Naming The War
It will be seen that the control of the past depends above all on the training of the memory.
Some of the mystery surrounding the Korean War is due to the fact that it has never been properly identified. The confusion about what it should be called reflects the considerable differences of opinion about what it was. The situation is confusing, and without clear identification the war--and in every sense it was a war--cannot be placed in the proper classification. We have learned it is by classification that men and women use for the purpose of definition and memory. When addressing something new, people narrow it down, locate it within the context of something they already understand, and identify it in relationship to other items in that same category.
Thus without some classification there is little hope of clear memory, nor is there any possibility of meaningful analysis. A good portion of the vague and massive misunderstanding about Americans' involvement in Korea results from the fact that we have never been able to determine, or agree, how to "think about" the Korean experience.
The German philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche ( 1844-1900) was the first modern intellectual to acknowledge the close tie between naming something and remembering it. For the purpose of identification and memory, Nietzsche warned us that what we call something may be considerably more important that what it is. This is as true now as it was a century ago. Speaking even more directly to our time, Martin Heidegger ( 1889-1963) reaffirmed Nietzsche's observations about naming, in his work What Is Called Thinking [ Heidegger 1968:161]. In the process of thinking about something, Heidegger wrote the first and most elemental "act of theory" is to define each thing with a definite name, that is, to declare that "X is Y." Addressing some of the vagueness in modern diplomatic history, Bruce Cumings comments in more detail on this phenomenon. By naming--the