I blogged about the importance recently of Israel’s strategic geopolitical location, and that seems to have been my best-received article to date. Along those lines I will continue with something else I think I’ve noticed, namely the placement of capitals.
They normally don’t happen by random, folks.
Capitals have historically been placed where the are due to some sort of military-political calculus, with emotion thrown in for good measure. Hey, Jerusalem itself became the capital of David’s Israelite kingdom after he conquered it, and by doing so, he was sending a message, not just to his people but his enemies, staking out recaptured territory, and establishing dominance.
The Middle East sure hasn’t changed, much. During the Iraq War, I recall reading an article where a Shiite militant told a Western reporter, about a rival Sunni neighborhood, that one day, they would capture it, and make its mosque their headquarters.
Same principle, same instinct. Now, when we see the Palestinians demanding eastern Jerusalem as its capital, it’s the ancient instinct of fighting for a statement, an emotional symbol of a struggle for dominance they have already largely lost.
In this way, capitals can become markedly accurate predictors of future conflict; think of Washington and Richmond, facing off in the Civil War. Those capitals didn’t make any rational, military sense, but they emotionally spoke volumes. Washington was pointedly placed where it was as a compromise twixt the Northern and Southern states, and when the Confederacy was formed, it just answered back symbolically, though much to its chagrin.
Capitals have a way of pointing in some direction, think of Texans’ Washington-on-the-Brazos one during their War for Independence. The bulk of American Texans were East, but the their borders were south, and to the west, so they chose a headquarters better situated to control a land they numerically dominated, but not so geographically. IN essence, they were compensating.
Think, too, of the Ottoman and Russian empires, reaching into Europe. The Ottomans took Constantinople, situated twixt Europe and Asia Minor, in 1453, and then used the thus-renamed Istanbul as they expanded into the Balkans. Peter the Great, for his part, ditched Moscow, and built Saint Petersburg as his capital to give his nation a Western orientation, not just because it was the future, but also because that was the area of greatest threat.
Post-WWI, what happened? the Turks, in face of the the threat of being divvied up into fractious states ala Arabia, formed a new state, Turkey, and proceeded to pick a new capital, Ankara, back in their heartland, their imperial dreams vanished, and refocused on holding what was left. In Russia, their holdings in disarray, and facing internal revolt the Bolsheviks returned to the Kremlin, also focused on keeping order where they could.
Russia really hasn’t shifted its mood from that changed its capitals, yet, and that’s a pity for the whole world.
I’ve barely studied this topic, folks, but I find it fascinating. Just like tree rings, capitals tell a tale, and a very interesting one it is, all priority, prudence, and ambition.