Sunlit Water

June 11, 2007

Something Rotten

Filed under: Culture — by teofilo @ 11:15 pm

Yglesias notes with bewilderment that Denmark was apparently alone among western countries in supporting an Israeli plan for naval confrontation with Egypt in 1967.  His commenters mainly chalk this up to strong Danish support for both America and Israel, perhaps due to the Danish experience in World War II.  I had never heard of this incident before and don’t have anything to say about it, but it reminds me of something that I think about from time to time, which is how little most people seem to know about Denmark’s rather sordid past (and present!) as a colonial power.

I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s (very good) biography of Hamilton, and one thing it really emphasizes in discussing Hamilton’s early years is just how unpleasant life in the eighteenth-century Caribbean was, especially for downwardly mobile white people like Hamilton’s parents.  Although he was born on the tiny British island of Nevis, Hamilton actually spent most of his childhood on the somewhat larger Danish island of St. Croix (which was purchased by the U. S., along with the other Danish Virgin Islands, in 1917), where slaves outnumbered whites 12-to-1 and the white population lived in constant fear of slave uprisings.  Chernow claims that this background was a major influence on many of Hamilton’s later political positions, particularly his staunch abolitionism and extreme fear of disorderly mobs.  Be that as it may, it’s clear from the book that neither Denmark nor the Caribbean really deserve their placid reputations when seen in the proper historical perspective.

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