, 1994,2004 and 2015 in France, asking French people who they thought lost the most lives during World War 2 out of the USSR, USA and the UK. In 1945 57% of respondents thought that the USSR gave the most lives with the USA in second with 20%. In 2015, there was a total reversal and 54% of respondents thought that the USA gave the most lives, and 23% thought that the USSR lost the most lives. This was a trend seen in the 1994 and 2004 polls as well as the figured for the Soviet Union lowered and the figure for the US went up. In reality the US lost 419, 400 lives and the Soviet Union lost and estimated 27 million. Many have put this down to Hollywood and their disproportional glorification of how much US sacrifice was involved compared to other nations during the war. The education system has also been blamed for glorifying Western efforts while not educating students about the sacrifices of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front.

A perception of history is useful to study of the events of the past, to gain an insight into the events that shape the present time. However, propaganda can misconstrue people’s perception of history.