My Ridiculous Historic Parallel

On February 10, 2011 · 6 Comments

My interest in history is probably as great as my interest in geography, a theme I’ve commonly woven into the Twelve Mile Circle. Keeping that in mind, I’ve grown ever-excited as events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War approach. Activities will escalate rapidly on April 12, 2011 with the anniversary of the Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter [my visit] and continue with intensity for another four years.



Commemorations will even take place in my little corner of the world. That website reminded me of a very basic geographic fact: the capital of the United States had the misfortune of finding itself suddenly bordering enemy territory. A line of artillery placed atop Virginia’s Potomac River ridgeline — the very home of the Confederate’s leading general, Robert E. Lee — would have reduced the city of Washington and all its iconic structures to rubble. That’s exactly why the Union army marched across the river within 12 hours of Virginia’s secession and seized the highlands for the duration of the war. They then constructed a ring of 68 forts completely around the city [my visit to one] and dug in for the next four years.

This got me thinking about what would happen geographically if one or more states decided to secede today. Could a split ever replicate the situation of a capital city suddenly abutting "enemy" territory? I considered that as a purely hypothetical scenario. I don’t know of any reasons why this would ever happen. Neither would I wish to trivialize or diminish the very serious causes behind the Civil War a century and a half ago, so I hope nobody takes it that way.

However, if we were to start splitting individual states from each other for whatever reason, which state (now national) capitals would suddenly appear vulnerably along a border? I know it doesn’t make much difference today with bombers and long-range missiles and such, but let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and go with it. The list is smaller than I imagined.



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Trenton seems to be the best example. Nothing but the Delaware River separates the capital of New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Technically the same is true for Carson City, Nevada although Lake Tahoe might serve as an effective buffer from California. Juneau, Alaska sits on an international border today (remember the trick question?) although the habitable portion clings to the Gastineau Channel with huge mountains and an icefield separating it from Canada. Plus, Canada doesn’t seem to have much of a desire to invade Alaska anytime soon.


Mt. Roberts Tramway

A few others come close. Cheyenne, Wyoming is about ten miles from Colorado. St. Paul, Minnesota is maybe thirty miles from Wisconsin. Providence, Rhode Island extends nearly to Massachusetts but nearly everything in Rhode Island is near a border, so is it even a useful example?




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An even better instance exists just a bit further north. This is all that separates Ottawa, the Canadian capital, in the province of Ontario from the province of Québec. Should Québec ever secede from Canada, well… let’s just hope it ended amicably.

On February 10, 2011 · 6 Comments

6 Responses to “My Ridiculous Historic Parallel”

  1. Peter says:

    South Korea is militarily much stronger than North Korea, and can count on U.S. military support, nevertheless the prospect of a second Korean War is very worrisome for the South because much of Seoul is within easy artillery range of the North.

  2. Calgully says:

    Well this raises one of my favourite concepts – NATIONAL capitals that sit on an international border.

    It would appear that it is more common that you might expect. Most notable are the following:

    Vientiane, Laos which sits right on the border with Thailand http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=17.96567,102.629128&spn=0.15676,0.3368&z=12
    Copenhagen, Denmark is directly connected to Sweden by a (long) bridge http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=55.674487,12.829285&spn=0.371708,1.347198&z=10
    Bratislava, Slovakia is on the border with Austria http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=48.106973,17.133179&spn=0.220081,0.673599&z=11
    Tashkent, Uzbekistan is quite close to the border with Kazakhstan http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=41.3799,69.345703&spn=0.494611,1.347198&z=10
    Bishkek, Kygyzstan is also with a handful of Km of the border with Kazakhstan http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=42.940339,74.729691&spn=0.241281,0.673599&z=11
    Ascuncion, Paraguay is right on the border with Argentina http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-25.313615,-57.586899&spn=0.148971,0.3368&z=12
    Maseru, Lesotho is on the border with South Africa http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-29.292088,27.499809&spn=0.143724,0.3368&z=12
    Gaborone, Botswana borders South Africa http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-24.680713,26.008759&spn=0.299481,0.673599&z=11
    Bangui, Central African Republic is on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo
    N’Djamena, Chad is on the border with Cameroon. http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=12.103781,15.094872&spn=0.161131,0.3368&z=12
    Lome, Togo is on the border with Ghana http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=6.15967,1.222916&spn=0.163843,0.3368&z=12

    Perhaps most notably there are two national capitals – different countries – that immediately abut each other.
    Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=-4.316628,15.290909&spn=0.082164,0.1684&z=13

    Then there situations in which one country claims part of disputed territory as its capital
    Jerusalem (Palestine/Israel) http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=31.778672,35.246887&spn=0.14009,0.3368&z=12
    Nicosia (Cyprus/North Cyprus) http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=35.172966,33.391228&spn=0.134706,0.3368&z=12
    and formerly Berlin until 1989.

    And all this ignores the trivial examples of city states like Vatican City, Monaco, San Remo, Andorra, Singapore, Liechtenstein which almost by definition have a capital on a border.

    (By the way, there’s some REALLY juicy enclave/exclave action in this area of the Kygyzstan/Uzbekistan/Tadjikistan border –
    http://maps.google.com.au/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=40.227121,70.677795&spn=1.006551,2.694397&z=9

    • That’s a great list, Calgully. I noticed, as I poked around, that Google Street View goes right up to Maseru, Lesotho but stops right at the border:



      View Larger Map

      • Peter says:

        It’s immediately apparent from the satellite view that the South Africa – Lesotho border around Maseru is also a major dividing line in terms of population density. While Maseru is a very densely populated area, it’s mainly rural country across the river in South Africa. Anyone who stumbled across the satellite view without the maps overlay would be very puzzled as to why this city’s suburbs come to an abrupt end in one direction literally next door to downtown.

        The Street View across the border in South Africa gives what may be a glimpse into Lesotho’s economy. There are about 25 minibuses lined up (including ones with the windshield slogans “Tears of Sadness” and “Jealous – Down(?)”) apparently waiting for passengers. My guess is that they shuttle Maseru residents to jobs in South Africa, perhaps to the city of Bloemfontein more than 50 miles away.

  3. Ariel says:

    Building on this great topic, I tried to put together a list of largest cities in the states-now-nations that would be subject to invasion and came up with the following:

    Portland, Oregon (by Washington)
    Fargo, North Dakota (by Minnesota)
    Omaha, Nebraska (by Iowa)
    Kansas City, Missouri (by Kansas)
    Chicago, Illinois (by Indiana)
    Louisville, Kentucky (also by Indiana)
    Memphis, Tennessee (by the combined forces of Arkansas and Mississippi)
    Charlotte, North Carolina (by South Carolina)
    Virginia Beach, Virginia (by North Carolina)
    Wilmington, Delaware (by New Jersey)
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (also by New Jersey)
    New York City, New York (again by New Jersey – what a strategic place)
    Bridgeport, Connecticut (by New York across the Long Island Sound) and
    Burlington, Vermont (by New York again across Lake Champlain)

    Also, Detroit, Michigan currently is subject to invasion by Canada as it is right across the border. Thankfully, relations are currently good.

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