Ukraine’s Hope and Change

This past summer, at a gas station in rural Ukraine, my traveling companions and I were stretching our legs for a minute or two.  Some had a cigarette while others were sipping a beer.  The boys chatted about different topics, ranging from personal experiences of fighting in Afghanistan in 1980s to fighting in Ukraine in 2010s.  Overlapping throughout the conversation were opinions about such matters as: cultural differences between the Ukrainians and the Russians; who belongs to Europe and who

Unexplained Phenomena As Popular Culture

By Dr. Charles F. Gritzner A fascinating array of unexplained phenomena—those for which explanation, at least as suggested by some individuals, falls within the realm of the paranormal or supernatural—generally are regarded as being “off limits” to respectable scientific investigation.  Rather than aggressively seeking scientifically derived responses to challenge those explanations offered by (often) “crack-pot” theorists, the scientific community, with but few exceptions, has avoided research and remained strangely silent on such topics. Whereas such topics may be perceived as

Normalizing Civil War

In real life, unlike in Hollywood productions, civil wars—and wars in general—do not suddenly appear.  They evolve gradually in space and time, because a period of conditioning is required for the population to accept them as new normal. Once the socioeconomic and mental threshold is reached, and people’s collective memory of past times of harmony has been replaced with a new reality, a nation has arrived to the point of no return.  From my personal and professional experience, humans have

PNAC’s Geopolitical Dunning-Kruger Effect

Schizophrenia in contemporary American foreign policy was outlined nearly three decades ago in a Report for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.  Individuals involved in PNAC and the creation of this report have since been strongly involved in each administration, including the current under Mr. Trump. From the geography of conflict perspective looking at the PNAC veterans’ influence and resulting actions worldwide, one cannot avoid noticing

Ghosts, Lights, Legends, Conflict

A fellow geographer, Dr. Charles F. “Fritz” Gritzner, has just published an interesting book, North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends. During his academic career, with a span longer than half century, he taught dozens of different courses and tens of thousands of students at various institutions of higher learning.  I, too, was among the students—initially as an undergraduate, then as a graduate—who listened to him profess the importance of geographic methodology in today’s world.  He also lectured on Geography of

Resurrecting Erich Mielke

Interaction and Movement, two of the five themes of geography, have wide applications.  Some non-geographers who utilize these themes in their own work belong to state security institutions. Their goal is to fully monitor the movement and interaction of citizens.  They want to know what people are doing, where they are doing something, why are they doing it there, and why should the state care about it.  In this context, the name Erich Mielke often surfaces in literature and other

Cultural Systems and Conflicts

Prominent cultural anthropologist Leslie A. White’s posthumously published book, The Concept of Cultural Systems (1975), compared to his other works, flies below the radar in academic and laymen circles.  The first time I came across this publication, nearly twenty years ago, my impression was exactly the same as I hold today.  The book is an excellent primer for understanding how and why humans as carriers of culture participate in cultural systems and participate in the process of cultural evolution. Understanding

Tornado-proof Umbrellas in Afghanistan

Not long ago, I received an email from a geographer friend with a link to a news report that the Taliban have overrun yet another district in Afghanistan.  A short comment followed the link: “After a trillion $$ and countless years of US presence, the place is still $%^& up and probably always will be.  The “brass” simply fails to understand the difference between folk and popular culture (and, of course, the “Warlords” simply being tribal chieftains who are doing

Beware of SMEs

At the beginning of every manufactured crisis, omnipresent Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) return from dormancy and begin pontificating on regional and cultural geography of an area or country in crisis.  When a crisis ends, the SMEs return to dormancy and wait for their next opportunity.  SMEs that an average person may notice in media belong to one of the following groups.  In the first group are genuine SMEs, a minority with a consistent record of measurable abilities and expertise.  In

Geography of Hemp’s Return

After realizing that the planet earth did not break off its axis in the aftermath of marijuana legalization in Colorado, Washington, and other states, many Americans felt better.  The “gateway drug” did not turn countless masses into mindless zombies—public education has succeeded in it already, cynics would argue—who started shooting heroin between their toes immediately after smoking a couple of joints. [Uruguay, where marijuana was legalized in 2017, and most recently Canada (October 2018) are not going to implode either.]

Aspects of Berlin’s Dysfunctionality

Geography Berlin is a bureaucratic nightmare and, as The Economist magazine reported, a city that is dysfunctional on many different levels.  In debt for nearly 60 billion Euros, Berlin drains more from the national account than it contributes, which is unusual in Europe where national capitals are usually the main economic drivers.  In this mess, a major contributor to the dysfunctional reality of Berlin’s existence—its cultural geography—deserves attention. Geographic factors have played an instrumental role in Berlin’s fate during the

Revisiting Afghanistan-Related Ignorance

Mustafa and I first met when we engaged in a conversation atop an elevated area overlooking Kabul City and surrounding area. The views extended even farther from the metropolitan area and we could see toward other provinces.  In distance, mountains separating Kapisa and Panjsher looked astonishing that day.  Mustafa commented that one should go to Panjsher if for no other reason than to just relax in nature and eat fish caught in local streams.  I agreed. Lives of Others From

Space, Cultural Region, Migrants

Some European Union members’ decision to minimize acceptance of asylum seekers, migrants, and fellow travelers has generated many heated discussions.  The political leaders and populace of countries in question, from Poland to Hungary, face labels of bigotry and xenophobia for their unwillingness to allow “progress and change.”  If this is correct, then we first need to define bigotry, xenophobia, articulate what is change, and evaluate how it is beneficial for this geographic region. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a bigot

I Refuse to Meet Your Demands, Attack Me!

Slavs exhibit an interesting cultural trait, which varies to a degree depending upon region, but is present across eastern Europe.  Individually and collectively, they operate better in hardship then during times of peaceful prosperity.  A tradition of pessimism and a collective memory of having nothing left to lose in a fight for survival—a reflection of long historical experience of difficult periods—has equipped them to confront crises and conflicts with considerable self-confidence. As a crisis grows in magnitude so does their

Over-classified Geographic Intelligence Reports

When news about the assassination of Afghan Brigadier General, Abdul Raziq Achakzai, arrived in my news feed, my first thought, unsurprisingly, was “There will be some interesting geographic implications as an outcome of this.”  Raziq was a prominent strongman in southern Afghanistan and Kandahar Province.  I remember well his rise in reputation during my work in Afghanistan. In New York Times’ article covering the assassination one paragraph, in particular, stood out: “The United States military now stands to lose a

Geography from the Ringside of Conflict

Global affairs are shaped by two opposite stances in attempts to control space, i.e., regions and countries.  The first one employs offensive actions in order to dominate.  The second counters with defense. Where and when two opponents meet, a defining moment occurs that leads to a triumph of the side better prepared to exploit its opponent’s weaknesses.  Such conflict is philosophical as much as physical, because a single side cannot be aggressive and defensive at the same time.  It must

Geographers as International Assassins

The saga about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, United Kingdom, continues six months later.  Last week, the British government announced the identities of two Russian citizens, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as prime suspects in this case and members of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.  The Russian government replied that the two gentlemen were civilians and tourists visiting London and Salisbury for a brief

September 9, 2001

Two days prior to the September 11th, 2001, attacks in the United States, an assassination happened in northern Afghanistan.  This event meant little to the Americans then and it means little to the Americans today.  Afghans of all ethnicities, on the other hand, care about September 9th much more than September 11th, although not all of them for the same reason. As unresolved ethnic issues continue to be ignored like they do not exist (please consult my Afghanistan archive for

Germans’ Dilemma

As latest news reports from Chemnitz, in the federal state of Saxony, about anti-immigrant protests began to arrive, I was sipping coffee in Eisenhüttenstadt, federal state of Brandenburg. Developed in 1950s, and initially named Stalinstadt, Eisenhüttenstadt (“Ironworks city”), it was the first planned socialist industrial community in East Germany.  Its role was to boost industrial development, provide employment to thousands of workers, and in an indirect manner a home and work for refugees.  The refugees at that time were not

John Quincy Adams, Isolationist and Putin Troll

Contemporary critics of the American foreign entanglements are quickly labeled isolationists who troll for Russian President, Vladimir Putin, subverting freedom, democracy, and the world order.  If former United States Secretary of State (1817-1825) and the country’s President (1825-1829), John Quincy Adams, returned to Earth today he would be among them (and, highly likely, on top of the TSA’s no-fly list, too). An attitude of non-interventionism equaling success has been distorted into a belief that being in everyone’s business is somehow

Geographic Analysis and Military Intelligence’s Peter Principle

Anecdotal Evidence A friend of mine from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) shared an experience from a Department of Defense (DoD) pre-deployment training into a warzone.  The topic of the hour was reading maps and understanding basic elements of geography.  An instructor arrived, started the class, pulled out a map, and began instruction with “This blue color you see on this map indicates water.” The rest of the hour continued in an equally pedestrian manner with a good number

The House of Afghan-Identity Cards

Majority of references to conditions in contemporary Afghanistan are mentioned in a context of its fragile security, institutionalized corruption, and public officials’ widespread incompetence.  One topic that encompasses all three categories is population enumeration.  Afghanistan has never conducted a full census (1979 census was only partially completed); its current demographic numbers are estimates and projections.  This is extremely important in terms of political power struggle and ethnic geography. In multi-ethnic countries each group tends to inflate its own numbers, hoping

Empire, Oracle, and an Attack on Russia, China, and America

In the sixth century BC, the Lydian emperor Croesus faced a dilemma of entering a war with Persia, a formidable opponent rising in power.  Prior to making a decision about war, Croesus decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi.  The answer he received was simple. If he attacks the Persians a great empire will be destroyed.  Armed with this information, Croesus attacked the Persians and lost, thereby destroying his own empire and changing the fate of his own people. Fast

Generals and Majors in Kabul City

A few mornings ago, I slowly sipped my coffee and browsed the news when a headline caught my eye: US focusing Anti-Taliban effort inside Kabul.  My first reaction was “Oh, this is going to be good,” which an opening paragraph confirmed: “The Afghan capital is now the main focus of the anti-Taliban fight, with U.S. special forces conducting raids in the sprawling city and additional American military advisers arriving to help beleaguered local police, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan

Anthropologists’ Contempt for Geographers in a Combat Zone and Beyond

Considering the scope of cultural anthropologists’ influence within the Department of Defense (DoD)—compared to that of other social scientists—it is worth discussing whether the U.S. Military and the Intelligence Community (IC) have received an adequate return on their investment.  I believe that DoD’s high expectations from cultural anthropologists, followed by large financial investments into different programs and frameworks, have fallen far short of their intended contribution. Among the myriad reasons for underperformance, those related to the professional relationship between anthropologists

Mike Pence’s Korean Odyssey

Interaction displayed at the Winter Olympics’ luncheon for peace—organized by the President of the Republic of Korea—and the American Vice-President’s actions have made me recall my recent comments in Scale, Magnitude and Power in Geography of Conflict.  Of particular importance are the following passages: ———- When we observe how contemporary humans utilize space, and what kind of conflicts stem from their behavior, it helps us to understand why countries behave in their particular ways.  Beware, however, that countries are concepts

Training Day 16 Years Later

Individuals, tribes, and nations operate within cultural systems.  They influence changes in systems and, in response, the systems influence them.  Comprehending how to work well with and within the system is not an easily obtainable skill. Alonzo Harris 2001 In the fall of 2001, the year that changed the United States forever, the critically-acclaimed movie “Training Day” premiered in theaters worldwide.  Denzel Washington’s leading role ultimately landed him an Academy Award for the best actor. His character, Alonzo Harris is

Access and Isolation in Appalachian “Hollers”

When Social Justice Warriors from the urban conurbation of northern Virginia and Maryland decide to visit West Virginia and Kentucky, they leave their work behind and travel to vacation homes or visit whiskey distilleries.  In Hodgenville, Kentucky, sometimes they stop by the birthplace of the “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln, for a cone of ice cream (“dry” county!) and a quick refresher on how great is our indivisible nation. In West Virginia, they listen to, and perhaps even sing John Denver

Spatial Masterpiece of a Political Prison’s Cell

Prison cells share almost-universal physical characteristics: four walls, a door, a bed to sleep, a place to relieve oneself, and seldom a source of natural light.  Their specific use, however, depends on a cultural context; the four walls of a prison cell—and by extension the prison’s perimeter walls, too—can transform a purely physical imprisonment into something much different. This is particularly evident in prisons that house political prisoners. Two types of prisoners, common criminals and those incarcerated for political reasons,

Scale, Magnitude, and Power in Geography of Conflict

Every human action creates a certain degree of spatial impact.  Although their essential causes can be similar, outcomes of some actions are barely noticeable, whereas others can transform the course of humanity.  Conflict between rowdy Walmart shoppers on Black Friday has no different cause than wars between two or more countries—the actors fight for control over space, power, and resources.  What makes a difference between these two types of conflicts is their scale and magnitude of outcome. A midnight brawl

The Secret Team’s Methodology and Cultural Geographic Legacy

All conflicts in the world—whether local, regional, or global in scale—cannot be devoid of three fundamental components.  The first two are space (geography) and time (history).  The third aspect is culture; all human actions and reactions that occur within a defined space and time.  When identical methodology is applied to identical problems even in different space and time, outcomes can be similar if not identical.  In the context of origins and evolution of conflicts, their relation to each other, we

An Update on Prophets and Villains

Since I wrote The Time Has Arrived to Listen to the Prophets (full text below) some major changes influencing future geography of conflict have occurred.  In China, the “red tsar” has been inaugurated. Mr. Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Meanwhile, China’s attempt to dethrone the global hegemon is entering another stage: “The new strategy is to enlist the energy markets’ help: Beijing may introduce a new way to price oil in coming months — but

Cultural Geographic Simplicity and Complexity of Europe

One of the more prominent intellectual fallacies is outsiders’ skewed perception of Europe as a region of cultural geographic simplicity.  Such a view stems from a superficial understanding of its complexity.  It is based primarily upon comparisons between Europe and seemingly more complex regions in Africa and Asia.  After all, explorers and colonizers did not venture towards distant and unexplored shores, deserts, and rainforests of Europe; their exploration of the world originated here and spread outward. For the modern day

From Creativity to Invention to Implementation

“Men collectively, for instance, never have a joint creative impulse, and rarely, any kind of joint positive impulse, except when it is instilled into them by one man. A crowd of people never painted a picture, wrote a book, composed a song, or spontaneously hit upon the idea of doing much of anything else that was constructive. Even in primitive societies, doing or building is the result of conference in which individuals speak their minds. The acts of crowds, when

Adverse Effects of the Adjective “Cold,” the Mental Valium for Geopolitical Anxiety

“The new Cold War is coming,” increasingly echoes in the American media’s editorials, talk show discussions, and comment sections on the Internet.  Closer attention reveals that the emphasis is on “Cold,” rather than “War,” as if the word war has lost its traditional true meaning. Perhaps it has, because the residents of the United States are in a perpetual state of war with something.  Terrorism, drugs, cancer, childhood obesity, illiteracy, poverty, diabetes, racism, social media, and insurance scams are just

Repercussions from Sidelining Geography in the American Cultural System

“Americans have to learn geography, because they are living now in a world in which they’re no longer isolated…and they simply will not make—will not be able to make—sense out of what they read in their newspapers and about the decisions their government makes unless they understand some historical and above all, geographical, relationships.”    Henry Kissinger American educational, corporate, and governmental spheres suffer from a well-documented spatial paradox.  Our interaction with the world has never been more complex, while our

Kabul, Afghanistan’s Gordian Knot

The most difficult issue to discuss about Afghanistan’s future is that of ethnic groups, particularly their distribution relevance to political power.  Blindly ignoring it has been widespread among the foreign providers of funds for the country’s security and reconstruction.  Their actions resemble that of land developers near the San Andreas Fault, who hope that an anticipated cataclysmic earthquake will occur after they develop and sell the properties. People of various ethnicities do exist in Afghanistan and occupy territory they specifically

Deconstructing Seattle’s Construction

The growth rate of Seattle’s commercial and residential construction, much of which I can observe from my home, has reached unprecedented levels.  Satellite imagery on Google Maps cannot keep a pace with the ever-expanding Amazon campus in South Lake Union.  Facebook and Google are also “sneaking in” their operational facilities closer to Amazon. Figure 1. Landscape of downtown Seattle, a tourist destination and a builders’ playground. (All photographs were taken by the author.) Recently erected residential towers designed for luxury

The War Between the States of Mind in Virginia and Elsewhere

A significant portion of contemporary Americans hold an interesting perspective on the War Between the States (aka: the Civil War).  They liken it to a Super Bowl game, an annual single championship skirmish in football in which the winner takes all. The losers cannot challenge the score and have to go home suffering the humility of defeat?  In 1865, two years after fumbling cannonballs at Gettysburg, the Confederate States lost and had to go home. War is a Spectator Sport

American Military and Intel, Planning and Operations; Knowledge of Post-Soviet and Russian Cultural Geography—Priceless

Paper Value Russian affairs specialists were among the first people in the Intelligence Community’s (IC) to experience an impact of post-9/11 environmental change. It began immediately in the fall of 2001. Almost overnight their expertise became obsolete.  They became dinosaurs with resumes whose value was equal to that of the paper they were printed on.  Hardly anyone in Washington D.C. area was hiring people with regional expertise in the post-Soviet geographic realm.  Many, however, were opening an inordinate amount of

Novi Cives: Saturation and Superficiality in Critical and Analytical Thinking

Winning Hearts, But Not Minds Despite an unprecedented access to information and means of acquiring knowledge, it appears that, as a society, we have chosen to rapidly descend into an era of anti-intellectualism.  The ongoing change is drastic and cultural implications are extremely serious. People today often perceive an invitation to a conversation about serious topics as a form of brain torture.  Such actions seemingly saturate one’s brain too much—unlike superficial and meaningless conversations contributing to nothing other than its

Humanitarian Intervention, Personification of Evil, Geography of Conflict

Inte(rve)ntions and Outcomes Conquest is conquest, not a humanitarian intervention with bullets.  People are aware of what it means and how it looks.  It does not have to be masqueraded by various idioms.  Historically, starting wars and hurting people just because they are (perceived) different from “us” was perfectly acceptable.  It was and still is a method of collective self-preservation via expansion of power upon others.  This cultural trait is as old as humans; the moral principles are seldom evoked

Tears-Soaked Afghan Roads: Reconstruction Potholes and Utter Incompetence

One way or another, all of the rapidly-dilapidating roads in Afghanistan lead to their node, downtown Kabul City.  They follow the money trail of operational incompetence and cultural ignorance.  This is why the title of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) report, Afghanistan’s Road Infrastructure: Sustainment Challenges and Lack of Repairs Put U.S. Investment at Risk, did not surprise me at all. Figure 1. Building bridges that work; compacted trash put to good use as a neighborhood bridge.

Geographic Illusions and Delusions in Contemporary Croatia

“Historical claims—and, in the context of central and eastern Europe, this means claims based upon medieval and feudal pretensions—have no relevance to the twentieth century.  It is one of the great tragedies of Europe that peoples of central and eastern Europe, with long historical memories and little historical sense, cling so obstinately to these illusions of vanished grandeur.”   Norman J. Pounds (geographer) The Scope of Geographic Imagination In cultural geographic terms, the “railroad tracks” in the Balkans run north to

Finger-Testing Somalia’s Size With Minimal Spatial Distortion

For some reason, a great number of people tend to equate geography with trivia; i.e., they perceive geography not as a science, but as an exercise in the memorization of facts, something that everyone can understand and do.  Once they realize that geographic analysis is actually much more complex—difficult for them to fully grasp even when informally illustrated by an expert—they opt for one of the following: Accept that they need to learn very important concepts, which takes time and

Differing Landscapes of Conflict Viewed from Low Earth Orbit

With the advent of commercial satellite imagery and freely available tools to use it, we can now analyze landscapes with a clarity previously reserved for spy agencies.  Google Maps/Earth has been a rather useful option not only for armchair geographers, but also for those of us who prefer doing field work.  To laymen, this tool allows an unprecedented access to Earth’s exploration from above. In the context of the geography of conflict, to be able to “visit”—via satellite imagery—regions and

Culture Change and Conflict in the Mountains (of Montenegro and Northern Albania)

The process of cultural transition in the Balkans’ mountains has been anything but slow.  From empires to nation-state political systems, feudal to socialist and capitalist, totalitarian to democratic, folk to market economy, are just some of the rapid culture changes that occurred during just the last several generations.  Peaceful harmony, however, was seldom achieved during the transitional period. Rather, the change frequently resulted in a (cultural) conflict.  Among the main reasons was the inadequate amount of time for people to

National Security Advisors and Geographical Analysis Downrange

“Americans have to learn geography, because they are living now in a world in which they’re no longer isolated. . .and they simply will not make—will not be able to make—sense out of what they read in their newspapers and about the decisions their government makes unless they understand some historical and above all, geographical, relationships.” Henry Kissinger (former National Security Advisor)   The Problem with The Double Ds Denigration and degeneration are frequently combined and parts of the same

Quarters and Corners of Jerusalem’s Old City

Embassy Affairs If the United States Embassy in Israel, as it has been reported, relocates from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, this action could be a transition with potentially serious consequences.  Disruption of the spatial status quo in Jerusalem—and its Old City—a place whose importance cannot be exaggerated, is a vital aspect in the regional geography of conflict. [Individuals or groups always seek to grow in power by trying to establish control over more space than before.] Attachment to a place

Generational (?) Change and the Continuum of Geography of Conflict

Almost daily we hear statements about generational differences as if “generations” actually exist as facts, social and behavioral reality. They do not, because people are born every day.  Individuals are facts and generations are abstract concepts created by someone else—for their own beneficial purpose—to arbitrarily bind many individuals together.  This is similar to a relationship between forests (concept) and trees (facts).  Everyone can see where trees grow.  Yet, most of us could not agree on where to demarcate the boundaries

The Landscape of Fear, Paranoia, and Galvanization of Masses

“Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s attacks on our nation.  There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference.  That is why Congress must set partisanship aside, follow the facts, and work together to devise comprehensive solutions to deter, defend against, and, when necessary, respond to foreign cyberattacks.”  (John McCain, U.S. Senator, January 5th, 2017) Definition of paranoia (Merriam-Webster): A psychosis characterization

The Time Has Arrived to Listen to the Prophets

We live in a world of euphemisms.  Career politicians have become “leaders,” illegal aliens are now “undocumented immigrants,” and fake news outlets have transformed into “mainstream media.”  Everywhere we look, plain facts are wrapped in a cloudy camouflage (1).  Considering where the world is going, the only thing left is to trust and believe the prophets, particularly the ones who were warning us about future conflicts all along.  Prominent among them are the 19th century Serbian prophets, Milos and Mitar

Holiday Season Anniversaries: Dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991)

“Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet ap­pear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.” Epictetus Above the Fold A quarter century has passed since the Soviet Union, an “Evil Empire” (Reagan 1983), dissolved.  Gone were the fears of mutual nuclear

A Tradition of Fear and the Geography of Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Unlike the United States, where an individual’s biggest fear may be of public speaking, in the Balkans region of Southeastern Europe, the universal fear is that life tomorrow may be better than it is today.  A negative outlook on life is a trait deeply entrenched in local culture and unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.  This worldview stems from a tradition of fear built upon actual experience and compounded through many generations. Although not geographically exclusive, a grim vision

Fighting Season in Afghanistan and Other Nonsense

For reasons unknown, some myths about Afghanistan refuse to die.  They are practically engraved in Western consciousness.  Any attempt to provide an alternative viewpoint is greeted with a complete refusal for consideration.  Some of the better-known fables include: Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires The Soviet Union lost the war in Afghanistan Tribal code of honor dictates life in Afghanistan Pashtuns are the majority of population and they won the war against the Soviet Union Afghanistan is a place of

Sense of Place in a Space of Conflict: A Minute in Srebrenica

Tucked between hills, in a landscape resembling a West Virginia “holler,” the Bosnian city of Srebrenica has a painful past. It serves as an example of how a single cultural trait, ethnicity or religion, can separate people who otherwise practice identical lifestyle, share common history and ancestors, and compete over who makes the best home-made plum brandy. A common theme that accelerates local-level atrocities in the Balkans region during turbulent times, and drives people to hurt their neighbors, is a

Conflicts and Roles of Individuals

Personifications of power, heroism, evil, and (in)competence have been prevalent motifs in historical and contemporary narratives about conflicts, at least in the West. Are the conflicts and their solutions products of individuals as prime movers, or, perhaps, is it the individual who surfaces as the product of a cultural system and must act within the system’s confines? An anthropologist, Leslie A. White, argued that such may be the case (In Ethnological Essays, 1987, pp. 287, 290): “To be sure, culture

Hazaras’ Choice

Swinging Pendulum of Destiny One aspect of Afghanistan’s modern history has always been constant: regardless of the turn of events, the Hazaras could count on receiving the short end of the stick.  This is well documented.  Since 2001, however, overall conditions began to improve and the Hazaras managed to benefit from the democratic electoral process.  Their ability for political organization as a voting bloc has far exceeded that of other groups, which particularly for the country’s Pashtuns has not been

Sense of Place in a Space of Conflict: Israel (Part 3)

Cultural Interaction and Landscape The complexity of cultural interaction within Israel’s borders illustrates difficult relationships between and within groups. The most publicized relationship is that between the Israelis and Palestinians, yet that is just one of many layers. Reality dictates that, despite animosities, people cannot avoid interacting within a living area confined by national boundaries. Economic conditions make it impossible for people to remain in a spatial vacuum—although, depending on location, that can vary in terms of intensity and magnitude—and the landscape records

Fight for Light in Kabul City and National Implications

A good portion of Americans’ geographic expertise about Afghanistan, particularly about Kabul City, resembles the attitude of the American movie goers. Entertainment and box office value trumps artistic content, boredom proportionally increases with absence of special effects, subtitles are the ultimate inconvenience, and the story must fit the viewers’ mental framework—often based on short memory—to be appreciated. Official policymaking stems from such an environment, inconceivable to many of us that the rest of the world does not operate along the

The Flagellants and the Black Death: Intelligence Community’s Zeal for Human Geography

Definition and Application Geography, and for that matter one of its sub-disciplines, human geography, is not a scientific discipline defined on the basis of the content of analysis. Geography—human and physical—is a scientific discipline defined on the basis of the method of (spatial) analysis. What separates geographers, a small group within the Intelligence Community (IC), and their tradecraft from others is how they study and analyze topics and regions, not what they study. The effectiveness of a skilled geographer correlates

Sense of Place in a Space of Conflict: Israel (Part 2)

Communities and the inside borders Israel is a young country situated on an ancient land and populated by diverse groups of people. Each of the groups holds onto its own traditional cultural traits. In order to properly function as a state and to minimize conflicts within and among the groups, Israel continuously seeks to find a fine balance between preservation of traditional and integration of modern cultural traits within the society. This continuous challenge rarely receives serious attention in international

Sense of Place in a Space of Conflict: Israel (Part 1)

Learning from a distance about areas experiencing conflict provides only a partial understanding of the actual conditions. The rest comes from visiting these places; it is an old-fashioned way of going out there, seeing the land and interacting with people. In so doing, professionals and laymen alike acquire a form of knowledge that satellite imagery, textbooks, and scholarly articles cannot deliver: a personal experience based on our sensory perceptions. In the case of Israel this is unavoidable. Together with contested

Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict

“What is Where, Why There, and Why Care?” Cultural landscape is a tangible imprint of human activity. As all human actions and reactions occur in space (geography) and time (history) the landscape can record their manifestations. In regard to conflicts, cultural landscape analysis—looking at land and people—allows us to better understand why people do what they do, comprehend their problems, and find answers and solutions. Many types of conflicts exist in the world (can you think of any affecting you

Success of ISAF’s Urban Stability Operations Program in Afghanistan

People familiar with Afghanistan’s affairs recognize this as an ironic title. Its success cannot be measured, because no program with such a name ever existed there. The real program that ISAF emphasized was named Village Stability Operations. The name indicates a preference for stabilization of the countryside through operations in small villages. As a geographer, I always felt that rural initiatives may have overshadowed the need to understand urbanization and urban growth’s significance for Afghanistan’s long-term stability prospects. Population Trends

Hemp for Afghan Victory

As recent battles raged in Afghanistan’s north the news arrived about the country’s need to import food. Kunduz area, in particular, is Afghanistan’s breadbasket and disruption to the harvest and distribution of grain is a major issue. This news reminded me again about the role industrial hemp can have on the path to security and stability. Population can greatly benefit from utilizing hemp as human and animal food, building material, fuel, textile, production of industrial materials, and a tool in

Counterproductive Counterinsurgency Instructions and Lessons from Afghanistan

Spatial Oddity “Well, this is little odd,” I recall thinking about the class content and method of instruction, while attending a COIN (Counterinsurgency) Academy course in Kabul City. At the time I thought, “The visiting instructor is using an unnamed city as a case study of COIN in an urban area—easily identifiable as Mosul, Iraq—and not a word yet on Kabul City, the very city we are sitting in. Shouldn’t they talk about the real world, the most relevant locations

Afghanistan’s Watersheds and Their Relevance to Instability in the North

[Note: This article is a continuation of discussion about Afghanistan’s ethnic issues. It would greatly help readers to also read my previous posts, Maps and Misalignment of Political and People-Perceived Boundaries (Part 3) and Afghanistan’s Continuous Struggle With Itself: The Census and Ethnicity Issue, respectively] Headwaters in the Central Highlands Rivers always have relevance, but that significance varies based on their geographic context. In countries like Colombia, for example, many rivers are navigable and serve as transportation avenues through or

Afghanistan’s Continuous Struggle With Itself: The Census and Ethnicity Issue

Afghanistan’s history since 1880s, as discussed in one of my earlier posts, has not been an idyllic period of harmonious ethnic relationships. With two major population-related issues in need of solving—conducting population registration (issuing electronic ID cards) and enumeration (national census)—the country may reach a breaking point along ethnic lines regardless whether these issues are resolved. Divisions are present everywhere. For example, the majority of people in the country composed of dozens of ethnic groups speak Dari, Afghanistan’s lingua franca.

“Fixing” Intel (Or Manipulation with Maps)

When military, civilian, and business intelligence organizations rely on maps as an encyclopedic collection of facts (for inductive reasoning), instead using them as a medium that assists us to conceptually grasp the processes occurring within spatial systems (for deductive reasoning), they can be exposed to intentional or accidental manipulation. After I heard the news about the revolt of military analysts at the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM)—because they claimed that their reports have been altered by higher ups to fit

Making Maps and (Not) Understanding Geography: Implications

There is a big difference between making maps and having an ability to understand cultural geographical systems, which maps depict, and articulate that information to a customer. Unfortunately, the current trend in business, government, and society overall is a notion that no difference exists between map making and geographical analysis; that is, a widely held belief that a map maker and a geographer are basically one and the same and do identical work. “They may know where things are, but

Maps and Misalignment of Political and People-Perceived Boundaries (Part 3)

AFGHANISTAN Within Afghanistan ethnicities are not geographically grouped together as a result of their voluntary decisions, or desire for brotherhood and unity.  They are together under one national umbrella because someone else has imposed it on them. The Power of State Forcing internal stability by playing ethnic cards causes conflicts.  Afghanistan’s history is filled with such attempts.  For example, in the 1880s, King Abdur Rahman Khan (r.1880-1901), a Pashtun, sent thousands of southern Pashtuns to settle in the north to

Maps and Misalignment of Political and Vernacular Boundaries (Part 2)

“Historical claims—and, in the context of central and eastern Europe, this means claims based upon medieval and feudal pretensions—have no relevance to the twentieth century.  It is one of the great tragedies of Europe that peoples of central and eastern Europe, with long historical memories and little historical sense, cling so obstinately to these illusions of vanished grandeur.” Pounds, Norman J.G. Poland Between East and West. D. Van Nostrand, Inc. Princeton, NJ, 1964. Ukrainians and Russians   At the beginning of

Maps and Misalignment of Political and Vernacular Boundaries (Part 1)

A recent article in Washington Post  described the border issues between India and Bangladesh, existing since the Partition of India in 1947, as finally resolved through bilateral negotiations. For decades many enclaves of both countries remained within other enclaves, which, in turn, remained within other enclaves, and so on. Below are the graphics from the article. The above example shows India’s territory within Bangladesh, which is an enclave within India’s territory that itself is an enclave within Bangladesh, and all

Google Maps and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic: Mistakes Were Made

In 2014, while working on a Caucasus-related project at the US Marine Corps’ CAOCL, I opened the latest version of Google Maps that became public a week or so earlier.  To my surprise this version, unlike the previous version, had an interesting geopolitical feature—Nagorno-Karabakh Republic—with boundaries outlined and place names written in Armenian language. Not a single UN-member nation has yet recognized this entity, even Armenia, thus seeing it appear on Google Maps was a bit puzzling.  I commented about it