Iraq, oddly enough, USA

Joey Tribiani in Iraq.

There is an episode of the tv series “friends” in which some of the friends are playing a game for which they have to write a list of all US states. Ross Geller phd is struggling with his last one. He simply can’t remember one of those little ones. So eventually he gives up and asks Joey how many he had remembered. Joey instantly replies – all of them. All 56. Laughter.

In a different episode, after having confessed his love to Rachel and having been rejected, Joey thinks about emigrating to – Vermont (and getting Vermont Dollars ;-)). Laughter, again.

In light of this recent poll by the US edition of National Geographic, I wonder how many people in the audience actually did get those jokes?

When young Americans were asked to find ten specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority, only 51% could find New York and only 30% New Jersey, the state just across the river.

Slightly disturbing, I have to say, but no reason to be too smug – those states can be tricky, after all… But there was also an international element to the survey, which finally provides a good reason for Western military involvement overseas – as educational policy – and that clearly not only for young Americans: The survey asked young people in the Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Britain and the United States to answer 56 geographic and current event questions. Sweden won the contest with a score of 40, followed by Germany and Italy with 38 each. On average, the American youngsters answered 23 questions correctly.

Another striking detail: according to the survey, only 13% of those surveyed knew where to find Iraq, 17% in the case of Afghanistan. Both countries have been covered intensely in the media over the last few months. A significant number of Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan, an even more significant number might be fighting in Iraq soon. So if those 13% are any indication of the general geographical knowledge in the US (specific figures for the other countries haven not been indicated) then I can’t avoid the question why a majority of people (more or less) supports an armed intervention in a country they can’t even find on a map. I have no real answer to that question.

But Michael Moore has some. And I watched his answer last night – “Bowling for Columbine” is quite a documentary. I will document my thoughts on it later. Just one thing, for him, it’s about fear. Fear that creates a vicious circle of ever growing fear. But there’s a lot more to it, so I will stop here for today.