Spanish philosopher and essayist George Santayana is credited with the following observation: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Today, with the United States' relationship with North Korea in free fall, perhaps Santayana's quote is especially relevant.

Consider the following:

In July 1941, using Japan's offensive military actions in Southeast Asia as a pretext, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an economic embargo of that nation. This embargo included three-quarters of Japan's overseas trade and almost 90 percent of its imported oil.

Using the embargo as a pretext, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Subsequently, the United States declared war on Japan and was plunged into World War II. Did FDR know that the embargo he ordered would precipitate the attack on Pearl Harbor? History is undecided about his motives, but not about the result of his actions.

Today, embargoes are called "economic sanctions," and the United States uses them often as part of our worldwide diplomatic strategy. With regard to North Korea, we cannot shy away from protecting our homeland. But we also should not shy away from knowing our history. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let history be a teacher, not a prediction of negative certitude.

Bill Sumner, Madison

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