Poppies in a field“In a BBC History Magazine poll timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, readers were asked when they thought history began – in other words, how much time has to pass before a certain event becomes history. It’s a nice question, and the response that received the most votes is likewise nice: a second before the present. One out of three of the nearly 2,000 readers surveyed share that opinion, whereas 28 percent think that events become part of history only after a decade has passed. In other words, about 60 percent of the respondents think that history is a past that ended no further than 10 years ago.

The truth of course is that history cannot be defined, just as “current affairs” cannot be defined. And yet it is always interesting to know which events in human beings’ pasts get to be remembered, and why. In Britain, for example, people wear red paper poppies in memory of the approximately 900,000 British casualties in World War I. Over time people agreed to wear them also in recognition of the more than half a million British soldiers killed in World War II.”

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