"The leader is wise, honorable, benevolent, brave, and disciplined." Sun Tzu

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Ken Jennings of Jeopardy perpetuates misinformation of Vietnamese history

Thich Quang Duc

In its 36th season, the television game show Jeopardy is the most popular quiz show in America. Numerous contestants have competed in over the 8,000 episodes of Jeopardy. It's simply a matter of time when people start asking who is the greatest contestant of all time?

On January 14, 2020, Ken Jennings won a special contest called "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time" by defeating two other Jeopardy greats, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer. Jennings not only holds Jeopardy's longest winning streak of 74 wins, but with his victory in "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time" last month, he is also officially the undisputed and greatest champion of Jeopardy.

But if you ask me, Ken Jennings isn't great at all. Of course I owe you an explanation on why I feel this way.

It all started this Tuesday when I read a post by Michael Sullivan (@regularmike) on Twitter that Jennings made an error on his weekly Tuesday quiz. The quiz is conducted via email when you sign up on Ken Jennings's website for "Ken's legendary Tuesday Trivia quiz."

My exchange with Mike Sullivan on Twitter

As you can see above, the great Ken Jennings was corrected by regular Mike Sullivan. Sullivan isn't Vietnamese but he knows a basic fact about the iconic photograph. What Jennings wrote is a common mistake. That common mistake can be found on question #5 on the quiz:

5.  What did a monk named Thich Quang Duc do on June 11, 1963 that made headlines worldwide? He set himself on fire on a Saigon street corner to protest the Vietnam War, immediately becoming one of the most iconic photographic images of the 20th century.

If you know the history of the Vietnam War, you'd know that Thich Quang Duc, the monk who set himself on fire on June 11, 1963, in Saigon didn't do so to protest the Vietnam War. Instead he was protesting against the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, who was in power since 1955 at that time. A Catholic, Diem persecuted Vietnamese Buddhists who made up 80 percent of the population in South Vietnam.

As a Vietnamese Buddhist born in Saigon, I was very upset about this error. If it was an anonymous netizen posting wrong information, I wouldn't bother, but it came from the greatest Jeopardy champion of all time, someone who countless people look up to as a reliable source of information. If he can't get the Vietnam War right, then what are the chances of most Americans getting it right?

So immediately I responded to Mr. Jennings to put out a correction, because too many Americans are already confused about the Vietnam War. Furthermore, the obvious misinformation belittles the sacrifice of the monk and the important message he was trying to send to the world.

Even after 50 years later Americans are still getting the Vietnam War wrong. It's no wonder Americans are still confused about the war. Like Ken Jennings, they are still looking at the conflict through their Western eyes and their own narrow interests. It's not always about the Americans! Sometimes it's only about the Vietnamese. Thich Quang Duc didn't do it for America. He did it for his fellow Vietnamese.

Unfortunately despite my pleas for Ken Jennings to respond, he ignored my requests. He didn't respond to Mike Sullivan either. Because the mistake is common, it's probable Jennings has received feedback from other people as well. But he doesn't seem to care about getting an important historical event right. He perpetuates a falsehood. Does he realize that the history behind the Vietnam War is much more significant to get correct than, for example, Potent Potables? After all, those who don't understand history are at risk to repeat it.

So instead of acknowledging the mistake, Jennings seems content to not correct his bad error. Ken Jennings is famous for knowing many things. Even he gets the war wrong, but the real mistake is not correcting it. His apathy is glaring. In addition, his lack of response represents well the indifference of many Westerners during the Vietnam War, involving themselves in something with little knowledge and understanding.

Am I being too harsh on Jennings? I don't think so. If I choose to write about, for example, an Afghanistan event, I'm going to do proper research and then educate others on what I learned. If an everyday American corrects me on it, then I probably didn't do my research sufficiently. And if an Afghan corrects me, I wouldn't ignore her.

To clarify, the problem wasn't that Jennings made a mistake. We are all human. The problem was his apathy about correcting a serious historical error when told about it. Vietnamese history is important, especially in a war that costed so many lives. Therefore, I propose that individuals like Ken Jennings leave matters that are Vietnamese to the Vietnamese, and if not, then at least fact check before publishing. Given Vietnam's grave history, those matters are certainly not trivial to the Vietnamese. 💛

UPDATE on February 13, 2020, at 1pm. Ken Jennings posted the following message on Twitter, two days after sending out his last Tuesday Trivia: