Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me A Map

Today is the 60th birthday of my political and literary hero, P. J. O’Rourke. And, ironically enough, I was re-reading “Give War A Chance” in the middle of the night, and one passage inspired me. In that passage, P. J. explains the current state of the Middle East, as of 1991 — and it still seems germane:

America is the world’s policeman, all right — a big, dumb, mick flatfoot in the middle of the one thing cops dread most, a “domestic disturbance.”

To the uninitiated, what Iraq did to Kuwait seems like regular war: Country A whacks Country B, which screams bloody murder, dragging Countries C, D, and E into the fray. But within the large, noisy, and exceedingly fractious family of Arabs, it’s not that simple. Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and so forth are hardly nations as we understand the term. They are quarrels with borders.

Until 1918 the Arabian peninsula was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, so called because it had the same amount of intelligence and energy as a footstool. When the Turks backed the wrong horse in World War I, the French and English divvied up the region in a manner both completely self-serving and unbelievably haphazard, like monkeys at a salad bar. The huge, senseless notch in Jordan’s border with Saudi Arabia, for instance, is known as “Winston’s Hiccup” because the then head of the British Colonial Office, Winston Churchill, is supposed to have drawn this line on a map after a very long lunch.

The British were fans of one Hussein ibn Ali, the Grand Sherif of Mecca, who led the Arab revolt against the Turks that Lawrence of Arabia claimed to be such an important part of. The British wanted to make members of Hussein’s Hashemite family kings of what-all and which-ever. They crowned Hussein himself King of the Hejaz, the Red Sea coast of the Arabian peninsula. They put his son Faisal on the throne of Syria. But the French threw a fit, so the Brits moved Faisal to Iraq. And Faisal’s brother Abdullah — grandfather of the King Hussein we’ve got these days — was given the booby prize of Transjordan, an area previously known as “to-hell-and-gone-out-in-the-desert” when it was called anything at all.

In the 1920s, Ibn Saud — the man who put the “Saudi” in Saudi Arabia — chased Hussein ibn Ali out of the Hejaz. This is why the Jordanians hate the Saudis.

The Jordanians should hate the Iraqis, too, because the military government that Saddam Hussein now runs killed every available member of the Iraqi branch of the Hashemite family in 1958. But Jordan and Iraq are too busy hating Syria for Syria’s attempt to achieve Arab hegemony by allying with Iran, invading Lebanon and trying to gain control of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PLO, meanwhile, nearly toppled King Hussein in 1970, whereupon the king, with Iraqi support, exterminated thousands of Palestinians. Thus the Palestinians should hate the Jordanians and vice versa, but since sixty-five percent of Jordanians are Palestinians, it’s easier for everybody to hate Israel.

Which still doesn’t explain why the people in Jordan are furious at the United States for coming to the aid of Kuwait. Unless it does.

With that in mind, I present the following work of satire:

Rand McNally, War Criminals

I think I’ve finally figured out just who is behind so many of the world’s wars. It’s the mapmakers.

It’s all a grand conspiracy by them. You see, wars most often result in rearranging national borders, and that means new maps. And new maps means more money for mapmakers.

Look at World War I. That was a bonanza for the mapmakers. At the end, all the old maps of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and good chunks of the Pacific were obsolete. Whole forests of trees were sacrificed to the greed of the mapmakers, who had to commission brand-new colors to represent new nations.

World War II was even better. Not only did all the same areas that had to be redrawn after World War I need more revision, but big chunks of Asia and even more Pacific islands had to be redrawn and recolored. They were rolling in the dough.

The United States, however, has been a real dud for the mapmakers. In our post-World War II conflicts, we’ve done very little for their bottom line. The border between the Koreas shifted so little, it amounted to a rounding error. And Viet Nam was just a matter of erasing one line and losing one color.

The mapmakers don’t like Israel much, either. In most of their wars, they just have to re-color a little section and call it “occupied.” Israel doesn’t oblige them by annexing conquered territory, they just hold it and tell the former owners “you can have it back when you learn to play nice.” And the Arabs don’t need any new maps of the Middle East, either — they have them all set, with no trace of Israel on them, and they’re just waiting for their fantasies to come true and Israel to disappear. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for the rest of us), those fantasies have remained just those.

I have to wonder if the mapmakers are behind the push to Balkanize Iraq — splitting it into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite states. That would give them three countries in the place of one.

I also suspect them in the collapse of Yugoslavia. That’s been a non-stop moneymaker for them for decades.

I think it’s high time for an investigation into the map-makers. Their influence on the world for their own gain has gone unchallenged for far too long, and far, far too many people have died for their greed.

It’s time for an end to this Cartesian carnage. Say it with me, folks! ‘NO BLOOD FOR MERIDIANS! NO BLOOD FOR MERIDIANS!”

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