PHAM XUAN AN – A LEADING COMMUNIST DISINFORMER DURING THE VIETNAM WAR

February 20, 2018

Washington Times on January 29, 2018, published an interview with Luke Hunt, the Australian author of “The Punji Trap — Pham Xuan An: The Spy Who Didn’t Love Us”. It is a story of a North Vietnamese operative who managed to influence how the Tet Offensive in 1968 was viewed in America. Pham Xuan An served as a correspondent for Time Magazine and Reuters. Excerpts from the interview below:

Question: “The Punji Trap” was a long time in the making. Why?

Answer: It took almost 30 years for a number of reasons. During my childhood, I became fascinated with Vietnam as the war played out on television and a family friend died there, which really left its mark. While at university in the 1980s, I wrote an undergrad thesis on An way back when his role was still a secret. I then managed to interview him several times…

Q: How did An pull off one of the 20th century’s most successful covert propaganda efforts?

A: Americans were always interested in beating themselves up about the lies that came from the White House… An spread the [three major] lies that came from the North Vietnamese.

One: [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh convinced the world that the conflict was a national war of liberation — but really the ethnic Viets were trying to colonize the entire Southeast Asian peninsula.

Two: An convinced the world that the Tet Offensive was a victory for the Communists, which militarily it was not.

Three: The North pledged not invade the South, but they did in 1975 and have spoon-fed communism to the population every day since.

Q: How did An do his work?

A: An…joined the Viet Minh as a teenager and fought the Japanese in World War II and the French as they sought to return at war’s end. He then went to college in California, worked awhile at The Sacramento Bee, then returned to Saigon to work for the Western media. He was well-respected…and played the media like a Stradivarius. [A speciality was to] set up bogus interviews with people in sidewalk cafes — “You’re going to meet this bloke from the opposition who knows all about the North’s tactics,” etc…But it was all made up.

Hunt’s book is not only about Pham Xuan An. It also covers journalistic experience in general during the Vietnam War.

Comment: We don’t know how many journalists of Western media during the Vietnam War were North Vietnamese spies. Certainly the North Vietnamese propaganda and psychological warfare had a well prepared ground in the West. News media rarely used the statements of the South Vietnamese government. Emphasis was made on napalm, defoliation or emotional subjects while the deeds of the North Vietnamese and their guerrilla army was rarely touched upon. A survey of broadcasts by CBS in the United States concluded that 95 percent of commentators were against the US government viewpoint and only 5 percent supported the government.

Guerrilla wars are determined as much, if not more, by political and psychological factors as by military factors on the ground. General Edward Lansdale, a leading American expert on guerrilla warfare, has said that there were no political costs in the war to the leaders in Hanoi. America never really attempted to use its vast communications resources to make the North Vietnamese leaders accountable for their actions in the war…first President Johnson and the President Nixon were challenged grievously by highly vocal portions of the American people, despite the fact that North Vietnamese leaders were elected to leadership through part back doors and rigged, totalitarian elections.

Another expert on guerrilla warfare, British General Sir Robert Thompson said that the North Vietnamese not only were not accountable to their own constituents, they never became accountable to world opinion.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF GUARDING MARITIME CHOKEPOINTS

February 13, 2018

Washington Times on February 6, 2018, published a commentary on maritime chokepoints. See excerpts below:

In 1988, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were still locked in the Cold War, with most nations siding with liberty or totalitarianism. The 1990s were marked by America’s unipolar moment,…

The last 10 years have witnessed the resurgence…in Moscow undermining Western cohesion and American influence in Europe and the Middle East, joined by a revisionist authoritarian regime in Beijing determined to manage Asia’s commerce and overturn the international liberal economic order sustained by U.S.-led alliances for 70 years.

The question for political, corporate and finance leaders centers on how to engage these new power arrangements, sure to be in flux for the foreseeable future.

Many…flashpoints have emerged immediately adjacent to the world’s most important waterways, carrying the bulk of total global commerce and much of the world’s oil and natural gas supplies. Sovereignty disputes between China and almost every Pacific neighbor, from Japan to Indonesia, play out regularly in the South and East China Seas, through which a combined 35 percent of the world’s commerce traverses.

The Straits of Malacca, between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, is the entry point for China’s ambitious naval security strategy deep into the Indian Ocean, where it has established a “string of pearls” comprised of ports and harbors in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan, and in several countries along Africa’s eastern coastline. China established its first foreign military base, in the African nation of Djibouti, across the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint guarded by the U.S. and NATO allies against pirate and terror organizations exploiting the civil war in Yemen and long-standing anarchy in Somalia.

India is emerging from the self-imposed isolation of decades of non-aligned socialism, seeking to build a modern economic powerhouse and assert its sovereign national interests across the south Asian continent and throughout the Indian Ocean, bordered by two dozen countries from South Africa in the southwest to Australia in the southeast. India’s strategic priority is to constrain China’s maritime, commercial and military ambitions from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden, and to conduct military operations and project power expansively into the open ocean — ideally in a strategic partnership with the U.S., Japan and Australia.

In the Middle East, transformed by the 1979 Iranian revolution that provoked the radical Shia-Sunni sectarian divide with Saudi Arabia, Washington is conceding Moscow’s growing influence.

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy recognizes Moscow’s newfound regional power status, buttressed by 49-year leases to maintain and expand Russian naval and air bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Moscow is now positioned to project greater military power and diplomatic influence throughout southeastern Europe and the Middle East than at any time since it was expelled from Egypt in the early 1970s.

Russia’s pronounced eastern Mediterranean presence will reassure China, which has designated southeastern Europe as its entry point into central European markets, and will challenge the U.S. and Egypt guarding the Suez Canal, through which 40 percent of global oil shipments and over 10 percent of world trade pass annually.

These are just some of the paramount geopolitical risks concentrating the minds of today’s political and financial leaders. Their concerns are growing, clear answers are few, and the potential for significant disruption is kaleidoscopic. What is needed is far-sighted, innovative and realistic leadership as the foundation for essential American predominance in a stable and surer world order, limiting the reach of those countries that would undermine the relative security and prosperity of recent decades.

The alternative is a world economic order dominated by a mercantilist Chinese Communist Party, weighed down by the constant menace of Russian revisionist ambition, and the undermining of political stability, regional economies and energy resources by…Iran.

With 90 percent of total world commerce — including that of the West’s most determined adversaries — borne on ships, the United States and its partners have no recourse but to maintain free and open shipping across and throughout all international waters. Such are the daunting challenges of our constant turmoil, seeking to mitigate geopolitical risk in a world as dangerous as ever, where history and geography remain the bedrock of political choices and decisions — today, tomorrow and always.

John Sitilides, geopolitical strategist at Trilogy Advisors LLC, specializes in global risk analysis and regulatory affairs.

Comment: Mr. Sitilides is correct in highlighting the Strait of Malacca. Between the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia’s Sumatra Island the strait is very important for the movement of petroleum from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific. There are numerous navigational hazards in the strait. Using any other alternative strait (Sunda, Lombok and and Ombia-Wetar is however adding to distance and cost. Both Japan and India are closely monitoring the strait.

Growing present Russian activity in the eastern Mediterranean adds to the importance of the Suez Canal.

Other crucial chokepoints remain. The Strait of Hormuz is probably the best-known. Between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman it is 100 nautical miles long and only 24 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point. It is estimated that 70 and 80 ships pass the strait each day. A high proportion of these ships transport oil to the West and to China.

The chokepoints are examples of the importance of geography in what Mr. Sitilides rightly calls a world of constant turmoil.

U.S. ATTORNEY JEFF SESSIONS ANNOUNCES HEZBOLLAH FINANCING AND NARCOTERRORISM TEAM

February 3, 2018

The United States Department of Justice in a January 11, 2018, press release announced to creation of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT). Excerpts below:

[This is] a group of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors. HFNT prosecutors and investigators are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases. The HFNT will begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations, including cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations.

The HFNT will coordinate with, among others, investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), including the DEA’s Special Operations Division; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; Assistant United States Attorneys; and attorneys from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and National Security Division.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution. The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”

“The investigation and prosecution of terrorist organizations that contribute to the growing drug crisis are a priority for this administration,” said Acting Assistant General Cronan. “At the Attorney General’s direction, the HFNT will use all appropriate tools to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who provide financial support to Hezbollah in an effort to eradicate the illicit networks that fuel terrorism and the drug crisis.”

Comment: This is a welcome addition to the U.S. administration’s other efforts focusing on the subversive efforts of Iran in the Middle East. Teheran is seeking a dominating position in the area. It is threatening important Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia with its large oil and gas reserves. By supporting Hezbollah and Hamas Iran is actively threatening Israel. Situated in the rimland of Eurasia Iran is a leading threat to the West.

PRESIDENT TRUMP MEETS NORTH KOREAN DEFECTORS IN OVAL OFFICE

February 3, 2018

Voice of America on February 2, 2018, reported that President Donald Trump spoke in the Oval Office with a group of North Korean defectors. Excerpts below:

“Their story is amazing,” Trump said before asking the eight Koreans to speak about their ordeals. The president listened intently as they spoke for 20 minutes.

“We actually have two other people outside and they are literally afraid of execution — they didn’t want to be with cameras,” the president told reporters.

Those defectors who decided to appear on camera thanked Trump for highlighting North Korean human rights abuses. Trump addressed the subject during his speech last November in the South Korean National Assembly and in his State of the Union address last week.

Several appealed to Trump to do more.

Those who escape North Korea to China “would rather die and kill themselves than be repatriated to North Korea,” said Lee Hyeon-soo, adding many carry poison with them in case they are caught.

Lee added that “escaping North Korea is not like leaving another country, it’s more like leaving another universe. I’ll never truly be free of its gravity no matter how far my journey.”

Lee, now a student in South Korea, has written a memoir about her experience, The Girl with Seven Names.

Kim Kwang-jin, who was a banking agent in Singapore for the North Korean government and defected in 2003, told Trump his attention to the human rights issue “will be an inspiration” to many in his native country.

Ji Seong-ho, a double amputee who attended Trump’s State of the Union address, where he stood to wave his old crutches when he received an ovation, told Trump: “I’ve been crying a lot these past few days since the speech, as I was so moved by the whole experience.”

Peter Jung, who escaped to China in 2000, told Trump he is now a broadcaster for the U.S.-government-supported Radio Free Asia, which — as does VOA — broadcasts to North Korea in the Korean language.

“I was very honored to become a United States citizen” last year, he told Trump.

During the meeting, Trump said, “We’re doing a lot” regarding North Korea. “We have many administrations that should have acted on this a long time ago.”

“It’s a very tricky situation,” the president added. “We’re going to find out how it goes, but we think the Olympics will go very nicely and, after that, who knows?”

NEW US NATIONAL DEFENSE STRATEGY: FOCUS ON GREAT POWER COMPETITION

January 20, 2018

Fox News on January 19, 2018 reported on the new National Defense Strategy of the United States. Excerpts below:

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that the U.S. military’s advantage over Russia and China is “eroding,” when he unveiled the new US National Defense Strategy….The document also says that ISIS no longer remains a top threat.

“Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mattis said. “We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”

Mattis named the rogue regimes in North Korea and Iran as top threats as well. But the strategy does not ignore the ability of terrorist groups to persist and evolve. ISIS has largely been defeated in Iraq and Syria, but Mattis warned the group will keep trying to reestablish itself and make a comeback like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.

He warned that America’s ability to respond to threats has diminished.

He also said, “We will modernize key capabilities, recognizing we cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons or equipment.”

Mattis said the modernization of China’s military over the past two decades as well as Russia’s advantages coupled with the U.S fighting its longest war in the nation’s history have led to loss of a competitive advantage.

“To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he warned.

This is the first national defense strategy in 10 years. The classified version of the strategy is five times bigger than the 11-page unclassified report released today.

Comment: This is good news not only for the United States but for the West as a whole. The great power threat of China and Russia has during the period 2008 to 2016 been underestimated by the American administration of Obama.

This is not the first time in US history. During World War Two there was a vast deception that kept Stalin’s henchmen on American federal payroll. This resulted in a sabotaged foreign policy in favor of the Soviet Union. Presidential aides such as Lauchlin Currie and Harry Hopkins exerted pro-communist influence on US policy. Massive breaches of internal security and betrayal of free-world interests were ignored by the US administrations. Countless American officials turned a blind eye to the penetration problem. Some of the worst betrayals was in the atomic weapons area which resulted in the Soviets being able to develop the atomic bomb.

Important is also the the United States will continue to defend against terrorist movements. With ISIS defeated in Iraq and Syria there could be new emerging threats from Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.

THE GREATEST COLD WARRIOR – A NEW BOOK BY MAX BOOT

January 17, 2018

Washington Times on January 16, 2018 published a review of Max Boots latest book: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, Liveright, US dollars 35.00, 768 pages. Excerpts from the review by Gary Anderson below:

Edward Lansdale is probably the greatest cold warrior that most Americans have never heard of. Max Boot has written a fascinating account of how this California college humorist, frat boy and advertising executive evolved into a counterinsurgency expert before the term was even coined. He was a virtual shadow American proconsul in both the Philippines and South Vietnam in the 1950s wisely advising both Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay and South Vietnamese leader No Dinh Diem on how to deal with Communist inspired insurgencies.

His success in the Philippines was spectacular and made his reputation. In Vietnam he was originally successful, but saw his influence wane for reasons beyond his control. However, he became the father of today’s American counterinsurgency doctrine even though few American advisers have been able to replicate his skill in influencing foreign leaders.

Max Boot has become one of the master chroniclers of American counterinsurgency efforts, and his biography of Mr. Lansdale is a tribute to a guy who recognized the threat of insurgency in a post-World War II environment where most American leaders saw only brute force as a solution to any political-military problem.

Mr. Lansdale argued that success was dependent on getting the people to stop supporting the insurgents, and have some hope that the government was a better alternative. Eliminating insurgents militarily was only a secondary part of the Lansdale approach. It worked in the Philippines because Mr. Lansdale developed a unique brand of trust with that nation’s leader.

When he was asked to do the same things in South Vietnam, Mr. Lansdale was initially successful in developing a personal rapport with Prime Minister Diem. However, Mr. Lansdale eventually lost influence with Mr. Diem due to the machinations of Mr. Diem’s brother No Diem Nhu and his manipulative wife Madam Nhu.

Mr. Boot also points out that the differences in culture and language worked against Lansdale in Vietnam — he never developed a facility for foreign languages — but he was still able to develop a close personal relationship with Diem. Unlike the island archipelago of the Philippines, South Vietnam’s insurgents had sanctuary in North Vietnam and China that would prove fatal to the south in the end.

Mr. Lansdale eventually became an Air Force major general and Pentagon official; but he was never able to replicate the success inside the Washington Beltway accomplished in Asia, and he watched the American tragedy in Vietnam unfold despite several attempts to change policy on trips to Saigon before it fell to the Communists.

Mr. Lansdale’s ability to develop personal relationships with foreign leaders and guide their policy-making has never been fully replicated by his modern American adviser successors in fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His philosophy of attempting to separate the civilian population from the insurgents has now been codified in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. He was a firm believer that American constitutional democracy was far superior to the kind of authoritarianism that the Communists offered and believed that local forces, not Americans, should lead the fight.

This book should be read in Baghdad and Kabul, not only by Americans, but by local leaders.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as a civilian adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FIVE TIMES THE SPEED OF SOUND – BOEING’S NEW HYPERSONIC STRIKE AIRCRAFT

January 17, 2018

Fox News on January 15, 2018, reported on Boeing’s new hypersonic strike aircraft. Excerpts below:

It happened at an event in Orlando, Florida, but it’s only a concept design for now.

The new aircraft will be a direct competitor to Lockheed martin’s upcoming SR-72.

These rival firms are racing to create a hypersonic aircraft that’s capable of stealthy recon assignments – and strike missions, too.

…Boeing’s hypersonics chief described how Boeing was planning a two-step development process for the new war plane.

The first stage would involve flight tests of an “F16-sized, single-engine” precursor vehicle that acts as a “proof of concept”.

The second stage is the creation of a “twin-engine, full-scale operational vehicle” that has roughly similar dimensions to the 107-foot-long SR-71.

Boeing’s end goal is an aircraft that can travel at speeds beyond Mach 5 – that’s five times the speed of sound.

The tricky part is that the SR-71 replacement needs to to be able to take off, accelerate, slow down and land all on its own – just like the original 1964 model.

Boeing is looking at using a conventional turbojet to hit Mach 3, then switching to a different configuration to boost beyond Mach 5.

DET BLIR ETT NYTT PSYKOLOGISKT FÖRSVAR I SVERIGE MEN ÄR DET FÖR SENT

January 15, 2018

I januari 2014 publicerade Kristianstadsbladet en insändare av författaren Bertil Häggman, där han beklagade nedrustningen av det civila psykologiska försvaret sedan 2006. Ett besök sommaren 2013 visade att Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskaps (MSB) hemsida inte kunde presentera någon ny forskning på området. MSB har haft huvudansvaret under perioden efter det kalla krigets slut 1991. Allt man kunde finna var hänvisningar till äldre skrifter från det kalla kriget.

Ett visst uppvaknande skedde under 2014 och Statskontoret fick i uppdrag att utreda det psykologiska försvaret. Under 2017 kom så utredningsrapport 2017:5 (”Myndigheternas arbete med psykologiskt försvar”) där det konstaterades att de flesta statliga myndigheter hade verksamheter som är av betydelse för ett modernt psykologiskt försvar. Däremot är det bara en dryg tredjedel av myndigheterna som själva anser att de är en del av det psykologiska försvaret.

Att s-regeringen 2018 har agerat i frågan beror till stor del på en växande kritik för overksamhet på område psykologiskt försvar i borgerliga tidningar och från borgerliga försvarsexperter. Sverige kommer nu enligt statsministern att få en myndighet för psykologiskt försvar, men det kommer att ta tid att bygga upp den eftersom verksamheten praktiskt taget legat nere i över ett årtionde.

Den svenska nedrustningsskandalen efter det kalla kriget är unik. Sverige har det senaste årtiondet haft ett försvar som är svagast i Europa. Mycket talar för att Ryssland håller på att återuppliva Operation Polarka. Det var en gång Sovjets plan mot Sverige (och Norge samt Danmark). Då avslöjade den avhoppade tjeckiske generalmajoren Jan Sejna från 1968 att Moskva var berett att sätta in 1,5 miljoner man mot Skandinavien. Sydsverige beräknades vara ockuperat efter tre dagar. Den behövliga ockupationsarmén för Sverige, Norge och Danmark uppskattades då till 90 000 sovjetsoldater.

Vid anfallet skulle med hänsyn till Sveriges stora territorium osedvanligt mycket fallskärmssoldater användas. Huvudargumentet för ockupationen var under det kalla kriget att Moskva ville ”värna om svensk alliansfrihet”. Generalmajor Sejna uppgav att ockupationen av Sverige skulle vara väl förberedd. Det fanns fler sovjetiska agenter i Sverige än i något annat land i Västeuropa i förhållande till befolkningen. I Sverige, Norge och Danmark fanns 60 sovjetiska huvudagenter. Var och en hade i sin tur ett nätverk av spioner och agenter under sig. Listor på svenskar som skulle arresteras, fängslas och likvideras fanns färdiga i Moskva.

Mer information om Operation Polarka finns i Bertil Häggmans skrift ”Operation Polarka (1974). Tidskriften Se publicerade under 1971 en serie artiklar om det sovjetiska hotet mot Sverige byggda på Sejnas avslöjanden. Här nedan ett citat:

”Upplysningar, som samlas in om industri och näringsliv, analyseras av KGB. Informationerna bidrar till att bestämma vilka mål som sabotagegrupper kan ge sig i kast med. Sådan mål är redan utsedda och kartotekförda i Kreml. Dessa spioner hjälper dessutom till att samla negativa informationer om betydande personer i ett land. Sådana upplysningar eller meritförteckningar skall användas för att oskadliggöra personer genom att förtala dem i deras eget land och på det sättet få dem ur spel. Jag vet att Kreml har tusen och åter tusen namn från Sverige, Norge och Danmark i sina listor. De täcker namn från alla näringsgrenar och hela det politiska livet, inklusive journalister och konstnärer. Under en ockupation av Skandinavien blir många av dessa människor ögonblickligen arresterade och avrättade. Ryska ”domstolar” har faktiskt redan utsetts för sådana uppdrag. De skall träda i kraft omedelbart efter det att länderna ockuperats. ”

Inför nya hot från Ryssland efter det kalla kriget har svenska politiker utan folkligt stöd nedrustat det svenska försvaret på de flesta områden. Utan NATO-medlemskap utsätter den socialdemokratiska regeringen Sverige för stora risker.

CHINA MOVING INTO FORMER ”TRIBUTARY TERRITORY” WITH MAJOR INVESTMENTS

January 11, 2018

Fox News on January 11, 2018 reported that Cambodia and China have signed nearly 20 agreements worth several billion dollars to develop the impoverished Southeast Asian country’s infrastructure, agriculture and health care. Excerpts below:

The agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed during a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang.

Among the major agreements is building a new expressway more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) long linking the capital, Phnom Penh, with the coastal city of Sihanoukville,, and a new Phnom Penh international airport.

Cambodia was part of the tribute system was established during the Chinese Han dynasty. The first tributary missions arrived in China around the first century BC. Cambodia was a tributary state to China from 616 to 1863. Annam (part of Vietnam) sent tributary missions to China and in the case of Laos it was from 1400 to 1912. Burma and Thailand were also linked to China for centuries.

Comment: From the period 2010 to 2012 China has been increasingly assertive even aggressive in its relations with South-East Asian nation but in other areas as well.

China seems to believe that America’s role in the worldwide financial crisis as well as the costly military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have weakened the United States. The soft China policy of Washington DC from 2008 to 2016. The rising China has interpreted this as an indication of Western weakness.

It is important to introduce geopolitical thinking when studying the other Chinese flashpoint of the South China Sea. During the first decade of the 21st century a Greater China has emerged. China must be prevented from having too much influence in the Rimland according to Dutch-American geopolitician Nicholas Spykman (1893 – 1943). He was the founder of the Yale Institute of International Relations. The Rimland of Eurasia from Norway to the Bering Strait is of main importance in geopolitics according to Spykman The upheavals in the Greater Middle East since the beginning of the twentyfirst century and the growing tensions in South Asia and the Korean Peninsula is reason to watch China as both landpower and seapower.

THE ERULI – FROM DENMARK VIA UKRAINE AND SOME TO ICELAND

December 26, 2017

Stina Helmersson – Uno Roendahl, “Herulerna – Det bortglömda folket” [The Eruli – The Forgotten People], 2005, Epona Förlag, Villands Vånga, Sweden, 260 pages.

Introduction

A relatively recent publication of a book on the ancient Germanic people of the Eruli (Heruls) (Stina Helmersson – Uno Roendahl, “Herulerna – Det bortgloemda folket” [The Eruli – The Forgotten People], 2005, Epona Foerlag, Moellerydsvaegen 104, SE-290 38 Villands Vaanga, Sweden, 260 pages) is an event of great importance. It is the first complete book on the Eruli to be published in Sweden. This does not mean that there has been a lack of interest. There is an extensive academic material published in the 1900s. The Eruli are also well documented in classical literature.

There is some disagreement among scholars concerning the original homeland of this people. Denmark (more specifically Jutland or as the Romans called it the Cimbrian Peninsula). One of the questions is if the Eruli really were a people. Although the authors of the present book present numerous evidence of archaelogical finds that could be connected to the Eruli there can still be doubt. If a people is defined as an ethnical or geographical entity it is hard to place this people who appeared at so different places as Denmark, Ukraine and Iceland.

Was it in reality a ‘war guild’ (Kriegerverband) of mercenaries, a self defined warrior aristocracy connected to the designation of ancient Nordic title of earl? Thus the Eruli could in reality have a´sworn an oath to each other and to Odin directly. Then they could have taken up recruits from other Germanic peoples and grown in number (see for instance Haakon Stang, The Naming of Russia, Oslo 1996).

Of interest is also the question if the Eruli (if they were indeed a people) was a ‘Gothic people’ or something else. The Byzantines believed that peoples like the Gepids, Vandals and other Germanic peoples of the Era of Great Migration were Gothic peoples. The historian Prokopios in De bello Vandalico, III, ii, 2-5, iii, thought so:

“There were many Gothic nations in the past, just as today, yet greatest and most important are the Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, and Gepaedes…And there were some who called these nations Getic (note: in ancient times Goths and Getae were often confused). All these, while distinguished from one another by names, as stated, do not differ in anything else at all. For they have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome…they are all of Arian faith (note: as were most if not all Germanic peoples on the continent. One of the reasons for the quick downfall of Germanic states on the continent and in North Africa, was that they were detested and persecuted as heretics by the Roman church), and have only one language called Gothic; and it seems to me, they all came originally from one tribe…”

So what of the Eruli? There is one exception, wrote Zonaras:

After Valerianus, his son Gallienus was empowered of the Roman Empire, and having been left in the Occident while his father was fighting the Persians, in order that he resist those who planned ill against Italy and were ravaging Thrace. He with not more than 10,000 [men] vanquished 300,000 Alamans by Milan. Thereupon he crushed the Eruli, this people which is Scythian, and Gothic. He also made war against the Franks…

The Eruli in Ukraine and Russia

This reviewer is especially interested in the Eruli and Gothic campaigns in the Black Sea area, Asia Minor, and Greece in the years between 267 and 270 AD. It seems that the two peoples, the Goths living on the southern Ukrainian coast, operated together during these raids. The Goths traveled mostly overland, and the Eruli acted mainly as sea-raiders. Some of the ancient Greeks thought of the Eruli as just a maritime branch of the Goths. Unfortunately the new Swedish book deals only with these raids in a few lines. After all the Germanic raiders destroyed both Athens and Byzantium and there is still a wall in Athens designated the Erulian Wall, built of the ruins of the first destruction to secure against new attacks by the Eruli. They never came because both Goths and Eruli were defeated by Roman armies in the Balkans.

Important in this context is that most scholars believed the Eruli lived in southern Ukraine from around 250 AD during centuries. Their area was north and south of the Sea of Oziv. On the Ukrainian side it was the region around the cities of Melitopol, Berdyansk and Mariupol as well as Taganrog in Russia. Very little is known in the West on archaelogical research going on in that area if any. Is there any interest in Ukraine in the Eruli? How much is devoted to the Eruli and the Era of Great Migration in Ukrainian history books? Thus it would be of interest to create knowledge of the new Swedish book on the Eruli in Ukraine but also among Ukrainian scholars in the United States and Canada.

How the Eruli Came To Migrate To Iceland

One of the most positive aspects of the new book is the fact that Iceland is brought into focus by the authors. The Icelandic scholar Barthi Guthmundsson has for decades been almost forgotten. He was for many years chief of the Archival Museum connected to the National Museum of Reykjavik. He published an important book on the history of the Icelanders (Upprunni islendinga: published in the United States as The Origin of the Icelanders.) The original book was published shortly after Guthmundsson’s passing away in 1960. The general belief is that Iceland was settled by Norwegians but Guthmundsson has claimed that several Eruli families settled in Iceland. In his book he presents the influence of East Germanic culture in Iceland, which he believed came from the Eruli. A number of scholars in Scandinavia and elsewhere believe that the Eruli brought the runes to the north, as that people migrated widely. It is true that there are runic inscriptions in Scandinavia dated as far back as 200 AD but the greater number of inscriptions in Denmark, Norway and Sweden are from 700 AD and later. The Byzantian historians wrote about one part of the Eruli returning to Scandinavia in 512 AD, settling near the Gauti of Goetaland in southern Sweden, the Gauti believed to be the ancestors of the Goths.

As Helmersson-Roendahl note the theories of Guthmundsson have been presented in a new edition of the book Kuml og haugfé – ur heithnum sith á Islandi (2002). The book was originally authered by Kristján Eldjárn, who for a long time was Chief Archeologist in Iceland. In the new edition a number of leading archaelogists have participated. Five ship graves found on the island republic are all in areas where the Eruli families possibly settled.

Helmersson-Roendahl also bring up the important horse sacrifices and horse graves found in not only southern Scandinavia but also in Hungary and Slovakia. This cannot be a coincidence. Great influence on the East Germanic peoples have come from southern Ukraine and further east in Central Asia via the Huns. In Altai horse sacrifices existed as late as in the 1930s ! In an article in an academic Croatian migration journal I have pointed out, as does the authors of the new book, to the Vaetteryd iron age grave field in central Scania in southern Sweden where close by several horse skeletons and broken horse equipment has been found.

For those interested in ancient Germanic peoples this book is a treasure. There is evidence in classical literature (Prokopios), as mentioned above, that the Eruli returned to Scandinavia and settled either in the province of Blekinge or the part of Smaaland province that is called Vaerend. Helmersson-Roendahl present the unique runestones in Blekinge that connect to the Eruli but also finds of gold coins of Roman origin. The Eruli later came to Norway from where they possibly migrated to Iceland, so the authors of the new book. The Eruli were inventive and independent minded. Both men and women of their people brought culture, belief and traditions. The new book on the Eruli in Sweden belongs in libraries and homes not only in Scania but in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland and why not in Ukraine, Canada and the United States. It should be translated into English.

The author is not aware of the reception of the new book in Iceland. Maybe one could hope that the private institute Snorrastofa (in memory of Snorri Sturluson) might be interested in taking up the theories of Barthi Gudmundsson at some conference. For more on Snorrastofa see brochures “Snorrastofa – Cultural and Medieval Centre in Reykholt, Iceland” and Ecomuseum – Snorrastofa”.