When retirees scan maps, it's usually to find the most scenic route to Niagara Falls for a second honeymoon, or to Yellowstone for a peek at Old Faithful, or perhaps Pinehurst, N.C., for golf.
Marty Miller, who died of esophageal cancer July 9 at age 88, had another goal. In retirement, the Silver Spring resident and former Treasury Department employee began a self-described crusade to change how U.S. government maps showed the political status of the West Bank of the Jordan River. "Getting the United States Government to stop our official maps from incorrectly depicting Israel as an interloper in the Middle East became my passion," he wrote in an unpublished memoir.
The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Miller was an "enthusiastic Zionist," a daughter said. Also secular, he was far from a zealot and never identified himself with the settlement movement that spurred much Arab anger. However, the mapping errors angered him.
In 1981, when he first noticed the errors, State Department and CIA maps assigned the West Bank to Jordan, even though the land was not internationally recognized that way. The West Bank was considered disputed territory that Israel had administered since the Six-Day War in 1967.
Miller later wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: "The consequence has been that a person looking at a map of the 'West Bank' has asked himself, 'What business does Israel have here? This is part of Jordan.' Israel is labeled a transgressor and, consciously or not, government policymakers have been influenced in their attitude toward Israeli actions in the area."
After his eight-year struggle, he got the State Department and CIA to acknowledge their inaccuracies. In the process, he became a minor hero to the Israeli press.
Martin H. Miller -- he invented his middle initial -- was a spunky youngster growing up in Cleveland. As a 12-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was dubbed a "sure-fire salesman" by his supervisor.
One day in junior high, he wrote a letter to the local congressman asking for back copies of the Congressional Record, and the volumes soon begin arriving in bulk at the family's small home. They intimidated nearly everyone in the family, and his parents, concerned with being good citizens, were scared to throw them out.
"I do not think the congressman had any idea he was writing to a kid," said Daniel Miller, 82, of Pittsfield, Mass., the only surviving of six siblings.
Marty, he said, "was crazy about policy, crazy about politics and crazy about the printed word."
While ascending at the Treasury Department -- revitalizing the savings bond division -- Miller taught himself photography and became by the late 1960s one of the top-exhibited amateurs in the country.
His work as a map iconoclast began on Nov. 3, 1981 -- "a sparkling day," he told his diary. He lunched with a daughter, Marjorie Gustafson of Bethesda, and meandered past his old office at the Treasury Department. He processed with some rage a news report that morning about the State Department's removal of Israel from a display map of the Middle East during an official visit by Jordan's King Hussein.
Along Pennsylvania Avenue, he wandered into a bookstore that specialized in U.S. government texts. Browsing, he opened a publication whose title intrigued him -- "Status of the World's Nations" -- and that featured the West Bank inaccuracy.
He wrote Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. "My dear Mr. Secretary," he began and, after several paragraphs, finished: "Are your cartographers trying to suggest how to solve the problems of the Middle East?"
He contacted the State Department's Office of the Geographer. He asked his local congressman for help. He spoke with ranking officials at the State Department and CIA, including Haig and his successor at State, George P. Shultz, who was Miller's old chief at Treasury.
Carrying scores of documents, Miller said he tried to approach his case in a "factual rather than ideological" manner. For years, he received vague promises that the matter was "under review." He tried to engage the media as well as editors of atlases and encyclopedias, but said editors dismissed him with a curt "we will just have to agree to disagree."
Changes to the maps and background notes in the CIA's World Factbook and other publications came gradually, one small win spurring another. His dogged work also paid off with letters of appreciation from correspondents, including Shultz and the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Miller himself gave credit in his memoirs to a country "where an ordinary citizen can make a case for changes." And in retirement, as during his working life, he said that to get something accomplished, "I always went to the top."