People who fail to heed the past, doom the future. Likewise, those who ignore the present, as if they have no responsibility for their actions to those who come after, may change the course of history. That history may be one not wanted, or deserved, by those who inherit it.
An event in 9 A.D., in a dark German forest, probably didn’t seem like much on the global scale. When three Roman legions were destroyed by German tribes in Teutoburg Forest, it was a tragedy for sure. Nearly 20,000 were dead, an amount hard to imagine killed in only a few hours time. The loss struck Caesar Augustus hard, and no full-scale attempt to conquer and Romanize Germania would ever occur again. Rome would stay close to the militarized border along the Rhine and Danube Rivers for the remainder of its existence. As Rome endured for a few more hundred years after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, the disaster didn’t seem like an event of significance, one that had altered history.
But it had.
Had the German region become part of Rome like western Europe, would the “barbarian” invasions of Rome centuries later never occur? Would the empire have endured longer? Would later wars between France and Germany also fail to materialize? What of the World Wars?
Of course we are speculating, we cannot know for sure how an alternate timeline would have played out. Some dismiss the battle had any serious impact on the river of time, not because of historical evidence, but out of overwrought fears the battle will be used for nationalist causes. Others point to Britannia, which expelled Roman culture after Rome left, as if that proves something contrary. Britain and Europe would be at odds for centuries, much like the situation north of the Alps. Nor are we arguing that Roman expansion was a just enterprise. However, we know what did happen, and what did not happen. We know a severe cultural divide was created, and even centuries later during multiple eras, when both sides shared the same religion, it didn’t erase the past. Rome fell for many reasons. Endless war was one of them. Many of which were with their neighbors to the north.
What should this teach us? First, we must pay attention to our past. We must cast off this hubris that believes nothing important happened prior to today. Our temporal amnesia is a dangerous disease.
Second, our decisions and actions as nations make lasting ripples far into the future. Where this chain of history goes forward is hard to see from our link, but looking back, the weight of memory is heavy and clear. We can see the connections, the causes and effects.
If we ignore the messages our ancestors have given us, we will fall into our own battles in dark forests. Regardless, if at the time, we think we are on the winning side, our descendants could lose everything.
Each generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve and pass on the canon of human history. It is how the continuity of civilization endures through both the bad and the good.
We have traded our responsibility for tribalisms, allow the elite to choose and run our governments, and abandoned intellect as we run headlong into chaos that we are told is imaginary.
If our ancestors could speak, they would ask, “Why did you not listen to us?”