C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Don't know much 'bout history, Don't know much 'bout geography...

Polling at the commencement of the Iraq War found that a majority (75%) of Americans supported the invasion. When the same polling occurred in April 2007, a majority (58%) said that the invasion was 'a mistake'. Public opinion around the world was even less favourable about Bush's war.

With this in mind, take a look at another recent survey, this one by Newsweek. The survey examined the views and beliefs of 1001 Americans aged 18 or older. The results were not flattering.

Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in
10 Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly
involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11,
even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection.

The work of Republican speechwriters and Faux News has obviously paid off, then. One wonders what support for the invasion would be like if that 41 percent had their facts correct.

A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a
multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were
born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from

The pollsters don't speculate as to why this might be: perhaps it is because Iran's (soon-to-be-invaded?) theocracy has taken the limelight from Saudi Arabia's brutal Wahhabist regime. The latter regime is, of course, of great concern to human rights organisations, but of much less concern to our bearers of 'Democracy', who count the Saudis among their allies.

And perhaps because most (85 percent) are aware that Osama bin Laden remains at large, roughly half of the poll’s respondents (52 percent) think that the United States is losing the fight against his terror group, Al Qaeda, despite no military defeats or recent terrorist attacks to suggest as much.

No military defeats (the Iraq War was declared 'mission accomplished' 4 years ago) and no recent terrorist attacks, yet the War on Terror is being lost; more cause for Washington (or Canberra) fear-mongering, no doubt. It is amusing to ponder the responses of the 15 percent who believe that bin Laden isn't actually at large. Osama's doing Elvis gigs in Vegas, perhaps?

Other results of the poll are also embarrassing:

Roughly half (53 percent) are aware that Judaism is an older religion than
both Christianity and Islam (41 percent aren’t sure). And a quarter of the
population mistakenly identify either Iran (26 percent) or India (24 percent) as
the country with the largest Muslim population. Only 23 percent could correctly
identify Indonesia. Close to two thirds (61 percent) are aware that the Roman
Empire predates the Ottoman, British and American empires.

It would be easy to interpret these results as evidence of 'dumb' Americans, and make reference to anecdotes of crass and boorish US travellers. After all, anyone in America (or Australia) with the inclination and resources can readily obtain a few basic facts about the world. Yet I think we should resist the 'only in America' interpretation, and sketch some possible explanations.

When discussing political matters, I often take the media to task. The reason for this is that, all that most people know about politics is what media agencies choose to tell them. Entire speeches are routinely condensed into soundbites, and state propaganda is allowed to pass unfiltered through a complicit media. This phenomenon has been discussed at length by the likes of Chomsky, who argued that US propaganda is as effective and pervasive as anything the Soviets employed with Pravda. Faux News and Australia's own Government Gazette differ from Politburo literature only in their sophistication. Clearly, the constant linking of Iraq and 11/9 by Governments and the media is a possible explanation for the results above.

Yet this is not the full story. Another recent (June 2007) poll that I found (courtesy of Ken L) found that respondents generally did not trust the media in America. Only 23% said that they had a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence in television news. The figure was 22% when applied to the print media. State indoctrination cannot be the only explanation here. We might perhaps say of supporters of the war, after Žižek, that this is a case of 'they know what they are doing, yet they are doing it all the same'.

The next obvious target for criticism would logically be the education system, which, despite the bleatings of 'cultural warriors' here and in the States, has blatantly failed to educate its citizens with information that is damaging for the reigning regimes. Supposedly 'post-modern' teaching of history cannot be blamed for an ignorance of basic facts.

Whatever the explanation, it is likely that history shall remember the twin destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan as the most significant political event of the early 21st Century. Like Lady Macbeth's spot, the stain of blood spilled for conquest is not easily washed off, even in the face of pervasive ignorance. This is especially true when the 'spot' of blood is often more reminiscent of a torrent.

Shakespearean analogies aside, the significant distortion of history by our pro-Government, chickenhawk cheer-squads ensures that where there would be tragedy, there is instead farce.

I am not optimistic, but perhaps a little knowledge would go a long way to slowing America's sabre-rattling towards Iran. The Venezualans too fear that the Coalition will seek to 'democratise' them. Whilst it may seem a little too interventionist for the weak-stomached libertarians out there, perhaps the following should be distributed to the public, as a kind of war prophylactic: