A History Lesson for Today

"Only a fraction of [the city's] population remained, thousands having...fled the town. Those inhabitants who had chosen to stay in the hopes of ...
by | October 5, 2005

"Only a fraction of [the city's] population remained, thousands having...fled the town. Those inhabitants who had chosen to stay in the hopes of protecting their property, or because they were too poor or helpless to do anything else...were hurting from shortages of all kinds."

Siege_of_boston1 That may sound like a description of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But it's actually a passage from David McCullough's current bestseller, 1776, that recounts the Siege of Boston 230 years ago, when a rag-tag "American army" kept British troops (and residents of various allegiances) holed up in the city for 11 months. 

It appears that the reasons people stay put in a crisis (and the dire consequences) haven't changed much since then. But determined to incorporate lessons from recent disasters, governments across the country are busy reviewing and revising their evacuation plans. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to effectively address a centuries-old problem. In any case, public officials deserve credit for trying to refute German philosopher Georg Hegel's assertion that "what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history." 

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