These days, we worry the Arctic is getting too hot. Half a century ago, the Soviets wished it was warmer — and they thought of a way to thaw the frigid North.
Popular Mechanics reported in June 1956 that Soviet authorities were considering building a 55-mile dam between Alaska and Siberia. The barrier would keep icebergs and arctic currents out of the Pacific, allowing warm southern currents to sweep unchecked up the eastern shore of Siberia and down the western coast of North America. Warm water from the Pacific Ocean would be pumped back into the Arctic and transform the once-frozen region into a “blossoming landscape”.
After World War II, the Allied powers ceded the German lands east of the Order and Lusatian Neisse rivers to Poland, creating a border dispute that would last through the entire Cold War.
It were the Soviets who insisted on the change. Joseph Stalin wanted to annex the Eastern Borderlands of the former Polish Republic — which were only lightly populated by ethnic Poles — to Russia proper while still putting a strong Polish buffer state in between itself and Germany. Hence the need to add Germany’s eastern provinces to the new Poland.
The north of East Prussia, around the city of Königsberg, was sliced off to create Kaliningrad for Russia, giving it the warm-water port on the Baltic Sea it had long coveted.
The Americans and British felt this dismemberment of Germany went too far, but they eventually relented at Potsdam in the summer of 1945 under a combination of Soviet intransigence and pressure from the Soviet-aligned Polish government.
The Western Allies were also led to believe there were only around one million Germans still living in East Prussia, Eastern Pomerania and Silesia. In fact, there were millions. Up to 31 million ethnic Germans and German citizens were cleansed from Eastern Europe after the war. Between 12 and 14 million resettled in Austria and West Germany. Recent studies suggest around half a million died in the expulsion.
After Germany had overrun France and the Low Countries in the spring of 1940, an invasion of Britain — then the only nation still free in Europe — seemed like a distinct possibility. German fighter planes and bombers waged a months-long air war with their British counterparts over the Channel and the south of England in the summer of that year. The Germans meant to follow up with an amphibious assault once the Luftwaffe had established air superiority.
Of course, the Germans never managed. Prime Minister Winston Churchill congratulated Britain’s airmen in August, saying they had “unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger” and were “turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.”
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” he said.
The British had been outnumbered and outgunned yet managed to fend off the Nazi air assault and give Adolf Hitler his first defeat.
Even if they’d failed, though, it is doubtful that a German invasion of Great Britain would have succeeded.
The Axis powers in World War II never had plans to invade the continental United States. The Nazis hoped to keep the Americans out of the war altogether. As late as the spring of 1941, Adolf Hitler said a German invasion of the Western Hemisphere would be as fantastic as an invasion of the Moon.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December of that year did prompt the Germans to develop long-range bombers that could reach the East Coast. But although Hitler started speaking grandly of a future contest between America and Germany, no preparations for it were made.
Nor did the Japanese think seriously about conquering the United States. Some advocated seizing Hawaii, and Japan briefly occupied the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, but that was it.
Of course, that’s what we know now. Things looked very different in the winter of 1941, when America unexpectedly found itself at war with both the Empire of Japan and a Nazi Germany that controlled most of Europe.
The centennial of the Sykes-Picot Agreement has flooded the better-informed parts of the Internet with everything from the depressingly familiar (blaming the treaty for all the Middle East’s problems) to the refreshingly critical. There seems to be more and more of the latter, which is heartening.
Sykes-Picot was after all not the only plan to partition the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as Middle East expert Adam Garfinkle writes in The American Interest. And blaming it, or any Western design, for imposing “artificial borders” on the region is a dangerous proposition. Taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that only borders that perfectly encompass certain ethnic groups are legitimate invites more conflict, not less.
The Middle East is not the only part of the world that can attest to that. Here are five examples where drawing lines on the map caused even bigger problems.
Throughout World War II, Allied policymakers pondered how to rearrange the world once victory was achieved. Oftentimes their thinking confined itself to the outlines of postwar Europe, but some schemes were more ambitious. Continue reading “New World Order”