Every year on the 31st of March, residents of the US Virgin Islands celebrate a festival with the strange name "Transfer Day". Sounds like the "marmot day" of the Caribbean. Military bands play, speeches are made.
This holiday is likely to be to the liking of Donald Trump - because it reminds us how the Americans in 1917 bought the Danes for $ 25 million in gold in the West Indies, which have since been called US Virgin Islands.
Trump would perhaps call this a "real estate business", as in the case he intended to buy Greenland. The Government of the Kingdom of Denmark, to which Greenland belongs politically, rejected this request so abruptly that the US President immediately insulted a planned visit to Denmark.
On the first "Transfer Day" on March 31, 1917, the mood was still very different. With salute shots the Danish navy passed its former colony. The Danish anthem was played one last time, then the Danish flag lowered and the US flag hoisted. The old rulers left, the new ones marched in pomp. The Danish parliament had ratified the deal without asking the islanders.
The Danes were relieved when they left the islands where slaves once labored and were resold. Although Denmark had 1792 officially abolished the slave trade as the first colonial empire. But in the Caribbean colony slaves were exploited for decades, repeatedly subjugated in rebellions on.
So: Nothing like the colony, which reminded only of a dark chapter of their own history - and economically was a minus business anyway. The US, on the other hand, had a strategic interest in the distant islands. They desperately needed a naval base in the Caribbean and probably also feared that the Germans could acquire the Danish colony in the middle of the First World War - and attack the US from there. The purchase price was proud. It equaled 3.5 percent of the US budget in 1916.
Strategic land purchase already had a tradition for the United States. In 1867 they had bought the Russian Alaska for 7.2 million dollars. Many Americans initially thought that was far too much for a huge "polar bear enclosure" or "freezer". Such mockery fell silent as oil was found in Alaska. To this day, the Russians regret having let the Americans even Alaska - and then for a bargain price.
16 picturesGreenland and the USA: A city under the ice
Trump hopes for such a political snap. The man who denies climate change apparently longs for climate change, which could expose Greenland's natural resources. As absurd as the buying plan sounds - it is not new. As early as 1946, US Secretary of State James Byrnes had submitted his offer of $ 100 million to his Danish counterpart. US newspapers reported it only in 1977, after a historian had now evaluated open files.
Byrne's rationale for the purchase: Greenland is no more than a big lump of ice, for the US by chance of great strategic importance. For Denmark, however, Greenland is only a financial burden there - also Trump sat recently on this argument. Denmark still said no.
Chapel, cinema, gym - under the ice
Advertising around Greenland dragged on at that time. As late as 1948 DER SPIEGEL reported on the "little love for Greenland": "The suggestion of an American congressman to simply buy the Danes from Greenland met with icy rejection in Copenhagen." As with the Virgin Islands, US interest was purely military. No one thought of climate change and mineral resources, only to the enemy in the Cold War - the Soviet Union.
Already in the Second World War, the Americans had built airports and military bases on Greenland and then simply stayed longer than initially agreed. From now on, they wanted to expand their bases against the enemy in the east. When the US could not buy Greenland, they at least negotiated a secret project with pompous names: "Camp Century."
I do not promise this to Greenland! pic.twitter.com/03DdyVU6HA- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019
Eight meters below the ice was to create a city, about 250 kilometers away from the 1951 built US airfield Thule. Construction began in 1958. Chapel, gymnasium, cinema and library - all this was part of the facilities of the camp with accommodation for up to 200 soldiers. A mobile nuclear reactor supplied it with electricity.
In a comprehensive internal report, the crazy project was justified later: With the advance of nuclear weapons, long-range bombers and ICBMs, it had simply become "inevitable" that "remote Arctic regions" such as Greenland and Alaska attracted the attention of the military.
The "man without a shadow"
The Americans thought big at the time. Very large. From "Camp Century" they wanted to mill a tunnel labyrinth through the ice, a total of 4000 kilometers long - the secret "project Eiswurm". The idea behind it: The "ice worm" was to create space and launcher for 600 atomic intercontinental rockets. Underground railways would then postpone the weapons from time to time. So the Soviet Union could not determine the location of the missile - if it ever suspected the existence of the city in the ice.
Whether and what Denmark knew about these plans is still not fully understood. Because the project violated a military agreement of 1951: Denmark had allowed the USA on Greenland to build bases such as Thule - also in the interest of their own safety. Nuclear weapons were explicitly not allowed.
The distrust was so great that Denmark spurned a spy in the "Camp Century" from 1960: Erik Jorgen-Jensen was officially a Danish contact to the US military. "Man without a shadow", the Americans soon called him and probably suspected that he played a double game. It was not until 2018 that Jorgen-Jensen, now 84 years old, talked about his espionage activities with a Danish radio station and published some recordings of the time.
Even the spy knew only a part of the tunnel system, which was realized only in part: 21 tunnels with a total length of three kilometers were created before the Americans finally abandoned their project in the early sixties. They had underestimated the power of nature. The ice was constantly moving; it could have closed tunnels and moved them.
A hydrogen bomb was spilled
The Americans left - and left their garbage behind. Among them are probably 24 million liters of slightly radioactive wastewater from the mobile nuclear reactor, in addition to 9200 tons of scrap and 200,000 liters of diesel fuel. Only in 2016, the journal "Geophysical Research Letters" reported for the first time on this long-forgotten environmental scandal; the following year, a scientific expedition investigated the location of "Camp Century", which was hidden deep in the ice. Drilling and radar surveys suggest a "huge dump", one of the participants said.
Worrying: Experts no longer view US waste in ice as "finally stored" because of climate change. Cynically one could say that Trump also inherits the garbage of the Americans, should his government actually acquire Greenland.
Also because of such scandals, combined with Trump's neocolonial habitus, the Greenlanders' distrust of the US is quite pronounced. How do you explain to a nature-loving population that a hydrogen bomb might once have been lost in their homeland?
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Exactly this could have happened in January 1968 in the crash of a B-52 near Thule: To this day, rumors, which also relate to memoranda, that hold one of the four bombs in the forced landing permanently on the seabed disappeared and unsuccessful be. However, a report commissioned by the Danish government in 2009 concludes that components have been found from all bombs destroyed in the crash.
Either way, the accident unleashed radioactivity, causing Americans to remove more than 10,000 tons of contaminated ice and snow.
The poorhouse of America
And the US Virgin Islands? Despite the US citizenship, the purchase that has been celebrated to date has not paid off for the residents: the sugar and rum produced on the islands hardly had any chances in the US market, especially when alcohol was no longer allowed to be sold in the US from 1920 onwards ,
Soon, the Virgin Islands were considered a poorhouse of the United States. Urgent reforms were abducted. It was only after the Second World War that tourism began to flourish, especially as American socialist Cuba disappeared as an exotic tourist destination.
Incidentally, as Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen also spoke on the 100th "Tansfer Day" in 2017 - the very man who quickly dismissed Trump's Greenland offer as "April Fool's Day". Rasmussen talked a lot about the bond of Denmark: the Danish houses, churches and city names in the Virgin Islands. And he talked about slavery, for which there is "no justification," yes, that is "not forgivable."
The Danes, it sounded, left, but stayed inside. Trump would be very happy if Denmark talked about Greenland in the future.