Sunday, August 01, 2010

Taking a survey about world leaders during WWII gets me thinking . . .

An acquaintance of mine wrote on Friday:
I have a theory about Americans' opinions about dictators in other countries, so I'll be using a series of online surveys to see if my hunch is correct. If you think you or your children might find my first survey interesting, please take a look at it. I'm asking few demographic questions so as to not cause any privacy concerns. Thanks.
I took it. I think it may have required about 10 minutes of my time, all told.

The majority of the questions were of the form, "Who was worse, _________ or ________?"

For most of the pairs I had no difficulties answering. But there were a number that caused me to scratch my head.

For example, "Who was worse: Hirohito or Hitler?"

I got thinking:
  • How much of my opinion is based on familiarity? (I know of both men; I am at least somewhat familiar with both men; but am I biased toward viewing Hitler as "worse" because his atrocities impacted "my people" while Hirohito's atrocities impacted "others" [particularly the Chinese and Koreans--of which atrocities I am aware but with which I am rather less familiar], and, therefore, am I more likely to judge Hitler more harshly than I will Hirohito?)
And then this thought:
  • How much of my (or anyone's) perception is a result of the particular leader's mere opportunity to do evil (he happened to rule a large and/or already powerful country) and how much was the result of some kind of megalomaniacal internal commitment to wicked behavior? . . .
  • And so forth.
Take the survey yourself and tell me what you think.

By the way, the author of the survey is a woman in her 20s. I asked her if she would provide a little explanation of what she is hoping to do with the survey, what she hopes to achieve . . . as well as explain how participants might hear of her survey's results. Here is her response.
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