2011/07/20

Glenn Beck and historical accuracy

Sorry, but the history major in me just couldn't resist when I read this:


Russia and China and Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia is so upset with us right now and our president that Saudi Arabia is negotiating a deal with China for their oil. What do you think is going to happen with that one? And these three are really critical. Nobody ever -- nobody ever thought these countries could come together and form any kind of alliance. And the reason I say nobody ever thought it is because people have been looking for these three to bring an alliance together for thousands of years.

Okay, I'm reading the book The Great Game, the story of the fight by Great Britain to prevent Russia from capturing India during the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s. The distance between Baku, Russia and Rawalpindi, Pakistan is about 1300 miles. Now this was considered a really, really lengthy distance in those days, especially when traveling by land. It took several months of travel on horseback to cover this kind of distance and the book relates several stories of how difficult it was for travelers to sustain themselves over several stretches between cities in this region. Yes, the Mongols swept across the plains of Central Asia centuries earlier, but keep in mind that the Mongols traveled very lightly and lived off the land. They didn't need to maintain supply lines back to Mongolia.

Naturally, travel via ship or railroad was faster. Ships were around for several thousand years beforehand, but that mode of travel wasn't exactly speedy and they couldn't carry a whole lot. In the 1600s, a voyage across the Atlantic in ships that typically displaced from 150 to 200 tons of water (A guided-missile cruiser today displaces 9,600 tons) could take from 47 to 138 days. By the 1870s, ships had gotten quite a bit faster and, with a good wind, could make up to 50 miles an hour.

Railroads are a pretty recent invention, the first one came about in 1830. By the time of America's Civil War, they were in very wide use, but the Russian Trans-Siberian Railroad wasn't ordered completed until 1891, meaning China and Russia couldn't very easily communicate until then. Rail lines in Saudi Arabia weren't put in until 1951. 

The distance between Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Baku is less, only 1100 miles and the distance between Baku and Kunming, China is nearly 3200 miles. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Kunming is a bit under 3500 miles. So, the idea that Russia, China and Saudi Arabia could easily communicate and send armies back and forth is a complete fantasy. Kievan Rus was a powerful state from the late 900s right up until they were conquered by the Mongols in the early 1200s.  Ivan the Terrible wasn't crowned the first Tsar until 1547 and Russia, the successor to Kievan Rus, wasn't considered a serious power until then. Under Peter the Great, Russia was declared an empire in 1723. It's appropriate to say Russia was truly an actor on the world stage at that point.

China was a great power going back around 4,000 years, but the Opium Wars with Britain in the early 1800s demonstrated that the Industrial Revolution of the West had passed China by. China didn't begin to regain international relevance again until Mao Zedong's Communist Revolution of 1949.

Erwin "The Desert Fox" Rommel, the German general who ran the German-Italian "Afrika Korps" from 1941 to 1943 considered Saudi Arabia a desirable target, but that was entirely because it was a producer of oil. Saudi Arabia produced few, if any, troops for that fight and truly, hasn't been involved in any actions since then. In 1991, Saudi Arabia was far more a staging platform for an allied force to be used against Saddam Hussein's Iraq than it was anything else.

So, sorry Glenn Beck fans, but the idea of Russia combining with either China or Saudi Arabia in any effective manner that the West would have felt threatened by is hardly "thousands of years" old.

Seriously people, anyone who ever depended on Glenn Beck to provide worthwhile information on any topic is completely out of it.

1 comment:

iolite said...

Glenn Beck is a right-wing American talk show host. Beck also tours twice a year with a one-man stage show that combines alleged comedy with so-called inspirational speaking.