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A weekly show where we debunk common misconceptions. This week, Elliott discusses some misconceptions about the U.S.A.

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Elliott: Hi, I'm Elliott, and this is mental_floss on YouTube.  Today, I'm going to talk about misconceptions about the good ol' United States of America, just in time for 4th of July.  Okay, here.  (noises)  Whoooo.

(mental_floss intro plays)

Misconception #1: The National Anthem was written by an American.  It's true that the poem which became the lyrics was written by an American, Francis Scott Key, but those lyrics were attached to an already established English tune called 'To Anachreon in Heaven'.  The music was written by British composer John Stafford Smith, and he actually wrote them to be the constitutional song of a gentlemen's club in London known as The Anachreontic Society.

Misconception #2: The US won World War II.  A lot of people give the United States a lot of credit when it comes to the end of World War II, but the Soviet Union had done a lot of that work up until that point.  By the time the US began military operations, the Soviet Union had already defeated Germany in Moscow and was in the midst of the siege of Leningrad.  In fact, some scholars believe that the Soviet Union might have been able to defeat Hitler without any help from the West at all.  According to the British historian, Professor Geoffrey Roberts, "The Soviet Union could have defeated Nazi Germany on its own, but it would have taken it a lot longer and at much greater price, and of course, it would have taken the country much longer to recover after World War II."

Misconception #3: Minnesota has more lakes than any state.  It's known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but Minnesota has nothing on Alaska, which has over 3 million lakes.  Minnesota does have the second most lakes though, so congratulations on that.

Misconception #4: The phrase "separation of church and state" is from the Constitution.  Nope.  Actually, the constitution only promises, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  Then, the First Amendment contains the phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."  Over time, people have interpreted things like that to mean separation of church and state, which was a phrase originally used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1802.

Misconception #5: Uncle Sam is a fictional character.  Uncle Sam's name was actually borrowed from a real guy named Samuel Wilson.  He lived in Troy, New York during the War of 1812, he was a meatpacker and ended up inspecting meat for the army.  He gained popularity for this in addition to his friendliness, so he got the nickname Uncle Sam.  People started joking that the US on meat barrels stood for Uncle Sam rather than United States, which is how his association with the army became a lasting phenomenon, and even though this might all sound fictitious, in 1961, Congress declared the story to be legal truth.  I didn't even know they could do that.

Misconception #6: Old people were in favor of the Vietnam War and young people were not.  Actually, Gallop conducted a poll about this in August of 1965, which is about a year after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.  They found that 76% of adults under 30 supported the Vietnam War.  On the other hand, only 51% of adults over 49 supported it.  Even in 1970, 41% of under 30s supported the war. 

Misconception #7: You can tell how a state will vote based on average IQ.  So this story emerged in 2002 when someone posted a chart online "proving" that people from states who voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election had a higher average IQ than those who voted for George W. Bush.  It was widely believed and even The Economist published the results.  The chart came back in the 2004 election, again claiming that states that voted Democrat had populations with higher IQs, but an accurate chart displaying this phenomenon has yet to be created.

Misconception #8: Native Americans lived in a completely different manner than Europeans.  There are so many Native American tribes living in America before Europeans came along, so it's impossible to generalize, but it's important to know that our stereotypes of the ancient Native Americans living in tepees aren't necessarily true.  Like in modern day Illinois, Native Americans have an urban city known as Cahokia, which was built between 1000 and 1300 CE.  The city contained thousands of homes which archaeologists say seem to have gone out practically overnight.  It also had buildings and a huge grand plaza, like, 45 football field big.  Ancient Native Americans are also known for burning a lot of forests.  In fact, Richard Neville, a famous geochemist from Stanford has a theory that the Native Americans and the Europeans who arrived in the new world are partially responsible for Europe's little ice age, because burning forests released carbon dioxide in the air.  When the Europeans arrived, a lot of that stopped, causing a "carbon sink" and possibly a little ice age an ocean away.

Misconception #9: Florida is the sunniest state.  Actually, the National Weather Service has cited Florida as 6th on the list of sunniest states, though it's possible that the Sun's rays feel the strongest there.  The top five are Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.  Fun fact though, Florida is still the best state.

Misconception #10: Florida is the best state.  No, I'm just kidding.  The Statue of Liberty is a symbol for the US welcoming immigrants.  A lot of what we think we know about the Statue of Liberty isn't exactly true.  Most of us know the story that the Statue was given to us in the late 19th century by the French as symbol of immigration, but scholars now believe it was intended as an anti-monarchy and anti-slavery gesture.  It was probably also more political.  French politicians wanted to remind their own country about how great democracy was, plus, they knew that a gift that might encourage trade with the US couldn't hurt.  It was only in the 20th century that the Statue began to be association with immigration.  That's also probably when it was connected with the Emma Lazarus poem, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 

Thank you for watching Misconceptions on mental_floss on YouTube, which is made with the help of all of these nice people.  If you have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions episode you would like to see, leave it in the comments, enjoy your 4th of July, I'll see you next week.  Bye.

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