How important is history (and knowledge thereof)?

I'm somewhat of an amateur history buff, specifically the tumult of Irish history but also other places. Several things fascinate me, how much there is always left to know, even of events you thought yourself perfectly familiar with, and also the apparent general level of ignorance of one's own and world history amongst people.

I suppose it's just one of those things which I find interesting that others don't but it chagrins me when I hear or read commentary on a current or historical event that displays a distinct lack of knowledge of the historical context. The events of the past obviously have very real repercussions on the present and it serves us well to know how things have happened, that the world, its structures, its people didn't just spring into existence on the day we were born. I understand that we all only have finite time in which to find out about stuff. I think wikipedia has been a boon for those casually interested in historical events.

By dint of being extraordinary occurrences some historical events interest many people much more than others. Witness the endless churning out of books and television series on the events of 1939-1945, even within this area of interest it seems the actions of the Nazis get the bulk of coverage. It will be interesting to see in coming decades with this interest continue or falter, will unborn generations find the events of those bloody years as intriguing or like WWI and previous conflicts will it fade from public interest?

There are numerous historical lacunae from the past century that intrigue me too. The relative dearth of interest in the Korean War for example.

I don't really have a huge axe to grind in this thread, so think of it as a hybrid crucible/lounge beast. What are your areas of interest in history? How much interest do you have? Do you or anyone you know have only marginal interest in your country's history?

Comments

WWII was really a huge and major point in history and I believe it will be a few more generations before it begins to fade. I compare WWII to the sharp interest in Napoleon for all those decades. It was still a the major topic of history in the Western World until at least the Great War.

WWII was even more major though and involved far more of the world.

Korea was a short war and has been cold for well over 50 years. I am not surprised by the lack of interest, I suspect M*A*S*H is the reason people think about it at all.

I like history, but tend to be a generalist rather than a details guy. I know a lot of Western Civ and am familiar with Chinese Dynasties. I know a lot about WWII but I know a lot of people that know far more. The principal drivers of the American Revolution interest me but I am largely ignorant of the specific battles. etc.

In the end though, I am not sure how important a knowledge of history is in general to the population. I don't think it makes a big impact in the lives of those that never studied anything beyond their school days. We enjoy it but it is hardly a big mark against someone that doesn't. Though I make an exception for Flag officers and national politicians. These people by career had better know a lot of history and understand how things got to where they are today.

Korea was a short war but the US had over 30,000 fatalities from it, not to mention the other UN forces casualties. It was shorter but a far more intensely fought affair than the Vietnam War which is still arguably a major talking point in the US. I know the Vietnam conflict started over a decade later but I still find it strange. It is presumably partly to do with the fact there were more television cameras in Vietnam, and also so many popular films have been made about the conflict.

30,000 probably did not seem like a huge number to those that had just lived through WWII and many that could recall WWI. I'm not sure what to tell you, but a Cold War draw of short duration is not actually a major point in history from my point of view. Many cold war events get no coverage at all. Greece and the tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia in 1968 are barely known. The Berlin airlift is little known. Korea does well compared to these and I suspect it is more to do with M*A*S*H and MacArthur being fired then the war itself.

Dozens of other conflicts of similar importance to Korea probably took place in the cold war period, just with less Americans and Brits involved.

But as terrible as things in Europe were during the Cold War (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 etc) there was never an open conflict of such magnititude on our soil in that period. The Korean War had over 2 million soldiers on both sides. It was an actual international war in a way even the Vietnam War wasn't, those other things were, notwithstanding the suffering and death that occurred, minor events. I'm not really sure, other than Vietnam, and maybe the Soviet/Afghan conflict there were any other events of a similar magnitude with regard to death and destruction during the Cold War. And with regard to same, the North Koreans still sabre rattle on a periodic basis, something which does get coverage in the US, however the historic context in which the mad dictator with nukes poised to destroy the world operates, is probably little understood.

Quote Originally posted by The Original An Gada* View post
Korea was a short war but the US had over 30,000 fatalities from it, not to mention the other UN forces casualties. It was shorter but a far more intensely fought affair than the Vietnam War which is still arguably a major talking point in the US.
Well this is vaguely insulting. Vietnam had more fatalities on all sides, depending on where you were was an extremely brutal war, and is still largely perceived as a defeat/mistake/horrible tragedy. All of which are something that sticks in a mans mind.

More people know more about the Korean War than you evidently believe too. Hell more people know about the Civil War than you would believe.

That said I've never noticed a great knowledge of history to be that important to how good a man or woman is.

Quote Originally posted by hatesfreedom View post
Well this is vaguely insulting. Vietnam had more fatalities on all sides, depending on where you were was an extremely brutal war, and is still largely perceived as a defeat/mistake/horrible tragedy. All of which are something that sticks in a mans mind.
The Vietnam War had more casualties, the US lost approx. 58,000 in Vietnam against approx. 36,000 in the Korean War. However the Korean War lasted only three years, US involvement in Vietnam was closer to 15 years. I don't know how these facts are insulting. Millions of civilians died in both conflicts but again the Korean War had a much shorter duration.

Quote Originally posted by The Original An Gada* View post
The Vietnam War had more casualties, the US lost approx. 58,000 in Vietnam against approx. 36,000 in the Korean War. However the Korean War lasted only three years, US involvement in Vietnam was closer to 15 years. I don't know how these facts are insulting. Millions of civilians died in both conflicts but again the Korean War had a much shorter duration.
Thank god we have your keen eye for statistics to guide us through American history.

Here's some photos




I am most interested in the rise of social institutions. Also, I am interested in how cultures divide themselves, how people draw the lines that then create the cultural identities of the future.

Also, any sort of history where you can see the impact of one person on the course of history is fascinating.

Or people who have power through many iterations, like Talleyrand who was running France behind the scenes through several iterations of its power structure.

Quote Originally posted by hatesfreedom View post
Thank god we have your keen eye for statistics to guide us through American history.
You are kinda proving my point. It seems that to you the Vietnam War has a viscerality that the Korean War doesn't, yet I doubt you fought in either conflict.