Saturday, June 28, 2014


On the 100th anniversary of the event that catapulted Europe into the Great War, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, it is fitting that we should remember that the world is still paying for the spoils of that conflict.  During the war, the great powers of Britain and France decided exactly who would get which parts of the Middle East after the assumed victory was assured.  As colonizers, they drew straight lines across a region rich with history, cultures and ethnicities those men with the straight edge and ink pens knew little or nothing about.

In Robert Kaplan’s book, The Revenge of Geography, we are reminded that peoples likely develop societies along courses of rivers and those societies are divided by ranges of mountains.  Rivers provided ancient trade routes while mountains were crossed with risk of peril. People of like mind and religious beliefs clustered in places that could be farmed of game harvested. Clashes over territory lay at the frontiers, rarely involving the engagement of large forces.

But the European colonizers took little of this into consideration.  Rather, they sought land, the resource wealth buried therein governed by a friendly leader.  The results were those straight lines clustering unlike tribes into unsustainable nations.

Today, modern western powers that should know better, continue to demand by force that those nations stand, while within many, a deadly struggle among those original tribal societies rages.  Sunni.  Shiite.  Kurd.  And a bunch of others.

The current crisis in Iraq (and Syria) is described as a militant band of terrorists bent on over-throwing a duly elected representative government.  The facts may be different.  The duly elected government may be little more than one group placed into power struggling to maintain its control by subjugating the others.  And we say, “C’mon, guys.  Try to work together.”  Implied is: Or we’ll take sides.

Violent and ugly as it is turning out to be, perhaps the disintegration of the nations erected with straight edge and quill during World War I is actually the reestablishment of the nations existing prior to Europe’s meddling there.

While my argument here is a gross simplification, Kaplan explains how geography wins time and time again when the quest for domination ignores the globe’s natural system of boundaries and bounty.

This is a technical read – more scholarly than I am used to – but one worth wading through if we are to have a better view of the hows and the whys of so many of the world’s current conflicts.


The Revenge of Geography : Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2012, $16.00)

1 comment:

  1. Richard Engle had a report on the news about Iraq last night saying pretty much the same thing.