After a decade of fighting, Americans weren’t aware of relevant historical events in Vietnam’s history. About 80% of the American electorate couldn’t identify a single issue involved besides stopping communism
Democracy assumes an educated and informed electorate on the issues of the day. Yet, poll after poll indicates that this assumption is not met. That is most true when it comes to foreign policy issues. Even after years of demonstrations, horrendous casualties, and over a decade of fighting, Americans, in large numbers, argued positions, elected candidates and yet weren’t aware of relevant historical events in Vietnam’s history. About 80% of the American electorate couldn’t identify a single issue involved besides stopping communism and about the same number couldn’t place Vietnam beyond being in Asia (and 38% couldn’t even get that far). The vast majority didn’t know that the French had colonized Vietnam, had fought against Ho Chi Minh’s forces before we got involved, and slightly more than 90% didn’t know that that war was followed by the Geneva Peace Convention of 1954, which specifically stated that nothing in the document should be interpreted as dividing the country into two nation-states, North and South Vietnam, or that it called for national elections within one year. Nor were these kinds of information gaps unique to that particular time period. Data from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts showed similarly inadequate levels of information on the part of the American Polity. Why does this sad state of affairs continue? Significantly more Americans have some college experience as compared to the Vietnam era. Do Americans simply tune out international (and even domestic) political news? Don’t America’s colleges and universities teach them effectively? Sad to say, the answer to both questions is no. Television news shows have shown low ratings compared to popular shows such as American Idol and fare badly even when compared to run-of-the-mill sit-coms. And in our Universities, World Affairs courses have given way to “practical” trade school type curricula. One part of the equation, undoubtedly, has been the fact that for most of our country’s history, we have been protected by the size of the oceans that resolve upon our shores. It simply wasn’t practical for countries from other continents to fight a war here. So Europe’s seemingly endless invasions need not concern us safety-wise. In fact, more knew of George Washington’s advice to avoid foreign wars than knew about other countries’ geography and history. Yet the American Political Landscape has been dominated by foreign conflicts, and a major portion of our national debt has gone to fight in them, or to prepare for such an event. How then can we be condescending about the struggles to make democratic institutions work that countries such as Egypt and Iraq and Iran have shown?
Martin, The Pragmatic Liberal-writing on pragmaticliberalism.com