WARNING – BEWARE OF GEOGRAPHIC IGNORANCE
Now that we are well into month two without finding a trace of the missing MH370 and we have gone a few days without some gun nut plugging enough children to gain national attention, it is time to go to war in Ukraine. What is it about Ukraine that is worth US military intervention or thinly disguised NATO military intervention, you ask? Well the answer is really quite simple – the Russians seem to want it for their own. Why they want it for their own isn’t completely clear, but there seems to be some collection of big men with black masks and old women with babushkas inside Ukraine who want Russia to want Ukraine for some reason worth fighting about. What isn’t clear at all is why anyone in the US should care about this.
The Ukrainians have made a thorough mess of their country since its exit from the Soviet Union in 1991, over twenty years ago. And importantly, they have done so with a great deal of technical assistance and economic support from both the United States and the European Union. Maybe if they tried economic and institutional development without our help, the outcome would be better. They probably would not have unregulated “free markets,” legislative gridlock, or even jury trials to contend with. They might develop, on their own, governmental institutions and economic policies that fit their culture and are consistent with the social and geopolitical forces at play. They will surely be better off if their country does not become a literal global battleground.
Meanwhile, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, there are those who seem to support the global battleground option, presumably as long as the global battleground is on soil other than ours. These global warriors, however, may be a dangerous lot to follow. As a starting point, let’s try to figure out who in the US thinks that US military intervention in Ukraine is a good idea. When I tell you, you are going to think that I made this up, but you would be wrong. It turns out that the less one seems to know about where a place is the more likely that person is to support US military intervention there.
This remarkable piece of news comes from a group of real professors who study stuff like this, from the Ivy League no less. In a recent op ed piece in The Washington Post (April 10, 2014, Charles Lane, “Americans’ strong sense of direction”), the author cites findings by the three professors that they published in a political science blog. Relevant here, the place in question in the study was Ukraine. According to the op ed, the study found that only 16% of Americans could identify Ukraine on a map and that the farther off one's guess, the more one favored US military intervention.
While this is probably good news for Ukraine since it reduces the likelihood that our benighted troops will find Ukraine, it could turn out to be really bad news for some other country. Spain, for example, is nowhere near Ukraine, rhymes with Ukraine, and is big enough to be mistaken for Ukraine. Imagine the surprise in Spain when their army is confronted by a contingent of US soldiers sent to Ukraine by folks who don’t know where Ukraine is in search of Russians to engage in a global mano a mano. John Stewart would have a field day with this, and CNN will have reporting teams in both Spain and Ukraine breathlessly dissecting the impact of these events on the search for the missing plane.
Meanwhile, the three Ivy League professors will be touted as experts beyond even their own bloated imaginations.
What are the rest of us to make of this? If the link between geographic ignorance and the willingness to rely on US military might to achieve policy objectives is true, the warrior politicians who send our troops to create new killing fields abroad or to romp in those that already exist are an even scarier group than they seem to be at first glance. Instead of trying to argue with these folks, those who seek to avoid killing fields altogether should produce big maps with big lettering and arrows pointing at the country in question.
If this works for Ukraine, and once folks realize where it actually is they back off from the US military option, imagine the possible global repercussions. Think of a big map of Iran, colored red in a field of other countries colored blue, with big white letters that say IRAN and a white arrow pointing to the red country in the sea of blue countries. Everyone would then be able to know where Iran is, and, if the professors are correct, no one would want to send US troops there.
There is a potential added benefit here. Since almost no one in the US can locate the Indian Ocean on a map, the missing flight MH370 is probably in Kazakhstan, as I have said before. Since truly no one knows where Kazakhstan is, most folks should favor sending in US troops to find the missing plane.