Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy

Posted By: robin-bobin
Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy

Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy by: Robert D. Kaplan
1st Vintage Departures Ed Edition 1997 | 496 Pages | ISBN: 0679751238 | PDF | 1.5 MB

If you ever wondered why the U.S. Intelligence Community tries so desperately to keep its annual budget secret from Congress and the citizens, this book might provide a clue: one man, very well-grounded in historical and contextual reading, is capable of reporting extremely valuable insights that neither a $30 billion a year spy world nor a $3 billion a year diplomatic community seem capable of either comprehending or communicating to the public.
Robert D. Kaplan gets three big things right: he studies history before visiting; he is firmly grounded in a geographical or geophysical appreciation of every situation; and he travels on foot and at the lowest common level. The world he sees and reports on is not the world that the pampered and sheltered diplomats, businessmen, and journalists see or understand.
Reading Kaplan is a treat for anyone who takes the rest of the world and America's naivete with some seriousness. He is correct when he posits a new World War, "a protracted struggle between ourselves and the demons of crime, population pressure, environmental degradation, disease, and culture conflict."
He is at his best when mixing his historical reading with his personal intellect and observations, to arrive at conclusions that contradict conventional wisdom–for instance, his appreciation of Iran as a structured and stable society, and of Turkey as the next mega-power and the keeper of the Islamic flame. His extremely sharp observations about Saudi Arabia as the hidden enemy of the United States of America are very very provocative, especially when one realizes that we are providing them with an extremely generous military and economic program at U.S. taxpayer expense. Saudi funding of terrorism, including Bin Laden, is increasingly documented in the public domain, and U.S. taxpayers need to begin questioning U.S. policy in this specific area.
This personal travel narrative is invaluable as a means of contemplating the realities of nations that exist (e.g. the Kurds) alongside states that continue to persecute and deny these nations a right to live. Although another hundred pages follow, the real end of the book is on page 336 where he discusses a living map of the future world, one that is constantly changing and that reflects several realities–a reality of overlapping group identities such as those of language and economic class; a reality of legal boundaries and overlapping and sometimes conflicting cultural boundaries; a reality of power distributed and often shared openly between police, criminals, terrorists, white-collar thieves, and politicians; and a reality of population growth, disease, refugee migrations and genocide; as well as soil and water scarcity.
His bibliography is quite worthwhile, and helps make his personal reporting even more valuable. I have but one disappointment, and that is that this prolific author and policy commentator, a major force (indeed, the only continuous voice on foreign policy matters for The Atlantic Monthly), has failed to provide a concluding section that pulls it all together in an executive briefing suitable for policy consideration. There are many valuable lessons and observations in this book, I recommend it highly, but I fear that the policy-makers who most desperately need to be educated will never, ever actually read the book.
This book is not your average travel memoir. It is an introspective analysis of the social and political conditions of developing countries from West Africa to Thailand. Typical travelogues can be titillating, but because the authors actually know so little about the cultures that they are visiting for a short time, readers learn more about the authors themselves than about the countries being described. However, this book is quite different in that respect–Kaplan obviously knows this region well, having worked as a journalist in the region for years. As a journalist, he knows which questions to ask and from whom. He describes conversations with high government officials (many of which wish to remain anonymous), as well as tidbits that he picks up from traveling companions and encounters with ordinary people. He backs up all of these personal anecdotes with hard facts and statistics footnoted to hundreds of resources listed in the bibliography. What he has to say can about the countries and cultures that he visits can be quite disturbing.
One of Kaplans goals for his trip is to try to discover why some regions of the developing world are bordering on anarchy, or have actually slipped over the edge, and others seem to be working well for the community. By observing societies and talking to leaders as well as ordinary people, he attempts to discover what works to build a civil world. He considers the varying influences that tradition, religion, education, government, and environment may have on a society. While he points out that education, particularly literacy, seems to be vital for maintaining civilization, he finds that there are no absolute factors that can predict which societies will succeed and which will devolve into barbarism.
Many of Kaplans observations are quite disturbing, such as when he points out entire regions where per capita income has fallen dramatically since the 1960s, yet population has risen, in contrast to other regions with similar levels of development in 1960 where exactly the opposite has happened. Whats more, Kaplan points out that many of the reasons for these problems are internal to the societies themselves, such as corruption and traditional practices. The people are understandably frustrated, they have little or no education, and they have easy access to powerful weapons. Unscrupulous or ill-educated leaders can easily point the blame for these problems entirely at the West, redirecting the anger of the masses so that the society does not implode with its own violence.
Some readers may find some of Kaplan's comments racist or bigoted, but having lived for 4 years in a place where the majority of the population comes from the countries that Kaplan describes, I find that every word rings true for me. Kaplan has put into words my own observations and speculations about what I see around me. The book is filled with hundreds of short remarks that capture so much of my experience here, such as when he quotes an Indian educator as saying , "Only when children are taught to categorize and to analyze, rather than merely to memorize, can they achieve anything in the modern world. Intercommunal and tribal hatreds arise from too much faulty oral memory and too little self-motivated analysis." But the one that will stick with me for years is his point that you can't give wealth, and you can't pump it out of the ground. You can only create wealth. This book will be of interest to anyone who is trying to understand the forces behind current world events. It should be read by all top-level policy makers.

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Africa, West
Description and travel
History: World
International Relations - General
Kaplan, Robert D.,
Middle East
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History / Modern / 20th Century
Kaplan, Robert D
Science fiction