Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lost on Earth

There is much bitter irony embedded in the quotation, "War is god's way of teaching Americans geography." It's a quotation usually ascribed to Ambrose Bierce.

It does sound a lot like something Bierce would have said or written. In fact, however, it's far from clear he actually did. At least, we haven't been able to verify the source despite countless repetitions on the internet without attribution.

No matter. It turns out the joke is flat wrong: Americans aren't learning geography no matter how many wars we start.

Pierre Tristam's always-educational Candide's Notebook out of Daytona Beach today laments the geographical ignorance of most Americans. It is shocking how dumb we are:
[D]espite four years of war, 63 percent of Americans can’t find Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map, 75 percent can’t find Israel or Iran, and 88 percent can’t find Afghanistan, graveyard to 381 American soldiers since 2001.
According to the 2006 Roper/National Geographic poll of 18- to 24-year olds on geographic literacy --
70 percent don’t know where North Korea is, 33 percent don’t know their north from their south, and 34 percent would go in the wrong direction in the event of an evacuation... .

* * * 21 percent of these adults say it’s “not important” to know where countries in the news happen to be on the map (what difference if it’s Canada or Rwanda?) and, not surprisingly, 38 percent consider speaking another language “not important.”

Concludes Pierre--
[T]he most powerful nation on earth, the richest, the most environmentally and politically destructive at the moment, is geographically and historically illiterate.

The world’s leadership is flying blind, and is proud of it: Americans are self-satisfied, feeling no urgency to know any different, let alone to know more. Empires have lost their way on much less.
18- to 24-year olds. That's just about the center target for military recruiters. Which makes us wonder, sadly, how many of our 3,334 dead (and counting) even knew where in the world it was that they lost their lives, much less why -- "to buy time for Bush’s legacy, to palm off inevitable defeat on his successor even at the cost of many more American and Iraqi lives."

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