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.