1191: The Past

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
The Past
If history has taught us anything, we can use that information to destroy it.
Title text: If history has taught us anything, we can use that information to destroy it.


"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" is the opening line of "The Go-Between", a novel by Leslie Poles Hartley (1895–1972), published in London in 1953. Black Hat notes that a country's past military tends to be less advanced than its current one, and that countries in the past had larger oil reserves as they had consumed less oil then.

If a country from the past existed in its old state today, other countries would likely leap at the opportunity to exploit its oil reserves.

Or: Black Hat could be considering sending the modern troops of a country from today back in time to rob the oil from the countries in the past. It could be profitable to invent a time machine for just that.

"Mozart in Mirrorshades" is a short story by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner, which features the use of time travel to exploit earlier eras' natural resources.

Also, in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, time has been exploited to use as energy. They say: "The Past is like a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there."

The "If history has taught us anything" phrase is used to start several quotes:

"If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power." - Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists
"If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone." - Michael Corleone, The Godfather

The title text starts by fitting the usual pattern of this phrase, but in the second half humorously subverts it. It extends the "past as a foreign country" metaphor by implying that lessons learned from history can count as military intelligence to use against it.

A more recent movie, Christopher Nolan's Tenet (film), also deals with destroying the past.

The concept of going back to the past to collect resources (or, at least, set up the collection of resources) shows up again in 2321: Low-Background Metal


[Cueball and Black Hat talking.]
Cueball: Well, you know what they say. The past is a foreign country-
Black Hat: -With an outdated military and huge oil reserves!
Black Hat: Hmmm...

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


WOW. When I first read the comic, I assumed it was making an analogy to current countries. Like ones that have been invaded because of their oil reserves. When I saw the image-text, my thought was "We can destroy time like we've destroyed these countries." The above explanation makes a lot more sense. 06:17, 27 March 2013 (UTC)

I don't think there's a distinction. "If history has taught us anything, we can use that information to destroy it". If you destroy the country in the past, then you 'destroy' that timeline of history. (Of course, current consensus seems to be that you'd branch off into a new timeline and both will exist in parallel universes, but nonetheless - to the antagonist - it could well count as a destruction. 08:50, 27 March 2013 (UTC)
Perhaps, but nothing I was saying was referring to time travel. 00:47, 29 March 2013 (UTC)

The past is a foreign country most probably means his own country. You would not conquer your own country today, but the past is something totally different - it is foreign and ready for exploitation.

Anyone else thinking of time travel? I think BlackHat was planning to get a time-machine (somehow), bring a whole army through and conquer a nation. It's an easier way to become a mighty overlord, ruling over continents and enslaving millions of people. World domination turn out to not impossible after all, aside from the time-travel stuff. 02:43, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

BHG has made a time machine before. http://xkcd.com/1063/ 04:46, 28 May 2013 (UTC)

Does this have anything to do with the previous comic (Time) ? I'm guessing (out of the blue) that the next comic will be "The Present", and the next one "The future". 12:43, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

Did anyone think about Iraq? This comic comes quite close to the 10-year anniversary of the war, and the description of the "foreign country" quite resembles what Iraq was at the time. 19:28, 28 March 2013 (UTC)

Did anyone NOT think about Iraq? I though THAT parallel is so basic it doesn't need to be mentioned ... although mentioning the anniversary probably make sense, this information may be lost when someone will see this page later ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:14, 31 March 2013 (UTC)
I didn't really think about Iraq, but I did think about Gruinmarkt even though this isn't time travel as such. --Pmakholm (talk) 12:56, 4 April 2013 (UTC)

Something should be mentioned about Black Hat incorrectly finishing Cueball's sentence(s). (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"If a country from the past existed in its old state today, other countries would likely leap at the opportunity to exploit its oil reserves." Shouldn't that say United States instead of other countries. Not all countries are oil-hungry warmongers. Tharkon (talk) 19:20, 5 August 2014 (UTC)

I think Black Hat is saying that the past is a foreign country that physically exists, we should take it over for oil.