Guest Opinion: Why do we only learn when we’re left with the battle scars?.

December 19th, 2022 5:52 am| by Jens Ulrik Høgh
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Can we learn from history? Imagine a Putin-like crocodile in murky waters awaiting its window of opportunity to snatch a juicy wildebeest out of the herd. 

If that were me, I would choose my moment to strike just as he did when he sent his army to conquer Ukraine in (what he hoped would be) a swift Blitzkrieg.

In a Western fantasy bubble
Let’s be honest. From the outside, the Western democracies must have looked weaker than ever. A chaotic, almost circus-like political game was the norm – especially in the US and UK. Public opinion was almost entirely concerned with debates on subjects like gender identity, the effect of vaccines, structural racism, animal rights, gun rights, sexual harassment etc.

Our societies were busy erasing history by rewriting classic literature and tearing down statues that reminded us of a distant past. We were having endless discussions about whether or not it was offensive to sell standard pig-skin-coloured band-aids as ‘skin-coloured’.

The problem is certainly not that these subjects are unimportant. Of course, they are important! The problem is that we – in our eagerness to become the most morally-advanced civilization in the history of humankind – forgot about unpleasant realities outside our Western fantasy bubble. 

It was as if a pink veil of fairy dust clouded our collective judgment. 

Not only did we ignore, but we denounced the necessity of adequate military strength to meet real-life challenges to our idea of eternal peace, love, and harmony. I am, of course, thinking of challenges like rogue Russian dictators invading their neighbouring countries. 

We’re a moral superpower!
In Sweden, where I live, politicians got to the point where they announced they were actively working on turning Sweden into a “moral superpower”. At the same time, they were dismantling and scrapping most of our military. They obviously believed in eternal peace. 

They must have thought that any future conflict could be solved using a feministic approach of love, sense and dialogue. It is undeniably a beautiful thought, but we all got a rather loud wake-up call in February. 

It is a somewhat cynical fact that a Patriot missile is far more effective at stopping a Russian cruise missile from levelling a Ukrainian playground than all the best intentions in the world.

Asleep during history classes
Did we forget history lessons because very few of us can remember the harsh realities of war? I sound like a grumpy old white man (and I am), but I cannot recall any examples of significant warlords with ambitions to conquer the world being stopped by dialogue. 

My Danish grandparents (may they rest in peace) lived through World War II. They struggled every day for five years to get through the raw deal. People in their generation risked their lives to rescue Danish Jews from certain death at the hands of the (actual) Nazis. Others got killed fighting against oppression. 

These days we are whining about butter prices. Many among us advocate that we let the Russian invaders keep conquered terrain in the hope they will refrain from escalating the war (thus driving the butter prices up). These people actually recommend we appease the crocodile by throwing an entire nation into its wide-open jaws. 

I can only presume my grandparents are rotating with disgust in their graves and would be terrified if they saw how soft and naïve we’ve become. Are human beings truly capable of drawing any lessons from the past, or are we doomed to let it repeat itself forever? 

1864, 1940, 2022 …
By this point in history, we should have realised that evil forces are always lurking in the muddy waters, ready to strike at an opportune moment for a juicy reward. But we have failed miserably to do so. We were unprepared. And now we are in it up to our necks. Again. 

Human beings may only be able to truly learn when we get burned ourselves and carry the scars on our bodies and minds for the rest of our days. If so, we need a reminder to keep us alert every 75 years or so. 

It’s depressing, but burning our own fingers may be the only true history lesson that we can fully grasp. Had Putin waited another 10-15 years, we would probably have softened so much that we would not have resisted the crocodile at all.

Jens Ulrik Høgh


Jens Ulrik Høgh, 51, is a full-time Danish freelance writer who has been living in Sweden for the last 18 years. He is a family father with vast travel experience and a keen interest in our world. Over the years, he has participated in the ongoing public debate in most Danish mainstream newspapers.