Recently I discovered some photos I took last year in June. That day, I discovered an old map from 1942 and took some photos. This was a “war-time” map made in 1942 from Ontario, CA, so the emphasis is on battles and territory, but when you look at the map, it’s amazing how different the world looked 71 years ago. Here’s Asia:
and here’s the Western Hemisphere:
Here’s the map legend:
But let’s look more closely. Here’s a map of Africa:
Nearly all of Africa (and the Middle East) is under European control. Different European powers controlled different regions, but it’s amazing how much territory they controlled. Most of Africa was ruled by just two countries: UK (red) and France (orange and white).
You can see that Nazi Germany and Italy (green and grey) already controlled most of Europe at this time. Only the UK and Soviet Union were still independent. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland were all neutral.
Finally, here’s Asia:
The Empire of Japan started with a smaller territory (green) but conquered all the grey areas:1
Interestingly, Korea and Taiwan are given totally different names in this map. On the map, Korea is called Chosen (朝鮮) which was the Japanese name for Korea, and comes from the Korean word Joseon (조선). Taiwan is called Formosa which was the old English name, though no one uses it now.
Anyhow, by 1942 Japan had captured nearly all of East Asia. Large portions of China are under Japanese control, and all of South East Asia, except for Australia, and the Pacific Islands were also under control:
But what’s interesting is that South East Asia, like Africa, had been dominated by European powers too. The Dutch East Indies were controlled by the Netherlands, Burma and Malaysia by the UK, the Philippines by the United States (and Spain before that), Indochina by the French and so on. So, in the case of South East Asia, the countries were ruled by one power (European) then changed hands to a different one (Japan). Not surprisingly, all of them fought to be independent after World War 2 ended. Clearly they didn’t want to be ruled by either Japan or Europe.
My grandfather fought in World War 2 in the European theater as an airplane engineer,2 but it’s hard to imagine that this was the world he grew up in: a world dominated by 5-6 countries. Both the Allies (US, UK, France, etc) and the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan) divided the world into territories, and all the different people and cultures in the world were organized into racial hierarchies by these powers. Naturally, the home country was at the top of this hierarchy. But during WW2 many of these countries fought for their rulers: African soldiers fought for France, Koreans fought for Japan and Indians for the British and so on. Who do you think their commanders in combat were?
Recently I found this article by the BBC, which said something similar:
The frontiers of the modern Middle East were drawn when Britain and France carved up the assets of the defeated and collapsing Turkish Empire at the end of World War I. You could argue that we are still waiting to find out what the ultimate results of those self-interested manoeuvrings will be.
There’s no guarantee, for example, that Syria, which was created as a nation at that point, will remain a viable unitary state when its current civil war is over. And if it disintegrates, what of Lebanon, another former French colony with close ties to its big, dangerous neighbour?
The same could be said of Iraq, where Britain tacked a Kurdish minority in the north on to the traditionally Arab land of Mesopotamia to create the modern state. It was the sort of shotgun marriage to which colonial administrators were dangerously addicted and it’s possible that in the chaos of the modern Middle East, that Kurdish region is working quietly towards a kind of undeclared independence.
That process, which would spell the end of Iraq as we’ve known it, has taken nearly 100 years, which shows the danger of trying to make strategic and historical judgements after only a decade.
Anyhow, when you look at a map of the world today, there are fewer “empires” and a larger community of nations. We still have many conflicts, and countries still change, but compared to 1942, things seem a lot more peaceful now. In some cases, old enemies become friends, too.
In short, 1942 was really fucked up.
1 If you look carefully, you’ll notice the map often says “Japs“, not Japanese. Interestingly, the map never refers to the Germans as “Krauts“. In college, I remember reading Professor Dower’s book War Without Mercy, which showed propaganda of both Japan and the US. Both sides used a lot of racial propaganda that looks very offensive today, but was almost “normal” at the time. Like I said, 1942 was messed up.
2 Engineers seem to run in the family. I engineer computers, not airplanes.