Twenty-four hundred years later, Adolph Hitler was conquering Europe with such speed and ferocity that most German commanders considered the war over. But the failed attempt to subjugate Britain in 1940 would leave Hitler impatient. Instead of biding his time and directing the full force of his military against the British Empire, his hubris would get the better of him and he ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. As his political ideology overrode sound strategy, Hitler would take more and more control over the military, believing the earlier setbacks were due to the stupidity of his generals. He would allow no retreats, not even to save surrounded armies that would do more good to live to fight another day. His own pride became his downfall, and like Xerxes, his empire crumbled and was overrun by the very people he had set out to destroy.
Thus, even though history may not truly repeat itself, human nature's worst tendencies continue to show themselves: pride, arrogance, and aggression. Until mankind has been redeemed from its tendency to such vices (something we cannot do on our own), history will continue to march to the same tune and bear witness to the same lessons that we as human beings refuse to take to heart.
The term "history repeating itself" or the many similar phrases are usually considered an oxymoron today. Knowledgeable, critically thinking historians are now insisting that history never truly repeats itself. Are they right, or is there a way of understanding that saying that perhaps hold up under modern scrutiny?
This photo of the ruined shell of Vaux, France illustrates the pure destructive power that the static trench warfare of WWI left in its wake. Just like this town, Europe would not be the same again, and the First World War would spawn the Second World War twenty years later.
By 1946, Americans were trying to find normalcy after their involvement in the Second World War. Millions of servicemen were trying to find a job in the post-war economic slump, competing with men who had been deferred from military service for one reason or another. Many of these servicemen were dealing with injuries, both mental and physical, and would struggle to find peace from what they had seen for decades afterward. Enter The Best Years of Our Lives.
Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and Homer Parish (Harold Russell) are combat veterans returning to their hometown as they are mustered out. Russell had lost both his hands while in the Army during the war, and as a genuine amputee, added a level of depth to the film, even as Dana Andrew's character suffers from nightmares from his many missions as a bombardier over Europe. None of these men are the same after experiencing the horrors of war, with Derry's marriage on the rocks as his wife looks down on him for taking up and eventually losing his old job at a soda fountain. Only Al's family is truly supporting, and even then, he struggles to see eye to eye with his supervisor's at the bank for his willingness to provide loans to impoverished veterans.
Director William Wyler's hard work to accurately portray the stress of combat veterans as they returned home paid off. He spared no expense to create the best film possible and The Best Years of Our Lives won seven academy awards in 1947, including a best supporting actor going to the non-actor Harold Russell for a well recognized performance. Despite the gravity of the subject, the film, as typical of the era is neither crude or explicit, but artfully and realistically tells a believable story. The central themes of the film would just as readily apply to the veterans of even the most recent wars, making it a timeless classic that deserves a place on everyone's list of must see movies.