Beijing to Seattle Railroad

Berengia present day from Wikipedia Commons
Berengia present day by the U.S. Geological Survey on Wikipedia Commons

According to a recent article in the Guardian, China is planning to build a high-speed railway to the United States. The rail trip would take two days to travel through China and Russia, underneath the ocean in the Bering Strait, through Alaska and Canada, before arriving in the continental United States. As the article points out, there are many reasons to doubt the seriousness of this proposal, not the least of which neither the United States or Canada (and perhaps Russia as well) have been consulted. But what is interesting is the historical background to this story, which represents a dream that can neither achieve fruition nor die. James Oliver’s The Bering Strait Crossing, discusses the lengthy history of exactly this idea. Of course, Siberia and Alaska in ancient times were united by Beringia, a land bridge that allowed camels and horses to travel to the Old World, and people to arrive in the Americas. But the two regions have been separated since the end of the last glaciation, when rising sea levels sank Beringia. Oliver’s work discusses the early history of Russian exploration in the Americas, which represented an effort to bring these two regions back into sustained contact. Vitus Bering, a Danish sea captain in the service of the czar, first reached the Western hemisphere on 15 July 1741. This launched a Russian empire in Alaska that endured until 1867, when the Czar sold Alaska to the United States. In the end, Russia’s heartland was too far, and the U.S. dream of manifest destiny was too powerful, for this empire to endure.  But the realization that only a brief stretch of ocean separated Russia from the United States led people to discuss building a railroad to connect the two nations. …

The Mystery of the Arctic Sea

"Sea Victim" by Evgeni Dinev at
“Sea Victim” by Evgeni Dinev at

In July 2009 the world was fascinated by the mystery surrounding the cargo ship the Arctic Sea. American owned, Canadian operated, based in Malta, and with a Russian crew, the ship had taken on a load of timber in Finland, which it was delivering to Algeria. It never arrived. After passing through the English channel, its tracking system was shut off, and the ship disappeared from the world. It was amazing enough that in an era of satellites and modern navigation systems an entire ship could disappear. But then came the remarkable announcement that in July the ship had been taken over by pirates in the waters off Sweden. The men had approached the ship, and -in English- claimed to be police. They took over the ship, and interrogated the crew, before leaving hours later. But first they allegedly had disabled communications equipment and confiscated the crews’ phones. This was unusual enough, as there had been no pirates in the Baltic in living memory, or for centuries for that matter. The ship was in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Even stranger, however, was what happened next- the ship continued on its way without stopping for authorities to investigate the crime (for a timeline of events, click here). …

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