Showing posts with label greenland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label greenland. Show all posts

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Erik the Red and His Green Land

Erik the Red was a larger than life dude who knew how to leave a mark. He got kicked out of Iceland, and settled a previously uninhabited¹ island. In the world's first documented PR stunt, he named the icy wasteland 'Greenland' to entice people to move there, then proceeded to name every geographical feature he came across after himself. Erik was one hell of a dude.
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Erik the Red. What a handsome dude. Look at that
mustache. Hipsters kill for mustaches that
glorious.

Erik was born in Norway, but moved to Iceland after his father, Thorvald, was exiled for 'manslaughter' (read as 'probably murder'). He was called 'The Red' because of his fiery hair, beard, and temper. Also red was the color of the blood on his hands after he continued the family tradition of murder.

While living in the north of Iceland, Erik's thralls inadvertently created a landslide which destroyed the neighboring house. Erik's neighbor was, understandably, irritated. Less understandably, said neighbor decided to kill Erik's thralls. This aggravated Erik, who murdered his neighbor in return. Because of this, in 980 Erik and his family were banished.

Next, Erik moved to the island of Oxney, and picked up the pieces. He restarted his homestead, and all was going well, until he had more troubles with his neighbors. In about 982 Erik lent his setstokkr to his neighbor. Setstokkr were large, rune inscribed beams that held particular religious significance. It was pretty cool of Erik to loan them to his neighbor, but unfortunately his neighbor was rather uncool, and didn't give them back. In retaliation, Erik killed him², and was once again banished. This time he was banished from the entirety of Iceland for three years. Erik was left with two choices. He could sail back to Norway, or he could go somewhere else. Erik chose the latter.

Now, Erik wasn't totally sailing blind. Other vikings had been around the coasts of Greenland before, though none had ever gone ashore. Erik knew that Greenland was out there, so he packed his family in his longship and went. He spent several months navigating around the southern tip of Greenland. He went ashore at Tunulliarfik, and spent the two years after that exploring the country, and naming everything in sight after himself.

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Tunulliarfik fjord, where Erik came ashore
In 985 Erik's exile was up, and he was firmly of the opinion that his new home would be a pretty dope place to start a colony. He named the place 'Greenland' to attract settlers, and sailed back to Iceland. Erik was fairly successful, and managed to convince some 400 people to make the move. 25 ships set out from Iceland in 985, and within a few months, 14 had arrived on Greenland's shores (the rest having wrecked or turned back to Iceland.) They settled in two groups--the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement, with Erik elected leader of the Eastern Settlement. Erik died about 15 years later after a fall from his horse.



¹By Europeans
²Quite frankly, after the number of pens, pencils, bowls, and spoons I've lost to a neighbor, I do not consider this an overreaction on Erik's part.

Sources
Erik the Red-Biography
Erik the Red-Britannica
Erik the Red-Maritime Museum

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Greenland Goes Rogue

You wouldn't think that Greenland would have been a source of contention during World War II. While Greenland may be the world's largest island, it's sparsely inhabited, freezing cold, and just not a big player in world affairs. Quite frankly, Greenland's pretty unprepossessing. However, control of the island was heavily contested between the United States and Germany during the first half of the 1940s.

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Uummannaq, Greenland
Greenland has been a Danish colony since 1814, and is still a part of Denmark. While Greenland is largely self-governing today, in the 1940s the island was under the strict control of the Danish government, specifically the two Danish governors--Aksel Svane and Eske Brun. These men answered directly to the government in Copenhagen, but were also responsible for representing the interests of Greenland. This left them in a bit of a bind when the Nazi's took control of Denmark in April of 1940.

While the Danish government was nominally in charge of their country, they took their orders from the Germans, especially where foreign policy was concerned. Formerly neutral, Denmark was dragged into the war, and Greenland wasn't too keen on being dragged along with them. The Danish government in Copenhagen no longer represented Greenland's interests, and Greenland didn't feel particularly loyal to the Nazi puppet government. So, drawing on previous legislation, the governors declared Greenland to be a self-ruling country, free of Nazi Danish law.

As might be expected, Nazi controlled Denmark, wasn't too pleased about the Greenlander's getting uppity. Though unprepossessing, Greenland was important to the Germans, and they hadn't anticipated a fight. Greenland was essential to Nazi plans in North America and Europe for several reasons, namely:

  1. Like much of the arctic Western Hemisphere, Greenland was a good launching place for air invasions. It would be an easily defensible and convenient place to build an air base that could launch attacks on Europe and North America. 
  2. Both the Axis and the Allies wanted to establish weather stations on Greenland. I'm not 'That Meteorology Nerd', so I don't pretend to understand this, but apparently all the weather headed for Europe goes through Greenland. Prior knowledge of the weather was important for strategic planning, and the Germans wanted that knowledge.
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    Cryolite
  4. At the time Greenland had the world's largest supply of cryolite, a rare and important mineral used in making aluminum¹. Whoever possessed the cryolite mines would have a serious leg up when it came to manufacturing aircraft. Greenland wasn't making their own aircraft, and their cryolite was coveted not only by the Germans, but by the British and Norwegians as well.
Without the Danish army to protect them, Greenland was put in the awkward position of having to beat off foreign invasions by itself. Despite not being invited, the Germans were sneakily establishing their weather stations, and the British, Canadians, and Norwegians were also making attempts to establish themselves on the island. This was becoming a bit of an issue, and given that Greenland had no army to speak of, they went to the only major world power that was still neutral--The United States.

While the United States later went on to be a major player in WWII, in 1941 they were maintaining a strict stance of absolute neutrality, a stance that Greenland was 100% down for. Because of Greenland's position politically and physically, it was advantageous for Greenland to seek help from the United States, and it was advantageous for the US to help them.

Image result for greenlandAgainst explicit orders from Copenhagen, Danish ambassador Henrik Kauffman, in the name of King Christian X,officially signed a treaty with the United States in April of 1941, giving the US full authority to station troops and build military bases in Greenland for mutual defense purposes.

Kauffman was widely condemned in Copenhagen, and his treaty with the United States was denounced as treason. Kauffman had, essentially, allowed US military to set up shop on Danish land, and the Danes weren't too keen on this. However, there wasn't any real backlash for this 'treason'. The condemnation came from the German controlled Danish parliament, and did not reflect the feelings of the actual Danish parliament. Kauffman made it known that he was acting on behalf of King Christian X and the true Danish government, and experienced no consequences for signing a treaty with the US during or after the war.

Now, people familiar with the United States Constitution might say that the occupation of a colony of a foreign nation seems very contrary to the principles of the United States. The US had sworn not to have colonies (though they sometimes flirted with that line), and not to invade foreign countries for their own land gain. Everything they did in Greenland seems contrary to that. However, the United States had one major out--The Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine was a statement released in 1823 by US president James Monroe. This singularly arrogant document was put out after most of the Latin American countries had gained independence from Spain, and stated that the United States would fight any European power that tried to intervene in the Americas. The doctrine was considered to mostly protect the countries south and east of the United States. For years Greenland hadn't really been a concern where the Monroe Doctrine was concerned, because for all intents and purposes Greenland was part of Europe. However, in order to justify their interference in Greenland, the US declared Greenland part of North America, and told the Germans, Canadians, British and Norwegians to piss off.

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Bluie West One
Once they made the decision to go to Greenland, the US had to walk a fine line. They were still maintaining a policy of neutrality, and couldn't send armed forces because of the possibilities of clashing with the Nazis and inadvertently drawing themselves into the war. To circumvent this, the United States sent their coast guard to protect Greenland.

Once there, the coast guard spent most of their time patrolling Greenland's shores, and keeping an eye out for more Germans trying to establish weather bases. Along with patrolling, they also built two military bases-- Bluie West 1 and Bluie West 8, as well roads and improved harbors.

This arrangement was particularly advantageous for Greenland, because not only did they get new roads and improved infrastructure, but the United States was also leasing the land that they were building on. Greenland was being paid for the land that the US was so helpfully developing. At the end of the war, Greenland was left with some decent roads--and they hadn't paid for any of it.

However, don't imagine that the Greenlanders just sat back and let the United States do all the work. Svane and Brun were adamant that Greenlanders should be helping in the defense of their nation, so they established the Sledge Patrol--a group of 15 men who patrolled the northern and most remote reaches of Greenland by dogsled. The Sledge Patrol more than pulled their weight. They found several German weather stations, and had multiple skirmishes with the German soldiers. After driving out and capturing one group of German soldiers, the Sledge Patrol was declared the 'Army of Greenland'. To this day, the Sledge Patrol is an elite part of the Danish Armed Forces.
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Sledge Patrol camp

When the United States entered the war in late 1941, Greenland officially entered the war as well. Greenland's entrance into the war wasn't particularly significant; for the most part, Greenland continued doing what it was already doing, rebuffing German attempts to build weather stations.
After the war, Greenland went back to being a Danish colony. However, relations between Denmark and her colony had dramatically changed. The Danes had always had the goal of eventually giving Greenland self rule and independence, but before WWII they were unconvinced that the Greenlanders could govern themselves. The events of the 1940s changed that, and in the 21st century Denmark granted Greenland home rule and their own parliament.

While Greenland may not have played an enormous part in WWII, it's undeniable that they were incredibly brave. For a sparsely inhabited, mostly undefended nation to openly defy the Nazis, risking their lives and sovereignty to maintain their own independence was admirable. Greenland had a lot to lose, but through a series of smart diplomatic decisions they survived WWII mostly unscathed.



¹I'm not 'That Geology Nerd' either, so I don't entirely understand how Cryolite works, but you can find more information here.

Sources
FDR Sends Troops to Occupy Greenland
Greenland During and Since the Second World War
Greenland's War
Greenland During WWII

Tuesday, September 19, 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.

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


Tuesday, September 12, 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.

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Documentary Review- The Polar Sea

Something you may not know about me is that I am in love with the arctic. I think it's beautiful, and completely improbably that people manage to survive there. And for someone who starts complaining when the temperature drops below 73 degrees Fahrenheit, I want to go there a whole lot. So when I saw this documentary on Netflix, naturally I watched most of it in a day.

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"The Polar Sea" chronicles the adventures of Richard Tegner and various companions as he sails through the Northwest Passage. It chronicles his journey as an 'arctic hitchhiker' from Reykjavik Iceland to Dutch Harbor, USA.

For those of you who are unaware, the Northwest Passage is a sea route that stretches from Baffin Bay to the Aleutian Islands. It weaves its way through the many islands and ice floes of Canada's northern territories: Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. The Northwest Passage is frozen for most of the year, and when it's not frozen it has some of the most treacherous waters in the world.

Tegner, originally from Sweden, was persuaded by a friend to undertake the journey. An inexperienced sailor, Tegner departed with his friend on the Dax, a small sailboat. Sailing from Iceland, the Dax broke down around Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Tegner's friends returned to Sweden, while Tegner decided to stick it out, and hitch a ride through the passage.

Image result for northwest passageAt first, I was really worried for this dude, because hitchhiking is known to be notoriously unreliable below the arctic circle, and I would think that it would be even more so above, but Tegner made it work, hitching a ride first with a Russian cruise ship, then with a Swiss catamaran, which, I take, is a type of boat.

(It is a type of boat, and that particular catamaran was the first boat of its kind to sail the Northwest Passage, sailed by the youngest sailors to make the journey)

Along the way they stopped at multiple Inuit communities and research stations. One of the biggest focuses of this documentary, or really, the main focus, was how global warming has changed the arctic.

It's climate change that made Tegner's journey possible. The ice in the passage has started melting earlier, and freezing later every year. This has had a bad impact on the Inuit who live in the arctic regions. While this does open up streams of ecotourism to boost the Inuit economy, it is driving the local wildlife from the region. As the Inuit have traditionally relied on hunting to survive, this is something of a problem.

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Narwhal are real?? And they live in the arctic?
Additionally, erosion is threatening Inuit communities. The ice melting leaves their communities vulnerable to the explosive autumn storms. The documentary focused on the town of Kivalina in Alaska, which experienced extreme flooding in 2004, but a quick google search turns up dozens of other towns with the same plight.

If you've ever doubted that climate is changing, this is a good show to watch. If you've ever wondered about Inuit culture, and the history of the Inuit in the arctic, this is a great show to watch. If you just really like the arctic, this is a good show to watch. It can be a bit of a bear to get through, but it's well worth it.

If you want to learn more about the show, and more about Tegner's arctic experience, you can visit their website here.