Several years ago I realized I was abysmally ignorant about the world, though I’m supposed to be smart and went to college and read a lot. “Dang, you’re ignorant,” I said to myself, “Go forth and learn.” So I went to the office supply store and bought a map of the world, which I hung in a handy spot so I would know where any given news story was taking place. I figured: It’s the whole world, it might take a while to memorize it. Then again, not a single year has passed that the borders of some country or other haven’t shifted.
Two things shocked me. One was the immensity of Russia. Most Americans think, “Sure it’s big, but it’s almost all ice and snow and nobody can live there.” That is not true, actually. People have lived, even in the coldest parts, for thousands of years. And it is crammed with natural resources. I think I pictured an arctic landscape, not forests that go on forever, crossed by streams chock-full of salmon.
Then I thought of the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) who was a Christian, a landowner (complete with serfs) and a humanitarian. He wrote worriedly in the late 1800’s that everyone spoke of war, that the leaders of Europe wanted war, that it was just a matter of time. It was yet decades in the future-it came in 1914, and though the causes of WWI are still debated, no one points out that one reason the war came was that the leaders wanted war!
England feared and loathed Russia before it was communist-and perhaps still does.. Why? Was Russia romping around the world starting colonies to rival the British Empire? No, it had internal troubles of its own-and grabbing more land was clearly not a priority. But imagine if that HUGE mass of natural resources ever got its act together, freed the serfs, industrialized, built ships, developed an army…better to strangle the infant in its crib. Russophobia is alive and well today, and, I suspect, for much the same reasons.
Another shock was Israel. That’s Israel? That little sliver of land? Wait, maybe the map is distorted, how big is it really? How many people live there? It is about the size and population of New Jersey. Why is that one little country always in the news? Why is it always in wars? How is it so important that some US congressmen seem more loyal to it than to the USA itself? Obviously there is a lot of emotional thinking going on, or we would just say they should behave themselves like any other country, no more, no less.
So go get a world map and hang it in a handy place. Then when someone does a survey, as they did when the civil war broke out in the Ukraine, and they ask you, “Where is Ukraine?” you won’t place it in South America.