|"And if you fancy yourself a fancy trip|
Might I suggest to you, a boat down the Missisip!"
If the Midwest is the heartland, that stretch of land that forms the cultural and agricultural center of the nation then the Mississippi is the circulatory system. If there was any one thing that could be linked as to why the US is a super power it would be the mighty Mississippi. The Mississippi and the other rivers that connect to it, the Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and the Red Rivers form the Great Mississippi watershed. Creating a fertile basin that stretches as from the Rockeys to the Appalachians. These rivers are, almost literally, the lifeblood of this nation. It is because of these rivers that the United States’ Midwest is known as the bread basket of the world. Of the four main cropland areas of America, the Columbia Basin, the California interior, inland New York, and the Southern Coastal plains, non-come even close to the size of the croplands in the Mississippi Basin, one of the largest contiguous agricultural lands in the world. It is this nations extreme fortune that it is blessed with such a perfect area for growing food, because not only do we have more than enough food to eat ourselves, we have enough to export, and moreover, the very river system that feeds us, also transports our goods for us.
The Mississippi river system is one of the few slow moving, few to no rapids, and navigable river systems in the world. Goods could be shipped to and from Minneapolis in the Great Lakes all the way down to New Orleans and the world. This is important because shipping is one of the most cost effective ways to send goods from one place to another, at its most primitive you could simply load goods up on a barge and let it drift down river. It’s very cost effective and the additional benefit that the Mississippi offers us is that it removes many of the contstraints that face other nations, such as Russia, when it comes to shifting goods. This means that the United States doesn’t have to spend money to achieve a workable infrastructure through which we can transport our goods, and any additional infrastructure we have is a bonus.
If you look at our tonnage map you see that while our highway system handles a lot of tonnage, it the heaviest amount of traffic occurs near the river system. It is quite apparent that the large railway tonnage, seen in states like Wyoming and the Dakotas, are freighting their goods to the nearest terminal where it can be then loaded onto a board and sent out through New Orleans. Another way to look at this image is to mentally erase the National Highway system. Without it you see that the railways, excluding cross continental travel, pretty much run towards the Mississippi. It was because of this natural highway system that we had the future capital to build the world class highway system we have today.
In fact the Mississippi is so important to the United States that it makes New Orleans the most important city in America. Washington D.C may be the capital, New York the financial center, and Los Angeles the cultural mecca of the Nation, but it is New Orleans that is the gateway to the Mississippi. Whoever controls New Orleans essentially controls the Midwestern states ability to ship their goods to the rest of the world. If a foreign power were to hold New Orleans and cut off shipping, the rest of the country could rely on freight and our highways to move our goods. But it is prohibitively more expensive to do so, and it could possibly cripple the United States. Because of this the US has taken many actions throughout history to ensure that New Orleans and the Mississippi have unfettered access to the rest of the world, and ensuring that access has been the instigator of many a political event in our history.
War of 1812 and the Jackson defense of New Orleans
Even though the war was officially over by the time this battle occurred; neither of the belligerents knew this. Moreover, if Great Britain had gotten the news that New Orleans had been captured it probably wouldn’t have relinquished it back to the United States. We need to remember that this is before the advent of highways or even railways. The Mississippi was the only way goods from the Midwest were going to make it the world and the rest of the country. Fortunately for the United States, General, and future president, Jackson triumphed, and New Orleans remained secure. But it alerted the nation to how vulnerable its river system was and imperative that its access to the Gulf of Mexico remain unhindered or unblockadable.
Monroe Doctrine 1823
Scarcely a decade after the war the United States put into place what was called the Monroe doctrine. It essentially stated that any European power that meddled in the Western Hemisphere would be tantamount to an act of war. Now the US never went to war over the Monroe Doctrine, however it did use it to assert its right to intervene in other nations that were thought to fall too far under the influence of another nation. However the Mississippi was still too vulnerable. The Mexican Empire bordered only a few hundred miles from New Orleans, easily within invasion distance if the Empire ever worked the logistical support and had the desire to do so
Mexican American War
For decades the United States had encouraged Americans to settle into the sparsely populated Texas. The Mexican government welcomed settlers at first; however, they began to exert more control over the region as they feared the growing American influence. Texas later revolted and succeeded in establishing an independent republic, though Mexico never recognized the republic but was unable to do anything because the nation was on the verge of civil war. Moreover, the recent alliance between Great Britain and Texas raised objections within the states. An independent Republic sympathetic to the US was tolerable as a buffer zone between America and Mexico, but one aligned with the British was not. With Mexico in a weakened state the United States saw an opportunity to stake a claim on Texas. This would move the Mexican border from 250 miles to almost a thousand miles from New Orleans, ensuring that if Mexico ever tried to invade the US it would have a very difficult time in getting to New Orleans. This annexation leads to war between the two states, a war which Mexico lost, and removed Mexico as a competitor for the dominance of the continent and removed potential British pressure from the United States border.
With the primary objective to secure New Orleans on the continent the US then began to ensure that no foreign power could potentially blockade her by sea.
Spanish American War 1899 and the annexation of Puerto Rico
If you look at the Gulf of Mexico you see that the Caribbean islands form a belt in the north with the Lesser Antilles former the other part of the belt in the south, however, the biggest challenge lay with Cuba. Almost as if it were a cork stuffing a bottle, whoever controlled Cuba controlled, or had the option to control; shipping that would leave the gulf. For decades the US had talked about purchasing the island from Spain but nothing ever came of it. By the end of the 19th century Spain was sufficiently weak enough, with a growing armed rebellion, lead to the United States intervening. The US won and up until 1902 the United States exercised formal control over the island. From then on, up until the over through of Batista the United States maintained a strong economic, political, and military influence over the island. Too this day the US still holds Guantanamo bay, situated on the eastern end of the island, which despite its notoriety in the American public as a prison base, and primarily exists to act as a forward station to intercept any hostile nation before it could close off the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
When the US government discovered that the Soviet Union was trying to place medium and intermediate ranged ballistic missiles it caused a worldwide crisis that threatened to drive the world to the brink of nuclear war. Now the desire to keep nuclear missiles away from nations near the US was a core concern, yet there is another aspect to consider as well. Whether or not a nuclear conflict would erupt, the presence of soviet offensive military systems was intolerable simply because such a system would require a significant Soviet presence. The Cubans would not control the missiles, it would be Soviet soldiers in Cuba, and with the soldiers manning the missiles there would be the logistical support team behind it. In the end this would mean a large increase in the amount of Soviet forces stationed on the island, and would give the Soviet Union an opportunity to blockade the gulf if non-nuclear conflict ever erupted. In the ended the conflict was resolved when the Soviet leader called off the 60 ship Navy from going to Cuba, in return the United States dismantled its offensive nuclear system in Turkey
In the realm of geopolitics each nations has goals, and when they are achieved, or when they aren’t achieved, new goals are created. Each nation will strive to achieve the best possible position that it can. And for the United States, that is to ensure the safety of its life blood. As long as the United States controls the Mississippi, and as long as it can ensure unfettered access from the Mississippi to the oceans, the US will always be a great power. Possessing Hawaii and the pacific coast aren’t core interest in ensuring the Nations ultimate economic well-being, though possessing them certainly offers tremendous advantages and abilities. It is imperative to remember that nations take actions according to the reality that they live in, and not according to some political ideology. Everything a nation does, it does because it feels that it is advantageous for it to do so, and if it ever gives up on its goals it is either because it was unable to do so, or the cost of achieving those goals were higher than the relative benefit. For the United States protecting the heartland is imperative, and it has done so surprisingly well.