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Unfair to Swedes


Some urban legends just never go away. Here is Bill O’Reilly’s column this morning. The Big Mick is fulminating against godlessness. Experienced readers of this kind of thing knew which country they will encounter around 500 words in. Yup, here it is:

Ah, Sweden, a country of nine million people enjoying, perhaps, the most “progressive” political system on earth. The quasi-socialistic government provides cradle-to-grave entitlements, most people never get married, and just about anything goes socially. By the way, about 85% of Swedes do not believe in God … What a country! None of this God stuff … Just an enormously high suicide rate while everybody does his or her own thing.

A minute (literally) on Wikipedia brought up a table of nations ranked by suicide rate. Sweden ranks no. 32, with 13.2 suicides per 100,000 people per annum. The U.S.A. ranks no. 45 with 11.0. Question for Bill: if 13.2 is “enormously high,” what is 11.0?

(And you need to be really careful dragging international suicide comparisons into your arguments. Arab countries, for instance, all seem to have sensationally low rates: the highest ranked on Wikipedia’s list is Bahrain at no. 78. Are they to be our model societies? Ethnicity is also a mighty component: Only three nations in the world (Hungary, Finland, Estonia) speak languages of the Finno-Ugrian group: all three are in the top 20.)

The canard about Sweden’s enormous suicide rate was first put into the public conversation by President Eisenhower, I believe. Apparently it still has legs.

That the canard should appear in an O’Reilly column is a sad comment on the state of affairs in opinion journalism. O’Reilly is near the top of the tree. He must have staffers and researchers who could check his copy for him. I’m mortified when I commit blunders like that on NRO (which I sometimes do). I’m just a freelancer in an attic, though; and NRO is a shoestring operation (contribute! subscribe!) compared to O’Reilly Inc. Shame on O’Reilly! Think of the pain it must have caused to innumerable Swedes to see this old slander recycled yet again. Why, I bet several of them were driven to suicide by it.


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