Earlier this week, as I was listening to a playlist of ’60s rock classics on Spotify, I had a most unusual epiphany: proof of the truth of the most famous warning by one of the great philosophers of the 20th Century.
That philosopher? George Santayana. His most famous warning? From his 1905 book The Life of Reason: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Indeed, heeding the wisdom of that warning is the mission of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, whose maxim is Never Forget. Never Again.
But back to the Spotify playlist. What was that song? “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, the 1960s Canadian-American rock band featuring Neil Young and Steven Stills, who wrote that song.
And how did those lyrics—to a song released nearly a half-century ago and deeply rooted in the protest movements of that era—connect to that Santayana warning from 1905? Here are the opening four lines of the song—and as you read them think of all the recent mass shootings and that January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol:
There’s something happening hereBut what it is ain’t exactly clear There’s a man with a gun over there Telling me I got to beware
Now think of all of the recent vicious protest events—whether it’s pro-life v. pro-choice or pro-MAGA v. anti-Trump or pro-gun-control v. anti-gun-control. Remember those Tiki-Torch-carrying white supremacists marching in Charlottesville while chanting “Jews will not replace us”? And the poor woman killed when a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi drove his car into the crowd of anti-racist protesters? And think of other recent hot-button issues that draw fanatic believers from opposite sides. And as you recall those events, consider these lines from the song:
What a field day for the heatA thousand people in the street Singing songs and they carrying signs Mostly say, “Hooray for our side”
Yes, George Santayana’s words of warning ring just as true today as back when he wrote them. Indeed, I am embarrassed to admit that by 2022 I had forgotten the ongoing significance of the lyrics to that 1967 Buffalo Springfield song and their profound relevance to the fractured and dangerous world we live in today.
So if you have a few minutes, settle back and listen to that powerful ballad from almost a half century ago. And, to repeat that maxim from the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day:
NEVER FORGET. NEVER AGAIN