Showing posts with label wwii. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wwii. Show all posts

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, August 8, 2017

3 Excellent Transgender Individuals Who Served Their Country

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The transgender pride flag
If you've been watching the news recently you're probably aware that a certain incompetent world leader has been casting aspersions on the ability of transgender people to serve in the military. Obviously I shouldn't be letting this nameless world leader get to me, but I'd reached the end of my rope. In a fit of anger over the aforementioned ignoramus' remarks, I did some digging into the history of transgender individuals in the military, only to find that transgender people have been serving in the American and other militaries from the Revolution on. Here are a few of their stories.

Albert Cashier

Born Jennie Hodgers in 1843, Cashier joined the Union Army at age 19. Born in Ireland, Cashier immigrated to Illinois, where he lived as a man, working as a shepherd for a local farmer. When the Civil War came around, Albert joined the 95th Illinois Infantry.

Now, getting into the army was significantly easier in Albert's day. There was no intense physical, or even a test for infectious diseases. According to Albert, all he had to do was show his hands and feet, and meet the height requirement. Sub-sequentially, the Union army was completely in the dark about Cashier's assigned gender.

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Albert Cashier in his Union Army uniform.
While he was never decorated, Albert Cashier was known for his bravery and daring during the war. During the Siege of Vicksburg Albert was captured by Confederacy soldiers while on a reconnaissance mission. Albert grabbed the gun of his captor, and managed to run back to Union lines. 

After the war, Albert went back to Illinois, where he took up a variety of odd jobs. He lived privately, and kept to himself. In 1910, Senator Ira Lish, Cashier's employer at the time, accidentally hit Albert with his scar. His leg broke, and when he was taken to the doctor, his secret was discovered. However, Albert persuaded the doctor and the senator to keep quiet, and the senator arranged for him to relocate to the Soldier's and Sailor's Home, where he would be looked after.

In 1914, Cashier, suffering from dementia, was sent to the state asylum. It was only then that Cashier's assigned gender became widely known. The US government tried to convict him of fraudulently collecting a veteran's pension, but his comrades defended him, stating that Albert Cashier was a brave soldier who had every right to call himself a veteran. His comrades convinced the US government to back off, but were unable to convince the state asylum to let Albert continue to live as a man. After discovering Albert's assigned gender, the state asylum relegated him to the women's quarter, and forced him to wear skirts for the first time in 50 years. Albert's mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated, and ended up breaking a hip after tripping over his long skirts one day. The hip grew infected, and Albert died soon after.

Though he was forced to dress as a woman at the end of his life, Albert Cashier was buried in his Union Army uniform, and is listed as 'Albert Cashier' on his tombstone. He received full military honors at his funeral.

James Barry

Probably born Margaret Ann Bukeley, James Barry was one of the first surgeons to perform a Cesarean section where both the mother and the child lived. He insisted on hospital reform, prison reform, and certifying all medical practitioners. I'd say he was the surgeon version of Florence Nightingale, except the pair absolutely despised each other, and the comparison would undoubtedly infuriate both of them.

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A contemporary painting of Barry.
Not much is known about Barry's early life. It is likely that he was born to a pair of Irish immigrants. His mother was sister to the original James Barry--a famed Irish painter, and they lived with Barry until his death in 1806. In 1806 with the help of the money left to him by his uncle, and help from his powerful friend, David Stuart Erskine, the Duke of Buchanan, Barry was able to enter medical school at Edinburgh University under the assumed name of his dead uncle.


Despite the fact that everyone thought he was too young to be a doctor, Barry joined the army as a surgeon in 1813. In 1816 (or 1817), Barry was sent to Cape Town, South Africa, where he would really start to make his mark.

Appalled at the conditions, James insisted on finding a way to bring clean water into the city. He insisted on hospital cleanliness for both white and black patients, pushed for prisoners to be treated humanely, and insisted that the families of both soldiers and prisoners be treated better. He drew the ire of the local medical establishment when he insisted that every doctor and nurse pass a medical examination. His reforms led to the Cape Town hospitals being some of the safest in the British Empire, as well as him being promoted to the medical equivalent of a Brigadier General.

Barry in 1862
Barry was widely unpopular, and it wasn't just because of his strict perfectionism when it came to medicine. He also had a notoriously short temper, and was insubordinate to his superiors. He challenged multiple people to a duel because they called him short, and during the Crimean War he publicly berated Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, for her attire. However, Barry was able to get away with this because he was a brilliant surgeon and hospital administrator.

He left Cape Town after being accused of a scandalous affair with Lord Charles Sommerset. From South Africa Barry went to the West Indies, then to Canada, not returning to England until 1859. He died in 1865, and, despite his request that he be buried in his clothing, and body not be washed the woman who prepared him for burial found out that James Barry had not been born a man.

James Barry is often counted among the great women doctors of history, despite the fact that Barry referred to himself as a man, and made no indication that he was female from the time he entered medical school. Barry exclusively referred to himself as male, and there is no evidence suggesting that he wasn't.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta, born Robert, Cowell is most noted for being the first transgender person to undergo the sex change surgery from male to female, but in addition to that she was a pilot in WWII, flying Spitfire and Tiger Moth airplanes.

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Roberta Cowell
Unlike Albert and James, Roberta's military service was undertaken while she still presented as the gender she was assigned at birth. Cowell expressed the sentiment that she did not develop her feeling and coming to terms as being transgender until after the war.

From an early age, Roberta showed an interest in planes and cars. She attended London University, earning a degree in engineering. In 1941 Roberta joined the Royal Air Force, despite the fact that she often got motion sickness when flying. Roberta flew several different missions into occupied Norway and France. In 1944 her plane was shot down, and she was captured by the Germans. She spent the last five months of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Roberta returned home to her wife and children. She built up a semi-successful business, and was an avid road racer. However, she began to feel depressed and purposeless. After seeing psychologists for three years, Robert decided to leave her family, and transition from male to female.

 In Summation

This is, obviously, in no way a complete list of amazing transgender people who have served in their country's military, there are many, many more. It is important to remember these people's contributions, and to remember that transgender people have contributed militarily to their countries just the same as cisgender people have. History is important, because it gives us the ability to make connections with and better understand the present. I hope that you'll keep Cashier, Barry, and Cowell's stories in mind, and stand up for them and the hundreds of thousands like them next time your transphobic uncle comes around for dinner, and take a moment to educate your friends and family about the excellent contributions trans people have made to their countries.

Sources
Albert Cashier's Secret
Jennie Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier
Jennie Hodgers
Remembering Albert Cashiers, Illinois' Civil War Hero, and Transgender Trailblazer
Albert D. J. Cashier: Woman Warrior, Insane Civil War Veteran, or Transman?
The Extraordinary Secret Life of Dr. James Barry
Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Secret Transgender Victorian Surgeon Feted by Historic England Society
Dr. James Barry and the Specter of Trans and Queer History
A Note on Dr. James Barry
The True Story Behind Britain's First Transgender Woman
Forgotten Women: The Life and Death of Roberta Cowell
'It's easier to change a body than change a mind': The Extraordinary Life and Lonely Death of Roberta Cowell
The Incredible Story of the Spitfire Pilot Who Became a Woman, And Fell In Love With The Female Student Who Became a Man (title is misleading, but the article contains good information about Roberta.)
Sex Change Spitfire Ace