In 1949 the majority of Americans had no idea what this was about or who the guy was whose picture was on the truck.

America’s Little History Problem: Spectacularly Uninformed – November 6, 1949

In 1949 the majority of Americans had no idea what this was about or who the guy was whose picture was on the truck.

In 1949 the majority of Americans had no idea what this was about or who the guy was whose picture was on the truck.

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For all the complaints and bafflement over just how badly informed the American people are, not only with World events and politics, but with something as local as who your City Councilman is, it’s sobering and a little horrifying to realize our lack of knowing about history or current event has always been this way.

Case in point – this broadcast, part of the CBS Radio series Where the People Stand, broadcast on November 6, 1949, offered up more than a few perplexing facts and figures over just how completely uninformed we were in 1949.

With reference to pensions and labor – 40% of people interviewed had never heard of the $100.00 a month pension plan proposed by labor leader John L. Lewis. As for the famous Steel Industry strike of 1949, 44% had no idea there even was a labor dispute. Speaking of labor – there were proposals put forth on Capitol Hill to repeal the Taft-Hartley labor law and reinstate the Wagner Act. 47% said they didn’t know anything about Taft-Hartley and 80% had no idea what the Wagner Act was about. Lack of knowing our history in labor and our interest in current events.

The subject of the recent proposals in President Truman‘s Civil Rights Program was another shocker. According to the Gallup Poll, some 36% of Americans had never heard of Truman’s Civil Rights Proposals. In contrast, that was better than the 46% who had never heard of the word Filibuster, a word that became synonymous with the Civil Rights debates in the Senate.

Another baffling subject was the Truman Compulsory Health Insurance plan. Even though Capitol Hill had remained motionless over the plan, opponents and proponents had been staging a vicious public fight over the subject of a National Health Care plan. For all the sound and fury, one out of every three people had no idea about the proposal and didn’t know anything about Health Insurance. And clearly 50% of the American people just didn’t know there was a controversy going on, or worse, could care less. By all accounts, the details of the arguments for and against a National Health Plan went right over the heads of most Americans in 1949. Ouch.

The Hoover Commission on government reorganization was another jaw-dropper. The report pointed out large-scale government waste and offered a plan of administrative belt tightening, saving to the tune of some $3Billion 1949 dollars. 41% had heard of the report. However, 59% had never heard of the report.

1949 was also a big year for HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Commission hearings on Communist infiltration and influence in government. The proceedings were well covered in the media. However 36% drew blanks when asked if they knew about the Un-American Activities Committee. After weeks and months of almost daily coverage of the proceedings, a third of country didn’t know and didn’t care.

And if the domestic problems in the U.S. drew blanks from Joe Average in 1949, History of Foreign Affairs was Neanderthal by comparison. 48% of the people interviewed could not identify Marshall Tito or the controversy surrounding Yugoslavia’s unwillingness to become aligned with The Soviet Union. Of the 52% who knew who Tito was, the majority of those weren’t quite sure what he was involved in.

American Business abroad was quite active in 1949, brought about largely by President Truman’s Point 4 program for aiding underdeveloped nations. As a result , American Oil companies had been heavily involved in the program. However, 46% of those questioned had no idea any oil companies were involved in the program in the Middle East.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Civil War in China and the rise to power of the Communists headed by Mao-Tse Tung did register with 80% of the people interviewed. However, only 32% knew the Communists were taking over while 68% had no clue as to any details of the conflict. They just knew something was going on over there – they just didn’t know what.

1949 was also the year of the NATO Alliance and the historic signing of the treaty. 56% of Americans either had never heard of it or had no idea what it was.

However, 70% of those interviewed correctly identified and knew was Artificial Insemination was.

I suppose in 1949 they were thankful for small favors . . . .

Still ignorance of history is not bliss, and it would appear not to be the sole property of our current society.

So the moral of the story is – we’ve always been in trouble, and it hasn’t gotten any better. We have a history of dumbing-down. We can’t afford to be this way. Not ever, but really not now.

And that’s what this November 6th was like in 1949, as viewed by Elmo Roper and Where the People Stand.





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