Artwork By Sofia Farje
The title of the article sets out an apparently easy question to answer: Is it even possible for a conflict to be friendly? If history has taught us something, it’s that in a war there are no winners or losers. Even the “winner” has to lose something… Most common wars fought over land have adopted a violent characteristic to them. The question here remains whether the world has seen an exception to this “rule” or not. This article aims to demonstrate that they can indeed do so without violence; a friendly conflict can be possible.
Human history is littered with wars; violent expressions of conflict. But not all “wars” require the death, gore, and destruction the word typically inspires.
The little “Hans Island” proves that an exception does in fact exist. The small island, less than one and a half kilometers squared, sits in the Kennedy Channel, just between Canada and The Greenland Territories of Denmark. There is nothing special about this island; there are no natural resources available and it’s considered uninhabitable. The only remarkable thing for which it’s known is simply the diplomatic conflict it has been involved in. As its geographical location suggests, Canada and Denmark are the principal actors in the conflict known as “The Whisky War”.
Interestingly, during the Second World War nobody really paid much attention to this uninhabited island, due to the harsh conditions of the post-war period; this was until 1972. After scientific investigations in the area, both Canada and Denmark claimed the island as their own. Unfortunately, no agreement regarding the ownership of the island was reached, but nothing relevant happened until 1984 (Amy Dickey, 2021).
Everything changed in 1984 when the Danish minister for Greenland went to Hans island and planted a large Danish flag accompanied by the short message: “Velkommen til den Danske ø” (Welcome to the Danish island) and a bottle of schnapps, a traditional Danish drink.
Soon after the Danes’ act of conquest, Canadian troops counterattacked by removing the Danish fortifications and building their own fortified base with a Canadian flag, leaving behind them a small message that said: “Welcome to Canada” and a bottle of Canadian Club Whisky.
“The Whisky War” had begun. In fact, this “bloody” battle has occurred every year since with Canada and Denmark continuing to exchange and destroy each other’s fortifications.
Since then, this annual exchange of products between Canada and Denmark has spawned the most affable conflict in history, demonstrating that a friendly quarrel is actually possible. This does not neglect the fact that there are still ongoing negotiations addressing which country technically owns the island.
Consequently, besides the good humour upheld with the island issue between both countries, Hans Island’s legal status right now remains the same as at the beginning of the article. Negotiations between the two nations are not yet finished and the fate of this little island is still up in the air. In May 2018, Canada and Denmark announced the establishment of a Joint Task Force, according to the Government of Canada’s official sources (2019). With this Joint Task Force, they aim to solve the territorial ownership problem between these two countries in the fight for Hans Island. Nevertheless, we will have to wait until they reach a final agreement that puts an end to The Whisky War. Which country do you think will be named the legal owner of Hans Island?
Dickey, A. (30 Sept. 2021). The Whisky War: History’s most polite territorial conflict – Sandboxx. Sandboxx.Us. https://www.sandboxx.us/blog/the-whisky-war-historys-most-polite-territorial-conflict/
Government of Canada, Public Works, Government Services Canada, Public Services, Canada, P., Integrated Services Branch, & Gazette, C. (15 May 2019). Canada gazette, Part 2, Volume 153, Number 10: Withdrawal from disposal of certain tracts of territorial lands in Nunavut (Hans island) order. Gazette.gc.ca. https://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2019/2019-05-15/html/si-tr24-eng.html