July 2 2011: Conflict Zones and Holiday Destinations (Around The World Series, 1965 – 1968)
The covers of the American Geographical Society’s Around the World Program booklets, published by Doubleday & Odhams in the US between 1965 and 1968, form a uniform edition of introductions to the history, natural topography and (then) current condition of every nation state on the planet, from large states like Brazil, China and Mexico to such smaller entities as Jamaica and Northern Ireland: colour plates are provided as stickers, to add to the relevant pages. What’s particularly fascinating is how the assessments made in the mid-1960s about these nations’ cultures now conflicts so strongly with those states’ present repuations: the discussions of technocratic modernisation occurring in harmony with Islamic culture on projects of irrigation, infrastructure building and education in Afghanistan, or the comment that Syria has made greater progress “in increasing agricultural and industrial production – the basic elements needed to raise the standard of living” than any other comparable post-war state, seem strange given those countries’ present conditions.
Perhaps the best known case of this kind of reversal after the oil-shocks of the 1970s and subsequent development of neoliberal agendas during the long tail-end of the Cold War is that of Lebanon, where it is noted in the publication dedicated to its fortunes that “Almost everyone who visits Lebanon for pleasure…will first touch soil at Beirut […] a handsome, modern city and sophisticated focus of commerce and culture, as well as the most important educational city in the Middle East…” Syria, too, in the booklet’s conclusion, entitled simply Tomorrow, is noted as “handicapped by poverty, illiteracy and lack of capital and transport”, but with “a new generation, fresh from the universities and technical schools, not averse to marrying East and West, Old and New, provided it is in a free, independent Arab nation”. In that ‘provided’, I suspect, lies the crux of the matter.