Author, Susan Jacoby relates how on 9/11, she was walking home to her Upper East Side apartment. Overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:
“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.
The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”
“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.
At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”
The book she refers to is called ” The Age of American Unreason” and reflects what she sees as present day American culture. Examples of an increase in the ignorant abound in “Are Americans Hostile To Knowledge?” by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times.
Many years ago, India was less well known in the US. When I said I was from India, my co-traveller smiled in recognition. ” The capital is Karachi” he said. I explained gently that saying so was akin to saying that Moscow was the capital of the United States.
In the days of the Vietnam War, I remember reading about a quiz on Asia . Many US respondents believed that Nepal was the place where they made napalm. Some others said that the capital of Nepal was Naples.
Ms. Jacoby mentions a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds in the US don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.
I daresay that even today, most educated Indians know far more about the US than most educated Americans know about India. One cannot, of course, generalize.
On the flip side, I know for a fact that there are many in the US who are more informed about certain facets of ancient Indian culture than many educated Indians.
At the end of the day, I guess it is an individual’s desire to know and learn that propels the thirst for knowledge.