Look, here’s a surefire way to determine whether you are wasting your money purchasing textbooks and crayons and hot lunches for your little wunderkind.
When he/she gets home from school tonight, ask your little munchkin where Pearl Harbor is located and if she/he answers “Hawaii” then you know you got a halfway decent one and you should continue putting him/her on the school bus each morning. But if she/he answers “Boston,” this is not a good sign and, while the kid is in school one of these days, you should move and leave no forwarding information. I’m telling you it’s the humane thing to do.
A couple of days ago, on the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I went out with a photographer in tow to ask young people to answer some very basic questions about the “date which will live in infamy,” one of the most important and seminal events of the 20th Century, easily surpassing in significance the date of the invention of the toaster oven. I had told my colleagues at my current TV station (see call-letters at end of this column) that I had done something similar about 15 years ago at my former station (call-letters NOT at end of the column) and viewers back then, especially veterans, were amazed, even shocked, at the answers.
I suggested that, on this very significant anniversary, with World War II veterans dying at the rate of more than 1,000 a day, it made TV sense to go out and do a very similar story. For the original story, I asked some pretty basic questions, like what nation had attacked us; where is Pearl Harbor; and who was president at the time (the infamy-date guy). My newer news colleagues seemed skeptical when I told them that, for the first story, one young woman, about 22 or 23 years of age, had told me that Pearl Harbor is in Boston. No way! No way could anyone believe that P.H. is located in Boston! Maybe, they told me, maybe some of these post-graduates might not have known who the president was at the time, but you gotta be lying when you say that a lot of these young hipsters did not know that before the Japanese began sending us Camrys, they were sending us torpedoes.
Truth is, some veterans got pretty peeved the first time around, witnessing these 20-somethings admitting, for all to see and hear, that they knew little or nothing about the happening that cost about 2,400 of their American buddies and got us into a World War in a pretty big way.
So, on Wednesday, with it raining lousy and cold, we go out and ask the very same questions and the second person I stick the microphone in front of — I always ask them first where they are from to loosen them up; they say “Albany,” and I say “Albany, New York?” and they give me this look like “are you really that stupid?” and we’re off and running — is a woman and I ask her where Pearl Harbor is located, and I swear she answers “Boston.” What the hey is it with Pearl Harbor and Boston? Likewise, some of them had difficulty identifying Japan as the sneak-attacker (is that term politically correct these days?) or telling me who was in the White House at the time. One man identified Dwight Eisenhower as the chief executive (right job, wrong war).
I was not trying to make these people look any more dumb than does jaywalking. And, no, this is not a scientific survey by any means. I decide what people to speak with and I decide which respondents to use on the air. Still, there was that “Boston” reply and a whole bunch of people shrugging their shoulders when asked who started this thing.
I thought that Charles Ebel might be upset with our little M.O.S. Ebel is a 92-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor who still hurts over the 19 fellow seamen who perished aboard the USS Curtis on that Sunday morning and I was doing an interview with him as well on the anniversary.
“Too many things on their minds these days,” Ebel says, “to be worrying about something that happened 70 years ago.” A baseball player with the Albany Senators before he joined the Navy, Ebel also thinks WWII vets maybe should have done better in telling their stories.
Or how about the little darlings’ history/social studies teachers?