A lack of geographical intelligence can be dangerous.
At least that's what three leaders in geographic science and technology stressed when they examined world conflicts from a geographic perspective in a lecture at Kansas University. The lecture was titled "World Hot Spots: What Google Earth and Geography Tell us About War, Peace, and Politics."
Alexander Murphy, professor of geography at the University of Oregon and vice president of the American Geographical Society, said maps frame conflicts differently, and consequently that affects how public policy is formed. Murphy has studied several maps of Iraq before a United States invasion into the country. He said before that happened, maps of the history of how Iraq came together, its infrastructure and its relationship to its neighbors, oil resources and the distributions of multiple ethnic populations, "clearly needed to be part of the mix if we were going to think about how Iraq might function in a post-dictatorial environment."
Jerry Dobson, KU professor of geography and president of the American Geographical Society, demonstrated the rise and fall of geography as a mandatory school subject, which he said coincides with the failure of political and military strategies in foreign policy.
"We have a situation in which national leaders don't understand the fundamental issues of geography," he said.
We are now in the midst of a revolution, he said, as seen in the software Google Earth, created by the third speaker, Brian McLendon, a KU graduate and co-founder and director of engineering for Google Earth. McLendon said the tool he created - an interactive global mapping program - has simplified complex geographical information systems, which can be vital to military organizations in combat.
More than 300 people attended the event at the Dole Institute of Politics. The Edwards Campus also received the lecture on a video feed.
Kaori Wakabayashi, 23, a KU student from Yokohama, Japan, majoring in finance and economics, said she could relate to the lecture because she's often asked by American students if she's from China, which she sees as a sign of cultural and geographical ignorance.
"This is a great opportunity for me, as well as Americans, to learn about other cultures," she said.