We are fond of saying that the world is small and indeed, air travel has drastically shortened journey times. But when you’re blasting over any territory at 500 MPH while at 40,000 ft and you’re probably half asleep for most of it, then the full magnitude of what’s below is lost on you. There are the dimensions of the place, the amount of people living there and what their chosen place is in this rapidly changing world. I got thinking about that as I strolled near the river lately and it led me to wonder just how much I don’t know, so I went looking it up naturally.
At the time, I was watching four engined jet trails streaked across the sky from west to east and it made me feel how insignificant we Irish actually are. So the idea for this article began first as an insular effort to determine some facts in the (possible/unlikely), event of a United Ireland at some distant future point. What are the indisputable facts of the matter? From an Irish perspective, you can easily visualize our little landmass from outer space on a clear day but how many of us would be sharing the Emerald Isle together when and if? Well, in the Northern six counties there are 1,811,000 people, both Sammys and Taigs of course. Here in the Southern 26 counties there are 4,780,000 decent God-fearing souls, (wink, wink!), so together we will number over six million assorted Paddies of various hues and shapes. Sounds like a lot to me.
So far so good then! The land mass of the this Republic currently stands at 84,421 km² and if you add the North to that, we’ll become a massive continent of 98,551 km². The North’s GDP is about a fifth of ours and with one of them for every 2.6 of us, they’re going to have to improve on that performance. At this point, I could drift into comparative personal productivity versus average gross earnings in both parts and then I could even speculate how together our rising tide could lift all boats but I’ll leave serious shit like that to David McWilliams.
Because you see today, what has me riveted is the perilous state of the whole world, not our little windy rock in the Atlantic. From time to time I like to take out my atlas to gain a world perspective and when I do, I keep getting it wrong. This is because my atlas gives me a Mercator projection, which is a projection of a map of the world onto a cylinder in such a way that all the parallels of latitude have the same length as the equator, used especially for marine charts and certain climatological maps. Flattened out onto a page then you get this perspective distortion. As I look at it, Greenland is bigger than Australia but in reality, Greenland has a landmass of 2,166,086 km2 whereas Australia comes in at a whopping 7,692,000 million km².
So let’s look at the Middle East then, for no other reason than it always seems to be in the news for all of the wrong reasons. As a boy growing up, my first memory of a place called the Middle East was the mention of the ’67 war, (ironically the summer of love here). The victor in that war was Israel with a population now of 8.547 million coming from a country with a total area of 20,770 km². Ireland is far larger. In the years since that war, Iraq has been in the news, (437,072 km² and 37.2 million unfortunate souls). Years after ’67, Saddam Hussain had been persuaded by the Americans to start a war with Iran because the mad mullahs in Iran had taken over and were holding 57 American hostages to stick it to the Yanks. Eight years and eight million dead later there was a truce which pretty much put things back exactly as they were pre-war. You see, Iran is bigger than Iraq, (1.648 million km², nearly four times bigger), and has more people too, (80.28 million versus 37.2 million). You’d have to wonder what the lad Saddam was smoking back then?
But comparisons in the Middle East can be weird if you are a student of the Mercator projection. Is Egypt bigger than Saudi Arabia for example? Off hand, do you know? Well, this student always presumed that the cradle of civilization was far bigger than the hot sandcastle. However, the Saudi’s are sitting on 2.15 million km² of real estate while the Egyptians have half of that at 1.01 million km². But then there are only 32.28 million Saudis versus 95.69 million Egyptians and they have the Nile to fertilize their valleys. There’s a war in Syria even as I write, a country with a land mass of 185,180 km² and a ‘damned’ population of 18.43 million suffering souls. To my way of thinking, the mayhem in the Middle East in my lifetime and before it, is all down to the super powers of the day. The Arabs and others were unfortunate enough to be born on top the world’s greatest reservoir of oil and gas and they are getting cut to shreds for just that sin of birth, beginning after WWII. Islam is a side show to deflect interest from the main prize.
So in Super Power terms then you must begin with the good old U, S of A. There 350 million of them living in a nirvana of 9.8 million km² of God’s own country. Big isn’t it? But then I check to discover that Canada is even bigger, (at 10 million km² approx) and there’s only 36.29 million Canadians, so there’s more leg room up there so to speak. By comparison, China is slightly smaller than the US at 9.59 million km² but they manage to house 1.379 billion little people, more than the States by a cool billion, (and then some as the Yanks might say). God help the Russians and their lethargic reproductive organs because there’s only 144.3 million of them and they inhabit the single largest country on earth at 17.1 million km².
The EU is no slouch either. With an area larger than the USA, (10.18 million km²), we have a much larger population standing at over 500 million, currently including the UK. But can you envisage us going nose to nose with the Yanks on the battlefield? Can’t see it myself. But then I don’t see the Russians wanting a shamozzle with the Yanks either, though they do seem to finally be putting their foot down in some areas. The Americans view the Middle East as their sole playground to do with as they please. The Ruskies however have historical links with Syria and Iran and appear to be carefully drawing the line there. While the Americans have been stamping all over the world these last few years because, as they like to remind us, they can. They threaten all of us on this planet if they’re foolish in their dealings with the Russians and none of us will thank them for that!
Meanwhile the wily Chinese are camping out in, of all places, Africa. Have you any idea just how big that place is? You could fit the whole of the USA, Canada and the EU in Africa and still have room for Australia. Doesn’t look that way on my atlas but there you are anyway. With 30.3 million km² of land and a total population of 1.216 billion people, it is significant and the Chinese believe it is full of economic potential. Across the South Atlantic lies South America covering an area of 17.84 million km² and with a combined population of 422.5 million people, a damned big consideration in terms of Global Affairs methinks. And south of that continent lies Antartica, which comprises 14 million km² but with a tiny transient population of 1,000 to 4,000, depending on the season. If the ice cap ever does melt down there, you can expect a dirty rush to exploit whatever the place has. The vested interests will be all over the place like flies to shit.
Then there’s Asia. Wow! We’re talking 44.58 million km² with 4.463 billion assorted nationalities busy doing what they’re doing. The biggest Muslim populations are there in places like Indonesia and Pakistan. Pakistan as well as China and India are three of the select club of nuclear armed nations and I’m leaving out North Korea for now because we all live in hope, don’t we? Industrial powerhouses such as South Korea and Japan are in Asia and many see it as the emerging economic superpower of the new century. China has the largest standing army in the world, in case you didn’t know and the inscrutable oriental is no fool either. You have to wonder sometimes that on the eighth day when the Lord awoke, did he take a quick peep and say to himself, ‘Ooops”.
Think of the above mix of facts as the core ingredients of a boiling stew and then throw in human nature, politics, banking & high finance, Mother Nature, greed, avarice, jealousy, carelessness, stupidity, madness and mortality and then ask yourself, is a United Ireland all that important in the grand scheme of things?