The Fairy Tale of
There is a heart in Denmark’s weapons.
-- Hans Christian Andersen, Holger Danske
[The war] is a gift for the Iraqi people.
-- Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et
-- Virgil, Aeneid
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet
In the northern reaches of Europe, in what is now known as Scandinavia, resided various tribes that survived primarily on slash-and-burn agriculture. Anthropological theory posits that exhaustion of the soil led the farmers to take to the seas in exploitation and settlement of new territories. They became master shipbuilders and expert seamen. In the year 793 a longboat landed on the English island of Lindisfarne; its crew slew the monks and looted the monastery of its treasures. Thus was born the fearsome image of the Vikings as heathen warriors. Warriors they were, but the Vikings were also merchants and explorers. From Scandinavia the Vikings fanned out through Europe, voyaged to Iceland and Greenland, and even founded the first European settlement in the Americas -- almost 500 years before Columbus arrived. The Vikings penetrated deep into Russia eventually reaching the Arab world and perhaps even Baghdad, as Arab coins recovered from Viking archaeological sites evince. Centuries later the Vikings assimilated with the local peoples and became Christianized; the fierce seafaring pagans lived on in sagas.
A period of relative quiescence ensued in Scandinavia until 64 years ago when Adolf Hitler ordered an invasion of Denmark and Norway. Nazi Germany required unhindered access to Danish agriculture and Norwegian resources to continue the war effort. Denmark capitulated immediately while Norway put up a feeble and doomed defense. Thus began what was to be a five-year occupation.
Resistance arose in both countries and became the stuff of legend. In truth the Danish resistance was miniscule and in Norway the allies hampered the manifestation of any concerted resistance.
Today these two Scandinavian countries that endured an occupation by Nazi imperialism are, however, willing participants in the occupation of another imperial victim. Although the invasion is in contravention of Nuremberg Law and undeniably a theft of a country’s sovereignty and its wealth, Danish and Norwegian troops stand symbolic guard for this expropriation.
Denmark formally accepted the status of occupier on 12 June 2003 with a contribution of ships and 380 Danish troops, later boosted to almost 500 troops. There is a sublime irony in Operation Iraqi Freedom having led to Denmark assuming the role of occupier; a role in denial of the democratic will of Danes. Netavisen reported in 2002:
On Friday, 24 January, two new opinion polls were made public … on the population’s attitude to different scenarios surrounding an Iraq War. They were both unambiguous: The overwhelming majority of Danes are against an Iraq War and against Danish participation in a war. (1)
These poll results held true with or without UN approval. Polling results were similar for Norway. (2) A turnout of 30-40,000 on 15 February 2003 in Copenhagen gave corporeal support to the polling results.
The number of Danish troops in Iraq is small and largely symbolic of the Danish government’s support for the Bush-led coalition. But that symbolism is reified. As the Socialistisk Arbejderavis points out,
Danish soldiers are a part of the occupying power that Iraqis fight against, and just as British and American soldiers are targets for the resistance, so also will the Danish soldiers also become targets. And just as American and British forces put down the Iraqi people’s revolt against the occupation, will the Danish soldiers also do that. (3)
How the tides of history have turned. The war crimes being perpetrated by today’s occupiers resemble those perpetrated by the Nazis. The bulldozing of Iraqi homes, the targeting of all the male population under 45, and the crushing of Fallujah differ little from the havoc wreaked by Hitler’s men.
German troops burned more than three hundred houses to the ground, killed or confiscated all cattle, and sank all local fishing vessels … almost the entire male population were deported to concentration camps in Germany … the village of Televaag had been wiped off the map. (4)
As willing as the Danish authorities were to become part of the occupying power in Iraq, they were just as willing to relinquish power to the Nazi occupiers during WWII. In one instance the British Foreign Office depicted the surrender of new Danish naval vessels to the Germans as indicating a “lack of guts in the Danish Navy.” (5)
The Iraqis resist with a self-sacrifice against vastly greater odds than the Danish resistance ever experienced during WWII, and Iraqis continue to sacrifice their blood for freedom. That the Danes participate in such a slaughter brings shame upon them.
Just as meek as the Danish resistance was against the Nazi occupation so is the lack of vocal opposition to being an occupier weak today. The Danish capitulation was so abject that the BBC seized upon such trifling signs as the V sign flashed with fingers as “completely clear how ominous a sign this is of the spirit of the oppressed peoples.” (6) Yet the British hoped that “the first ripple in the sea of resistance” would build and there were “constant BBC exhortations to sabotage.” (7)
It was argued that Danes should not collaborate with Nazis, especially, in security functions since this would free German fighters for the Front. (8) By the same rationale, Iraqi police who free up occupation forces for other functions can be considered legitimate targets by the anti-occupation forces in Iraq. Yet even collaborators have limits. US pogroms against the civilian population of Fallujah have sparked mass defections from the US-trained Iraqi Civil Defence Corps. Iraqi soldier Ali al-Shamari exclaimed, “They told us to attack the city and we were astonished. How could an Iraqi fight an Iraqi like this? This meant that nothing had changed from the Saddam Hussein days. We refused en masse.” (9)
Those who do collaborate are punished, as was the case in WWII. The most infamous collaborator was Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian Nazi whose name is immortalized as a synonym for traitor. Quisling who became the Prime Minister of Nazi Norway was arrested following Germany’s defeat, tried, found guilty of treason, sentenced, and executed by firing squad. Such was the punishment for Quisling and other Nazi collaborators.
Should the quislings sitting on the Iraqi Governing Council be regarded any differently nowadays? Akila al-Hashimi agreed to sit on the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and was assassinated. Collaborators in Iraq are treated in accord with historical western standards.
It must be emphasized that not only was the resistance in Denmark and Norway incomparable to the fierce resistance being put up by the Iraqis, but they differed greatly in sympathy for the occupiers. In occupied Scandinavia: “Volunteers from both countries … fought on the Eastern Front in the common struggle against the Bolshevik enemy, and the resistance movement in both countries … was weak and ineffective. Scandinavian workers eagerly toiled for German wages.” Historian Richard Petrow considered that during WWII there existed in Denmark and Norway a substantial public sentiment that regarded Germanic culture with “respect and admiration.” (10) “At no time,” wrote Petrow, “even when the battle turned sharply against Germany, did the majority of the Danes or Norwegians come out in active opposition to the Germans.” (11)
Why the Danish Government Support for the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq?
Since the end of Viking Empire, except for the colonial remnants of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, Denmark has made respectable strides toward a civil society. It had developed into a relatively peaceful nation where capitalism was tempered by a healthy social system. So what caused the Danish government, if not the Danish people, to embrace the imperialist invasion of Iraq? Do the Danes owe a debt to Americans?
Denmark was liberated at the end of WWII but that debt was, arguably, owed more so to other nations, particularly, Britain and Russia.
Was it out of gratitude for American friendship post-WWII?
Activist writer Jeffrey St. Clair details a little known incident that occurred on 21 January 1968 when a US B-52G with four nuclear bombs onboard crashed in the frigid waters off Greenland near the Thule Air base. (12) The resulting explosion scattered radioactive elements over a wide area that was quickly frozen over. A massive cleanup was launched and many Danish soldiers assisted their US counterparts. While most Americans were offered protective equipment, the Danes, who did a lot of the most hazardous work, were not.
The Pentagon went to great lengths to conceal this incident including the risible refutation by one of its spokespersons: “I don’t know of any missing bomb, but we have not positively identified what I think you are looking for.”
Despite their sacrifice, Danish workers who later contracted a variety of illnesses, from obscure cancers to circulatory disorders, were refused assistance from the US. The Danes sued the US for damages and lost. The litigation, however, forced the US to make known many hitherto secret papers
The treatment of some Danes in Iraq is none the better. Journalist Robert Fisk related the story of Qais al-Salman, a research scientist who escaped Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and made his way to Denmark. He had returned to assist in the rebuilding of his homeland. One day a car al-Salman was in came under gunfire from US military; although possessing a Danish passport al-Salman was shackled and tied and later had the procedure repeated for filming.
Later al-Salman was interrogated, labeled a ‘Suspected Assassin,’ and held prisoner without formal charges against him. Thirty-three days later al-Salman was apologetically dropped off in Baghdad. During the interim no one had been apprised of al-Salman’s predicament.
Qais al-Salman went home to his grief-stricken mother who had long believed her son was dead. No American had contacted her despite her desperate requests to the US authorities for help. Not one of the Americans had bothered to tell the Danish government they had imprisoned one of its citizens. Just as in Saddam's day, a man had simply been “disappeared” off the streets of Baghdad. (13)
So it is not about real friendship.
The Fogh government embodies the Ellemann-Jensen doctrine, eponymous for the erstwhile Danish foreign minister who considered small nations’ influence in the world order best promoted through great power alignment with ideologically similar countries. Why Denmark doesn’t work toward this doctrine within the EU might be partially attributable to residual resentment to EU heavyweight Germany.
Bush’s Steadfast Partner: Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the Danish prime minister who refused Iraqi refugees entry into Denmark and who supported the genocidal UN sanctions against Iraq. The Fogh government, according to Socialistisk Arbejderavis, has only one purpose in partaking in the occupation: “to open (and tend to) important doors for Danish industry. Mærsk McKinney Møller is Denmark’s biggest capitalist, and he is cashing in on the war, via lucrative agreements between his companies and the Pentagon, on the transportation of military hardware to the Gulf. The Danish government’s support for the war is necessary so that Mærsk can nurse his close ties to the USA, and as Denmark’s largest and most influential capitalist, he gets as a rule what he wants.” (14)
Tehran-based Mehr News has been pursuing a story that threatens to expose the dark underside of Danish industry serving US imperialism. The story involves an alleged plot to plant WMD in Iraq. The weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) are purportedly in Mærsk shipping containers, falsely labeled as humanitarian goods. (15) That the Bush regime could contemplate such perfidy after its own experts have pronounced Iraq free of WMD is wholly unsurprising -- especially considering that a majority of wooly-eyed Americans still believe the lies of Iraq’s WMD and links with al-Qaeda. The results correlate highly with political allegiance: Republicans were more likely to believe Bush and his officials. (16)
Fogh’s Liberal Party (Venstre Parti, which translates directly to Left Party in English) has steered Denmark hard to the right. But the Liberal Party does not represent a co-option of the left, as has happened in many other countries. It is a farmer-based party that arose historically as an alternative to the Right Party (as the Conservative Party was previously called) but it has never been left-oriented. “The question today,” comments Klaus B. Jensen of Socialistisk Arbejderavis, “is whether the Liberal Party hasn’t gradually become darker and more right-oriented than the Conservatives.” (17)
philosophical altruism is expressed as “something for something.”
One writer noted that Fogh’s goal for government -- the
transformation of the Danish social state to a minimalist state --
rails against liberalism, a liberalism full of contradictions and
with a clear authoritarian streak. (18)
Fogh was likewise certain of Iraq’s WMD. “Iraq has weapons-of-mass-destruction. This is not something we just believe. We know,” said Fogh earlier. (19)
Occupation as Liberation
Myriad prewar claims by the US and its coalition underlings have wilted in the glare of worldwide scrutiny. Iraqis did not welcome the invaders as predicted and the occupation has been and is being vigorously resisted. Those resisting are variously referred to as Ba’athist loyalists, foreign interlopers (an astonishing criticism from the US-led occupiers) or commonly as terrorists (an even more astonishing declaration coming from countries whose forces have perhaps killed as many as 55,000 Iraqis since Shock and Awe was launched ). There has been a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the Iraqi fighters as a resistance movement.
Jacques Hardy, who fought in the resistance against Nazi Germany, decries the hypocrisy in denying the reality of the Iraqi resistance.
What is the difference between WE, the resistance fighters who fought against the German Nazis in 1943 France, and THEY the Iraqi freedom fighters fighting against American Nazis in 2004? I see no difference at all, except that we were called heroes in those days, while the Iraqis are called “terrorists” by terrorist Americans and their terrorist accomplices of the money-hungry coalition! (21)
Contradictions are replete in the occupier’s glossary. Hence the occupiers can claim to be trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis and subsequently launch various lethal military assaults from Operation Iron Hammer to Operation Resolute Sword, which are most unlikely to endear the occupiers to Iraqis.
The harshness of the occupation toward the Iraqi “Untermenschen” has parallels with the mindset of the Nazi occupation in Denmark. Dr. Werner Best, the Nazi plenipotentiary in Denmark addressed the necessity “to apply with severest consistency the policy of the mailed fist and demonstrations of German might.” (22)
Nonetheless perhaps the greatest contradiction is an occupation that persists despite being an aggression launched under false pretences -- an aggression that promised to liberate the Iraqi people. With the unravelled false casus belli of Iraqi possession of WMD, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller seized on UN weapons inspection head Hans Blix’s report that documentation for significant amounts of chemical and biological weapons were still unaccounted for as a justification. “That won’t do,” was the immediate disavowal from Blix. “When the minister says that Iraq can’t account for the weapons, in my assessment, this isn’t the same as saying that they exist. In one of my speeches, I expressly said that one must not jump to the conclusion that something, which isn’t accounted for, exists.” (23)
Not only was the American, Australian, and British intelligence politically “sexed up” but it appears that so was the Danish intelligence too.
Major Frank Søholm Grevil, an ex-Danish intelligence officer, revealed to a Danish newspaper that he had on numerous occasions unequivocally warned Fogh that WMD were unlikely to be found in Iraq. “We have a minister who goes out and lies. A minister who goes out and says something that isn’t in agreement with the truth,” charged Grevil. (24) Fogh denied the charge. Just as enemies of the Bush administration are attacked so are the enemies of Fogh’s administration. Grevil has been charged with a violation of the official information act along with two journalists for using that information. Whistleblowers are not well appreciated by the Danish government either.
Fogh has fought off any need for an inquiry into Danish intelligence. “When we went along, it wasn’t on account of the question of weapons-of-mass-destruction. It was because Saddam Hussein refused to co-operate with the UN’s Security Council,” said Fogh. (25) This is partially true; Fogh did say when announcing Denmark’s intention to participate in the invasion, “It concerns securing respect for the UN and enforcing the Security Council’s authority.” (26) This is a rather stunning admission in itself. Denmark decided to aggress Iraq for non-cooperation with the UN, which is in fact exactly what Denmark did by participating in the invasion of Iraq. The invasion took place after hardball attempts to gain UN Security Council approval that clearly was not forthcoming. But it is only partially true because Fogh also said at the same press conference: “We have a clear goal for our participation in the international coalition for the disarming of Iraq.”
Danish lawyer Thomas Dyhr found that the coalition belligerents proceeded to war before “peaceful means were exhausted.” Denmark, nonetheless, backed the illegal US adventurism. Wrote Dyhr, “A presumption of illegality can be derived from international law if the use of force is not authorized by the UN Security Council and is not in self-defence.” (27)
Finally, Fogh was pressured to ask Defence Minister Svend Aage Jensby to begin declassification of the intelligence assessment on Iraqi possession of WMD just prior to the invasion. It turns out that that was too much for Jensby who promptly resigned stating, “I don’t want to burden the government and my family with the smear campaign.” (28)
Why should much weight be attached to tiny Denmark being in the so-called Coalition of the Willing? The coalition is ridiculed for being a collection of lightweights on the international stage. This is unfair, and nations like Britain, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark do confer some perception of international legitimacy for US actions.
So what anyway, is the significance of Denmark with its token contribution of troops to the occupation of Iraq? Events in Iraq are spiraling out of control. The increasing violence and popular repugnance to the carnage in Iraq has seen the coalition begin to shrink. Spain bowed to the democratically expressed will of its citizens and is pulling its contingent out of Iraq. This seems to have triggered a domino effect, as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Norway have indicated that they are pulling up stakes also in Iraq. Poland and the Netherlands’ continued participation no longer seems so sure. Denmark’s importance stems from its very staunch support for US policy. Were Denmark to leave Iraq it would send a strong signal to others in the international community.
Bush, the lone cowboy president, would presumably be unfazed by this. Said he, “But let me make this very clear to you: I will never allow leaders of other nations to determine the national security issues of America.” (29) Whatever attributes Bush is lacking, resoluteness, for what it is worth, does not appear to be one of them. Does Fogh equally possess such resoluteness?
Fogh might revisit Danish literature. The famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen penned a story about an emperor with a vanity for fine garments. One day the emperor heard about an exceptionally fine cloth, which, the tailors claimed, revealed the ignorance of beholders unable to see its splendor. When completed the emperor donned the new gown and promenaded before his subjects. Although no one could in fact see the fabric, everyone, nonetheless, praised the beauty of it lest they be thought stupid. However, one uninhibited child blurted, “But he has nothing on.” Murmurs of agreement spread through the crowd. The emperor, nevertheless, despite realizing the truth of the child’s words, proceeded to maintain the illusion.
The Iraqis feign no pretense for fine sartorial, yet too many Danes and others are blind to an ensanguined people boldly resisting occupation. Liberation that is imposed by weapons is not liberation, but another form of oppression.
is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:
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