Thursday, November 26, 2015

THANKSGIVING: Don’t call it Turkey Day

(first published November 22, 2012)

Pence writes:

Thanksgiving Day is an embarrassing holiday for the atheists. Whom shall one thank?

Goodhearted nonbelievers first turned the day from a formal national day of prayer to a rekindling of an earlier bliss betwixt Pilgrims and Indians. A little rewriting, and we were thanking the native-born Americans for their ecological wisdom that allowed us a full table. As usual, the guilt-ridden white folk missed the real story.

The Pilgrim parable was soon debunked by Indian activists who reminded the well-meaning storytellers that the only gifts white men gave Indians were smallpox blankets. The Green Indian refused his role and asked instead: “Who wants to celebrate that, white man?”

Luckily, an adaptable culture which sacralizes appetite had an answer. Getting back to the basics, there was a surge to elevate not “Whom We Thank” but “What We Eat.” Turkey Day was proclaimed!

No more messy cross-cultural narratives. Instead of asking that our sins be forgiven, a turkey was pardoned and the whole affair was consummated in a next-day orgy of shopping called Black Friday. That spin-off Feast Day is demanding a vigil service of its own, which may drive the whole embarrassment of public thanksgiving back in the memory hole where school prayer now abides.

Contrast Black Friday Eve with George Washington’s understanding of Thanksgiving Day in the first sentence of his 1789 Proclamation:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to recognize the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…” 
Contrast Turkey Day with the content of his prayer:
“And also that we may unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions -- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually…” 
This is a day as a nation we are supposed to perform a religious duty -- to ask forgiveness and give thanks to a Divine Ruler who governs not only the lives of men, but the public communal forms of men: the nations. That is what Congress requested Washington to declare; and that is what this national day of prayer for forgiveness and thanksgiving is still meant to be. Thanks be to God.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Andrew Lynch's essay.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Map on Monday: THE GULF STATES

An Introduction to the Religious, Ethnic, and Geopolitical Makeup of the Persian Gulf Region
By A. Joseph Lynch 

The map above depicts the eight nations surrounding the Persian Gulf: Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran. Over 1/2 the world's oil reserves and 1/3 of the natural gas reserves are in this Islamic region marked by deep ethnic loyalties and religious divisions. Seven of the eight Gulf states have an Arab majority, but the largest state (Iran) is Persian. There are five Arab-majority Sunni states while Iraq, Bahrain, and Iran are mostly Shiite. Any military conflict in the region threatens world energy supplies. Consider the Strait of Hormuz at the eastern end of the Persian Gulf. Approximately 23% of the world's oil traded by sea passes through the Strait, which at its narrowest point is only 21 nautical miles across (see map below). Ships from the Persian Gulf travel through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman, before taking to the open seas.

The Strait of Hormuz: Twenty-four miles across at its narrowest where Iran and an Oman-controlled peninsular tip face each other across the strait.

Click to enlarge
Examining the region clockwise beginning with Oman (population 3.6 million), we find that Oman's main geographical orientation faces the Arabian Sea to the east and the Gulf of Oman to the north, with the capital of Muscat strategically located roughly in between each. Oman also owns the strategic "Gibraltar of the Gulf" -- a peninsular enclave (Musandam Peninsula) facing Iran across the Strait of Hormuz and separated from mainland Oman by  the UAE.  Oman's absolute monarchy has been led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said since 1970, making him the longest reigning ruler in the region. Oman has a long-standing moderate foreign policy with a cordial relationship with Iran. The majority religion is Ibadi Islam which predates the Sunni/Shia split. It is highly puritanical in theology but more moderate in relations with other Muslims than the Wahhabis. Unlike its Yemeni neighbors, Oman is a relatively peaceful nation, protected by a 25,000-man army, 36 combat aircraft, and a navy with ten surface warships.

The United Arab Emirates (population 9.3 million) is, as its name suggests, a union of seven separate Arab emirates (an emirate is a principality ruled by an emir) with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi serving as its capital. Each emirate is itself ruled by an absolute monarch and one of these monarchs is selected to act as president of the nation. The U.A.E. boasts the fourth largest oil supply in the world, giving it an important place in world affairs despite its small landmass. It has a strong, Sunni Islam-oriented foreign policy and was, until September 11, 2001, one of the only three nations (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the others) to recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The UAE were major financial backers of  General Abdel el-Sisi and the Egyptian military coup against President Mohammed Morsi and the elected Muslim Brotherhood. In the Sunni republican-populist vs monarchy movements, the U.A.E. is monarchical. The U.A.E. has a 65,000-man army and is rapidly expanding its military.

Click to enlarge
Qatar (population 2.2 million) and Bahrain (population 1.3 million) are the two smallest and often-overlooked Gulf states. While Qatar sits on a peninsula jutting into the Gulf, Bahrain is an island nation within the Gulf itself located northwest of Qatar. Bahrain is, however, physically connected to mainland Saudi Arabia via the King Faud Causeway. Qatar's capital of Doha sits on its east coast; while Bahrain's capital of Manama is found on the north coast.

Qatar strongly backs Sunni religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and it has given arms to Syrian rebels (both moderate and extreme brands). Qatar has the worst record in the region for fighting terrorism, and most Qataris follow a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Despite this, the United States has strong ties with the Qataris, maintaining CENTCOM's forward regional headquarters at Qatar's Al Udeid Air Base. Qatar's government funds the most influential venture in Arab television: Al Jazeera Network. Qatar is a force inside the Wahhabi movement that is often at odds with the Saudi monarchs. Their support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and more populous forms of Salafism ultimately threatens the hereditary rulers of the House of Saud.

Bahrain is one of the three Gulf States to have a Shiite majority. A Sunni king, however, rules the nation and put down a 2011 "Arab Spring" Shiite uprising with the help of 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and another 500 from the United Arab Emirates. Some 80 civilians died in the uprising and 65% of those arrested reported being tortured. Like Qatar, Bahrain has strong U.S. ties, hosting the U.S. 5th Fleet at Manama.

Gulf Cooperation Council states
Saudi Arabia (population 28.8 million) and Kuwait (population 3.4 million), together with Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman are the Gulf's Sunni Islam majority states, with Bahrain controlled by a Sunni government. Unsurprisingly, it is these six Gulf states that formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. Centered in Riyadh, these states today form a Saudi-led, anti-Iranian, anti-Shiite bloc in the region. Over the last two years,  there has been discussion of forming a "Gulf Union" of the six states, somewhat similar to the European Union. They have also created a NATO-like military organization called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF). It was this military organization that put down the Shiite uprising in Bahrain -- and it appears to be playing another anti-Shiite role in Yemen today. While Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controls much of Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council has labeled the Shiite takeover of the nation a "terrorist" act and has begun a military campaign, not against the Sunni-led Al Qaeda but against the Shiites who wish to fight Al Qaeda.

Iraq (population 33.4 million) and Iran (population 77.5 million) together comprise (with Bahrain) the Shiite nations of the Gulf region. With more than double Saudi Arabia's population, Iran is clearly the largest Gulf state (for more information about Iran, see this previous Map on Monday post). Iraq (36% Shiite, 25% Sunni, and 39% of various religions with Christianity being the largest) has increasingly looked eastward to Shiite-Persian Iran in recent years. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the elected Shiite government has been attacked as illegitimate by radical Sunni forces from outside and inside the country. The Sunni north merging with the majority Sunnis of Syria are under the sway of ISIS while  the Kurdish (Sunni) northeast becomes increasingly independent of Baghdad. What remains under Iraqi control is the Shiite-dominated south. The dream of an undivided caliphate under radical Sunni rule has driven the Shiite states of Iraq and Iran (which has the longest coastline with the Persian Gulf) into an alliance with Assad's Syrian coastal state on the Mediterranean. Assad, like the Houthis of Yemen, practices a distant variant of Shiite Islam. They are united, not so much as fellow Shiites, as fellow enemies of the Sunni purification movement. For this reason, Iran and Iraq seek the destruction of ISIS, while Sunni Gulf States (along with Sunni Turkey) watch the fighting from a distance in hopes of seeing Shiite armies weakened in battle.

American military institutions are based in the midst of this growing conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, because of his understandable fear of Iran, is attempting to exploit the religious, historical, and geographic ignorance of American policymakers to draw us into war with Iran whom he see as an existential threat. But taking a step backward and seeing the Gulf as a whole and the Sunni salafist nature of the worldwide terrorist threat in Asia, Russia, and America, the strategic question for the United States remains. That is, in the Sunni/Shiite religious war: Whose side are we on?

(This article first appeared on Anthropology of Accord - April 13, 2015)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bending the knee to "Christ the King of Fearful Majesty" as we head into Advent

(first published November 25, 2011)

"Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice."   (Gospel of St. John)

Dr. Pence writes:

The liturgical year of the Church ends with this feast day to remind us how sacred history will come to its fulfillment with the return of Christ as King. Yes, Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior. He is also the Ruler of Nature, the Lord of History, and the Slayer of the Leviathan. When I hear Evangelicals call Jesus their “personal Lord and Savior,” I know the fullness from which they speak and I cannot begrudge the term. When I hear Catholics use that very foreign phrase, I think it's a job demotion for Our Blessed Lord. For we know Him in the Eucharist as we are becoming not his friend, but incorporated in His Body. And we remember his Incarnational transformation of physical nature, and we await his triumphant coming again as Head of the Church and King of History and the nations. Catholics are always living within these three comings of Christ. Maybe because the Eucharist is such an intense physical personal event, we don’t emotionally emphasize our personal relationship with Christ but look, instead, both backward and forward to the actions of the Cosmic King.

We lose something of Christ and a good deal of man if we define Christ solely in terms of soteriology (His saving act toward man). Christ would have been King even if Adam had not fallen, so there is something essential about man and Christ that does not depend on Adam’s sin and Christ as Our Savior. Man is by nature a eusocial orgnism in which all of us are united in some kind of interpersonal union headed by the alpha male. That is our final perfection and it was intended so since the beginning of all creation.  The Liturgical Year offers us special days to contemplate certain truths, which can be under-emphasized by particular cultures and eras. Let us fully understand this final feast in the Church calendar, in order to better greet the baby and receive His Body -- remembering that when the trumpet finally sounds, indeed, he will "bestride the narrow world like a Colossus" and Eternal King


UPDATE -- A stanza from a translation of the 'Te Deum':

"From Thy high celestial home,
 Judge of all, again returning,
 we believe that Thou shalt come
 in the dreaded Doomsday morning;
 when Thy voice shall shake the earth,
 and the startled dead come forth."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, November 21

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


WAHHABIS IN FRANCE: A Belgian neighborhood where one of the French terrorists lived is searched. A man on the street says that Muslim youth there are being radicalized by a form of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism in mosques primarily funded by Saudi Arabia. In this balanced piece of journalism, a Belgian "political scientist" is found who assures us it can't be that simple.

PUTIN - ALLY, NOT ENEMY: The French may be the first to say clearly that Russia is our ally and, a bit later, that Saudi Arabia is an enemy. Commentator Doug Tice at the StarTribune breaks the news gently that Putin may be the man.

PROBLEMS WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL RIGHT: Pat Buchanan takes apart the Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush plans to fight the wrong enemy. They criticize President Obama for no winning strategy against ISIS. They fail the same test. And as Russia has a plane taken down by ISIS and joins France in attacking them, Republican candidates Chris Christie and Ben Carson show their toughness by assuring listeners that Russian planes in a no-fly zone in Syria will get shot down. All the Republican candidates are ready to fight, but whom we should be shooting still needs to be worked out by cooler, more experienced, men than they.

IN THE PRESS: The 'American Conservative' magazine has been hands off IN THE BATTLE AGAINST ISIS but here they accept the necessity for war and realistically name allies that will define the shape of the battle.

UKRAINE, EUROPE, AND THE GAY LITMUS TEST: The author here declares the values of Europe and asserts Ukraine is not ready for the brave new world of atheism, abortion, and sodomy. The foreign policy establishment in the media and our State Department have drunk heavily of the Kool-Aid of the sexual left. To them, to accept modernity (European or Western values) is to reject traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as well as the patriarchal structure of all the major eastern civilizations. This is not a clash among civilizations, but a clash of religious and ethnic civilizations of humanity against the technological prowess of Western nihilism.


SAUDIS LOSING GROUND AS GULF STATES LOOK FOR OTHER ALLIES: Last week we cited the beginning of talks between Qatar and Iran. This week we note Oman looking East. Oman has a population of three million. The majority are neither Sunni or Shia but Ibadi Muslim. They provided the site for the Iran - USA nuclear talks. Saudi Arabia seems stuck in Yemen where many more people have died this week from the hand of religious terrorists than in France.

THE SALAFIST SUNNI WAR COMES ALSO FROM THE PAKISTANI TALIBAN: You see a horrible headline that a nine-year-old girl is beheaded in Afghanistan. You hear she is a Hazari. Ask what that means. She might have been Houthi in Yemen. Why was she killed? It takes a while for the article to tell you, but remember violence is only senseless for those who have not developed deeper sensibilities. This is more evidence of the least discussed part of the religious war in both the Mideast and South Asia - the war of Salafist Sunnis against Shiites. In South Asia the source of that movement is in Pakistan. There is a strong anti-Salafist movement in Pakistan but it cannot be too loud. The most powerful forces who have fought and named this enemy are Afghanistan and India. The Pakistan military has always feared that those two countries could form an encircling alliance against them. China too wants to support the anti-Taliban parts of the Pakistan government and they are investing heavily in infrastructure there. As US policy attests, it is not always easy to know who you are helping and who you are fighting.

ISRAEL AND THE SAUDIS: Israel has always been forced to make allies with countries in the Mideast who have denied their right to existence and in public sought their destruction. Their present strategy of linking with Saudi Arabia may have run its course as some begin to ask if a shift to the Shia might be in order.

THE LEBANESE FRONT: The bombing of Shiites in Lebanon with no military objective other than killing Shiites was treated as a strike against Hezbollah in the press. We have all learned to hate Hezbollah as terrorists. Read this account of that bombing and a few chilling quotes about the religious extermination program against Shiites by ISIS. The next Mideast battleground is Lebanon. The Shiites (Hezbollah) and the Christian Maronites will be the primary targets (and natural allies) as ISIS and Al Qaeda battle to be the face of Sunni Islam. All who wish to defend Christian Maronites will accept an alliance with Hezbollah and other Shia as we search for Sunni states and coalitions to contend for the mantle of Sunni leadership. This will mean untying the bond with Saudi Arabia and condemning their bombing of Houthi Shia as one more front in their murderous campaign of Salafist purification.


BELGIUM VS NIGERIA: Guess which bishops embrace Christ and shun homosexuality? Guess which Church is growing and which is decaying?

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: A Canadian Bishop says throw ladies a bone and make them deacons. A lady says let's elevate women and restore the order of virgins. I am pretty sure it is "inappropriate" to say I would like to hug this lady and give her a brotherly kiss, but what a beautiful article showing such a deeper wisdom than the stammering cleric. Pope Francis said that those who wish to give women Holy Orders do not understand the high nature of womanhood and are guilty of clericalism. Our heroine Jenna Cooper fleshes out his argument.

ECUMENISM OF FRANCIS: Meanwhile the Pope says what he thinks but cannot act upon in terms of communion for a Lutheran wife. He respects his office too much to give permission but he respects his conscience (a very prayer-filled one by the way) too much not to answer her honestly.

CHRISTIAN ECUMENISM: The Hall of Men - a great idea for men in Wichita.



POLITICAL TRIALS: Here are the most powerful New York liberals and legislators headed to jail for their peculiar take on cleaning up the environment. Keeping a bipartisan spirit the Republican State Senate boss and his son have a trial of their own.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: Black Lives Matter on Dartmouth campus takes a particularly virulent form.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday BookReview: G.M. Hopkins on CHRIST THE KING

"What a manly man is this chevalier!"

Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (d. 1889) wrote this poem, 'The Windhover,' about the glory and majesty of the everlasting King of Kings. Take a listen.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn
Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,
and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:
the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Mitchell Kalpakgian does a good job of explaining Father Hopkins' intent. An excerpt:
"Christ the King moves and acts in His dominion– all of Nature and Creation—with the same all-powerful, all-encompassing regality that the windhover’s flight encircles in the beautiful grace of its movements... 
"This 'brute beauty' of manliness that Christ the noble king, the chivalrous 'chevalier,' epitomizes is strength revealed in the form of love, service, sacrifice, and protection— the beauty of masculine goodness that is willing to die and shed blood for the ones it loves, to 'fall' and 'gall' and 'gash gold vermilion' in the ultimate act..."

And this from a reader review:
"When I was a freshman in college and completely out of my depth in Lit 1, the teacher assigned this among other works... I found my encounters with G.M. Hopkins to be the most profound. I wasn't religious and hadn't a clue about Catholicism, which informs his poetry, yet its intense, clotted rhyme schemes, the spikey spirituality and the way Hopkins invented terms to describe his method ('inscape' for one's interior psychological landscape) just clicked. 
"I recently met with a young Japanese national studying and working in Hawaii who had been given a copy of the same edition I had assigned to me in 1970. Her hands trembled as she opened the book to 'The Windhover.' She asked, in that way readers will, 'Have you ever read this?' I quoted the opening lines. Still magic."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul

by David Pence

The Catholic Church -- like mankind itself -- is built on a patriarchal fraternity.  St. Peter and St. Paul drank of the Lord's Chalice and were both martyred in Rome. Their tombs were pilgrimage destinations from the beginning. The basilicas were built over their sacred remains by Constantine in the 4th century, and then refurbished and rededicated in later centuries. The Apostolic Church is centered in Rome where the graves of the martyred blood brothers signal the early development of Christ's Body as surely as Bethlehem and Nazareth.  

Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

Interior of St Paul's

Basilica of St Peter

The Chair of Peter upheld by
Saints Ambrose, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine

Monday, November 16, 2015


The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Southeast Asia

by A. Joseph Lynch 

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Mainland southeast Asia forms a long, north-south peninsula bordered by (from northeast to northwest) the Gulf of Tonkin, the South China Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, the Strait of Malacca, the Andaman Sea, and the Bay of Bengal. Within the boundaries of these waters may be found the five nations of this regional post: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (or Burma). At roughly the size of Texas, Myanmar is by far the largest nation in the region. The rest, compared to US states, fall into the following order: Thailand (larger than California), Vietnam (New Mexico), Laos (Minnesota), and Cambodia (North Dakota).

The physical geography of the region is marked by a mountainous north, with ranges extending southwards along Vietnam's border with Laos and Cambodia, and down the Kra Isthmus dividing Myanmar and Thailand. The region's lowlands are generally minimal, with Vietnam's low-lying coastal plains wedged in between the mountains and the sea. Myanmar's central valley region extends southward toward the Andaman Sea with mountain chains running along its east and west. Cambodia and south-central Thailand (the "rice bowl of Asia"), however, enjoy the benefits of the Mekong and Chao Phraya river systems and the low-lying areas for agriculture.

The region's climate is dominated by a monsoon cycle of wet, humid, hot summers and dry winters. Natural resources vary from nation to nation, with Thailand rich in tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, and arable land; while Laos is relatively poor in resources beyond its dense forests, and some deposits of gypsum, tin, and gold. Vietnam's access to the South China Sea makes it a regional competitor for natural energy resources like gas and oil, but it is also rich in coal, iron ore, and copper. Cambodia's limited natural resources include its forests, energy resources in the Gulf of Thailand, along with some moderate amounts of mineral resources. Myanmar is a mineral-rich nation with an estimated ten trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its coast - but its state of extreme low development often leaves its resources untapped.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

With the exception of Myanmar's 135 distinct ethnic groups, the region's nations are each relatively uniform in ethnicity. Roughly 96% of Thailand's inhabitants are ethnic Thais, while 90% of Cambodians are of Khmer descent. About 86% of Vietnamese are of the Viet ethnicity and 60% of the population of Laos are ethnic Laos. Myanmar, despite its vast ethnic diversity, remains 68% ethnic Bamar and 10% Shan (both peoples originate in south China's Yunnan region). Myanmar, however, has seen years of internal conflict with the ill-treated Shan forging a national movement and waging guerrilla wars for independence.

The region's majority languages are formed by the Austro-Asiatic Languages ("austro" meaning "south") spoken in Vietnam (i.e. Vietnamese) and Cambodia (i.e. Khmer) and the Tai-Kadai Languages of Laos (i.e. Lao), Thailand (i.e. Thai), and part of Myanmar (i.e. Shan). Myanmar is also home to the Burmese language related to the broader Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The colonial history of Britain and France has also left a lasting French and English presence in the region. Beyond these languages, however, is a host of diverse languages rooted in the region's small ethnic groups.

Theravāda Buddhism is the most practiced religion in the region with 67% of Laos, 80%-89% of Burmese, 95% of Thais, and 97% of Cambodians adhering to the religion. The path to enlightenment and Nirvana in Theravāda Buddhism is marked by a seven-stage Path of Purification: (1) Purification of Conduct, (2) Purification of Mind, (3) Purification of View, (4) Purification by Overcoming Doubt, (5) Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path, (6) Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice, and (7) Purification by Knowledge and Vision. This Path of Purification was written around the year AD 430 by Buddhaghosa, whose works comprise the orthodox understanding of Theravāda Buddhist doctrine and systematized summations of Buddha's teachings.

Almost half of Vietnamese, however, practice indigenous religions while decades of Communist rule have left roughly 30% practicing no religion.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Bordering the nations of this regional post are other important actors in the broader southeast Asia: Malaysia (and Singapore), Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and China.

Located between the two larger land powers of China and India has left southeast Asia more or less vulnerable to outside forces. Its mountainous north and west has, however, helped discourage would-be attackers. The region has historically been more open to invasion from south China, making northern Vietnam and Laos most likely to face outside attacks. Internal mountain and river systems have helped create stable boundaries between the region's nations. In addition to aiding boundaries, river systems in the region have also facilitated communication and commerce.

The area as a whole came under the influence of French and British colonial powers. French control extended to what is today Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos while the British controlled present-day Myanmar. The region played an important role in World War II but soon found itself caught up in the post-colonial Cold War. Communist rule briefly came to Cambodia through the Khmer Rouge and the United States fought communism in Vietnam from roughly 1965-75. Today Laos and Vietnam remain, with China, Cuba, and North Korea, communist states.

Some Additional Resources 

For more information on Cambodia, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Laos, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Myanmar, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Thailand, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.
For more information on Vietnam, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook.

See also the video from Geography Now! on Cambodia.