Why do we study history in school? What is the purpose of studying the past if only the future is ahead? Why does it matter to us what happened a thousand years ago? There are many generic answers to this, primarily that studying history provides lessons about how to respond to situations we are faced with based on how people from the past responded. The key effect of this would be to prevent mistakes that were made in the past from being made again. Looking at specific eras in history, it is easy to determine specific lessons based on past events that can teach us reasonable responses to current or future problems. In the situation of Modern European History, there are many such examples, but two specific ones that have become relevant in recent times. Studying the economic collapses of various entities in different situations, such as Germany after World War I, or the UK in the early 1970s, can teach us either reasonable or unreasonable solutions that can help us should we encounter similar recessions, and studying World War II advises us away from racism and bigotry for fear of causing another Holocaust.
Following World War I and the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was crushed by the Allies to the point where they had no future as an economic superpower. Essentially, the result of this was an immense sense of nationalism that was exploited by Hitler in the early 1930s and resulted in Nazi Germany. Beyond simply requiring the country to pay excessive
reparations, mainly to France and Belgium, for damage done there, the effects of the Treaty on industry in Germany were extensive as well. All of Germany’s colonies and land taken from Russia were taken, as well as several other territories, such as Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen, Malmedy, Northern Schleswig, Hultschin, West Prussia, Posen and Upper Silesia. Unfortunately for Germany, some of these territories, particularly the Saar and Upper Silesia, were extremely important economically, so upon losing them, an economic collapse was imminent for the country (Trueman). However, further damage was done to the German damage by the military limitations instituted by the Treaty of Versailles. In an empire that had come to its position of power through invasion, a large segment of the economy was military-related, such as weaponry. With this industry lost, this segment of the German economy fell to pieces. The lessons that can be taken from this are visible on both sides of the issue. From the side of the Allies, it is apparent that an important idea to remember is mercy or care in punishments given to other nations following wars. It is essential that, while these penalties actually discipline the group of people to which they apply, they should not do so to such an extent that the group being chastised feels as if it is being treated unfairly, and thus undertakes the task of rebelling against its castigators, as Nazi Germany did. However, should we be on the side of this situation which is being criticized, it is just as important to be careful of how we respond, and that we continue to stick to our values as a people, rather than abandoning them and making radically terrible decisions as Nazi Germany did in our eyes. This point can be further analyzed through the Holocaust.
Besides being fueled by anger caused by the “unfairness” towards Germans by the Treaty of Versailles, the Holocaust was effectively a hate crime of unparalleled proportions. Hitler and
the Nazi Party chose certain groups of people that they blamed for preventing Germans, specifically Aryans, from having their perfect world, such as the Jews. Having done this, they spent the rest of World War II killing these people, seeking a world without these so-called “impurities.” While it is obvious that this type of event must never be repeated, learning about this encourages general acceptance, even in situations that would never result in wars. Accepting and understanding different ideas connects the world too much for it to clash in such a way, even if this starts with the elimination of racism and discrimination against such groups as homosexuals and those with disabilities. Studying Modern European History provides us with the right examples to act as an incentive to create a more equal world.
Through the example of Germany through the post-WWI era and WWII, Studying Modern European History can teach us tolerance both towards our enemies and towards those who are simply different from us, as well as the importance of sustaining our ideals, such as this tolerance, through difficult situations. Essentially, studying Modern European History helps us create a better world by providing historical incentives and examples to push us in this direction. However, beyond our study of history, it is important to acknowledge our creation of history. While we may not live in Europe, or even in what is now considered the Modern era, we continue to create history, and thus need to take into account the fact that someday, our descendants will study this history just as we do that of our ancestors. Knowing the positive aspects from the history we study, it is possible for us to ensure that these are the values that the future sees in our present society. Legacy. That is why we study history.
Trueman, Chris. “The Treaty of Versailles.” History Learning Site. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk, 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2012.