Bush's Ultimate Thule by Mike Davis

Ralph Johansen michele at maui.net
Fri Mar 14 14:05:29 MST 2003

>From the "tomgram" [no URL given]:
The following piece by Davis, author most recently of Dead Cities as well as
Ecology of Fear and City of Quartz among other works, takes us about as far
from Iraq as you can get without, in a sense, going anywhere.  We Americans
so easily forget that we've garrisoned the earth, north to south, east to
west.  There's nowhere that, it seems, hasn't been deemed crucial for some
set of bases needed for some critical "defensive" task - in the case of
Greenland, bizarre as it might seem, the task of militarizing the skies.

Bush's Ultimate Thule
By Mike Davis

In the early summer of 1951, a group of Inuit hunters, guiding a French
anthropologist, returned to their homes at Thule in the northwest of
Greenland after a daring expedition to Canada's Ellesmere Island.   When
they had left the year before, Thule was one of the most remote communities
on earth: twenty igloos and a trading post established in 1910 by
Greenland's national hero, Knud Rasmussen, to provide a base for his famed
ethnographic explorations.

As they crossed the still frozen sea they were stunned by an extraordinary
"mirage."  "A city of hangers and tents, of sheet metal and aluminum,
glittering in the sun amid smoke and dust, rose up in front of us on a
plain that only yesterday had been deserted."  In their absence, an
American armada of 120 ships and 12,000 men -- the biggest amphibious
operation since D-Day -- had taken possession of North Star Bay.  Without
any consultation with Thule's residents, the Pentagon was transforming
their fox hunting grounds into a bomber base for the nuclear war that
seemed imminent as U.S. and Chinese armies clashed head-on in Korea.

In 1953, in order to make room for a new Nike missile battery, the American
commander gave the Inuit but four days to evacuate their homes.  They were
forcibly exiled to a new village -- "instant slum" in the opinion of some --
125 miles away.  Danish and American officials lied to the world that the
move had been "voluntary."  Now, half a century later, their grandchildren,
many of them members of the socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit Party (IA), have
become arguably the biggest roadblock to Washington's "Star Wars" fantasy
of global omnipotence.

As in the early Cold War, Thule's top-of-the-world location, peeking over
the pole at Central Asia and the Middle East, is again deemed one of the
Pentagon's most important geopolitical assets.  The Bush administration
argues that the National Missile Defense (NDM) initiative urgently demands
the upgrading of the huge BMEWS radar installations at Thule and Fylingdale
in England.

London's subservience, of course, was immediately forthcoming; while
Copenhagen, although more discreet, also signaled its willingness to
barter Thule, as in the past, in return for some small gratuities.  But
Nuuk, the tiny Home Rule capital of Kalaaallit Nunaat (as its people call
Greenland), has so far refused to be conscripted into "this insane

Indeed, in a historic election last December, a majority of Greenlanders
voted for an anti-NMD coalition of the social-democratic Siumut and radical
IA parties, whose representatives are pledged to oppose any unilateral
Danish deal over Thule and to accelerate progress toward complete
independence.  This shift to the left, in defiance of both Copenhagen and
Washington, is a remarkable development, rooted in a bitter and little
understood colonial experience.

The Pentagon Colony

Although the Danes established a theocratic colonialism in southwestern
Greenland in the early eighteenth century, the east coast Inuit were not
"discovered" until the 1880s and the Thule region remained self-governing
(even with its own postage stamps) until the 1930s.  In the same decade,
general diplomatic recognition of the Danish claim to the whole island, long
contested by Norway, coincided with reconnaissance of Greenland's air
routes by German, British and American military planners.  (One German
"explorer" of the period was an assassin of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl

In spring 1941, President Roosevelt, worried as much by a proposed Canadian
landing as any German invasion, extended the Monroe Doctrine to Greenland,
which soon became the largest span in the famous air bridge used to ferry
B-17s and B-24s to England. A country that the Danes had kept as isolated
from the outside world as Tibet was overwhelmed in a few months by
thousands of GIs in seventeen bases along both southern coasts.   With
Denmark a German satellite, Greenland became an American military colony.

After the war, the Pentagon was keen to retain control over the "world's
biggest aircraft carrier" and pressed the Truman administration to buy
Greenland from Denmark.  Eventually, Washington settled for the
next best thing: a 1951 treaty that gave the U.S.  Strategic Air Command
(SAC) free reign to use Thule as a launching pad for Armageddon.  In the
fall of 1956, Thule-based B-47s made repeated deep incursions into Soviet
airspace (Operation Home Run) that were designed to push Kremlin nerves to
the limit.  Later Curtis Le May, the singularly sinister commander of SAC,
wistfully recollected that "with a bit of luck we could have gotten World
War Three started back then."

In 1961 SAC commanders almost ordered a nuclear strike after they lost
contact with Thule due to a technical glitch that they misinterpreted as a
Soviet attack.  Seven years later, a B-52B armored with four hydrogen bombs
caught fire and crashed offshore of Thule.  Although the Air Force insisted
it eventually recovered all the bombs, local salvage workers have always
claimed that one bomb was never found.  In 2001, the Independent
their account (missing bomb serial number 78252) and estimated that 12
of plutonium had escaped into the ecosystem.  According to the Thule Workers
Association, representing Greenlanders who worked on the salvage effort,
that would
explain high local incidences of cancer as well as bizarre phenomena like
seals without hair and musk oxen with deformed hooves.

Although the B-52s were finally withdrawn from Thule during the Vietnam War
and the big US bases at Narsarsuaq and Kangerlusuaq were closed down, the
Pentagon never cleaned up its mess.   Nor, for that matter, has the
complicit colonial landlord, Denmark, bothered to protest.  Yet, as
Greenpeace has documented, there is massive toxicity and environmental
blight in the archipelago of abandoned US airbases and radar stations.

The Danish Slum

In the 1951 Treaty for the Protection of Greenland, the quid pro quo for the
Pentagon's militarization of the high Arctic was a strict prohibition on
contact between Americans and Greenlanders.  To ensure permanent Danish
hegemony over the indigenous population, Greenland became part of the
metropolis in 1953: a status, as in "French" Algeria, which aggravated
rather than ameliorated civic inequalities.

Over the next generation, Greenlanders -- including the exiled hunters of
Thule -- were subjected to a coercive and paternalistic "modernization"
radically dislocated their culture.  The Danish strategy was to
concentrate the populations of scores of outlying fishing villages and
hunting camps into a few "efficient" centers around large canneries and
administrative complexes.

Ruggedly independent Arctic hunters -- now unemployed  -- were rehoused in
multi-story concrete tenements while their kids studied Danish and their
wives worked as cleaners or on fish-processing lines.   Skilled and
professional work was generally reserved for highly paid strata of
imported contract workers -- the true beneficiaries of the soaring subsidies
that the Danish Right loves to complain about.

Copenhagen's policies acted in tandem with the political economy of the
American bases (with their demand for service labor, their prodigious
waste, and their celebration of consumerism) to catastrophically urbanize
Inuit culture. One state-sanctioned result has been a plague of addictions.
In contemporary Greenland, 56,000 people smoke 120 million cigarettes and
drink 40 million cans of beer per year. Likewise, with only 15,000
residents, modern Nuuk manages to emulate southcentral L.A.: with angry
graffiti on slab apartment walls, gang fights in the alleys, and hash
dealers prowling in custom snowmobiles.

Greenlanders, highly conscious of their communitarian past and heroic way
of life, have fought back hard against both American and Danish
colonialism.  Home Rule in 1979 was both a concession to Greenlandic
nationalism and an attempt to neo-colonialize Danish domination through new
Copenhagen-educated Inuit elites.  The spanner in the works was the IA: a
political formation created by an Inuit New Left inspired by Vietnam and
the anti-colonial revolutions of the 1970s.

The IA (the party to which Smila belongs in the famous novel) is sometimes
described as the Greenlandic counterpart to Denmark's centrist Socialist
Peoples' Party, but its program is highly original: traditionalist,
pan-Inuit, Green and Red at the same time.   IA played a leading role in
the creation of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an activist NGO that acts
as a shadow government for 152,000 Inuit people in four countries and
anticipates the IA's dream of a peoples' Arctic without atomic bombs,
addiction, or pollution.

Last December it was widely expected that the IA would surpass
social-democratic Siumut as Greenland's largest party.  It narrowly failed
to do so only because Siumut's leadership was captured by Hanns Enoksen, an
independence advocate who deposed longtime party leader and prime minister
Johanthan Motzfeldt after the latter attended the NATO summit in Prague.

But the new Siumut-IA coalition government headed by Enoksen
self-destructed in January only weeks after its formation.  Foreign papers
caricatured the crisis as the result of a Siumut official's employment of a
traditional "sorcerer" to exorcise government buildings of evil spirits.
In fact, the IA walked out - as it had several years earlier - over growing
corruption and favoritism in the government.  Siumut promptly formed a new
government with the neo-colonial Atassut Party which shares Copenhagen's
willingness to deal with Washington over Star Wars.

But the IA's break with Enoksen only strengthens its claim to be the sole
genuine voice of Greenlandic self-determination.  Moreover it continues to
fiercely oppose Washington's plans for the re-militarization of the Arctic.
As Johan Olsen, one of the IA leaders, told the European Parliament last
"Greenland must not participate in any horse-trading deal with the USA
with reference to furthering the American wish to upgrade the Thule radar…
It is our opinion that is necessary to declare the Arctic as a
demilitarized, weapons free zone."

Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, and most
recently, Dead Cities, among other works.  He now lives in San Diego but has
recently visited Greenland.

Copyright Mike Davis

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