Most Americans under fifty and many in their second half have friends they’ve never met in places they will never visit. Even I have readers of my blog from
Climate change, notwithstanding, the map remains fundamentally fixed, at least since the Ice Age. Coral reefs may rear their heads then drown. Coastlines may get clawed but
remains landlocked, England shows
no sign of relinquishing its island status and the Himalayas and Andes provide borders, in perpetuity, separating tribes
and creating nation states.
Geography informs everything from our culture to our foreign policy. Who has the black stuff below ground is no small matter. Inland folks think a little differently than coast-dwellers. If
were attached to the
European continent they might act like Germans who are defenseless, east and
west and grew a chip on both shoulders. Islanders enjoy a natural fortress of
ocean which can result in an isolationist mind set as it did for centuries in Great Britain Japan or as a crucible for relative peace and
cultural development in Crete and Greek
In our current Iraqi and Afghan misadventures we may have been blindsided by simple geography. Like the Brits and Russians before us we disregarded the topography of that land mass east of
. From ancient time the
mountainous region has divided people into tribes with separate language and
customs. In Iran
which was created after WWI heedless of ethnicity, Kurds occupy a separate space off to the north,
with a natural barrier of mountains, apart from the Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq
Africa, five times the size of Europe, lags in large measure to the cut-off of Mediterranean port countries from the continent below due to the
Sahara desert. This kept the advanced
civilizations of the near-east from contact with sub-Saharan regions. All but the eastern
coast lack deep harbors for trade and the interior is thick with equatorial
If Americans feel exceptional it is more an accident of geography (climate and isolation) than anything in our character. I suspect Armenians and Albanians also feel unique. Acknowledgement of our place on the map and an appreciation of other nations’ geography might help to curb our zeal for intervention.
Latitudinal Eurasia has been much better off than longitudinal Africa or the
because technology was more readily disseminated across similar climates as
well as movement of domestic animals and the immunities they have provided for
The importance of Geography needs to be stated but not overstated. In his book The Revenge of Geography Robert Kaplan makes the case for the powerful influence of geography but not necessarily one that explains everything.
Both centripetal and centrifugal forces are at play. There are natural divides along with shared waterways. Even given the limits of air power, the introduction of drones cannot be discounted nor can virtual virus attacks which know no weather or borders. But weapon technology that brings new destruction also generates collateral kinships. Satellites both kill and connect.
Oceans are rising and hundred-year storms occurring within decades. Perhaps our reckless stewardship of the planet with its dire consequences will join us in the singular effort of survival.