Timothy Barney. Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power. Chapel Hill: University Of North Carolina Press, 2015. Maps. 338 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-1854-8.
Reviewed by Günter J. Bischof (University of New Orleans)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2015)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
The University of New Orleans has gone through serious cuts like the rest of the higher education community in Louisiana under Governor Bobby Jindal. As a result of these cuts, some departments were closed down, among them geography. Teaching American university students twentieth-century American diplomatic history for over thirty years in various settings, I have come to accept the fact that American students lack basic geographical knowledge. Most of them usually do not know where Poland is situated and neither can they find Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, or Brazil on a blank map of the world. Geography is a field of general education taught shoddily at the high school level in the United States. Now it seems, universities are beginning to see geography departments as expendable too. So Timothy Barney’s book on Cold War cartography thus arrives at a propitious moment, reminding us that already in the early 1950s the New York Times bemoaned in an article “the poor quality of geography education in both colleges and secondary schools across America” (p. 96). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose....
The US government began creating a sizable institutional cartographic apparatus during World War I. When Japanese planes flew to Pearl Harbor, the United States “finally put the nails” into the coffin of American isolationism and initiated the advent of what Barney calls “air-age globalism” (p. 26). Textualizing “the new global scope for a wide array of audiences” came with Franklin Roosevelt’s famous fireside chat of February 23, 1942, when the president called upon Americans to “look at your map” in this “new kind of war” (p. 26). Cartography became both popular and journalistic as the new age of airplanes shrunk the planet and made America more vulnerable. Cartography became a central medium to suit American expectations to become a world leader during World War II. The airplane gave cartographers a bird’s-eye view. Maps used strange new spatial projections to indicate new strategic relationships. Maps combined artistic vision and scientific innovation and emboldened new discourses. As the world became smaller, America’s role grew larger. Maps began “to trace both the fearful sense of containment and the notion of a moral responsibility for the United States to set the tone for the world” (pp. 28-29).
Barney shapes this and subsequent chapters around leading geographers of the era who put their major imprints on how Americans perceived the world during the Cold War. He sees Richard Edes Harrison as the best example of the new global internationalism of the “air age” (p. 38). In the 1930s and 1940s, Harrison became the house cartographer for Fortune and Life magazines and prodigiously illustrated Henry Luce’s vision of the “American Century”—“one world fundamentally indivisible” (p. 34). Harrison’s new perspective and projection tried to get away from the traditional North-South Mercator perspective (the cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569). Harrison anchored his maps around the Arctic, looking from the North to South, “changing the entire spatial perception of proximity” (p. 37). Europe, once and for all, no longer was in the center. His “perspective maps” were flexible and strategic while also bringing his vast magazine audiences into the perspective of the maps. Most famous among them was “Europe from the East” (fig. 1.1, p. 41), centering on Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union’s viewpoint. This World War II map eerily foreshadowed the Cold War Soviet sphere of interest. His maps, with the use of the polar center, placed the United States in close quarters with the Soviet Union and North Asia. These maps suggest new strategic relationships, drawing the world closer together and making America more vulnerable. The notion of hemispheric defense was no longer possible in this borderless world. America’s new “manifest destiny” was to inhabit and dominate this “world space” (p. 52). Harrison’s legacy, argues Barney, is “a world of new proximities” and the new “transcendent power of American perspective that can transform world space” (p. 54).
Barney then outlines the transition to the Cold War, centered on the long-serving geographer of the Department of State, Samuel Witthemore Boggs. Boggs welcomed the incoming secretary of state, George C. Marshall, on January 21, 1947, with a state-of-the-art globe on his desk and offered to replace the large Mercator wall map in his office with a “Miller cylindrical projection” with less exaggeration in the polar regions. Boggs felt that “the perception of a full, accurate earth” was a necessity for those conducting international affairs. Boggs was a “product of the air-age generation” whose perceptions of distance and perspective were “revolutionized by planes spreading bombs, money and ideas across the earth” (p. 71). He was an expert in his discipline, not an amateur like Harrison. He helped the “science of geographic facts become an indispensable tool of the military-government-academic complex” (p. 72). Boggs’s projection made a rounder earth on the flat page, correcting the Mercator’s enlarged Northern Hemisphere, thusly “de-europeanizing” the world (p. 79). He wanted to give the “developing areas” more play in his projections. In the new Cold War world of blocs, pacts, treaties, and security alliances, Boggs gave a premium to America’s “multidirectional relationships” and the “full global reach of American responsibility” (p. 80). He was an idealist and felt that better maps could show the interdependency of mankind and thus account for “the revolution in transport and communication” (p. 93).
Barney addresses the militarization of mapmaking in the Cold War and the propagandistic visual construction of the Soviet Union in his central chapter, chapter 3. As the conflict with the Soviet Union heated up, “geography took on the role of an abstract manager of spatial facts” (p. 97). During the 1950s Cold War, cartography “mapped the bipolar,” drawing and bounding America’s spatial relationship to the Soviet Union (p. 101). A series of Cold War-era background maps by the Associated Press situated the new bipolar Cold War world in newspaper pages all over America. These pictorial maps were black-and-white “political shorthand” for the new world of “burgeoning skirmishes and entangling alliances” (p. 102). These maps—with Russian power flowing into the Near East, depicting the Soviet Union in bright red—were cartoonish in their appearance. Life’s Richard Erdoes in his map “How Strategic Materials Circulates” used the hybrid metaphor of a pump and an octopus (“octopump”) to illustrate clandestine East-West relationships and arms smuggling across the Iron Curtain (the same map is also on the cover of the book—in red, the “octopump” appears even more menacing) (fig. 3.4, p. 107). Such maps “instantiated Cold War fears” (p. 106). Barney fails to note that not only does this 1953 map incorrectly place the Soviet occupation zone of Austria behind the Iron Curtain, but it also suggests that the West’s Coordinating Committee (Co-COM) trade blockade of the Soviet Bloc seems to have been a failure. But he makes clear that by the 1950s, Cold War mapmaking in the United States was an important propaganda tool.
The most famous map in this age of propagandistic cartography was “‘Gulag’-Slavery, Inc.” (fig 3.8, p. 118). It was a map of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s would immortalize as the “Gulag Archipelago” (1951)—the vast empire of Soviet labor camps. This map was inspired by Russian émigré journalist and anti-Communist crusader Isaac Don Levine and financed and produced by the American Federation of Labor’s (AFL) Free Trade Union Committee (funded by the Central Intelligence Agency). In the age of McCarthyism, the AFL allowed itself to be incorporated into the US government’s anti-Communist crusade. This map—considered by some as the best piece of propaganda against Communism in the Cold War—was widely circulated in the United States and eventually around the world. In Vienna, Soviet military police seized five hundred thousand copies of this “filthy pamphlet” (p. 131). With the general usability across media platforms of such maps, American power elites “spatialized and literally projected their power on to the flat page into the culture of the Cold War,” concludes Barney (p. 134).
Decolonization made the Third World a central spatial battleground and institutional mapmaking had to address the Global South’s new importance in the Cold War. While the Third World at the time was defined as underdeveloped and backward, US leadership was “formulating, with missionary zeal, a spatially conscious global push to modernize the Third World” (p. 144). Maps of Harry Truman’s Point 4 Program and John Kennedy’s Peace Corps were drawn to show the new American “interventionism of ideas and knowledge production” in the Global South (p. 144). The centerpiece of American Third World diagnosis was the mapping of world health in the Atlas of Disease (1955). The graphics of infectious diseases such as cholera and spirochetal disease in maps of the world (including photos and regional insets) overwhelmed the users of such maps. The French surgeon Jacques May directed this atlas project for the American Geographic Society. The United States aimed at expanding its influence into “the developing world and the cartographic South” (p. 167). Synthesizing vast amounts of world data was part and parcel of American modernization of the Global South in the geopolitics of the Cold War.
Barney’s final chapter addresses nuclear geopolitics in the 1980s (the second Cold War). The Ronald Reagan administration rekindled the Cold War with its rhetorical offensive against the Soviet “evil empire.” Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s Pentagon produced a brochure titled Soviet Military Power—what British historian E. P. Thompson called “the most evil book of our time” (p. 183)—with stark maps of Soviet military power projection around the world. The Defense Department wanted to suggest to the American public that the Soviet Union had come to enjoy a destructive advantage over the United States. This new cartographic discourse presented “visual perceptions of the complex nuclear tensions of the Second Cold War” (p. 175). The Soviets responded with a booklet projecting American power in the world titled Whence the Threat of Peace and Disarmament: Who’s Against? In this “battle of the booklets,” the entire globe was covered with defense technologies and targets for nuclear weapons. Late Cold War maps were digitized and “increasingly designed on and seen through mediated screens” (p. 176). While the Pentagon was trying to roll back détente with massive American rearmament, this nuclear expansion also produced a new antiwar movement in the nuclear freeze movement.
With his Nuclear War Atlas (1988), radical geographer William Bunge became one of the most prominent spokesmen against the remilitarization of the Cold War. The fifty-seven maps of this Atlas starkly illustrated the horror and enormity of nuclear warfare. Bunge castigates nuclear proliferation and mocks traditional Cold War geopolitics like the domino theory, or Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. A map of “Moscington” combines the military, science, and government landmarks of the capitals of the superpowers and reduces the world to mere state power (p. 204). Bunge’s map of “new Chicago” after nuclear destruction is a depiction of horrific sickness and insanity of a major urban center after a nuclear attack (fig. 5.5, p. 207). Bunge’s maps portray nuclear war as the ultimate fantastic vision and abstraction. While Weinberger’s maps make the atomic bomb palatable and conventional, Bunge’s maps make them a horror and equally unacceptable on both sides of the Cold War divide. Ironically, the Soviet Union began to collapse under the weight of its own arms economy at the same time as Bunge illustrated the Cold War nuclear arms race in apocalyptic terms.
Barney’s richly illustrated book presents Cold War scholars with much evidence how mapmaking became part of the East-West propaganda battle and the “rhetoric” of the superpower contest. Historians might be overwhelmed with some of the more arcane theoretical discourses among geographers, studiously discussed by Barney throughout the book. But they will appreciate the rich evidence Barney presents in making his case that mapmaking was a central part of the Cold War battle. This book should be in every research library. While it should become part of the discourse in graduate courses, its arguments are too complex for undergraduate courses. The book shows how central geography was to the rise of American power in the Cold War. The closing of geography departments in the post-Cold War era may be a further indicator of the decline of American power.
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Günter J. Bischof. Review of Barney, Timothy, Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power.
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