Stephen Kahn

Trouble in peaceful Norway

In Bad news on August 15, 2011 at 3:40 am

OK, now I am on a roll. Unlike my bright and talented relatives, who speak (or spoke) languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Wolof, I have little talent for languages. Thus, I do not speak any Norwegian.

However, I have over the years met a few people from Norway, and they seemed like quite nice and peaceful people. I have known some Americans who have lived in Norway, notably two of my college professors (a married couple) who had taught in Oslo for a few years. They spoke with great fondness of their time in Norway. So it seems like a nice place for the most part.

However, the Vikings’ historical reputation is a little shadier. The Norsemen of ancient times have a bad reputation, perhaps regarded by many as the “gang bangers” of around 800 A.D. As with history in general, digging out the truth is difficult. The following Wikipedia article may tell you more than you want to know about the puzzle .

During World War II, an event still regarded perhaps as the pinnacle of evil enterprise in modern times, Norway fell under the control of Hitler and Germany. After Hitler installed Vidkun Quisling as a puppet ruler, Qiusling’s name became a modern catch word for a certain type of evil behavior. As Wikipedia describes the reputation projected by his name:

“During World War II, the word quisling became synonymous with traitor. The term was coined by the British newspaper The Times in its leader of 15 April 1940, entitled ‘Quislings Everywhere.’ The editorial asserted,

‘To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.’”

Quisling himself has been described as follows:

“Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung described Quisling as a mini-Hitler, with a CMT (chosenness-myth-trauma) complex, or alternatively megalo-paranoia, more often diagnosed in modern times as narcissistic personality disorder. He was ‘well installed in his personality’, but unable to gain a following among his own people as the population did not provide a mirror for Quisling’s ideology; in short, he was ‘a dictator and a clown on the wrong stage with the wrong script’ … psychiatrist Professor Gabriel Langfelt stated that Quisling’s ultimate goals ‘fitted the classic description of the paranoid megalomaniac more exactly than any other case [he had] ever encountered.’”

It’s probably unfair to describe Quisling as representing Norway in any general or useful way. After the end of after WW II Norway gradually achieved the mostly benevolent reputation that Scandinavians in general now enjoy. Thus when a gigantic and violent atrocity occurred not long ago in Norway, both the Norwegians and the world in general were shocked.

  1. So that’s how we got that word! Thanks for the little history lesson. Interesting.

  2. When I was a child, perhaps because WWII was still fresh in people’s minds, perhaps because my relatives were Jewish, I learned a bit about Qusling and why his name was regarded with such contempt and horror. Perhaps in a similar fashion, granddaughter Anne Elise will grow up knowing about why the name “Bin Laden” stirs such terror and horror in the minds of people a little older than she.

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