Sovietologists have frequently commented on the former Soviet Union’s need to revise the past. Moscow subway mosaics, for example, were periodically updated. Each time the tiled images of fallen revolutionaries were carefully removed, their ghostly outlines remaining as a vivid assertion of the power of the state over the past, as regularly cited George Orwell’s famous dictum: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins has also offered us a new strategy known as "Look Back Before You Act", which means we should check whether there was similar situation previously as well as the past decision was good or not. Before Douglas Collins, Professors Richard Neustadt and Ernest May in the book Thinking in Time offered leaders a systematic tool of how to make better use of history to make decisions.
It is true that a better sense of history, even provided by their staffs or think tanks, could help current decision-makers to make better decisions to a certain degree-as long as time permitted and the historical analogy referred to is based on facts and applicable. Victor Hugo would put history as “an echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past,” and it seems to be quite a sound argument that with a better knowledge of the history or the background to an issue, leaders in the process of decision-making today can pave the way for the future based on the grasp of history. To take the most telling example offered by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May in their book Thinking in time, in the summer of 1979, rumors started to circulate that the Soviets had recently positioned combat troops in Cuba. If without an in-depth examinatio...
... middle of paper ...
... can we say these distorted interpretations are better understanding of history? Or rather they are just examples of abuses of history to achieve a certain goal?
Let me sum these up: it is true that history can be used by decision-makers to work out feasible policies, and it is indeed credible –and necessary as well-for policy-makers today to have knowledge of history. However, history is by no means the most reliable tool with which to make better decisions in a changed international system. Neither could leaders count on historical analogies. And the most fundamental reason is that we are in a fundamentally unprecedented period. Therefore, when making decisions, it should be better for decision-makers in this period to keep alert to the changed situations and focus on the priority and national interests as well, rather than devoting to the past for counterparts.
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