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Why study history, including WW2

LAURENCE REES: Why should anybody bother to study history in general and this period in particular?

GEOFFREY WAWRO: Well, history is vital to understanding the world as it is today. You can’t understand what’s happening today and you certainly can’t predict the future without looking at history, which is sort of the lifeblood coursing through the system. And if you look at all of the disputes breaking out around the world today, they all have their roots in history, foreign occupations, imperial exploitation, maladministration and poor governance by governments in these areas themselves. And without an understanding of history you can’t understand the resentments and the conflicts that are all springing up all around the world today.

In terms of the Second World War, it sort of determines the map of Europe and it creates the conditions for the Cold War that does so much to shape relations between the free world and the Soviet dominated world, and causes so many wars around the world after the Second World War. It’s interesting how at Potsdam and Yalta the Big Three are very careful to arrange post-war modus vivendi in Europe but they do almost nothing in Asia. So you have these outbreak of wars in Asia like the Korean War and the Vietnam War that come about in large part because the post-war settlement is utterly neglected in contrast with Europe where it’s very painstakingly developed, you know: which group of Poles do we use to constitute a new Polish government? What sort of a Polish government will there be? What are we going to do about Czechoslovakia? What kind of a government will we have there? Where and when will we have elections? It’s almost like they pull an all-nighter on the Far East and just sort of leave it at that, and then you have these kind of shaky compromises there that all come undone and then create these great expensive ruling wars in Korea and Vietnam and account today for the grinding relations between, say, Japan and China. And China is resentful that Japan has never really confessed to its sins in the Second World War and Japan is resentful of the growing power of China. And you can’t really understand any of these things without understanding history in the very longest sense of the word, but specifically here in the Second World War.