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Impearls: 2004-05-16 Archive

Earthdate 2004-05-19

Cartographic Vortices

Excerpt from Olaus Magnus' Map of Scandinavia 1539


Excerpt: Olaus Magnus' Map of Scandinavia 1539

Earthdate 2004-05-06's issue of the journal Nature has a fascinating news item about the beautiful 1539 Scandinavia map created by Olaus Magnus, a Swedish priest, excerpted above.  Click on this link for the complete map (courtesy James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota).

Magnus's map, as with many antique maps, is illuminated with sea monsters and fabulous beasts, while amongst them, on the sea to the east and south of Iceland, swirl seemingly decorative vortices.  Now we learn that the eddies aren't decorative.  Tom Rossby, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, first noticed the resemblances between the swirls on Magnus's map and thermal images from Earth observation satellites.

As the Nature piece notes: 1

The eddies are created where the Gulf Stream meets cold Arctic waters.  […]  Ancient mariners would have noticed these large-scale eddies, which pull on shipping vessels and have greener waters.

Accurate mariners' information must have made it to Magnus while he was composing the data for the map.


1 Nature, Vol. 429, Issue No. 6987 (Issue dated 2004-05-06), p. 9.  Requires subscription or pay-per-view.


f1 Olaus Magnus' Map of Scandinavia 1539, courtesy University of Minnesota, James Ford Bell Library.

UPDATE:  2009-12-23 05:30 UT:  Changed image host for the map to Flickr.  Added caption.

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Impearls: 2004-05-16 Archive

Earthdate 2004-05-18

Iraqi History, Cold War Incidents, and Leftist Propaganda

Leftist polemics with regard to the Iraq war and indeed just about any situation involving the United States exhibit a pervasive tendency to invoke decades-old historical incidents in order to bash America.  A recent example involving Iraqi history is typical, though many such arrive from much further back.  A correspondent on a leftist mailing list put it this way:

No discussion on the bragging rights of the U.S. “liberating” Iraqis from Hussein would be complete without discussion of the 1963 allegedly CIA coup that toppled Kassem and installed the Bathists in power, complete with a list of thousands of civilians to be killed as too “socialist” to live.  Ordinary civilians, doctors, teachers, etc., even pregnant women, it was said, were not spared.

Notice how quickly, within a few words, the conversation moves from meekly speaking of “allegedly” (alleged by whom left unsaid — the KGB?) to talk reeking of the certainty of guilt for that murderous fury — guilt not of Iraqis, naturally, but the United States!  Yes, let's discuss this historical event.

The parts of this essay follow below for normal scroll-downing convenience.  Following is the index:

Iraqi history, cold war incidents, and leftist propaganda
→  Iraqi history
→  Who supported Iraq?
→  Stupidity of the argument
→  The unmentionable elephant
→  The crowning irony
→  Update

Iraqi History

Consulting Encyclopædia Britannica (CD 1997) for context, first from Britannica's biography of 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, prime minister of Iraq (via a 1958 coup) prior to the Baathists:

In March 1959 Pan-Arab opponents of Qasim launched an open rebellion in Mosul.  The bulk of the army remained loyal, and the uprising was crushed with little difficulty; Qasim removed some 200 army officers of whose loyalty he could not be certain.  Among civilians he was forced to rely for support mostly upon communists, who were eager for a chance to strike at their right-wing opponents, the Pan-Arabs, and now pushed for a larger voice in the determination of government policy.  Qasim resisted their demands, and several months later purged communist elements from the police and the army.

Qasim's support as prime minister steadily narrowed.  By 1960 he had suspended organized political activity and repressed both right- and left-wing civilian and military elements when it seemed that they might compete with his authority.  His rule was supported only by the army, but in the spring of 1961 a rebellion broke out among the Kurds — an ethnic group acutely conscious of its cultural differences from the Arabs and to which Qasim had neglected to fulfill a promise for a measure of autonomy within the Iraqi state.  This Kurdish revolt undermined even Qasim's military support, as much of the army became tied down in a seemingly endless and fruitless attempt to put down the rebellion.  This situation, along with the discontent produced by repeated military purges, drew a number of officers into open resistance to the Qasim regime.  'Abd as-Salam 'Arif led dissident army elements in a coup in February 1963, which overthrew the government and killed Qasim himself.

Looking over this history, two points become clear.  This tale of Iraqi turbulence doesn't sound very different from Iraq's history for the subsequent four decades.  Moreover, Qasim in particular had alienated virtually all segments of Iraqi society by the time he was overthrown.  His major political opponent, whom he had previously purged, along with dissident army elements, fearful of his already wide-ranging purges throughout the military corps, got together and killed him.  There's manifestly nothing in this sorry story that requires any “assist” by the CIA.

Quoting further, from Britannica's article “Iraq, History of”:

Iraq was declared a republic and Islam the religion of the state; all executive and legislative powers were entrusted to the Sovereignty Council and the Cabinet.  It soon became clear, however, that power rested in Qasim's hands, supported by the army.

Conflicts among the officers developed, first between Qasim and 'Arif and then between Qasim and his supporters.  'Arif championed the Pan-Arab cause and advocated Iraq's union with the U.A.R.  Qasim rallied the forces against Arab unity — Kurds, communists, and others — and stressed Iraq's own identity and internal unity.  'Arif was dropped from power in October, but in 1959 Qasim's power was threatened by other factions.  He tried to divert public attention to foreign affairs by advancing Iraq's claim to Kuwait's sovereignty in June 1961.

Sound like any other caudillos you know?  Kuwait was never part of Iraq, by the way; as another article in Encyclopædia Britannica makes clear, foundation of the autonomous sheikdom of Kuwait dates back to 1756, while (unlike Iraq) it was never a part of the Turkish Empire.

This brought him into conflict not only with Britain and Kuwait but also with the other Arab countries.  He opened negotiations with the Iraq Petroleum Company to increase Iraq's royalties, but his extreme demands resulted in the breakdown of negotiations in 1961.  Public Law 80 was enacted to prohibit the granting of concessions to any foreign company and to transfer control over all matters connected with oil to an Iraq National Oil Company (INOC).

One can see why leftists love this guy.

By 1963 Qasim had become isolated internally as well as externally; the only great power with which he remained friendly was the Soviet Union.  When one faction of the army, in cooperation with one Arab nationalist group — the Iraqi regional branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'th (“Revivalist” or “Renaissance”) Party — started a rebellion in February 1963, the regime suddenly collapsed, and Qasim was executed.

Once again, not very much different from the forty years that followed in Iraq.  Notice the comment:  “… the only great power with which he remained friendly was the Soviet Union.”  Even after Qasim's overthrow, the Soviet Union would continue to be fast friends with Saddam Hussein's Iraq — plus getting additional road mileage out of blaming the U.S. for Qasim's overthrow to boot!

Who supported Iraq?

The pervasive leftist mantra that the U.S. was Iraq's major backer during the years before Saddam's Kuwait invasion (and therefore, they say, he shouldn't have been overthrown) is wildly off the mark.  It's not U.S.-built Iraqi equipment that coalition forces destroyed during the first and second Gulf Wars — it's Soviet, with a leavening of French and numerous other sources — before you get anywhere near down to a contribution as small as America's.  See the chart below (which one can also find here, thanks to The Command Post) for a breakdown of military aid to Iraq during the years 1973-1990; figures are from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  Notice that the U.S. provided only 1% of Iraq's weaponry during this period, with American support trailing a long list of other countries: the Soviet Union (the vast majority of Iraqi arms came from the USSR), France, China, Czechoslovakia, Poland — and then the little guys: Brazil, Egypt, Romania, Denmark, and Libya — before you arrive at the U.S.'s contribution!

Iraqi weapons imports 1973-1990: volume of international arms transfers.

Even the extent to which the U.S. did support Saddam's Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war is not indicative of any deep connection.  As I recall what was going on during those years (yes, I was around back then), the general feeling was “a pox on both your houses” (Iran and Iraq), with the proviso that we should at least help Iraq to the extent of preventing Iran from overrunning the country, along with next door Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — which would have left radical Islamist Iran firmly in charge with the world's energy gonads in its hands.

Thus, some assistance, mainly intelligence, was given by the U.S. to Saddam's Iraq, but not much — and as a result Iraq did survive (barely) Iran's assault.  (And yes, Saddam originally started that war, but that's not when our aid to Iraq occurred, rather it was later on in the war when Iraq was on the ropes.)  As to why America felt it necessary to employ surrogates, however disreputable, in waging struggles abroad during those years — even under, as leftists liked to call him, “top-gun” president “Ronald Raygun” — see the historical topic Vietnam syndrome.  Grenada was more Reagan's speed, I'm afraid (but he did have the Soviet Union to contend with, and those were the times).

Stupidity of the Argument

Even if the United States had enthusiastically, substantively supported Saddam throughout his dictatorial regime, that still doesn't obscure the extraordinary stupidity of the entire line of argument which says that any subsequent change of policy is therefore both hypocritical (horror of horrors!) and, even more questionably, wrong!  Since the left seems too close to the issue to consider it rationally, let's use another example:  Suppose George W. Bush decided one fine day to adopt some policy that the left really likes — say, government guaranteed full employment for everyone.  Now I'm sure that wouldn't change the left's hatred of Bush, and everybody would try to obtain political advantage out of the controversy — but is anyone on that side seriously going to say, “No, we can't do it.  That would be a change of policy, and therefore hypocritical!”  Not likely.  No, the left only finds policy changes objectionable and therefore “hypocritical” when the new policy is one they don't like.

Or, look at World War II.  The western Europeans had been “supporting” Hitler for years, by allowing him to roam through Europe picking up pieces as he went — the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.  You remember:  “Peace in our time!”  But when Hitler actually invaded Poland (to whom Britain and France were allied), they declared war on him.  How very hypocritical of them!

Stalin's Soviet Union may provide an even more illuminating example for leftists.  Stalin collaborated with Hitler by making a friendship pact with him and helped out by taking responsibility for divvying up half of Poland (grabbing the Baltic states and a big chunk of Finland while he was at it).  Stalin naively trusted Hitler to such an extent that he ignored his own army's intelligence warnings that Hitler was preparing to attack him — and, as a result, the USSR's loses were phenomenal when Hitler launched the assault.  Nevertheless, despite the modern left's no doubt considering the change of policy “hypocritical,” the Soviets — or rather the peoples of that vast “prison of nations” known as the Soviet Union — fought back and repelled the German invader.  Thus, we see the left's whole line of argument here is basically absurd!

And for those who ask, “When did they (Saddam or Iraq) attack us?” — the answer is March 17, 1987 (Earthdate 1987-03-17), when one of Saddam's Iraqi (French made) Mirage jet fighters put two (French made) Exocet missiles into the U.S. destroyer the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf, killing 35 American sailors along with two lost at sea.

The Unmentionable Elephant

One other thing, an unmentionable elephant, must be discussed.  The left constantly attacks America via these old allegations of CIA involvement in virtually every disturbance round the world during those years, and certainly, while the CIA was involved in some such, it's always presented as if the U.S. were merely arrogantly, insanely meddling for meddling's sake, beating up on these poor, innocent locals who are only the victims.  The above bit of Iraqi history ought to make plain that many folk involved in this and other disturbances in countries round the world during this time were far from innocents themselves.

But way beyond that, there's a big beast lurking in the room that nobody (on the left anyway) ever mentions in this context: a little detail known as the Cold War.  For many decades, most of the latter half of the 20th century, an actual war — sometimes hot, sometimes waged by surrogates, sometimes cold — took place between two divergent world systems, with profound implications for human rights and happiness.  Now the far left, of course (allowing for schismatics), has typically considered the Soviet Union to be their baby (British Labour MP George Galloway, for instance, called the collapse of the USSR the worst day of his life).  The leftist "party line" has almost always followed the propaganda of the Soviets in promoting its “victim” status in the cold war, while excoriating the role of America.  (And no, don't tell me about all the objections schismatic groups like the SWP have had to Stalin; they still support his “resistance” to America.)

Calling the cold war America's fault, as the left likes to, is revisionist history, to say the least.  Even though mistakes certainly were made in America's conduct of the cold war (as indeed mistakes are made are in abundance in all wars), personally I'm quite happy that the Soviet Union fell, and the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons on both sides, fingers hanging over buttons, were relaxed from that terrifying standoff.  Clearly “better Red than dead” wasn't the only viable game in town.

Leaving the cold war totally out of the equation, as the left attempts to — while savagely attacking America's role (even though it only be an alleged role in many incidents freely utilized for this purpose, such as the Iraqi case we've been discussing) — amounts basically to lying, to use one of the left's favorite terms these days, about what actually occurred.  Nor is it “McCarthyist” to point out this truth.

The Crowning Irony

There is one final, grand irony about the left's incessant charges of American perfidy during the cold war.  Many of the cases most cited — and which really may have had CIA involvement, e.g., overthrow of Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953, or Arbenz in 1954 in Guatemala — occurred fifty years ago.  Simultaneous to this artificially generated hubbub over long-ago historic events, the leadership of the so-called “anti-war” movement — i.e., the leadership of ANSWER (the misnamed “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) and similar groups — are socialists: the very same leaders who are also the top cadres of, for example, the Workers World Party in the case of ANSWER, the Socialist Workers Party in the case of “anti-war” organizations in Britain.

These charges have been made not by right-wing zealots but by leftist observers themselves; see this fascinating expose, for example, by David Corn (Washington editor for the leftwing The Nation magazine), called “Behind the Placards: The odd and troubling origins of today's anti-war movement,” which clearly shows how the leadership of the WWP and ANSWER are largely one and the same.  Similar connections have been documented in Britain -- for example, this piece in the British paper The Guardian — where Jimmy Barnes, “veteran leftwing secretary of the trade union CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] movement,” reveals the links between the leadership of the British Socialist Workers Party and organizations like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War coalition.

David Corn, in the above expose, writes about the Workers World Party:

The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property.  It is a fan of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country's “socialist system,” which, according to the party's newspaper, has kept North Korea “from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.”  The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.  A recent Workers World editorial declared [written before Saddam's deposition], “Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong.”

“Anti-war” activists attending ANSWER et al.-sponsored events (even if they profess not to support the full socialist agenda of these radical Stalinist organizations) typically express no concern over the leadership of ANSWER and its allies.  The ANSWER folks are “great organizers” — they get the buses and banners to those occasions — who cares what their politics is!  The cause is what's important!

Come again?  Stalin is generally (by other than far leftists) acknowledged to have murdered tens of millions of people during the last century — everybody from millions of massacred, slightly well-off peasants; thousands shot in the head in his insane purges; who knows how many more (hundreds of thousands?) who died in the Siberian gulags — not to speak of the literally billions whom he and subsequent Soviet leaders threatened for decades with nuclear annihilation.  Most non far-leftist people would consider Stalin (and pretty much the whole coterie of Bolsheviks) pretty much on the same level as Hitler — two peas in a pod.  Let me ask you: if someone were to tell you he was going off to attend a Nazi-sponsored event — however laudable its expressed goal — would you think there's no moral taint to the occasion?

But the crowning irony is this: the mass of “anti-war activists” at these demonstrations revel in excoriating the United States, pointedly critiquing it for (rather understandable, I'd say, given the extreme peak of struggle during the cold war, but irregardless decades-old) covert interference in the internal affairs of unfriendly regimes, and support given to various authoritarian but “anti-communist” dictators — most of which occurred decades before the majority of the demonstrators were born.  Meanwhile, the demonstrators' leadership (ANSWER et al.) simultaneously supports and is helping in every way they can the very worst dictators and tin-pot Islamist Caliphate-builders around the world, today not decades ago — the worst starvers, enslavers, and torturers — and at the very time when America is finally trying to get out of the dictators propping-up game!

UPDATE:   2004-05-27 19:00 UT:  Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has linked to this piece, calling it “a historical timeline of sorts on Iraq post-WW2 — start here, and scroll down.  From the collapse of the monarchy, to the rise of the Ba'ath, to Iraq's status as a Soviet client state.  For good measure, Mike gets in a few hard kicks at attempts to blame the USA for Saddam.”


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