Recently I have been paying attention to one of the periodic leaks of previously private information that occurs in our contemporary world and that erodes trust in our corporate and political elites. One of these scandals, one which has not gotten a lot of attention from what I can tell in the United States, has been called the Panama Papers scandal, where a variety of people have been exposed as having set up shell corporations using a particularly well-known Panamanian consultant to engage in tax evasion and other fraudulent behaviors. One of the people caught in the dragnet is the Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, head of Iceland’s Progressive Party and the youngest Prime Minister in the short history of the Icelandic Republic, who has decided to step aside from the office at present, pending an election that would demonstrate whether he has the confidence of the people after it has become well-known that he had a particularly large stake in one of the foreign banks that held some of the foreign debts of Iceland , and engaged in behavior as Prime Minister that profited his wife’s interest in an offshore company, where the family’s interests had not been disclosed.
This sort of corruption goes on all the time in the contemporary world. In the United States, forever, it is a source of irritation and discontent that our Congressmen are exempt from rules against insider trading. As is the case in many countries around the world, people who are well-off but hardly extremely wealthy find themselves well-enriched personally by holding the spoils of office, and find themselves even wealthier if they decide to leave office because of the likelihood of finding success writing books, sitting on corporate and college boards, and serving as well-heeled lobbyists in the place where they served so long as representatives, should they so choose. It should be noted that the United States is far less corrupt than most countries in the world, where even routine tasks, like having people pay attention to various applications for visas or investigation of traffic incidents requires the payment of bribes, because no one can be trusted to do their job without some sort of corrupt inducement.
While engaging in this sort of melancholy study, I pondered a bit about the founding of Iceland as a republic in the first place. Iceland is a small country in terms of population, and one of the various small nations that I would like to visit if time and opportunity allow, although I have no personal family connections there at least as far as I am aware of. Although the matter has not gotten much attention, during the first few years of Iceland’s nominal independence as a republic, which started in 1944 after the conquest of Denmark by Nazi Germany, the island nation was under the occupation of Great Britain and the United States from 1940, as Iceland and its surrounding seas were a key area for the merchant marine in the efforts to provide supply and war material during World War II in the face of continual attack from German U-boats. Iceland may not have wanted to have a direct role in World War II, and may have preferred being a neutral, but it had no choice; it had vital strategic importance in the Battle of the Atlantic, and had no chance of standing aside from the conflict that raged all around the world.
Yet although the rule of the Allied powers over Iceland was far more benign than the rule of Nazi Germany over occupied Europe, a rather low standard of rule to surpass, it must be conceded, it was a time of great humiliation and shame for Iceland as a whole. Some reports  suggest that girls as young as twelve years old were forced into prostitution to service the servicemen of Great Britain and the United States during the 1940’s. The delicacy of the matter, which included hundreds of children born to relationships between Icelandic women and British or American soldiers, has a euphemistic name, where the time period between 1940 and 1945 is known as Ástandið (the condition, or the situation), while those children born of Icelandic mothers to foreign soldiers are called ástandsbörn, or “children of the situation/condition”. This is likely to be a matter of continuing trouble in Iceland, which understandably has wished to remain isolated within the larger wars and struggles in the region, left alone to engage in its own affairs without being dominated by rapacious empires, and has been slow to enter the EU as a result of that understandable concern of domination by the much larger nations at the core of the European Union, as it was dominated by Great Britain and the United States during World War II and by Denmark before that and Norway before that.
What would it take to encourage Iceland that its people would be treated with respect by its cousins in North America and Europe? World War II is commonly thought of as a good war, where the United States and its allies were clearly on the side of right against the evils of Nazi Germany and Japan. Yet it must be admitted that the United States was not entirely free of its own evils, even in a “good” war. The United States was an imperial nation who had dominated peoples like the Philippines, various small Pacific Islands like Guam and American Samoa, its behavior (and that of Great Britain) in Iceland was far from blameless, viewing it as a place like Thailand where American soldiers were free to enjoy the comfort of child prostitutes because soldiers will be soldiers, after all, and the segregation of American military forces was also a notable stain on our national honor, even if the German and Japanese regimes were far worse . To acknowledge wrong, and own up to it, is the first step in rebuilding trust that has been betrayed.
Iceland still bears the consequences of the wrongs of seventy years ago. The ástandsbörn are now senior citizens, in retirement, approaching the grave. Yet Iceland still fears domination by foreign nations, formerly the armies of the British and American soldiers who courted their young women, or impressed them into prostitution, now the foreign banks that can dominate the economy of Iceland and induce the nation to act according to the best interests of rapacious creditors rather than the best interests of its own people. The means of that domination have certainly changed over the course of decades, but the fear of domination and its effects have not. Peoples have a long memory of the fear and terror of being at the mercy of exploitative rulers, and such matters are not easily forgotten, especially when those who do wrong do not acknowledge the wrong that they have done, even where there is no easy way to repay the debt incurred by oppression or to repair the damage to relationships that result from such abuse and exploitation. The hardest step is to speak of the evils that one would rather sweep under the rug, to own up to our role in creating troublesome situations and conditions, and to seek the pardon of those we have wronged. This is a debt of honor we owe regardless of the response we get from others, and yet it is a debt that is seldom paid, or even acknowledged, because we do not wish to concede any ounce of moral superiority we wish to claim over those who are more wicked than we ourselves by admitting that we too are sinners, and that our behavior has not always been honorable or above board, and so we too must seek mercy and not only club others in supposedly righteous judgment. And so we remain willfully ignorant of our own wickedness, children of our own situations and conditions, prisoners of our own shame, blinded by our own pride.
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