Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Naw' leans Revisited

Naw’leans Revisited

It was a return trip, a bucket list type of thing. My memories had faded of this city, home of a favorite author, full of amazing architecture and wonderful food. A steamboat sung and paddled on the Mississippi, memories of the riverbank quickly replaced by many closed factories with bent piers devoid of ships. The open French market bustled with life, baskets and open-jawed baby alligator heads with glass eyes, petrified bird claws at voo-doo stands, the aroma of Beignets from Café DuMonde wafting through the air, cups of steaming café au lait in every hand, even my own.
In a sidewalk doorway, his face importune, I noticed dirt-smudged cheeks, a gaunt frame like rickety scaffolding. A small black dog and he huddled together, a worn blanket around them both, friends under a gray sky, as a chill day threatened rain.  Anything will help, on a sign handwritten at his feet. I handed him my still-wrapped Muffuletta sandwich.
Walking on past loud clubs, Crazy Corner and House of Blues, past street musicians, raucous with rhythm and laughter, my thoughts were askew, in contrast to the homeless man and dog. What had I expected in this, the city of endless drinking and music? Not the abject poverty, not boarded up houses, long abandoned, several years after Katrina. As I moved slowly along streets full of still-ruined buildings and cars up on blocks, I saw children playing innocently alongside parents, faces deeply lined with despair.

One building, a massive wall crumbling to pale powder – chalky white, flakes of pink lay in slivers on the dark pavement. I look up at this old hulk, bricks a sun-faded russet, with loose fine dust barely holding between the courses, a mortarous barrage waiting to rain down;once standing steadfast against winter storms, now broken free under the hot sun, baking dry any last remnants of moisture. The wall appears to slough off in a shower of forgotten fragments, an exfoliation of time, exposing an under-layer anxious to be seen.
 Finally, I saw a young man with a crudely drawn sign on cardboard, “Poetry on Demand”.  He was poised on a stool; in front of him was a fruit crate on which balanced an old manual Smith-Corona typewriter. Being a poet myself, I was intrigued and allowed him to create in five minutes, a poem describing my visit to this famed city. On a scrap of paper, brilliant words shouted words of my life, a lone poet wandering streets filled with happy travelers, feeling somehow out of place, feeling more drawn to a homeless man and his dog and a student selling poems. I handed him some money, knowing I would return home with a souvenir much more me than a sequined tee shirt.

Julie A. Dickson
Exeter, NH

Virus-free. www.avast.com

Friday, October 20, 2017

Vignette and poem by Julie A. Dickson

Mayonnaise Memories

I was sixteen wearing a Howard Johnson’s turquoise and white checked uniform. Reaching over into the freezers, making sundaes and serving fries resulted in my arms being painted in sticky splotches with ice cream and catsup. At work, we wiped down tables with rags and our hands smelled of old milk and bleach. As I drove myself home, yawning at 10 pm, I would find a spot I missed; like glue the chocolate and strawberry stuck on my elbow. My shoes felt tacky on floor of my car. My whole life felt sticky during those years waitressing.
Later, I traded in ice cream for gasoline. I stood outdoors in summer heat and bitter cold, gas pump in hand beside countless cars and trucks, gas burping like backwash onto my hands. Henry Cain drove a dark blue Porsche. The gas fill was on the top and I had to hold the nozzle carefully while he stood watching his precious car. I guessed it was paid for by Cain’s Mayonnaise since the factory was nearby. I wiped gas droplets from my hands and accepted the 35 cents per gallon that he handed to me with a smile. My hands smelled perpetually of gasoline, no matter how often I washed them, or covered them with gloves. At night, I used to stand under a hot shower to escape from the gas fumes that seemed to stay in my nose for hours.
In a home stocked with Miracle Whip, the word mayonnaise was a like profanity to my mother. Her jar of Miracle Whip stood proudly inside the refrigerator door and found itself in egg salad, tuna salad and on sandwiches. I didn’t taste mayonnaise until I had met Henry Cain and bought my own jar, placing it next to my mother’s Miracle Whip inside her refrigerator. Anyone listening would have thought I had committed a grievous offense; her remarks and chides echoed through the house. My father intervened and settled the mayonnaise issue – he saw no harm in it, but he did expect me to pay for it myself if I needed such a luxury.
I finally moved onto to another restaurant position before leaving home and there I served seafood with homemade tartar sauce made with Cain’s Mayonnaise and pickle relish. So many jars of mayonnaise and I never once bought Miracle Whip after I left home. The lingering odor that followed me home was fryolator grease but at least I had the taste of mayonnaise to savor and remember.

                                                                                                                Julie A. Dickson

                                                                                                                Exeter, NH

The House I once Lived In

The green house with white shutters still stands,
even though the apple tree is long gone from
the front yard, replaced by a disappointing
circle of dirt filled with geraniums – not what
my father had in mind when he planted the apple tree.
His first crop yielded a single yellow apple, which
my mother cut into quarters for us to share,
its crisp sweetness left us wishing for more.

The house looks smaller now, a ranch home
nestled in a neighborhood with one hundred
similar houses, lined up in identical blocks.
I look up at my former bedroom window,
underlined by a white flower box- empty now.
My mother would have mourned the absence
of the flowers, we always planted there.
I recall my brother and I hanging out our windows,
side by side, talking well after bedtime.
He kept a treasure box hidden in the flower box
and one spring we discovered it, rusted
and forgotten after being buried in snow.

Just now, the front door opens and from
my parked car, I see a woman peering out
at me, suspiciously. I wave, as if my friendly smile
will assuage her uncertainty. She waves back
as I leave my car and call out, “I used to live here”
trailing off, hoping she will excuse my intrusion.
Instead she beckons me closer and invites me inside.
Really? I am shocked that, as a stranger she allows
me entrance and I slowly step into the house
I once lived in.

The furniture is new and not at all like when
I was a child, the old brown davenport missing.
Gone was the dining room table where my mother
set out Sunday meals and birthday cakes.
Silently, the woman escorts me down the hall,
where, instead of the ballerina wallpaper I remember,
a brightly painted bedroom greets me. I smile.

Walking to the window, I see my car, the yard
empty of my father’s apple tree and finally,
I slowly lean forward to make sure that
my brother’s treasure box is really gone.
                                                                                                                Julie A. Dickson

Friday, August 18, 2017

Julie A. Dickson ----- two nonfiction pieces

Torturous Vessel                                                     

A bouquet sat centered on the kitchen table, my eyes studying the lead crystal vase that had belonged to my mother. The etched wide square vase was so heavy, I dared not carry it with one hand. My mother’s voice [long gone] echoed in my head – two hands!

The vase had been a familiar sight, often filled and refilled with garden- cut flowers, roses from my father, even weeds lovingly picked by me and presented to my mother. Pussy willows, golden rod and wild daisies were equally displayed in her favorite vase, no preferential treatment for roses over weeds. We all knew she loved flowers, especially yellow and purple which are also my favorites. Ground violets, too small for the vase often floated in a low dish. She always loved fresh flowers of any variety.

Ironically, the only flowers I received as an adult were presented as a silent apology. Yes, he went too far at times. An acid remark caustically emitted, a hastily hurled comment in my direction as I cringed, closed my eyes or looked down. The words entered my ears, cutting through tissue and bone as though on a direct course to my heart, already scarred and scabbed over from frequent attacks.

Somewhere in the past, perhaps when I was a teen, I felt so utterly diminished and rejected that a trap door slammed shut. My heart was broken, carelessly cast aside and lay covered, protected as beneath a plywood floor, constructed from necessity. You cannot hurt me, my heart seemed to murmur so that only I heard, like a whispered voice in the wind-rustled grasses beneath my feet. It’s too late, the voice spoke – how can harsh words enter now, after that time when I was younger and after previous years of hearing the condescending tones of my father? The current spoken words of my husband were familiar; they spoke of my lack of value, my uselessness.

Instead of a beautiful lead crystal vase that my mother cherished, all I saw before me was a torturous vessel filled with silence. Six red carnations did not speak, but I heard the feeble excuses and promises they represented. They arrived wrapped in green tissue with a packet of nourishment, as if by dropping granules of white powder into water, all could be made right.

Wordlessly, a bunch of flat green ferns with red carnations were left on the table as he passed through the kitchen. I watched him recede into the living room. Unwrapping the flowers felt akin to removing a bandage from a not-yet-healed wound, the red carnations like blood-droplets. I smiled ironically that for over twenty years, he did not remember my favorite flowers – daffodils, yellow tulips and roses. [Carnations were his mother’s favorite flower] Instead, stood before me, blood-red flowers that seemed to call out in horror from the battlefield of my life. The wounded and bleeding hopes were set before me as a reminder.

Impulsively, I tore the carnations from the vase, dripping water across the kitchen floor. I threw them unceremoniously into the sink, stuffing them into the drain and turning on the disposal unit, grinding them into red mush. I stood leaning against the kitchen counter, feeling relief. With the blood washed away, the torturous vessel was restored to the lead crystal vase that my mother loved.

From the living room called a disembodied voice, “What’s for supper?”

Julie A. Dickson

Exeter, NH

Squirrel Arrestor                                                  

In no way did my father think of himself of an inventor. The 50-pound sack of sunflower seeds in a covered metal trash can to protect them from pesky rodent invasions in our garage.

Moving from Western New York State suburbia- a heavily wooded area of New England was appealing to my parents. The bird feeder became of my father’s hobbies. Standing his post at the kitchen window, armed with Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, he identified nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays. Notes were kept, bookmarks saved pages of every newly discovered bird. An LP record of Audubon bird calls sat in the living room console stereo; family sat around the room identifying the songs of cardinals and sparrows with as much enthusiasm as we could muster.

The resident challenger of Ornithology was the common grey squirrel, long of tail and acrobatic in nature. Squirrels could jump through the air from the roof, grasping the feeder while waiting for the violent swaying to subside; and then contorted into impossible positions; they hung upside down to dump the contents to the ground. Flinging themselves below, the seed-fest would begin. All song birds within a mile radius were scared off, much to my father’s dismay.

Knocking on the kitchen window had no effect. Cracking seeds and stuffing them into already fat cheeks, Mr. Squirrel ignored my father. Running out the back door sent the squirrel lunging for the nearest tree until the intruding human disappeared into the house, when he would return to the seed pile persistently. A hanging feeder from tree branches, attached to a window ledge, or set atop a pole – the squirrels found them all.

Captured in a Havahart trap, transported 3 miles away, where my father sprayed a-bit of white paint on each squirrel’s tail-tip resulted only in the knowledge that squirrels traveled farther than 3 miles. My father stared incredulously out the kitchen window at the white-tipped scoundrel eating his bird seed!

The solution to his problem came in the form of a metal trash can lid. A round hole drilled in the center, the lid was affixed to the pole 12 inches below the bird feeder, pole set away from roof and branches. This design worked reasonably well, diverting even the cleverest squirrel from reaching the feed, except for morsels scattered by the messy blue jays. My father was the true- inventor of the squirrel arrestor; he just didn’t apply for a patent. Many years later he purchased a conical squirrel arrestor fashioned from sheet metal and the old trash lid was returned to its can, with duct tape covering the hole.

Julie A. Dickson

Exeter, NH

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Hand ----- by Julie A. Dickson

The Hand                                                                      Julie A. Dickson

The entire doorway from the garage to our den seemed to fill with his presence. From where I sat across the room, no light was visible around the large form that was my father. Without a word, he swept the hat from his head in a familiar arc, to place it on its hook, his expression unreadable. My mother called her greeting from the kitchen; my younger brother bounced up from his chair.  I was silent.

My brother could never stay quiet. Even when my mother warned, his mouth seemed to babble on like the engine of our car after the key was turned off. The hand darted forward and so quickly made contact with my brother’s face that his words became screams while I shrank back on the couch, making myself small. My mother put down her dish towel and closed her eyes.

I knew the power of my father’s hand, having seen it suddenly extend into the backseat of the car, often striking out at innocent chatter. I learned to sit behind my mother, shrinking back into the dark corner, hopefully out of reach and I knew silence was also my ally; not that any of these protected me completely, so quick was his temper to rise like a switched on light or a bedsheet snapped open.

His hands, encased in work-gloves, often carried armloads of firewood, bound for a basket beside the woodstove that now stood quietly cold beside him. At times, I saw his hands wrapped around the handle of a rake, moving methodically away and back towards him with rhythmic precision, until he paused to wipe sweat from his forehead before it reached his eyes. My father sought the outdoors, where in solitude with leaves and wood, he seemed to distance himself from the world.

This volatile man could hum and rake in the yard, could make leaf piles for me to leap into with the same hand provoked by my brother. Why then did he continually support my brother’s irresponsibility, that hand bearing money to feed his constant demands, while ignoring my quiet acquiescence, my complacency? I was confused at the violence of his hand, the dichotomy of perverse generosity. Did being a girl make me inconsequential like my mother, while the rebellious nature of my brother was simultaneously assaulted and rewarded so many times?

My father’s hand sometimes held both a glass of scotch and a lit cigarette as the ice rattled on the way to his lips. I would stare at that hand, studying his large meaty fingers, in contrast to the smooth, quiet hands of my mother that I could easily envision taking a roast from the oven or wiping dishes dry. His hand spoke an immense presence, like a barely held-back caged beast, biding time before lashing out.

I envisioned my father being held captive by his highly stressful job; his refuge was working outdoors, away from contract negotiations where those hands pounded typewriter keys and tightly grasped a telephone receiver.  Those too-soft indoor hands had to be insulated by gloves- protected from the harsh outdoor environment that he loved. I learned from those gloves; the insulation I wore against my father’s harshness was my mother, shrinking in her shadow, watching for signs of danger and taking cues from her practiced eye.

Once my family attended a magic show. I watched carefully as the magician’s left hand rose, leading the audience’s eye away from his right hand, which covertly dropped a coin into his pocket. The two hands then quickly swiped across each other, and the coin was gone! Was I the only one who had seen, who had not been fooled by his sleight of hand?

As my father’s hand rose smoothly to place his hat carefully on a hook, my eyes trained to follow the movement like in the magic show, to be transfixed by the illusion, I wasn’t fooled. There was no magic, no sleight of hand, as I knew well the alter-ego of that other unpredictable hand.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Open letter to President Xi of China and other interested parties

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Protection Racketeering ---- Open letter to President Xi of China and other interested parties

There is a nut, who should be evaluated by mental health agencies, named Mar or Ma who stops me when I walk on 18th Ave. South in Seattle and talks about protection racketeering.

President Xi, as you know, we villagers do not go to the police. But we know you have sensors in Seattle.

And by the time I post this post, you probably already know all the facts of the case. Do what is appropriate.

The first thing to do is to clamp down on gambling. As the philosopher John Searle says, gaming is a grim business for some. If they lost too much they want others to bail them out.

It is better to cure them of their bad habits then it is for the law-abiding citizens to rescue them.


Koon Woon 
aka Lock Kau Koon

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Russia Joins China in Space Weapons


Washington Left in the Dust: Russia Flies Strategic Space Warfare Missile

22:15 02.12.2015(updated 23:37 02.12.2015)
Moscow carried out the first successful flight test of its new anti-satellite missile last month, becoming just the second nation to arm its military with space warfare weapons.
Russia's direct ascent anti-satellite missile, known as Nudol, was successfully tested on November 18, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the test. It was the first successful test in three attempts, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Russia now joins China as the only nations with strategic space warfare weapons. In October, China conducted a flight test of its anti-satellite missile, the Dong Neng-3 direct ascent missile.
Analysts say anti-satellite missiles could cripple US intelligence, navigation, and communications capabilities that are critical for both military operations and civilian infrastructure.
The Russian test is a concern for Washington, Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, told the paper.
'As President Obama cuts our defense budget and seeks to ally with Putin, the Russians continue to develop their technological abilities to weaponize space and to take out our national technical means – kinetically and through cyber,' said Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
'We can foolishly turn a blind eye to these developments, or acknowledge this threat and develop our own capabilities to ensure that our satellites – military and commercial – are not susceptible to attack or blackmail.'
Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said the Russian test highlights the failure of the United States to prepare for space warfare.
'There is an enormous asymmetry in play regarding space weapons,' said Schneider, now with the National Institute for Public Policy.
'For decades the Congress has prevented the US from putting weapons in space and even developing a ground-based ASAT capability,' Schneider said. 'There is no such constraint upon the Russians and Russia violates arms control treaties when this is in their interest to do so and they find ample opportunity to do this.'
A February 2015 unclassified Defense Intelligence Agency report to the Congress stated that 'Chinese and Russianmilitary leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to deny US use of space in the event of a conflict,' Schneider added.
© Sputnik

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Alfred McCoy of THE NATION: Will the 21st Century Pit the US against China?

Will the 21st Century Pit Washington Against China?

Obama China
US President Barack Obama at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on November 17, 2009 (Reuters/Jason Lee)
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.
For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years. Consequently, they have missed the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are in the process of undermining the grand strategy for world dominion that Washington has pursued these past seven decades.
A glance at what passes for insider “wisdom” in Washington these days reveals a worldview of stunning insularity. Take Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, Jr., known for his concept of “soft power,” as an example. Offering a simple list of ways in which he believes US military, economic, and cultural power remains singular and superior, he recently argued that there was no force, internal or global, capable of eclipsing America’s future as the world’s premier power.
For those pointing to Beijing’s surging economy and proclaiming this “the Chinese century,” Nye offered up a roster of negatives: China’s per capita income “will take decades to catch up (if ever)” with America’s; it has myopically “focused its policies primarily on its region”; and it has “not developed any significant capabilities for global force projection.” Above all, Nye claimed, China suffers “geopolitical disadvantages in the internal Asian balance of power, compared to America.”
Or put it this way (and in this Nye is typical of a whole world of Washington thinking): with more allies, ships, fighters, missiles, money, patents, and blockbuster movies than any other power, Washington wins hands down.
If Professor Nye paints power by the numbers, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s latest tome, modestly titled World Order and hailed in reviews as nothing less than a revelation, adopts a Nietzschean perspective. The ageless Kissinger portrays global politics as plastic and so highly susceptible to shaping by great leaders with a will to power. By this measure, in the tradition of master European diplomats Charles de Talleyrand and Prince Metternich, President Theodore Roosevelt was a bold visionary who launched “an American role in managing the Asia-Pacific equilibrium.” On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic dream of national self-determination rendered him geopolitically inept and Franklin Roosevelt was blind to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s steely “global strategy.” Harry Truman, in contrast, overcame national ambivalence to commit “America to the shaping of a new international order,” a policy wisely followed by the next 12 presidents.
Among the most “courageous” of them, Kissinger insists, was that leader of “courage, dignity, and conviction,” George W. Bush, whose resolute bid for the “transformation of Iraq from among the Middle East’s most repressive states to a multiparty democracy” would have succeeded, had it not been for the “ruthless” subversion of his work by Syria and Iran. In such a view, geopolitics has no place; only the bold vision of “statesmen” and kings really matters.
And perhaps that’s a comforting perspective in Washington at a moment when America’s hegemony is visibly crumbling amid a tectonic shift in global power.
With Washington’s anointed seers strikingly obtuse on the subject of geopolitical power, perhaps it’s time to get back to basics. That means returning to the foundational text of modern geopolitics, which remains an indispensible guide even though it was published in an obscure British geography journal well over a century ago.
Sir Halford Invents Geopolitics
On a cold London evening in January 1904, Sir Halford Mackinder, the director of the London School of Economics, “entranced” an audience at the Royal Geographical Society on Savile Row with a paper boldly titled “The Geographical Pivot of History.” This presentation evinced, said the society’s president, “a brilliancy of description… we have seldom had equaled in this room.”
Mackinder argued that the future of global power lay not, as most British then imagined, in controlling the global sea lanes, but in controlling a vast land mass he called “Euro-Asia.” By turning the globe away from America to place central Asia at the planet’s epicenter, and then tilting the Earth’s axis northward just a bit beyond Mercator’s equatorial projection, Mackinder redrew and thus reconceptualized the world map.
His new map showed Africa, Asia, and Europe not as three separate continents, but as a unitary land mass, a veritable “world island.” Its broad, deep “heartland”—4,000 miles from the Persian Gulf to the Siberian Sea—was so enormous that it could only be controlled from its “rimlands” in Eastern Europe or what he called its maritime “marginal” in the surrounding seas.
The “discovery of the Cape road to the Indies” in the sixteenth century, Mackinder wrote, “endowed Christendom with the widest possible mobility of power… wrapping her influence round the Euro-Asiatic land-power which had hitherto threatened her very existence.” This greater mobility, he later explained, gave Europe’s seamen “superiority for some four centuries over the landsmen of Africa and Asia.”
Yet the “heartland” of this vast landmass, a “pivot area” stretching from the Persian Gulf to China’s Yangtze River, remained nothing less than the Archimedean fulcrum for future world power. “Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island,” went Mackinder’s later summary of the situation. “Who rules the World-Island commands the world.” Beyond the vast mass of that world island, which made up nearly 60% of the Earth’s land area, lay a less consequential hemisphere covered with broad oceans and a few outlying “smaller islands.” He meant, of course, Australia and the Americas.
For an earlier generation, the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steam shipping had “increased the mobility of sea-power [relative] to land power.” But future railways could “work the greater wonder in the steppe,” Mackinder claimed, undercutting the cost of sea transport and shifting the locus of geopolitical power inland. In the fullness of time, the “pivot state” of Russia might, in alliance with another power like Germany, expand “over the marginal lands of Euro-Asia,” allowing “the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would be in sight.”
For the next two hours, as he read through a text thick with the convoluted syntax and classical references expected of a former Oxford don, his audience knew that they were privy to something extraordinary. Several stayed after to offer extended commentaries. For instance, the renowned military analyst Spenser Wilkinson, the first to hold a chair in military history at Oxford, pronounced himself unconvinced about “the modern expansion of Russia,” insisting that British and Japanese naval power would continue the historic function of holding “the balance between the divided forces… on the continental area.”
Pressed by his learned listeners to consider other facts or factors, including “air as a means of locomotion,” Mackinder responded: “My aim is not to predict a great future for this or that country, but to make a geographical formula into which you could fit any political balance.” Instead of specific events, Mackinder was reaching for a general theory about the causal connection between geography and global power. “The future of the world,” he insisted, “depends on the maintenance of [a] balance of power” between sea powers such as Britain or Japan operating from the maritime marginal and “the expansive internal forces” within the Euro-Asian heartland they were intent on containing.
Not only did Mackinder give voice to a worldview that would influence Britain’s foreign policy for several decades, but he had, in that moment, created the modern science of “geopolitics”—the study of how geography can, under certain circumstances, shape the destiny of whole peoples, nations, and empires.
That night in London was, of course, more than a long time ago. It was another age. England was still mourning the death of Queen Victoria. Teddy Roosevelt was president. Henry Ford had just opened a small auto plant in Detroit to make his Model-A, an automobile with a top speed of 28 miles per hour. Only a month earlier, the Wright brothers’ “Flyer” had taken to the air for the first time—120 feet of air, to be exact.
Yet, for the next 110 years, Sir Halford Mackinder’s words would offer a prism of exceptional precision when it came to understanding the often obscure geopolitics driving the world’s major conflicts—two world wars, a Cold War, America’s Asian wars (Korea and Vietnam), two Persian Gulf wars, and even the endless pacification of Afghanistan. The question today is: How can Sir Halford help us understand not only centuries past, but the half-century still to come?
Britannia Rules the Waves
In the age of sea power that lasted just over 400 years—from 1602 to the Washington Disarmament Conference of 1922—the great powers competed to control the Eurasian world island via the surrounding sea lanes that stretched for 15,000 miles from London to Tokyo. The instrument of power was, of course, the ship—first men-o’-war, then battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers. While land armies slogged through the mud of Manchuria or France in battles with mind-numbing casualties, imperial navies skimmed over the seas, maneuvering for the control of whole coasts and continents.
At the peak of its imperial power circa 1900, Great Britain ruled the waves with a fleet of 300 capital ships and 30 naval bastions, bases that ringed the world island from the North Atlantic at Scapa Flow through the Mediterranean at Malta and Suez to Bombay, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Just as the Roman Empire enclosed the Mediterranean, making it Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), British power would make the Indian Ocean its own “closed sea,” securing its flanks with army forces on India’s Northwest Frontier and barring both Persians and Ottomans from building naval bases on the Persian Gulf.
By that maneuver, Britain also secured control over Arabia and Mesopotamia, strategic terrain that Mackinder had termed “the passage-land from Europe to the Indies” and the gateway to the world island’s “heartland.” From this geopolitical perspective, the nineteenth century was, at heart, a strategic rivalry, often called “the Great Game,” between Russia “in command of nearly the whole of the Heartland… knocking at the landward gates of the Indies,” and Britain “advancing inland from the sea gates of India to meet the menace from the northwest.” In other words, Mackinder concluded, “the final Geographical Realities” of the modern age were sea power versus land power or “the World-Island and the Heartland.”
Intense rivalries, first between England and France, then England and Germany, helped drive a relentless European naval arms race that raised the price of sea power to unsustainable levels. In 1805, Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory, with its oaken hull weighing just 3,500 tons, sailed into the battle of Trafalgar against Napoleon’s navy at nine knots, its 100 smooth-bore cannon firing 42-pound balls at a range of no more than 400 yards.
In 1906, just a century later, Britain launched the world’s first modern battleship, the HMSDreadnought, its foot-thick steel hull weighing 20,000 tons, its steam turbines allowing speeds of 21 knots, and its mechanized 12-inch guns rapid-firing 850-pound shells up to 12 miles. The cost for this leviathan was £1.8 million, equivalent to nearly $300 million today. Within a decade, half-a-dozen powers had emptied their treasuries to build whole fleets of these lethal, lavishly expensive battleships.
Thanks to a combination of technological superiority, global reach, and naval alliances with the US and Japan, a Pax Britannica would last a full century, 1815 to 1914. In the end, however, this global system was marked by an accelerating naval arms race, volatile great-power diplomacy, and a bitter competition for overseas empire that imploded into the mindless slaughter of World War I, leaving 16 million dead by 1918.
Mackinder’s Century
As the eminent imperial historian Paul Kennedy once observed, “the rest of the twentieth century bore witness to Mackinder’s thesis,” with two world wars fought over his “rimlands” running from Eastern Europe through the Middle East to East Asia. Indeed, World War I was, as Mackinder himself later observed, “a straight duel between land-power and sea-power.” At war’s end in 1918, the sea powers—Britain, America, and Japan—sent naval expeditions to Archangel, the Black Sea, and Siberia to contain Russia’s revolution inside its “heartland.”
Reflecting Mackinder’s influence on geopolitical thinking in Germany, Adolf Hitler would risk his Reich in a misbegotten effort to capture the Russian heartland as Lebensraum, or living space, for his “master race.” Sir Halford’s work helped shape the ideas of German geographer Karl Haushofer, founder of the journal Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, proponent of the concept ofLebensraum, and adviser to Adolf Hitler and his deputy führer, Rudolf Hess.In 1942, the Führer dispatched a million men, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 500 tanks to breach the Volga River at Stalingrad. In the end, his forces suffered 850,000 wounded, killed, and captured in a vain attempt to break through the East European rimland into the world island’s pivotal region.
A century after Mackinder’s seminal treatise, another British scholar, imperial historian John Darwin, argued in his magisterial survey After Tamerlane that the United States had achieved its “colossal Imperium… on an unprecedented scale” in the wake of World War II by becoming the first power in history to control the strategic axial points “at both ends of Eurasia” (his rendering of Mackinder’s “Euro-Asia”). With fears of Chinese and Russian expansion serving as the “catalyst for collaboration,” the US won imperial bastions in both Western Europe and Japan. With these axial points as anchors, Washington then built an arc of military bases that followed Britain’s maritime template and were visibly meant to encircle the world island.
America’s Axial Geopolitics
Having seized the axial ends of the world island from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945, for the next 70 years the United States relied on ever-thickening layers of military power to contain China and Russia inside that Eurasian heartland. Stripped of its ideological foliage, Washington’s grand strategy of Cold War-era anticommunist “containment” was little more than a process of imperial succession. A hollowed-out Britain was replaced astride the maritime “marginal,” but the strategic realities remained essentially the same.
Indeed, in 1943, two years before World War II ended, an aging Mackinder published his last article, “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” in the influential US journal Foreign Affairs. In it, he reminded Americans aspiring to a “grand strategy” for an unprecedented version of planetary hegemony that even their “dream of a global air power” would not change geopolitical basics. “If the Soviet Union emerges from this war as conqueror of Germany,” he warned, “she must rank as the greatest land power on the globe,” controlling the “greatest natural fortress on earth.”
When it came to the establishment of a new post-war Pax Americana, first and foundational for the containment of Soviet land power would be the US Navy. Its fleets would come to surround the Eurasian continent, supplementing and then supplanting the British navy: the Sixth Fleet was based at Naples in 1946 for control of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea; the Seventh Fleet at Subic Bay, Philippines, in 1947, for the Western Pacific; and the Fifth Fleet at Bahrain in the Persian Gulf since 1995.
Next, American diplomats added layers of encircling military alliances—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949), the Middle East Treaty Organization (1955), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (1954), and the US-Japan Security Treaty (1951).
By 1955, the US also had a global network of 450 military bases in 36 countries aimed, in large part, at containing the Sino-Soviet bloc behind an Iron Curtain that coincided to a surprising degree with Mackinder’s “rimlands” around the Eurasian landmass. By the Cold War’s end in 1990, the encirclement of communist China and Russia required 700 overseas bases, an air force of 1,763 jet fighters, a vast nuclear arsenal, more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, and a navy of 600 ships, including 15 nuclear carrier battle groups—all linked by the world’s only global system of communications satellites.
As the fulcrum for Washington’s strategic perimeter around the world island, the Persian Gulf region has for nearly 40 years been the site of constant American intervention, overt and covert. The 1979 revolution in Iran meant the loss of a keystone country in the arch of US power around the Gulf and left Washington struggling to rebuild its presence in the region. To that end, it would simultaneously back Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war against revolutionary Iran and arm the most extreme of the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
It was in this context that Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, unleashed his strategy for the defeat of the Soviet Union with a sheer geopolitical agility still little understood even today. In 1979, Brzezinski, a déclassé Polish aristocrat uniquely attuned to his native continent’s geopolitical realities, persuaded Carter to launch Operation Cyclone with massive funding that reached $500 million annually by the late 1980s. Its goal: to mobilize Muslim militants to attack the Soviet Union’s soft Central Asian underbelly and drive a wedge of radical Islam deep into the Soviet heartland. It was to simultaneously inflict a demoralizing defeat on the Red Army in Afghanistan and cut Eastern Europe’s “rimland” free from Moscow’s orbit. “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene [in Afghanistan],” Brzezinskisaid in 1998, explaining his geopolitical masterstroke in this Cold War edition of the Great Game, “but we knowingly increased the probability that they would… That secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap.”
Asked about this operation’s legacy when it came to creating a militant Islam hostile to the US, Brzezinski, who studied and frequently cited Mackinder, was coolly unapologetic. “What is most important to the history of the world?” he asked. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Yet even America’s stunning victory in the Cold War with the implosion of the Soviet Union would not transform the geopolitical fundamentals of the world island. As a result, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Washington’s first foreign foray in the new era would involve an attempt to reestablish its dominant position in the Persian Gulf, using Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait as a pretext.
In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, imperial historian Paul Kennedy returned to Mackinder’s century-old treatise to explain this seemingly inexplicable misadventure. “Right now, with hundreds of thousands of US troops in the Eurasian rimlands,” Kennedy wrote in the Guardian, “it looks as if Washington is taking seriously Mackinder’s injunction to ensure control of ‘the geographical pivot of history.’” If we interpret these remarks expansively, the sudden proliferation of US bases across Afghanistan and Iraq should be seen as yet another imperial bid for a pivotal position at the edge of the Eurasian heartland, akin to those old British colonial forts along India’s Northwest Frontier.
In the ensuing years, Washington attempted to replace some of its ineffective boots on the ground with drones in the air. By 2011, the Air Force and the CIA had ringed the Eurasian landmass with 60 bases for its armada of drones. By then, its workhorse Reaper, armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs, had a range of 1,150 miles, which meant that from those bases it could strike targets almost anywhere in Africa and Asia.
Significantly, drone bases now dot the maritime margins around the world island—from Sigonella, Sicily, to Icerlik, Turkey; Djibouti on the Red Sea; Qatar and Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf; the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean; Jalalabad, Khost, Kandahar, and Shindand inAfghanistan; and in the Pacific, Zamboanga in the Philippines and Andersen Air Base on the island of Guam, among other places. To patrol this sweeping periphery, the Pentagon is spending $10 billion to build an armada of 99 Global Hawk drones equipped with high-resolution cameras capable of surveilling all terrain within a hundred-mile radius, electronic sensors that can sweep up communications, and efficient engines capable of 35 hours of continuous flight and a range of 8,700 miles.
China’s Strategy
Washington’s moves, in other words, represent something old, even if on a previously unimaginable scale. But the rise of China as the world’s largest economy, inconceivable a century ago, represents something new and so threatens to overturn the maritime geopolitics that have shaped world power for the past 400 years. Instead of focusing purely on building a blue-water navy like the British or a global aerospace armada akin to America’s, China is reaching deep within the world island in an attempt to thoroughly reshape the geopolitical fundamentals of global power. It is using a subtle strategy that has so far eluded Washington’s power elites.
After decades of quiet preparation, Beijing has recently begun revealing its grand strategy for global power, move by careful move. Its two-step plan is designed to build a transcontinental infrastructure for the economic integration of the world island from within, while mobilizing military forces to surgically slice through Washington’s encircling containment.
The initial step has involved a breathtaking project to put in place an infrastructure for the continent’s economic integration. By laying down an elaborate and enormously expensive network of high-speed, high-volume railroads as well as oil and natural gas pipelines across the vast breadth of Eurasia, China may realize Mackinder’s vision in a new way. For the first time in history, the rapid transcontinental movement of critical cargo—oil, minerals, and manufactured goods—will be possible on a massive scale, thereby potentially unifying that vast landmass into a single economic zone stretching 6,500 miles from Shanghai to Madrid. In this way, the leadership in Beijing hopes to shift the locus of geopolitical power away from the maritime periphery and deep into the continent’s heartland.
“Trans-continental railways are now transmuting the conditions of land power,” wrote Mackinder back in 1904 as the “precarious” single track of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the world’s longest, reached across the continent for 5,700 miles from Moscow toward Vladivostok. “But the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways,” he added. “The spaces within the Russian Empire and Mongolia are so vast, and their potentialities in… fuel and metals so incalculably great that a vast economic world, more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce.”
Mackinder was a bit premature in his prediction. The Russian revolution of 1917, the Chinese revolution of 1949, and the subsequent 40 years of the Cold War slowed any real development for decades. In this way, the Euro-Asian “heartland” was denied economic growth and integration, thanks in part to artificial ideological barriers—the Iron Curtain and then the Sino-Soviet split—that stalled any infrastructure construction across the vast Eurasian land mass. No longer.
Only a few years after the Cold War ended, former National Security Adviser Brzezinski, by then a contrarian sharply critical of the global views of both Republican and Democratic policy elites, began raising warning flags about Washington’s inept style of geopolitics. “Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago,” he wrote in 1998, essentially paraphrasing Mackinder, “Eurasia has been the center of world power. A power that dominates ‘Eurasia’ would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions… rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent.”
While such a geopolitical logic has eluded Washington, it’s been well understood in Beijing. Indeed, in the last decade China has launched the world’s largest burst of infrastructure investment, already a trillion dollars and counting, since Washington started the US Interstate Highway System back in the 1950s. The numbers for the rails and pipelines it’s been building are mind numbing. Between 2007 and 2014, China criss-crossed its countryside with 9,000 miles of new high-speed rail, more than the rest of the world combined. The system now carries 2.5 million passengers daily at top speeds of 240 miles per hour. By the time the system is completein 2030, it will have added up to 16,000 miles of high-speed track at a cost of $300 billion, linking all of China’s major cities.
Simultaneously, China’s leadership began collaborating with surrounding states on a massive project to integrate the country’s national rail network into a transcontinental grid. Starting in 2008, the Germans and Russians joined with the Chinese in launching the “Eurasian Land Bridge.” Two east-west routes, the old Trans-Siberian in the north and a new southern route along the ancient Silk Road through Kazakhstan are meant to bind all of Eurasia together. On the quicker southern route, containers of high-value manufactured goods, computers, and auto partsstarted travelling 6,700 miles from Leipzig, Germany, to Chongqing, China, in just 20 days, about half the 35 days such goods now take via ship.
In 2013, Deutsche Bahn AG (German Rail) began preparing a third route between Hamburg and Zhengzhou that has now cut travel time to just 15 days, while Kazakh Rail opened a Chongqing-Duisburg link with similar times. In October 2014, China announced plans for the construction of the world’s longest high-speed rail line at a cost of $230 billion. According to plans, trains will traverse the 4,300 miles between Beijing and Moscow in just two days.
In addition, China is building two spur lines running southwest and due south toward the world island’s maritime “marginal.” In April, President Xi Jinping signed an agreement with Pakistan to spend $46 billion on a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Highway, rail links, and pipelines will stretch nearly 2,000 miles from Kashgar in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province, to a joint port facility at Gwadar, Pakistan, opened back in 2007. China has invested more than $200 billion in the building of this strategic port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, just 370 miles from the Persian Gulf. Starting in 2011, China also began extending its rail lines through Laos into Southeast Asia at an initial cost of $6.2 billion. In the end, a high-speed line is expected to take passengers and goods on a trip of just 10 hours from Kunming to Singapore.
In this same dynamic decade, China has constructed a comprehensive network of trans-continental gas and oil pipelines to import fuels from the whole of Eurasia for its population centers—in the north, center, and southeast. In 2009, after a decade of construction, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) opened the final stage of the Kazakhstan-China Oil Pipeline. It stretches 1,400 miles from the Caspian Sea to Xinjiang.
Simultaneously, CNPC collaborated with Turkmenistan to inaugurate the Central Asia-China gas pipeline. Running for 1,200 miles largely parallel to the Kazakhstan-China Oil Pipeline, it is the first to bring the region’s natural gas to China. To bypass the Straits of Malacca controlled by the US Navy, CNPC opened a Sino-Myanmar pipeline in 2013 to carry both Middle Eastern oil and Burmese natural gas 1,500 miles from the Bay of Bengal to China’s remote southwestern region. In May 2014, the company signed a $400 billion, 30-year deal with the privatized Russian energy giant Gazprom to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually by 2018 via a still-to-be-completed northern network of pipelines across Siberia and into Manchuria.
Though massive, these projects are just part of an ongoing construction boom that, over the past five years, has woven a cat’s cradle of oil and gas lines across Central Asia and south into Iran and Pakistan. The result will soon be an integrated inland energy infrastructure, including Russia’s own vast network of pipelines, extending across the whole of Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the South China Sea.
To capitalize such staggering regional growth plans, in October 2014 Beijing announced the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China’s leadership sees this institution as a future regional and, in the end, Eurasian alternative to the US-dominated World Bank. So far, despite pressure from Washington not to join, 14 key countries, including close US allies like Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and South Korea, have signed on. Simultaneously, China has begun building long-term trade relations with resource-rich areas of Africa, as well as with Australia and Southeast Asia, as part of its plan to economically integrate the world island.
Finally, Beijing has only recently revealed a deftly designed strategy for neutralizing the military forces Washington has arrayed around the continent’s perimeter. In April, President Xi Jinping announced construction of that massive road-rail-pipeline corridor direct from western China to its new port at Gwadar, Pakistan, creating the logistics for future naval deployments in the energy-rich Arabian Sea.
In May, Beijing escalated its claim to exclusive control over the South China Sea, expandingLongpo Naval Base on Hainan Island for the region’s first nuclear submarine facility, accelerating its dredging to create three new atolls that could become military airfields in the disputed Spratley Islands, and formally warning off US Navy overflights. By building the infrastructure for military bases in the South China and Arabian seas, Beijing is forging the future capacity to surgically and strategically impair US military containment.
At the same time, Beijing is developing plans to challenge Washington’s dominion over space and cyberspace. It expects, for instance, to complete its own global satellite system by 2020, offering the first challenge to Washington’s dominion over space since the United Stateslaunched its system of 26 defense communication satellites back in 1967. Simultaneously, Beijing is building a formidable capacity for cyber warfare.
In a decade or two, should the need arise, China will be ready to surgically slice through Washington’s continental encirclement at a few strategic points without having to confront the full global might of the US military, potentially rendering the vast American armada of carriers, cruisers, drones, fighters, and submarines redundant.
Lacking the geopolitical vision of Mackinder and his generation of British imperialists, America’s current leadership has failed to grasp the significance of a radical global change underway inside the Eurasian land mass. If China succeeds in linking its rising industries to the vast natural resources of the Eurasian heartland, then quite possibly, as Sir Halford Mackinder predicted on that cold London night in 1904, “the empire of the world would be in sight.”