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Trump Buying Greenland? Let's Look At This Idea In Historical Context

Aug 29, 2019

Credit Photo by: Nathan J. Fish

Commentary:  He was serious; it seems he really wanted to buy Greenland. So what?

President Trump wanted at least to propose purchasing the autonomous region from Denmark; and he did not respond well to be being rebuffed publicly by an ally.

Or maybe it was a calculated distraction from Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, from the trade war with China, the inverted yield curve, or grim news about gun violence or the climate.

Such is the state of Donald Trump punditry and political chatter on social media (99 percent of which is useless): the president’s every move is simultaneously portrayed as calculated genius and fumbling incompetence. 

Yet what about us? Why did Greenland capture our imagination this week?

 

President Donald Trump admitted to being interested in buying Greenland for the United States. When the Danish Prime Minister rebuffed the suggestion, calling it “absurd,” the president seemed hurt, calling the remark "nasty" and announcing on Twitter, “based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting.”

"Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over," Prime Minister Frederiksen said, then added, “we will of course love to have an even closer strategic relationship with the United States."

This is how it went in 1946 when the Truman administration discussed — in secret talks, not floated publicly, unreported until 1991 — procuring the territory as a strategic move in the opening stages of the Cold War. (Greenland is close to Russia.)

That was, incidentally, decades before Greenland was granted home rule and established its own parliament.

Instead of imperial procurement, the U.S. advanced itself through diplomacy backed by its military dominance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded soon thereafter, and Greenland was incorporated into American strategy via direct agreements with Denmark. The U.S. Army built a camp that sank into the ice, and the Air Force staged nuclear-armed bombers at Thule Air Base.

 

Curiously, while some view Trump’s imperial interest in purchasing Greenland as crazy, how rarely do we reflect on our Cold War madness in Greenland — such as the B-52’s secretly flying nuclear bombs nonstop for years, violating Denmark’s nuclear-free policy, until one crashed in 1968, spreading radioactive material.

Indeed, for me, Trump’s self-described “real estate deal” over Greenland fascinates for its reminders of the 20th century and its catastrophes.

It was just over a hundred years ago that the United States purchased territory from Denmark for some gold.

In 1917, we acquired the U.S. Virgin Islands that Denmark held as colonies. The U.S. wanted them for strategic and economic purposes — imperial interest, if you will — and after 50 years trying to get a deal the U.S. threatened to take them by force. To this day, March 31 is observed on the islands as “Transfer Day.”

Climate disruption is rapidly melting Greenland’s ice. As arctic ice melts, global superpowers and industry see new shipping routes. Greenland also holds mineral deposits, and the Arctic region has oil — oil that is easier to reach thanks to climate warming caused by the carbon-burning global economy.

 

The U.S., China and Russia see new fields of competition for military and economic influence in the melting ice.

Meanwhile, the thaw also threatens to expose that abandoned army camp, along with chemical and nuclear waste buried there, which may soon endanger current military personnel there, Greenland itself, and perhaps Canada (another major oil producer).

This is the stuff of Dantean science-fiction, and the rainbow-tinged backwash of 20th-century imperialism is hard to miss.

Now tell me again how crazy Trump is, compared to the normal madness of the global ruling classes.