Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Brief Lesson in Geography

Steve DeAngelis of Enterra Solutions has an interesting post discussing the importance of Geography in determining a nations destiny. Steve's post has a haunting ring of what happens when a country spurns it's destiny when it choses to ignore it's geographic advantages and wall itself off from interaction with the greater world.

Steve begins:

We have all heard someone say, "The world is getting smaller." The fact that we can witness events happening around the world in real-time or talk with someone half-way around the world using the Internet or travel to a distant location in less than a day adds credence to the proposition that the world is getting smaller. The U.S. Navy, however, has for years insisted that when it comes to moving goods or forces around the globe, geography still matters and the world remains a rather large sphere. A new book entitled Europe Between the Oceans by Barry Cunliffe highlights the notion that geography still matters. He insists, in fact, that it may be the most important thing that mattered in the past. Benjamin Schwarz wrote a glowing review of Cunliffe's book in The Atlantic ["Geography is Destiny," December 2008]. Schwarz begins by admitting that books concerning archaeology are seldom riveting.

What struck a chord for me as a historian was the unintended comparison between the two siamese's continents, Europe and Asia and how they exploited, or chose not to exploit their geographic advantages.

In an earlier post A String of 600 Year Old Pearls, I wrote about China's recent foray into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, as it begins to excerpt some modum of blue water naval power. Six hundred years ago China was poised to dominate the oceans of the world. There seafaring technology was far advanced of any of their rivals. A teutonic shift in strategy led them to suspend that advance and wall themselves off from the sea within a decade of the death of the Emperor Yongle.

The result was to slowly decay, as emerging European naval powers expanded to the seven seas. In the four centuries that followed, China held her internal power, selling off her seed corn and aquiring vast stores of treasures in Spanish gold and silver. She became fat and bloated, unable to project her great power beyond her own borders. The plum was too ripe not to pick and in the 19th century, China went within the span of a century, from one of the richest nations to a beggar state, as her treasury was drained away by those who had taken advantage of the geography to sap her bloated dormint empire, First Opium War and Second Opium War.

Read the whole post: The Importance of Geography.

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