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Who said Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it?


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July 17, 2015 2:29PM

The commonly used expression, "Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it" is actually a mis-quotation of the original text written by George Santayana (1863-1952), who, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Stanford University online also provides an outstanding and much more detailed background on this important and profound philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.

Santayana's quotation, in turn, was a slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." Burke was a British Statesman and Philosopher who is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern political conservatism.


A classic example is Hitler's invasion of Russia. Napoleon had done that, and Hitler made the same mistake, and suffered the same fate. On both occasions, the Russians simply retreated , drawing the enemy further and further into Russia in their advance, and then, when they Russian winter struck, and the invaders were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with it, they were slaughtered in their thousands during their retreat.

Hitler was fully aware of Napoleon's plight and had planned meticulously how not to fall into the same trap by using the new offensive technique of Blitzkreig (lightning strike). The plan was for Army Group North to take Leningrad, Army Group Centre to take Moscow and Army Group South to take Stalingrad and the Caucasus oilfields. All before the winter weather made mobility impossible.

The original start date for Operation Barbarossa was accordingly 15th May 1941 but Mussolini's failing invasion of Greece required German intervention to protect Operation Barbarossa's southern flank. German troops invaded Greece on April 6, 1941; Athens fell on 27 April and mainland Greece was fully occupied by mid-May.

Nevertheless, the six week campaign led to Operation Barbarossa being launched five and a half weeks later than planned, on 22 June. Weather (rain and mud at first before the snows) slowed the advance from early October onwards, meaning that the Blitzkreig part of the campaign was shortened from the planned 20 weeks, to just 14. How vital those six weeks would have been we will never know but whilst none of the main city objectives (Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad) were taken, all three almost fell. After the Germans took 3 million Russian soldiers captive during the advance, only 90,000 remained to defend Moscow by late 1941.

Arguably it wasn't ignoring the lesson of history that was Hitler's fatal mistake, it was not adapting to changing circumstances.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." CITES: George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Common Sense 284 (2nd ed., Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, New York 1924 (originally published 1905 Charles Scribner's Sons)(appears in chapter XII, "Flux and Constancy in Human Nature")). George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress 82 (one-volume edition, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, New York 1954)(appears in Book I, Reason in Common Sense, chapter 10, "Flux and Constancy in Human Nature"). This information was found at: Hope this helps. ARISTOTLE SAID THAT!
Me! but Im sure somebody else famous did before me though...

The true answer would be George Santayana. This is an often mis-attributed quote and is also known as "Santayana's Law of Repeating Consequences."

Actually the author originally credited with any such phrase is Edmund Burke. He died before George Santayana was born.