Some Uses of History
An example of a clear use of history is afforded by the game
of chess. As most know, the chess game is divided into three stages: the
opening; the middle game; and the end game. Chess master openings have been
recorded for over a hundred years, which means that the first 15 or 20 moves of
any real use have been stored away for players to study. This recorded history
of thousands and thousands of games and their evaluations(plus or minus for the
last position) is a must read and hard study for ambitious players all the way
up to grandmasters. It is typical for masters and grandmasters to rip off these
15 or 20 moves inside of four or five minutes on their game clocks, since they
have usually committed to memory several hundred of the best opening sequences
Then comes a deviation from the record (or "book"
as they call it) by one player, which launches them into the middle game, and
beyond the help of "book". They are now dependent on their own mental
ability to diagnose the position on the board and to decide their every move,
but they now draw upon their knowledge of well-known general principles of
middle game strategy and tactics developed over the years by grandmasters to
guide their move selection.
Although many games are decided before the end of the middle
game by the extraordinary play of one player, much of the time the game
progresses to the end game, where there are many fewer pieces left on the
board. End-game strategy and tactics have been developed also and it behooves
the aspiring player to commit them to memory also, or he will lose or draw a
game in what might have been a winning situation.
So far, we have shown how perfect knowledge of past games,
that is, perfect knowledge of history, can be of great benefit, since we
needn't expend a lot of energy to analyze the early moves, and we know when the
opponent deviates from "book" it may be an error we can exploit. This
is obviously true in real life as well.
We have also stated that knowledge of guiding principles of
good play in both the middle and end games are vital to succeed, and this, too,
holds up very well in real life gaming and decision-making situations. We do
use historical information to derive lessons of good use or good play going
Huge differences from real life exist in this game: 1) in
chess we have perfect "Intelligence" of the position of the
opposition forces, which is not often the case in real world situations; and,
2) The perfect knowledge of past play in chess must be replaced in real life by
the historical accounts of our past, which are just about never perfect
renderings of long ago events, although they may well suffice to carry forward
a lesson, a message, or a warning of value.
But there are problems with assessing historical lessons in
real life. Some authors have spent their lives extracting lessons from the past
for all to use, but at times they are simply not directly applicable to the
current situation. The lessons drawn may be riddled with the bias of the
historian, making it rather problematical to apply. Major events in the past
may well be decided by pure luck, or a fortunate or unfortunate accident of
fate, despite the semblance of a grander lesson from the event. Waiting around
for a repeat accident of fate is not recommended.
Often, events overtake the situation making the search for
historical guidance irrelevant. Many times there simply isn't any historical
guidance at all. Searching through "history space" for an analogous
situation to find guidance can be lengthy and exhausting, with no guarantees of
finding a thing.
More often than not, we must rely on our own intelligence,
knowledge, experience and a gut feel for the right path to follow, just as the
chess player is cast onto his own abilities when the "book" has been
There is a real payoff for studying the history of a
specified area of activity, where the situations, players, decisions and events
have been well documented, such as modern warfare, or chess, but even then some
doubts remain as to whether all the facts were known, all the variables were
accounted for, and hence were the proper lessons of history drawn by the
The intelligent thing to do is to study the history of your
field of activity and extract what lessons you can in the moment, but never let
your innate intelligence and wisdom be lost in searching too long and too hard
for relevant historical lessons.