The current research addressed the issue of how people use the past to compare and interpret the present. Using the logic of the Interpretation Comparison Model (ICM) we examined two factors (distinctness of past events and ambiguity of target event) that may influence how people make sense of a real world event (the Iraq War) within the context of past events (World War II and Vietnam). Extending earlier ICM studies, we used new manipulations and measures to examine the impact of these two factors. Results show that higher levels of (manipulated as well as measured) distinctness lead to contrastive evaluations about the Iraq War (and involved politicians) as a function of past wars. Lower levels of distinctness lead to assimilative evaluations, but only when the meaning of the target stimulus was somewhat ambiguous. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.