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February 4, 2008

One In Five Brits Think Churchill Never Existed?

Every once in a while, some pollster comes up with a survey that shows what idiots Westerners can be. They especially like to pick on Americans and their rather insular attitude towards geography, being unable in large numbers to actually find Iraq on a globe or to identify the correct continent for Guyana (South America, in case anyone asks). Jay Leno has a running gag on the Tonight Show where he goes out in the street and asks people simple questions and films them getting the answers spectacularly wrong.

So I have some sympathy with our friends in Britain this morning, who have to be slapping their heads with the results of a poll taken by a television production company that found 23% of their fellow countrymen didn't believe that Winston Churchill actually existed:

Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll out Monday which showed that nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real.

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth.

And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist.

Even more laughable, the man who most exemplified peaceful protest in this century also got relegated to mythical status. Mohandas Gandhi appears in the Top Ten of Mythical Creatures in this poll. In contrast, a majority -- 58% -- believed that Sherlock Holmes was in fact a real person, and not a fictional character from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's excellent novels.

One might forgive those who consider Richard Lionheart and the Duke of Wellington mythical. Especially with the former, the myths may have overtaken the actual history, to some extent. The British can afford to have a mythical Wellington now, even if they should be grateful for having an actual Wellington when they needed him most against Napoleon.

But Churchill? Not only was Churchill the truly indispensable man of World War II, he was also captured on miles of film. He served a second term as prime minister just fifty years ago. His descendants still work in politics and speak on ceremonial occasions that celebrate his life. Most critically, Churchill produced some of the most important volumes of history during his long lifetime which grace libraries around the world.

I mean, what more does a man have to do to gain some measure of immortality?

At least 23% of Americans don't believe that FDR or Abraham Lincoln never existed. Or at least I hope they don't. Maybe we shouldn't ask questions for which we'd rather not hear the answers.


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