MANY thousands of years ago, when the oceans were shallower by several hundred feet because of sea water withdrawn to form the ice caps, Alaska, connected to Asia by a land bridge 500 miles wide at its narrowest, was one of the crossroads of the world. Westward across this bridge travelled the horses and camels which were to play a significant rôle in the history of Asia; eastward came the people who formed the aboriginal population of the Western Hemisphere. But the melting of the ice caps and the submergence of the bridge brought this two-way traffic to a halt. Alaska became one of the forgotten corners of the earth. Down to our own time the territory has been known but to a few people, and its furs, gold and fish have aroused only sporadic interest.
Alaska is near the center of the earth's land mass, which contains all the Great Powers and about 90 percent of the population. Now a global war, and the advent of the air age, have made it again one of the most important areas of the globe. Although the United States has been reluctant to admit its value, the war convinced Americans that their northern territory is not a worthless "lump of ice," nor even a land where adventure and the strenuous life will produce fortunes, but rather a contiguous part of their own country, strategically situated at the new air crossroads of the world. War did more in six years to awaken this new appreciation than did 50 years of devoted work by the apostles of the north. But though the strategic importance of Alaska is now readily admitted, and President Truman's recent recommendation of statehood for the Territory focussed attention upon it, little has been done to make use of the potentialities of the region.
Nearly everyone has seen one of the maps which superimpose Alaska upon the United States in order to demonstrate the size of the Territory: it is one-fifth as large as
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