‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France

‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28764207

Z is trying something new today. Today’s post, geographic naming.

A hamlet in France is known in French as “Death to Jews” or Mort aux Juifs. The name has, again, attracted attention with calls from various organizations to rename the place.

Oddly named places stirring up controversy aren’t new. U.S. states Alaska and Ohio are in a tussle over the name of Mt. McKinley named for an Ohio-born president. Alaska is pressing for the name Denali, from a deity among Alaskan tribes.

And there are other less savory names that have been the subject of controversy. Canada, in 1961, renamed Nigger Creek in British Columbia to Negro Creek.

To Z Geography more effort should be expended in community outreach and development not in, potentially,  bringing litigation against communities. Changing the name of a place doesn’t address prejudice.

What it does do is erase human history. That’s the other lesson, these place names are an important record of things that we should never forget, lest we return to the bad old days of Crusades and purges.

Population Decline: A Map

I’ve written a few times about demographics, most specifically population decline (see here, here, here, here, and here). Some time ago I volunteered to make a map showing those countries currently experiencing (i.e. in 2013) population decline. The results of this effort is below. The map uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base. In addition to current population decline, I also highlighted those countries estimated  to experience population decline in a decade (2023).

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

In one of the earlier posts I discussed the eastern European concentration of declining populations. Currently, this belt of decline stretches from Russia to Germany and the Adriatic Sea (specifically to the former Yugoslavian republics of Croatia, Slovenia, and others). By 2023, Slovakia and Austria are also experiencing population decline. Reviewing the U.S. Census data, Austria is already experiencing a natural population decrease. However, immigration numbers are high enough to ensure a growing population. By 2023, immigration inflow isn’t enough to replace elderly Austrian citizens, who are dying of natural causes. The decline belt also spreads further west (to Belgium, Finland, and Portugal) and south (to Greece).

In addition to Europe, the East Asian region of decline also begins to emerge with South Korea joining Japan in experiencing negative population growth. By 2030, the People’s Republic of China joins South Korea and Japan with a declining population.

Finally, the United States is expected to continue grow about 0.8% per year in both time periods (2013 and 2023) due to a combination of natural increase (i.e. births being more numerous than deaths) and immigration (i.e. more immigrants than emigrants). Likewise, the United Kingdom and Canada also remain in positive growth due to the same factors.

Though nationalists would undoubtedly take issue with immigration as a policy tool to reverse demographic decline, it makes economic and demographic sense. After all, one of the problems associated with demographic decline is the greater burden that the elderly place on working adults. In less developed economies that burden is comprised of an overabundance of youth, where children are often a form of social security. In the advanced economies, there is far less pressure to have children. There is (typically) a social security program for the elderly as well as retirement and pension plans. Similarly, the cost for having children is also greater. Attempting to spur citizens into having more children would (probably) take decades of consistent policy, which is unlikely to happen (at least in a democracy). Such a policy would not only have to take into account the costs of children, but citizens’ (particularly the female citizens’) preferences.

In light of these challenges, why not encourage immigration?

Geographic Perspective: Last foreign invasion of the U.S.?

A not-very-heated debate about the last foreign invasion of the United States provides the fodder for today’s post. The question was when the United States last experienced a foreign invasion. The potential answers provide an illustration of our collective mental map and how it doesn’t always mesh with reality.

Like most, I assume that the last foreign invasion of the United States was the War of 1812. During that side-show of the Napoleonic Wars, the British invaded the U.S. from the north (subsequently burning Washington, D.C. in 1814) and the south (at the Battle of New Orleans).  Incidentally, New Orleans illustrates another critical military geography concept – the effects of distance on communications. The Treaty of Ghent (city in modern Belgium) was signed in December 24, 1814, signifying an end to the war. Although King George IV signed on December 30, 1814 this news didn’t reach the British in time to avert the battle. In fact, the British went on following this defeat to capture Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay on February 12, 1815. Only when the British were planning to besiege Mobile, Alabama did the news reach the British Army (the U.S. Congress did not ratify until February 16). A note on Washington, Washington’s burning was more than likely in retaliation for the American burning of the Legislative Assembly in York (now Toronto), Canada a year earlier. Common wisdom is that the United States has suffered a foreign invasion in almost two centuries.

But that’s not true. The last foreign invasion of U.S. soil was the Imperial Japanese invasion and occupation of the Aleutian Islands starting in June 1942, specifically Attu and Kiska. As the Wikipedia article notes, the remoteness and rough topography of the islands prevented Allied reclamation of the islands for over a year. That we retook the islands (and subsequently forced Imperial Japan to surrender) is probably a good thing. The Soviet Union invaded and occupied the Kuril Islands, after Japan terminated the war on August 15, 1942, kicking out Japanese residents. The Kuril Islands dispute is an ongoing thorn in Russo-Japanese relations. Russia continues to administer the islands, despite Japanese demands their return.

It might be easy to forget about the Aleutian Islands, given that they’re not part of the continental United States, but they are still U.S. territory. Within the continental United States, the last foreign “invasion” might be the conflict that occurred in the border area of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) called the Battle of Ambos Nogales, 1918. Unlike the above incidents though, Ambos Nogales was hardly an “invasion” but a one-off conflict that occurred on U.S. and Mexican soil.

Our collective mental map of the United States is highly dependent on location. Several maps and articles have poked fun at American’s view of the whatever, typically a map with (usually) humorous names for countries. On a more serious note, our collective “forgetfulness” of past conflicts reflects our bias with not only the continental United States but with “large-scale” invasions. While this is understandable, its worth bearing in mind that most conflicts involving the United States, especially after World War II are “small-scale” affairs, with the exceptions of Korea and Vietnam. A good geographic perspective then, forces you to account for your own bias, and expand your mental map to consider phenomena “outside your map.”