“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is a well-known aphorism coined by philosopher Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, better known by his English name, George Santayana.
Santayana lived through two World Wars, beginning with the so-called Great War or “war to end all wars” as some called it.
The savage devastation of that conflict claimed the lives of an estimated 8.5 million soldiers, severely wounding another 20 million.
Among the dead, 61,000 Canadians who were killed during the war, and another 172,000 were wounded.
It was beyond imagining.
Then, barely two decades later, the past repeated itself.
The Second World War claimed 50 million to 85 million lives, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.
Among them, more than 44,000 Canadians killed and 54,000 wounded.
And again, there were people who said it was so horrible, there would never be another war like it.
We can’t afford to forget the past in a world of ever-more sophisticated weapons and increasing conflict.
So when a Langley teacher arranges a hands-on encounter with war history, it deserves praise.
As reported in today’s Times, Langley Secondary School teacher Ursula Neuscheler invited volunteers from the Canadian Military Education Centre (CMEC) to give students a close-up look at the clothes, tools and documents of both wars.
The LSS event took place during a year that marks the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, remembered as the first time Canadian soldiers fought under their own command in the First World War.
Langley students were able to try on the cumbersome gear that young soldiers, not much older than them, wore in combat.
Perhaps the most disturbing exhibits demonstrated what happens when a society singles out groups of people for condemnation.
Among them, a German political prisoner’s jacket with a red star of David and a pair of wooden shoes made for women prisoners to wear from the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women.
It was something the students were unlikely to forget.
A reminder of the consequences when the costs of conflict are forgotten is timely, to say the least.