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Learning From History

Posted on 23/08/2013
Filed under: The Dog's View It's a Dog!

two medieval armies clashingOne of my passions has always been history, I find it fascinating on so many levels but especially as it provides us with incredible understanding of how our predecessors succeeded and equally, what made them fail. We can learn so much and when it is presented as brilliantly as the recent dramatisation of the 'Wars of the Roses' with the television series 'The White Queen', we gain an insight into the reality for those we share our lives with as well.

As I watch the interpretation of this period (which finally ended with the death of last of the Plantagenet Kings, Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485), I am reminded of the brutality of the close combat between warring armies, as they fought in hand to hand battles with sword daggers, clubs and axes.

In those days a King had to be more than ready to fight for his throne, with death just a fact of life, from wounds, disease, infections, starvation and the like, a situation experienced by almost all of the world’s populations. During the thirty year period of the War of the Roses there were six different monarchs, unlike today when you consider that Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne for over twice as long as that-to date!

A successful Leader would have to learn how to use not only the weapons and tactics but also take full advantage of weather conditions and the terrain to increase their chances of success. They must also know when not to engage, when to retreat and wait for a better opportunity and who to invite to fight alongside them. All of this proves that a clear understanding of their world is essential for victory and the more experienced the leader the more chance of success and the crown. Physical size was never as important as intelligence and experience.

For most monarchs, peace was most desirable but, perversely, they have to be ready to fight for it on daily basis. There were always others looking for the slightest signs of weakness and if the leader were to die then the whole process of vying for position would certainly start again- unlike today when we are presented with three generations of unchallenged future Kings!

This reality was accepted as part of life, it was not considered barbaric or inhuman; it was just the way things were, just as it was with almost every society in the world. They had to fight to survive, whether that be warring aboriginal tribes, territorial neighbouring nations or even ancient empires.

It was only the invention of cannon, guns and other more sophisticated weapons that brought about enormous change for warring “neighbours”, enabling opposing armies to keep a significant distance from one another during battle, until today we have today missiles, aircraft and rockets that mean that we never have to actually even see our enemy. The damage is greater but there is a real detachment that seems to make us believe that life threatening conflict is just an abstract idea and no longer part of daily life.

It is when we watch other species living their lives, as I have been privileged to do, in Yellowstone, Kenya and Rwanda, it is obvious there that the resident animals still live within the rules of engagement of our pre-mechanical times. Our own dogs still have only their speed, strength and teeth to defend themselves and are why they look for strong and confident leaders to believe in, leaders they hope will be able to guide them in their daily quest for survival but also avoid life threatening conflict.

As humans, we may have moved away from the reality of direct survival but our dogs, horses, cats etc remain locked in this simple world. They are quickly brought to a state of readiness, which is why we have to provide them with the assurance that we are secure in our role of leader and they have nothing to fear. Remember that their view of the world is significantly different to ours and it’s when we lose sight of that, that the human/canine relationship begins to fail and we experience problems that are typical results of loss of communication.

They cannot possibly see things from our “civilised” perspective so let’s do them the courtesy of trying to see things from theirs.


Jan Fennell

22nd August 2013