Just how stupid are we?

Juan Cole provides this article about Rick Shenkman‘s book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing The Truth About the American Voter.

Quoting at length:

I do not wish to engage in a debate about the Iraq War. But the thought of planting a largely Christian army in the middle of the Muslim Middle East over the opposition of most countries in the region, when put as I have just put it, sounds daft. Why did it not ring bells of alarm to Americans in 2003 and after, especially as it became clear that our troops would be staying a long time and that no quick victory was possible? It did not because the administration saw to it that the issue was framed differently. We weren’t planting an army. We were spreading God’s miraculous gift of freedom to a benighted people very much in need of America’s missionary help. It was the triumph of myth over logic.

Why were Americans so susceptible to myth? Foreign policy specialists don’t usually spend a lot of time reflecting on this question. They should. It’s the key to what often goes wrong when foreign policy issues become the subject of public debate.

The answer is, I’m afraid, simple. Myths count more than facts in these debates because Americans don’t know many facts and don’t care to take the time to learn them. Unlike subjects with which they have first-hand experience–think gas prices–matters related to foreign countries are both exotic and incomprehensible to most Americans. This leaves them sitting ducks for wily pols who want to take advantage of their ignorance by playing on fear and patriotism.

The extent of Americans’ ignorance is underestimated. Only two in five know we have three branches of government and can name them. Only one in five know there are 100 US senators. And five years into the war in Iraq only one in seven can find Iraq on a map. Someone once said–the author is in dispute–that war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. It’s a great line, but rather optimistic. A majority of Americans still haven’t bothered to take a look at the map of the country where we have been bombing and killing people since 1991.


To be sure the public eventually turned against Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq. The one thing the public usually gets is success and failure. And Mr. Bush’s war has been a spectacular failure when judged against all of the many measures by which he has asked us to judge it.

As we head into the Fall campaign and listen to the debates about the war we should keep in mind the limits of public opinion. If we don’t begin to address the problem of gross public ignorance there will be more Iraqs.

[moose’s emphasis]

As readers will perhaps be able to deduce, I greatly enjoy the bald stating of things, and tip my hat to Mr Shenkman for having the balls to stand up and say it. Facing how things are is a necessary prerequisite to changing things for the better. He then goes on to analyse the methods of manipulation, and what can be done.

This comes somewhat serendipitiously for me, as one of the recent lyrics I wrote for my solo project is “I can’t believe we’re all gonna die ‘cos Americans are stupid”. 🙂

Comments are closed.