February 15, 1898: The USS Maine explodes in the harbor of Havana, Cuba.
That event was the beginning of a story. It was the beginning of a history. And, like all other histories, this story functioned as a fractal.
You've heard of fractals, right? It's a mathematical idea that there are patterns that, no matter how closely you zoom in or how small you fracture it, it will always maintain the appearance of a full pattern. In other words, even the smallest piece is a complete unit as well as part of the whole.
How does the sinking of the Maine, and other historical events, function as a fractal? Let me illustrate.
There's the story of the people who manned the boat. Their lives were drastically affected that day. The length of their story, from explosion to end? Minutes, maybe hours at best.
There's the Spanish/American war that ensued because of the event, culminating in the Treaty of Paris. That story includes Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T Washington, a nation uniting for the first time since the Civil War, and the first time African Americans really gained national respect. Length of story: 5-6 months.
There's the story of Cuba and the symbiotic relationship that developed with America because of their liberation from Spanish rule. That story includes casinos, Cuban jazz, the mafia, Ricky Ricardo, and gross government corruption. Length of story: 50-60 Years.
There's the story of Cuba's quest for national independence, which eventually culminated in the rise of Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Length of story: 70 years+
There's the story of the Cuban people's thirst for freedom, which would eventually include countless exiles fleeing to America and defying corrupt regime after corrupt regime. That story includes Marco Rubio, Bill Clinton, Elian Gonzales, and even Barack Obama, as well as countless measures to either enable or inhibit refugees from Cuba. Length of story: 114 years+
Now, why should you care? If you are a writer, your job is to carefully craft your story so that every piece matters, no matter how small, and that everything fits into a bigger picture, no matter how large. Think of The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings. Think of the baby Harry Potter being dropped on a muggle doorstep and the larger war between Voldemort and the world. Think of a tea party between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, and the entirety of Narnia awaiting Aslan's salvation.
"World Building" is the catch phrase, but it's more than just your setting. You have to develop the fractal plot of your world and know where your story plot fits into it.
That's how you make the sinking of the Maine matter.