173 - The Hungry Gulf Crocodile
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
When historians look back on the current conflict in Iraq, they might very well call it the Third Gulf War. The first one would have been the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), considered by many to be the longest conventional war of the 20th century. The second one, then, would be the reconquest of Kuwait by the US and its allies following Kuwait’s invasion and annexation by Iraq (1990-1991). The third one, started in 2003 by the US-led invasion of Iraq proper, is still ongoing.
Some commentators, however, only refer to the second conflict as the First Gulf War, making the present one the Second. Naming stuff is an explosive subject in the Gulf region. In fact, whether it should be called the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Gulf or the Arabo-Persian Gulf is a hotly contested matter, leading most commentators to refer to it simply as ‘the Gulf’.
This cartoon map, nicely morphing the shape of the Gulf into the threatening mouth of a crocodile, is the work of John Wagner, who sent it to me, explaining that it was “created for a newspaper story regarding the perils of US intervention in the Persian Gulf before the First Persian Gulf War. The story, and hence, the art exhibit considerable prescience in the light of current events, although the scope of those under threat in the years since includes many, many others besides a US missile frigate and an oil tanker.”
Because of the confusion explained here, I’m not sure whether Mr Wagner refers to the (1980-1988) or the (1990-1991) conflict. In any case, the cartoon nicely depicts the dangers of navigating and policing a body of water that at the same time was and remains crucial for oil transports and had been mined, and could have been closed off quite easily by blocking the Strait of Hormuz.