2 min

History is useful to the extent we learn from it what we need to know about the times in which we live. Richard Friedlander says that when it comes to folly history is a repeat offender.

Barbara Tuchman was twice a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian with no advanced degree but a commitment to telling history in a way everyone could understand. One of her books, "The March of Folly," dealt with historical periods in which leaders knew they had taken the wrong road, but chose to drive off the cliff rather than change course.

The first of the four events examined was the Trojans wheeling the great wooden horse within their walls despite the repeated warnings of Cassandra and others that it would lead to their city’s destruction.

The second study concerned the six Renaissance papacies, which, despite constant cautions kept to their corrupt and venal ways and brought on the Protestant Reformation.

England’s Mad King George the Third was next up to the plate. His policy of trying to coerce the colonies into obedience, when opposed even by his own prime minister, cost him the second most prized jewel in his imperial crown.

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The final member of the quartet was one with which, unfortunately, we are quite familiar: Vietnam. From our support of the French and our assumption of their threadbare mantle, to providing “advisers” to a corrupt government and the eventual commitment of half a million troops, we persisted in our folly in spite of hard evidence that the only end possible was not a good one.

We now live in another time when ill-fated policies are pursued and salutary ones are ignored. Where politics has become divorced from a reality that one would hope would compel those in power to act. In financial matters, on climate change, on gun control, on immigration, on foreign policy, on election reform, on justice, we steam along in the wrong direction while a host of Cassandras are unable to turn the ship of state around. We see worldwide disasters that we have helped cause, whether crumbling glaciers, millions of refugees or aiding and abetting governments opposed to our alleged ideals.

A legislator’s oath of office is not a pledge to party, special interest or constituency, but to defend the Constitution of these United States. Apparently, however, though aware of the consequences, not enough have the will, desire, or whatever it takes to do what needs to be done.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator, writer and actor in the East Bay.