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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Suez Canal opened opened on November 17, 1869

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) ("The Ballad of East and West," stanza 1)

If M. de Lesseps (wiki) had not been a man of the stuff and stamp of which all great inventors are made, if he had not toiled on to the attainment of his end in spite of every hindrance, the Suez Canal would now exist only on paper... The opening of the new water highway between the East and West will mark an era in the annals of humanity.

~ The Daily Telegraph, London, 26 August 1869

The Suez Canal (wiki) was the greatest feat of organization and engineering of its day, and it served, for a brief moment, as a symbol of all that was right in the world. It was created by dreams and by meticulous organization, by brilliant engineers and by workers looking for their next meal. And then, once the fireworks had faded, the canal began to fade as well. Traveling through Suez today, it is tempting to despair. Barbed wire, overpopulation, rusting ships, and dwindling business stand as rebukes to the vision of de Lesseps.

~Zachary Karabell Parting of the Desert - the Creation of the Suez Canal (2003)*, Epilogue)

Today is the anniversary of the opening in 1869 of the Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, which offers the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The subject of speculation for millennia, the 100-mile long canal was finally realized due to the vision and perseverance of French entrepreneur and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), who convinced the French and Egyptian governments that such a canal was feasible, arranged ample financing, and supervised its construction over ten years, despite enormous engineering challenges. 

In 1875, Great Britain gained majority ownership of the canal to assure easy passage to India and seven years later essentially seized control of Egypt to protect it. Subsequently, de Lesseps attempted to repeat his success by building a similar canal across the Isthmus of Panama but ended in bankruptcy in 1888. 

Here's a brief vintage documentary on the Suez Canal:

And one on the Suez Canal Crisis, precipitated when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser seized and announced his intention to nationalize the canal. France, the United Kingdom, and Israel responded by bombing Cairo on 29 October 1956:

Coincidentally, November 19th will be the anniversary of the birth of de Lesseps in 1805: he's said to have claimed that he had always had "the privilege of being believed without having to prove what one affirms.")

* N.B. A concise and readable history of the conception and building of the Suez Canal.

The text above is adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

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