La-La Land American Ignorance
So tell me. Who is the prime minister of Britain? What did Koizumi just do to his cabinet? Do you even know what country he’s from? What was the reelected chancellor of Germany’s stance in his recent political campaign? What resolution did the U.N. Security Council pass in late September? Which country stopped the shipment of five million dollars of uranium 155 miles from Iraqi borders? Can you even point out the location of Baghdad on a world map? Where is Arafat’s headquarters located? Do you even know who Arafat is? What 39-year old Asian businessman took control of North Korea’s recently opened “special economic zone?” Why is Milosevic being tried at The Hague? Do you know what these things, these people, and these events, have to do with the United States? More specifically, do you know how they might affect you?
It is no surprise that many Americans cannot answer these questions. In general, most of us aren’t interested in what happens in countries on the other side of the globe. We feel apathetic even to domestic events occurring in states other than our own. But that is the problem – the American public does not recognize the most basic knowledge about the current events of the world due to lack of interest. The average adult perhaps only realizes that bin Laden and al Qaeda are hiding somewhere inside or outside Afghanistan and that Saddam Hussein may have a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq. But this is about as far as their familiarity with foreign affairs extends – they may not even be able to point out Baghdad on a map or what territory Desert Storm covered. They probably cannot even identify the events that occurred at Tora Bora or name our allies in Afghanistan. Why are most of us ignorant in international affairs? Why do peoples of foreign countries stereotype Americans as clueless? We just don’t care! There are, I believe, four major factors contributing to our disinterest in world relations: the actions of our government, the popular influences of media, our isolated geography, and most important, our apathy.
Throughout most of the 20th century, our government has taken a more or less isolationist stance in world relations, thereby sheltering its citizens from events in the international community. This is due in part to the reluctance of our government to enter into conflicts or issues that bear little importance to national security or the economy. Most foreign intervention by the government has been selective and limited mainly to European and other important industrial areas and has rarely focused on crises in the middle east or other third world countries until very recently.
Our interests in the world wars peaked only when it seemed that aggressor nations had gained the potential of threatening the United States. If the UK fell during the World Wars, the geographical barrier of the Atlantic would be meaningless (it had...