When I was a child, the world in which I grew up was suffused with the lingering essence of World War II. All of us kids had parents or uncles or aunts who had either gone to war or been left behind when someone close to them had gone. Our fathers worked in defense industries spawned by the war and the advent of the atomic bomb. We built models of ships and planes that had engaged in battle with Japan. We sang songs associated with the different branches of the military, like "The Marines' Hymn" and "Wild Blue Yonder." Even the cartoons we watched carried morale-boosting messages left over from the the war. World War II was not history to us, but something truly awful that had happened not too long before we were born, the memory of it an inseparable part of our culture.
I wonder sometimes how different perspectives on World War II must be today for people who have grown up another generation or two removed from it. With that essence from several decades ago faded, for the most part, to the reminiscences of a rapidly dwindling cohort of the elderly and lessons perhaps indifferently learned in school, how much harder must it be for these post-postwar generations to remain mindful of the things it is essential for them to remember if a repetition of such horror is to be avoided in the future?
In this issue of Public Opinion Pros, we begin a three-part series that offers, by means of a remarkable survey, a glimpse into the perspectives of people in seven nations on a uniquely horrifying chapter of World War II—indeed, of human history. The Memory of the Holocaust Study was designed and commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and conducted in 2005. Its purpose, as series author Tom W. Smith tells us, was “to gauge the state of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes in the contemporary world and how those attitudes are related to people’s knowledge about the Holocaust.”
This survey yielded a massive amount of data, much of which Smith presents here, along with his analysis of the relationships among variables and the differences in results for various demographic groups. Smith’s prose is spare and straightforward, the data unembellished. There are more tables and graphs than have probably been included in any previous POP article, because these are numbers with a lot to say. "Knowledge about the Holocaust," writes Smith, "leads people to see it as important." The Memory of the Holocaust Study is important in that it attempts to measure this knowledge in people who now see it as history rather than something that happened not too long ago.
Much of the rest of our issue focuses on a single theme: public confidence in governmental and social institutions. Richard Seltzer and Rhea Roper-Nedd pull together twenty years’ worth of trend data from a variety of sources to find out what has been happening to Americans’ confidence in our institutions since Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider wrote about a “confidence gap” in 1987. Craig Cummings and Robert Y. Shapiro describe a novel experiment in survey design used to determine to what extent Americans follow the lead of the Supreme Court on a number of issues. And, in a slight detour from the everyday to the rather colorful, Juan Díez-Nicolás examines Spaniards' attitudes toward King Juan Carlos, and how they feel the historic institution of their monarchy measures up against the more prosaic components of the establishment in Spain.
Finally, Kenneth Sherrill ponders the effect of Oscar-winning movie Brokeback Mountain on public attitudes toward same-sex relationships and the rights of LGBT people—a thoughtful and speculative piece that brings us back, once again, to the question of perspectives, and how cultural influences can shape our views of the world.
—Lisa Ferraro Parmelee, Editor