Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Age of America in Presidents' Lives and Other Thoughts on History

Those of you who are regular visitors to this space know that I am a history buff, endlessly fascinated by the study of all that happened in the past to shape the times in which we live. This, of course, made me sit up and take notice of this article that ran last month in the Washington Post: Amazing but True: America Is Only Four Presidents’ Lives Old.

Here’s how it works, in the first paragraph of the article:

“When President Obama was born (1961), President Herbert Hoover was still alive (1874-1964). When Hoover was born, President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was still alive. When President Johnson was born, President John Adams (1735-1826) was still alive. And just like that, we've connected present day to the Founding Fathers.”

I don’t know about you, but I found that absolutely fascinating. Here's a chart from the article that shows how the lives of the Presidents overlap, from George Washington to Barack Obama (it's easier to read at the original location)* ...

I think most people don’t enjoy studying history because they think of it in terms of the need to remember lots of dry-as-dust names and dates that aren’t relevant to their daily lives. But I would argue that it is relevant, because everything that’s going on in the world today is a product of things that went on before … often hundreds of years ago. One could argue that the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 set the stage for World War I, which led to World War II, which gave us the Cold War that created the conditions for the Korean and Vietnamese Wars. World War II laid the groundwork for the never-appease-a-dictator-again mindset that led us, directly or indirectly, to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the bitter fights over the nuclear treaty being laboriously hammered out with Iran.

Of course, it’s very easy to take a simplistic view of history and draw the wrong lessons from situations that are not equivalent. This was the message of Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s wonderful 1988 book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers. Even so, the old adage that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it remains as true today as it ever was.

Have a good day. Enjoy the study of history, even if it's only the history of your family. You'll probably find it fascinating.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I was born in 1951, and have lived through 13 Presidents ... Herbert Hoover was still alive when I was born.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

You gave a refreshing new view of history. And your comment about how people look for the lessons of history sometimes draw the wrong ones from the past.

Linda Kay said...

Love to read your views on history and appreciate your study of it. I am more interested in history now that I am older (not old, mind you, just older), and find it really fascinating.

Gonzo Dave said...

I messed around with for a while last fall, and found that I can go back about 400 years (to around 1580) in just 7 non-overlapping generations (my dad, his grandfather, etc.). *THAT* surprised me.

Anemone said...

That's a fresh way of looking at history, in my case!

Anemone said...

That's a fresh way of looking at history, in my case!

Mike said...

That's a cool chart.

allenwoodhaven said...

Fascinating! I'd never have thought that was true. Perhaps that partially explains why the country acts like a 4 year old so much of the time.