Showing posts with label 20th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 20th century. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Chilly Neighborhood Relations-the Dew Line

I know, objectively, that the Cold War was a serious matter, and that it caused some major political tensions all across the globe, but in retrospect, it's a little funny. The sheer amount of paranoia and fear of communist nations caused the United States to do some crazy things, and occasionally they dragged Canada, the mild mannered cousin of North America, into their nonsense. There's lots of crazy shenanigans to talk about, but today let's focus on the time that America essentially built a fence in the middle of Canada's yard, and Canada had to pretend that they were cool with it so the local Homeowner's Association didn't think they were weak.

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Greenland DEW Station
Brought to you by AT&T, the Distant Early Warning Radar Line, or the DEW line, is a line of radar stations stretching from the arctic coasts of east of Alaska to the ice sheets of Greenland. Mostly abandoned now, the DEW line was constructed in the late 1950s to provide early warnings should the Soviet Union decide to launch nuclear missals so far north they started to come south.

This genius idea was the brain child of American scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Robert A. Lovett, the US Secretary of Defense, latched onto the idea immediately. Before even pitching the idea to his counterparts in Ottawa, he called up Cleo F. Craig, CEO of AT&T, and asked him to start working on something. Craig put his best men on the job.

When Lovett did get around to telling the Canadians his plans, the Canadian government was less than amused. While they had signed a treaty in the 1940's saying that they wouldn't allow foreign attackers into America from their territory, and despite the fact that Canada was in just as much danger from a Soviet attack as Russia was, Ottawa had several reservations, mainly the cost and the loss of sovereignty over their Arctic territories.

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Black dots are DEW stations
Canada has always been a bit sensitive about its Arctic regions. While the Canadian government has had very little interest in developing the Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories, they sure want to hang on to them. The American government sniffing around the arctic wasn't uncommon, and lead to Canadian efforts like the relocation of the Arctic Exiles  to keep the Americans out. Since it was proposed that American military personnel would build and staff the stations on the DEW line, the Canadian government was worried that de facto arctic sovereignty would pass to the United States due to lack of Canadian presence.

Additionally, the Canadian economy wasn't doing too great. They were already spending half of their budget on defense, and the money required to build the DEW Line would require increasing their military budget by 6%. Canada just wasn't down for that.

However, Canada needed to keep up appearances. They instructed their PR teams to only refer to the DEW line as a joint project between the US and Canada, and to make sure that it didn't seem as if the US was giving Canada aid. Once the line was finished, several members of the RCMP (mounties), were sent to Stations on the DEW line. As many Canadians were put into leadership positions as possible. Canada did their best to make it seem like the DEW line had been their idea.

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DEW emblem
The United States also built a little bit of that fence in Greenland's yard, however, as far as my research proves, the Greenlanders didn't really care. It's possible that there was a massive uproar, but it's also very possible that both Copenhagen and Nuuk just didn't care about the United States challenging its arctic sovereignty. Historically, because of its inhospitable climate very few nations have actually wanted to own Greenland, though should the nation start tapping its plentiful oil wells, that could certainly change. The stations in Greenland were more of an after thought than anything; no one seriously expected a Soviet attack through Greenland.

The DEW line was abandoned in 1985 in favor of the Northern Warning System. Many of the stations were dismantled, and hauled away for parts but there are still several abandoned stations across Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Building it took three years, and cost something around 750,000 million United States dollars.

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Sources
Adventures from the Coldest Part of the Cold War
The Distant Early Warning Line, and the Canadian Battle for Public Perception
Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line)
DYE-2 A Relic From a Not So Distant Past
The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Knud Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen was an Inuit-Danish explorer who established trading stations across Greenland, and made a thorough documentation of the folklore, traditions, and existence of all the Inuit tribes across Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Though he died at only 54, he's a Danish national hero, and a hero to anyone interested in arctic exploration.

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Knud Rasmussen
Born in Ilulissat Greenland in 1879, Knud was the son of a Danish missionary and a part Inuit Danish settler. He grew up among the Inuit, being educated with all the other Inuit children. He learned how to kayak, fish, hunt, and travel by dogsled. He very much considered himself one of the Inuit children, and he struggled severely when his family moved to Copenhagen in 1891. Denmark didn't agree with Knud, and he only barely managed to graduate from high school. He briefly pursued a career as an actor and an opera singer, but was unsuccessful. He never attended university.

Despite his lack of university education, Knud accompanied Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen on an expedition to Iceland in 1900. The two hit it off, and started planning an expedition to Greenland. That expedition would come to be known as the Greenland Literary Expedition, and it lasted from 1902-1904.

The goal of the Greenland Literary Expedition was to study Inuit culture, and Knud certainly studied enough culture to be able to write a whole book about it, then go on a lecture circuit of Denmark. Knud was doing well financially and personally. In 1908 he married Dagmar Andersen.

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Knud and Inuit during the Third Thule Expedition
Knud couldn't sit still for long though. In 1910 he and Peter Freuchen went back to Greenland to establish a trading station. This station at Uummannaq was known as the Thule trading base, and became the launching pad for Rasmussen's seven expeditions across the polar north.

His expeditions, which later came to be known as the Thule expeditions, are what garnered Rasmussen his real fame. The first Thule expedition mapped the northwest passage by dogsled. The second explored the north coast of Greenland. The third Thule expedition built a depot. The fourth expedition Rasmussen gathered stories and cultural information from the Inuit in eastern Greenland. The fifth saw him cross Greenland, and the entire arctic of North America by dogsled. He would have crossed Russia as well, but he was unable to get a visa. The sixth and seventh Thule expeditions were official Danish attempts to claim sovereignty over Eastern Greenland.

During the seventh expedition Knud suffered from food poisoning, and then pneumonia. He was shipped back to Copenhagen to recover, but the doctors were unable to save him. Knud Rasmussen passed away in December of 1933.

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Statue of Knud in Copenhagen
Rasmussen left behind an enormous legacy. He wrote some four books, and left behind innumerable journals and letters. He collected thousands of pictures and lithographs of the Inuit and Inuit artifacts at the time, and he is widely considered to be the father of the modern study of the Inuit.

While Knud is quite famous in Denmark and Greenland, he's not well known in other countries. This is because all of the writing he left behind is in Danish, and his works tend to be ignored in favor of works written in English by native English speakers. However, the first English language biography of Knud was released in 2015, and a Canadian film about his expeditions was made in 2006. Hopefully this will be the start of a trend of memorializing this amazing man.



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Sources
Rasmussen, Knud Johan Victor (1879-1933)--Encyclopedia of World Biography
This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretle Ehrlich
Knud Rassmussen--Britannica
Knud Rasmussen-Arctic Thule
Knud Rasmussen-Knud Rasmussens Hus
White Es*imo: How Knud Rasmussen Opened the World to Arctic Travel

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kennewick Man

You know that moment? That awkward moment when you're testing the bones of you latest suspected murder victim, and that victim happens to be more than 8,000 years old? Well coroner Floyd Johnson and archaeologist James Chatter found themselves in this exact situation in 1996.

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Facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man
On July 28, 1996 two hikers found a human skull by the Columbia river. They turned it over to the police, who turned it over to Floyd Johnson, the Benton country coroner. Suspecting that the skull had Native American connections, and knowing that the skull was very, very old, Johnson called in his archaeologist friend James Chatter. Chatter was able to excavate the rest of the body from the riverbank, and after sending a finger bone for analysis, they found out that the skeleton was more than 8,000 years old.

Here's where things get complicated. See, the land that the skull and skeleton were found on was being administered by the Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp of Engineers was in negotiations with local American Indian tribes over salmon fishing rights, and the Corp of Engineers were eager to appease the tribes, who demanded that the skeleton be handed over immediately for reburial.*

The tribes believed that Kennewick man was their distant ancestor, a belief proved by science in 2006. A body being buried, and remaining buried is an important part of Native American religion, which is why they wanted Kennewick Man returned for reburial.

As you might imagine, many scientists were more than a little dismayed, after all, how often do you come across an 8,000 year old skeleton? So, naturally, Smithsonian institute scientist Douglas Owsley, along with a few other scientists, decided to file a lawsuit against the US government.

What ensued was a 20 year legal battle over whether or not the skeleton could be studied. In the end the remains were given back to the Utilla tribe, and were reburied in February of 2017. Luckily for historians and scientists though, some research was done on the bones before they were reburied.

The findings of the analysis of Kennewick Man's skeletons completely changed the theories about how First Nation people ended up in North America. Previous theories said that First Nation people had most likely crossed on a land bridge between modern Russia and Alaska. Further studies confirmed that First Nation people could have sailed from the Japan area, keeping close to the shore to provide food for themselves. The sea-food rich diet that Kennewick Man ate adds strength to this theory.
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The skeleton
You can learn a lot from bones, and a lot was learned from Kennewick man. There were tissue markers indicating that was right handed, and threw something (most likely a spear) quite frequently The markers suggest that he was throwing at a downward angle, suggesting that he was spear hunting for fish--a hypothesis his marine life diet certainly supports. There was further evidence suggestion that Kennewick man was very tough. He was in pain for most of his life, he had several ribs that broke, but never healed properly, there was a fracture in his shoulder, and he lived more than half of his life with a stone spear point embedded into his hip.

Kennewick man has been reburied, and it is unlikely that he will ever resurface, however scientists managed to glean enough information from him in their limited time of study to write a 680 page book about him. Their findings will continue to serve as an invaluable resource for archaeologists who study pre-history in North America.

*NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) is a law passed in 1990 that provides for the return of Native American remains and some artifacts to the tribes who own them. This was the law invoked by tribes concerning Kennewick man.

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Sources
"Who Was Kennewick Man" by Reuben Flores, American Mosaic December 2015
Kennewick Man, The Ancient One
The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The High Arctic Exiles OR The Time the Canadian Government Abandoned 92 Inuit in the High Arctic

It's 1950, and the Cold War is downright frigid. The Russians and the Americans are sniffing around Canada's arctic islands, and Canada needs to assert its sovereignty. So what do they do? They force around 92 people to leave their homes in more reasonable climes, and move them to the high arctic. Sound like a human rights abuse? That's because it is. Or if it isn't, it should be. However, because it happened to First Nation people, nobody cared. It wasn't until 2011 that Canadian government finally acknowledge the immorality of what they had done, and apologized for the suffering of the Arctic people.


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Resolute, 1953
The town of Inukjuak, located in northern Quebec, was the original home of many of these exiles. It was, and still is, home to a large Inuit population. In 1953 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) swept through the community, looking for volunteers to go live in the towns of Resolute and Grise Fiord in what is today Nunavut. The stated reasoning behind this was that the Canadian government was worried that the area around Inukjuak was becoming over-hunted, and would no longer be able to support the local population. The RCMP promised plentiful hunting and a better life to people who made the move, as well as the opportunity to come back to Inukjuak after two years should those who relocated wish to return. Several families eagerly agreed, and they set off for their new homes in the C.D. Howe.

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From Inukjuak to Resolute and Grise Fiord
Or so the Canadian government claims. The Inuit who actually made the move tell a far different story. Instead of being asked politely to move the RCMP brutally harassed, and all but forced the families to make the move. The Inuit were told that upon arriving in Resolute and Grise Fiord there would be houses, clothes, and boats for hunting waiting for them. They were promised that their families wouldn't be split up. The RCMP spun a tale of a life with better hunting and good employment opportunities, with, of course, the offer that anyone who didn't like it up north could come back after two years. The RCMP lied.

Once they were on board this ship the people were told that they would be divided into two communities--one for Resolute and one for Grise Fiord. The Inuit were, to understate, not at all pleased with this, and they were less pleased when they landed and found out that there were no houses, no boats, and no animals to hunt. They had left a city with a school and medical facilities, they were taken to a frozen wasteland.

The Exiles lived in tents that first year. They survived mainly of of seal meat and scraps that they found in the RCMP garbage dump. Finding water was difficult, and catching anything was near impossible. Not only was it always dark, but there were just no animals around to hunt. And in the summer when the birds returned, and on the rare occasion they found a musk ox, the Inuit were unable to shoot them, because they were protected species. When the Inuit asked to go home they were told that it was impossible, and that they needed to stay where they were.

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Monument to the exiles in Grise Fiord.
Though the Canadian government claimed that this was for the good of the Inuit people, there are other theories which seem much more believable. As I mentioned above, the Cold War was positively glacial at the time, and both the US and Canada feared that Russia would attempt to establish a base in the Canadian High Arctic, so they would have a good vantage point to attack North America. To combat this, the US wanted to snatch up the Canadian High Arctic, and basically make it part of Alaska. Canada wasn't down for this.

The problem with the High Arctic was that it was largely uninhabited. Canada could say that it was theirs, but they weren't really doing anything with it, so what would it matter if the US or the USSR took it? The prevailing theory is that the Canadian government sent the Arctic Exiles to Resolute and Grise Fiord as 'human flagpoles' to establish their sovereignty.

The communities of Resolute and Grise Fiord are still running today. Both communities are very small, with less than 400 inhabitants between them. In 1996 the Canadian government offered the Exiles and their families a settlement of $10 million to make up for what they put them through. Much of this money has failed to appear.

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Sources
The High Arctic Relocation
Out in the Cold: The Legacy of Canada's Inuit Relocation Experiment in the High Arctic
Inuit Get Federal Apology for Forced Relocation
Inuit Were Moved 2,000km in Cold War Maneuvering
Exile (documentary)


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Swiss Guard

Officially founded in 1506, the Swiss Guard has been protecting the Bishops of Rome for more than 600 years. Over those 600 years the Guard has held off invasions, fought the Pope's wars, and acted as the Pope's private security force. Today they're the smallest army in the world. Despite their size, the Guard has an illustrious history, and hangs on to many of its traditions, including it's colorful uniforms.

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Pope Francis inspecting the Guard
You wouldn't guess it from Pope Francis, but historically, Pope's didn't usually turn the other cheek. Sure, some performed miracles and invented important things like calendars, but more maneuvered and schemed to keep secular power as well as spiritual power over Europe, even going as far as to send large amounts of armed forces to support their interests. Popes had enormous political power over Europe from the early CEs until shortly after the Reformation, and they needed the forces to back it up. So in 1506 Pope Julius II hired a group of the fiercest fighters in Europe--Swiss mercenaries.

Now, while today's Swiss army may be a hot, incompetent, mess, they were pretty good in the 1500s. Contingents of Swiss mercenaries protected the Kings of France and Spain, and fought for other Italian states as well. Given that the Swiss Cantons were overcrowded, the Swiss government was more than okay with these arrangements. Swiss mercenaries were known, not only for their fighting expertise, but for their loyalty, and when Pope Julius II hired them, they permanently attached themselves to the Vatican.

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The 1527 Sack of Rome
One of the Guard's finest hours was during the Sack of Rome of 1527 by Spanish mercenaries. 147 guards held off a force of 20,000 men long enough for Pope Clement to escape the Vatican. Out of the 189 members of the guard, only the 42 who accompanied the Pope survived.


Members of the Guard are instantly recognizable while on duty. They wear brightly colored red, yellow, and blue uniforms, which would only work as camouflage if they were hiding in a crayola factory. On formal occasion they add 1500s style armor, including morian style helmets with large red or purple feathers. Though their uniform is designed on the clothing the guard would have worn in the 1500s, and done up in the traditional color of the Medici family, the current uniforms were actually designed in 1914. The guards carry halberds--a seven foot long pole arm--on duty, as per tradition, but are also armed with more modern weapons.

Today the Guard are instrumental in protecting the Pope on his travels, watch over visitors to the Vatican, and to watch over the safety of Vatican City. The guard is only open to Swiss males between ages 19 and 30 who are practicing Catholics. While in the guard, guards are required to take an oath of celibacy, as well as swearing to be morally upright at all times.

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Sources
Pontifical Swiss Guard
The Pope's Private Army
Swiss Guard History