The Whiskey War: History’s Most Polite Territorial Conflict
Hans Island is a small, uninhabited, barren rock in the Arctic with no known reserves of oil or natural gas. It is just 1.3 sq. kms. in area. Still, there is an ongoing territorial dispute between Denmark and Canada over who owns this little rock, and a very odd one at that.
The 1.3 sq. kms island sits directly in the middle of the Nares Strait, a 22 mile wide waterway that separates the most northern land of Canada, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland, an autonomous Denmark territory. What keeps this giant rock perpetuating the ownership debate is the fact that it sits within the 12 mile territorial limit of both Canada and Greenland, making it close enough that each country involved can claim it under international law.
It started in 1880, when Hans Island got lost in the shuffle of the British transferring remaining arctic territories to Canada. Due to the use of predominantly outdated, 16th-century maps, the small island was not explicitly included in the transfer, and as such wasn't even recognized until decades later.
The best part of the history of Hans Island comes in 1984, when Canadian troops visited the island and left behind something distinct to the Great White North, an erected Canadian flag, a sign that read “Welcome to Canada” and a bottle of Canadian Club whisky.
Not wanting to show up empty-handed to the party, Greenland’s Minister took a trip to the island soon after, removing and replacing all the Canadian offerings with their own flag, a bottle of Danish Schnapps, and a sign that read “Velkommen til den danske ø” or “Welcome to the Danish Island.”
And thus began the first chapter of one of the most neighborly and hospitable disputes (or elaborate drinking games) in history, known as The Whisky War. Since then, there have been continued trips by both sides to collect and replace the other party’s goods.
All in all, few things make for a better story than two allied countries fighting a battle over land for more than three decades with welcome signs, and booze!
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