Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Mercator Projection. The Cold War. The War on Terrorism
Our "world view," influenced by how we map the world.
Is George Bush a member of the "Flat Earth Society?"
The Mercator Projection is a type of map that was common when I was a kid. Hung on the classroom wall, it made the world look flat. Also distorted reality, as every world view does.
A world view is always limited. True reality is beyond perception.
Showing a round globe on a flat map is problematic. Map makers have several different types of "projections" that they use to try and do the trick.
Due the trick at least part way.
Sometimes the globe gets cut up into slices; like apple slices.
The Mercator Projection was very common. Didn't slice the world, or distort the border shapes. Looked nice and flat on a map; on the classroom wall, but it distorted the size. It distorted the size and possibly the importance of certain nations.
Nations near the north pole look a lot larger than they really are. The old Soviet Union shown in red. That was way north, not far from the north pole. The Mercator maps made it look massive and ominous.
The "Evil Empire "
Then there was the little guy, like in "David and Goliath." The good guy USA. Blue, like the pure sky. The foothold of hope and freedom.
USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and a few frontier outposts like Japan, South Korea and South Vietnam were blue.
Blue and red were faced off.
The red was a growing blob, a menace of totalitarianism, slavery, marching from China to Eastern Europe.
The "Soviet Block."
We had to hold the line in Vietnam, or where ever. Prevent more nations from turning red like dominos falling. The domino theory.
It's true that the Soviet Union was largest country in the world, in land area, but Mercator map made it look even bigger. Bigger than Africa.
In reality, the Soviet Union was around 8 million square miles while Africa is over 11 million square miles. Doesn't look like that on a Mercator map.
Then China has the biggest population in the world. It all looked "bigger than life" due to the Mercator Projection on the classroom wall.
Now we have "Red States" and "Blue States," but that's a little bit of a different game.
What about the rest of the world? South America, Africa, The Middle East? They are all white or nondescript in color. Potential for one side or the other. Pawns in the battlefield.
Then there's Antarctica's ice. Look how big that looks. Close to the south pole. Many Mercator maps just excluded Antarctica.
Why are there bands across Greenland? It's part "freedom" because it's owned by Denmark, but mostly it's useless ice. Look how big Greenland looks on the map.
Now Greenland plays an important role in the "global warming" discussion, but that's another story.
I drew this map to try and capture the "feeling of geography" in my grade school classrooms. Grade school classrooms during cold war times.
Yes, that was quite a compelling world view. Lead to such concepts as "The Domino Theory."
"If one more nation falls into the Soviet Union's iron grasp, more will follow." "Evil Empire will slowly unravel the world."
"Vietnam was the "finger in the dike."
It is a convincing world view. Scary.
I can see why people "bought it."
Some students even hid under desks during air raid drills, but that world view started to unravel.
China and Soviet Union started quarreling with one another; as early as the late 1960s. The block softening?
By the mid 1970s, when we gave up on Vietnam, the domino theory didn't happen. Instead there was conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia. Two different brands of evil?
Eventually even the Soviet Union crumbled under it's own bureaucratic weight?
The US had less land area, but what people call a "beacon of freedom" brought a climate of innovation.
Could the Soviets invent the Internet?
Is control of land and resources the only road to prosperity?
Is there a similar "world view" influencing our "War on Terrorism" today?
Should we be calling it a war, or might it be better thought of as an issue of law enforcement?
Is there an "Evil Empire," an "Axis of Evil" or is there just a potential for crime and terrorism to break out anywhere in the world, including at home?
Who is best equipped to fight terror?
Just some ideas to think about.
Speaking of innovation, does the military even have enough nerds to study foreign languages for good intelligence gathering?
Oh, many of them were kicked out by "don't ask don't tell" policy on gay people in the military.
Link to Youtube video about Mercator Projection I found posted on Facebook. Added Jan. 2014.