A century ago, crowds in Paris were cheering, “on to Berlin!” Crowds in Berlin cried, “on to Paris.” World War I, the supreme example of nationalist/militaristic stupidity, was about to begin.
One hundred years later we hear cries across America to “get tough” with Moscow over fragmenting Ukraine. A dozen US F-16 fighters are being sent to the Baltic, a squadron of F-15’s to Poland, and a US warship to the Black Sea. In short, just enough to spark a war but certainly not enough to win one.
No one seems to have remembered – except Vlad Putin, of course – that the roughly 50,000 US troops and officials now based in Afghanistan are in large part at the mercy of Russia which controls their major supply and exit routes.
As the Ukraine crisis continues to build, it’s absolutely horrifying to recall that most of the American politicians and general public now lustily shouting “on to…where was it again?….oh yes….Kharkov” had no idea where Ukraine is, never mind Kharkov or Luhansk.
Ignorance is a primary fuel of nationalism and aggression. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrel, as Dr . Johnson observed, and the first platform of fools.
Three professors from Princeton, Dartmouth and Harvard University just did a poll that found only 16% of Americans queried could find Ukraine on the world map. Actually, that’s better than I expected, given American’s notorious geographical illiteracy. Seeing Ukraine’s map on TV every night no doubt helped.
Worryingly, but hardly surprisingly, the poll also found that the further a poll respondent thought Ukraine was from its real location, the more likely he was to support US military intervention in Ukraine. Few Americans could find Iraq (Eye-raq to most), Afghanistan, or Iran (Eye-ran) on the map.
“Let’s get those dirty Commies,” goes the latest wave of war fever to sweep the US, “if we can only find them!” Some respondents put Ukraine in Australia, or South America.
Interestingly, the poll found that the group least able to locate Ukraine was +65 year olds – core Republican voters.
Why are Americans to poor in geography? I was in the last class at Georgetown University Foreign Service School to be taught world geography. Though essential for understanding international affairs and history, geography has vanished from America’s educational curriculum as an antique irrelevance. So, too often, has history. Even many well-off, educated Americans are deeply deficient in these subjects.
An influential Republican friend and former presidential advisor told me, “we’ve got to stop Putin from taking over Crimea!”
“Before you go to war,” I advised, “ask your big-time Republican supporters to name the top four cities in Crimea.”
Of course. War fever feeds on ignorance. If mobs in Paris had known in August, 1914, that they would die on the mud of Flanders few would have been so eager for war. All sides in World War One mistakenly believed in a short, sweet military victory. The great French voice against the folly of war, Jean Juares, was assassinated by nationalists.
“The proportion of collage grads who could correctly identify Ukraine (20%) is only slightly higher than the proportion of Americans who told Pew (the respected polling outfit) that President Obama was Muslim in August, 2010,” found the Ivy League professors.
About the same percentage of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive, or that an Islamic Caliphate will shortly rule America. Ever since the Bush administration, stupidity and ignorance have become fashionable.
Leading US newspapers – “The Wall Street Journal” and “New York Times” – have been beating the war drums. The most-watched TV network, Fox, is a mouthpiece for the War Party. Millions of Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian background are naturally deeply concerned by events there. Israel is now involved in Ukraine.
Too few voice urge calm and restraint. President Putin is being demonized into America’s leading hate figure. Few in the media dare say that Putin is reacting in Russia’s interests to NATO’s foolish push right up to his borders.
Republicans are blasting President Barak Obama for being a cowardly wimp. I like cowardly and wimpy when it comes to nuclear weapons. Thank goodness Sen. John McCain is not president or we might well already be in World War III.