That Americans know very little about geography seems beyond dispute.  Survey after survey has confirmed that unfortunate state of affairs.  Globes are rarely part of contemporary home décor and even all our foreign travel seems to have contributed little to our ability to locate many of the 200 odd countries of the world.

In the Western hemisphere we’re on sure ground only when it comes to Canada and Mexico; after that the picture gets fuzzy.  Multitudes of travelers cruise the Caribbean but probably have little idea how the numerous islands there are aligned.  Some are probably aware of a region known as Central America, but would be at a loss figuring out how the several countries there are positioned.  There’s not much sure footing in South America either.  That Argentina and Brazil occupy a good portion of the east coast, and that Chile’s on the western edge may be as far as it goes.  As for Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia – no clue.  Guyana?  A mystery.

No longer can we refer to Africa as the Dark Continent, but to most Americans it remains a perplexing patchwork.  Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya could be found; perhaps, too, Angola and Uganda.  But as for the rest – strictly guesswork.  Besides, haven’t some of these countries changed names?  Certainties do exist in Asia.  Japan and Indonesia are after all, a group of islands off by themselves, and Australia and New Zealand are out there as well, while China is a huge territory occupying the eastern edge of the continent (although few have any idea where its major cities are located).  Most are aware of other countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand (though maybe not Myanmar), but just where they are is a big question mark.

Expect more precision in Europe.  Ireland and Great Britain have always been off the east coast, and across the Channel lies France, and to the South Italy, the country resembling a boot.  Germany’s around the corner and Spain somehow gets attached to France, and Portugal to Spain.  The Soviet Union used to be relatively easy, but since it’s breaking up too many “stans” have emerged totally confusing the picture.

Those determined to advance geographic intelligence (G.I.) should feel greatly indebted to the U.S. Government.  In pursuit of an aggressive foreign policy over the past half century, our leaders have dispatched combat forces across the globe.  With each instance the public has been treated to a geography lesson, newspapers printing detailed maps indicating where our troops were engaged.  And so we learned  the whereabouts of such nations as Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Somalia, Kuwait Serbia,, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and recently Libya.  Future additions to this list would not come as a surprise.

In an age of galloping globalization, would it not be useful to know your way around the world?  Then at least you’d know the location of the country where that last item you purchased was made.

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