09 September 2014

When will the cartographically-challenged go home?

It’s good when people exchange barbs on twitter as opposed to bullets, bombs and missiles.  It is of course even better if that’s all there is to it.  We don’t live in happy times.  Then again, a good laugh cannot harm in unhappy times.

Canada’s mission to NATO took to sarcastic tweeting after Russia claimed that its 10 captured servicemen had ‘crossed into Ukraine by mistake’.  The delegation tweeted, ‘Geography can be tough,’ adding ‘Here’s a guide for Russian soldiers who keep getting lost & “accidentally” entering Ukraine.’  That ‘guide’ came in the form of a map marking Russian in red, Ukraine in blue but marked ‘Not Russia’ and surrounding countries in white. 


Russia responded with a tweet and a map of its own. The map includes Crimea and Sevastapol as part of Russia. The tweet read ‘helping our Canadian colleagues to catch up with contemporary geography’. 

The ‘contemporary’ in today’s world can change very fast. The Russians actually tweeted twice. The legend was the same but the map had been ‘re-drawn’. The original map showed the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Russia but the second map marked them as disputed territories.

If we are talking about the cartographically-challenged, Canada is as bad as Russia for reasons other than mis-naming and being a bit behind on the news with respect to changes in territory-ownership. The Canadian tweet had Kaliningrad, an area belonging to Russia since 1945, in white. That’s being ignorant about something for almost 70 years. It seems that Canada asked for a history lesson from Russia and got it.

All this is fun and games. Canada, after all, is but a poor cousin of the USA when it comes to global affairs, tagging along for glory-crumbs and doing little apart from raising hand to Uncle Sam’s proposals in Geneva. What is funniest about this game is that Canada didn’t have to look across the Atlantic to find people who don’t know geography (according to Canada’s inflated notion of Geographical know-how of course). A tiny peek over the border would have sufficed. Canada would have found that no one is as clueless as people in Washington about things such as national borders. If there’s a prize for the most cartographically challenged nation in the world, it’s the USA. Hands down.

In a parallel universe, perhaps, Canada’s NATO delegation would not be able to stop tweeting guidelines for US soldiers who don’t seem to know where they are, where they go or indeed whether they are coming or going.

Just check the map below. It tells a big story about the cartographically challenged.
Now someone might say, all this is ‘with permission’.  So it is not exactly that US soldiers lost their way.  Perhaps they were welcomed to ‘lose their way’, shall we say?  Perhaps, also, we can conclude that relevant governments were arm-twisted to facilitate the movement of cartographically challenged US soldiers.  Then again, there’s as much by-your-leave as whether-you-like-it-or-not in this business of ‘getting lost’.  The Chagossians know how this happens.  

The archipelago in the Indian Ocean might be a bit too far for the Canadian gaze, we understand.  So why not start teaching geography at home?  Everyone knows how Columbus mis-navigated his ship and caused so much confusion about Indians, East Indians, West Indians and Red Indians.  There was a lot of border-crossing in all that.  

A lot of bloodshed too. Genocide is the correct word, the Canadians might agree.  A lot of white people clearly didn’t have any clue about geography.  They didn’t come with maps.  They had guidelines though.  Simple ones.  Kill.  Plunder resources. Acquire territory. 

Looks like not much has changed over the years.  It pays, clearly, to be cartographically-challenged.