Italian philosopher and novelist George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” English writer Aldous Huxley: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” American political journalist and world peace advocate Norman Cousins: “History is a vast early warning system.”
All these wise men—obviously, they are wise since we still quote them—agree that what happened yesterday is important for our thinking today. Of course, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had a slightly different view: “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King wrote, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
That idea was totally discarded by Winston Churchill who said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Probably Churchill is the closest to the truth about history. You have to give the Chinese government credit for “writing” a 500-year history to substantiate their claim to the South China Sea. In fact, it is surprising that a clay tablet from the site of the 2000-year old “Terracotta Army” sculptures was not included. It would have probably read something like, “Just got back from Scarborough…uh…Panatag…I mean…Huangyan Dao Shoal. Great fishing.”
Maybe the real blame for the territorial disputes probably should go the 16th-century Portuguese sailors and traders that called this ocean area the China Sea (Mar da China). If only some romantic sea captain had named it after his mother or girlfriend—Mar da Matilde or Oceano da Catarina.
Even in most recent times, the “history” of the area is clouded. The Spratly Islands are thought to have been named by 19th-century British sea captain Richard Spratly. Except there was also a Henry Spratly sailing in the area who supposedly “discovered” Mischief or Panganiban Reef. The reef was named by Henry after one of his crew, a German sailor named Heribert Mischief. Why Captain Spratly did not name the reef after his wife or girlfriend has been lost to history.
At least the recent history of the area is less clouded. A 1995 agreement about the Spratlys between the Philippines and China with the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) was immediately violated by both China and our good neighbor Malaysia, which both built structures on the reefs.
About that time, I was an occasional guest on a Radio Veritas roundtable program. On one instance, this was the topic of discussion and another guest was the “attaché for who knows what” from the US embassy. I asked him, “Why hasn’t the US done something substantial to help the Philippines as these countries invade the economic zone?” His reply: “The Philippines exclusive economic zone does not fall under the Mutual
“Why hasn’t the US taken this issue to the United Nations?” The attaché answered, “The United States does not involve itself in bilateral disputes.” The wise men are right. History does provide an early warning and we are condemned to repeat it because we do not learn from the past.
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