Politics & Policy

Telemark Journal

The Vemork hydroelectric plant

With the Oslo Freedom Forum over, I’m off to Telemark with friends — a Norwegian couple, Kristian and Tone, and their marvelous son, Henrik, age ten months. He’s going to be an American boy, as well as a Norwegian one. Certainly American in spirit. He has a Thomas Jefferson doll. He also has a — get this — KISS onesie. You know, “KISS” as in the rock band? The American flag runs through the letters K-I-S-S, on the onesie. Priceless.

When Henrik was five months, I think, his father sent me a picture of him reading National Review — or at least looking at it, with admiration, I think.

#ad#Our group is leaving Oslo for Telemark — a rather storied county in Norway. On our way out of the capital, I notice a police presence outside an embassy — the Iranian embassy. Kristian explains that three embassies are heavily guarded: the Iranian, the American, and the Israeli.

The Iranian embassy needs protection from dissidents and protesters — foes of the regime. The American and Israeli embassies need protection from — well, the Left, the Islamofascists, and so on.

“How pathetic,” I think. “What a pathetic grouping: the U.S. and Israeli embassies, along with the Iranian. What in the world does that tell you?” Two democracies, one totalitarian dictatorship.

Anyway . . .

‐Telemark is a stunning place, as is Norway at large. Almost every turn brings you a postcard. You can hardly imagine a more formidable combination of trees, rock, and water. Waterfalls in Norway are almost as common as mud puddles elsewhere.

‐Habitually, Norwegians make a run for the border — the Swedish border. Why? To shop. Because food is so darn expensive in Norway, owing to the protectionist and other screwy policies of the government. Along the Swedish-Norwegian border, they’ve just built a new mall, for Norwegian shoppers. It is 14 soccer fields long.

Consider the absurdity: Norwegians, who live in just about the richest country in the world, organize shopping trips to Sweden. My friends are always trying to tell me that Norway is not a rich country, but rather a country with a rich state. I’m still trying to process this . . .

A delicious fact: The agriculture minister of Norway was caught shopping in Sweden, just inside the border. He may be a good socialist. But, by golly, he’s a savvy shopper.

‐There are lots of Shell stations in Norway — lots of them. Deep into the Norwegian countryside, we pull into one. There’s a black woman named Esther behind the counter. Interesting. Incongruous. Kind of amazing.

Also, there’s a customer — a local — wearing a T-shirt that says, “I have issues.”

‐It is quite moving to visit the Vemork hydroelectric plant, outside the town of Rjukan (in the municipality of Tinn, in Telemark County). This was the site of the Nazis’ heavy-water operation. It was here that Norwegian saboteurs interrupted that operation, slowing the Nazis’ drive for an atomic bomb.

If you don’t know this tale, get to know it, at some point. It is a stirring, enthralling, important tale. There was a Hollywood movie, you may recall: The Heroes of Telemark.

In the plant, we see a movie — a different movie, a black-and-white documentary. I have to kind of rub my eyes when I see and listen to this film. It comes from a completely different era — an era of clear thinking and moral confidence, before the muck and murk set in.

The film says, “It mattered a lot who got the bomb. The bomb was merely a tool, though an awesome one. What mattered was who possessed it and why. Hitler had the will to conquer the world; all he needed was a weapon. He had to be stopped. The occupation of Norway was horrible, just horrible. Nazi occupation everywhere was horrible. Mankind was being subjugated. Thank heaven the Americans got the bomb. It ended the war. A bomb in Nazi hands, or Japanese hands, would have perpetuated the war.”

Holy Moses. That’s the sort of thinking that was ruled out of America a long, long time ago. In came moral relativism, moral equivalence, and the rest of the rot. Anyone from an American university, or high school, or junior high, would soil his drawers on seeing this movie. The liberal-arts faculty of Brown would drop dead on the spot.

As we leave Vemork, I have two thoughts, dominantly: first, gratitude for people such as the Telemark heroes, who risked everything, and often lost everything, in order to keep slavery at bay and freedom going. Second, I thought of something a professor said.

It was Ernest May, the diplomatic historian, I believe. He told us, “When studying World War II, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the Allies knew they were going to win, all along. Eventually, they knew. But not all through the war. It wasn’t until the Casablanca Conference that they decided on total victory, rather than a negotiated peace. Don’t study the war as though the outcome were inevitable. It was not.”


#page#‐When we get back to the car, Kristian has a message on his phone, or handheld device: Gunnar Sonsteby is dead. He was the leading figure of the Norwegian resistance, the most decorated man in the country. He has died at 94.

Sort of interesting, to get this news, to absorb it, immediately after a visit to Vemork, in the Vemork parking lot.

#ad#‐I’ve seen a fair number of churches in my time, as have you, I’m sure. What would Europe be without churches (even if there’s no one in them now)? But I have never seen a church such as the stave church at Heddal. Let me go to the trusty Encyclopedia Britannica, to learn about stave churches:

. . . in architecture, [a] type of wooden church built in northern Europe mainly during the Middle Ages. Between 800 and 1,200 stave churches may have existed in the mid-14th century, at which time construction abruptly ceased.

A little bit more, for the technically minded:

In the typical Scandinavian type of stave church, a foundation of boulders supports a horizontal wooden frame on which rest four corner posts, or staves. The staves are connected above by a rectangle of beams that complete a boxlike frame; all elements are joined by wooden pegs or by dovetailing. The outer wall timbers of stave churches are positioned vertically, in contrast to the more common “log” horizontal placement used in wooden structures.

Okay, that’s enough. The Heddal church is the largest stave church extant. It was built in 1150 — which seems to me a long time ago, even by European standards. What a beauty this church is. And almost mystifying in its craftsmanship, its architectural science.

To heck with my words, check out some pictures — here.

‐We stop by Ibsen’s home in Skien — the house in which he grew up, out in the country, away from town. The atmosphere is utterly peaceful. There are some tulips in bloom. I think, “I could write better, if I stayed here, in Ibsen’s place.”

Well, maybe not.

‐In town, Kristian pulls up alongside a church graveyard. He wants me to see something — a particular grave and monument. “Okay,” I say, clueless. We walk up to the grave of Quisling. He is buried along with his mother and father, his sister (I believe), and his wife. His father was a pastor at this church. His wife lived a long time after his execution — all the way until 1980. She lived in Oslo, I’m told. I can’t help wondering what her life was like. She never went out, apparently.

At the foot of the Quislings’ monument are flowers, freshly planted. By whom, and why, I don’t know. It is now May 10. Kristian says, hopefully, “Well, May 8 was Liberation Day.” But I think we both suspect the flowers were planted by fans.

And there were a great many in Norway, as a prominent historian will confirm to me later. More fans than is comfortable to remember.

‐I flip through Klassekampen, the Commie newspaper. (The name of the paper means “Class Struggle.”) I see a picture of a columnist, a woman, in Muslim garb. She has a Scandinavian name. Kristian tells me her story: a Commie turned Muslim. Now kind of a Commie Muslim, or Commie Islamist? Can you have that? It seems so contradictory.

The marriage between the Left and radical Islam is an interesting one. I think the answer is — these are people who always go to where the anti-Western action is. What is the camp that’s doing the most to oppose Judeo-Christian civilization?

When it’s the Communists, fine. When it’s the Islamists, fine. You know? Wherever the tearing-down action is, wherever the destroy-the-West action is, there we are.

George Galloway, I suppose, would be the outstanding example. And, speaking of Brits, Ken Livingstone not far behind him.

‐Back in Oslo, I walk through the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and I have an observation I’ve had before, and make a complaint I’ve made before: way, way, way too much meat and two veg. The male form is basically unsculpturable, in my view. It simply does not lend itself to sculpture. The fig leaf is one of the greatest inventions ever. Not only is it modest — it is an artistic triumph.

‐Next to the American embassy, that eyesore, is Pascal’s — one of the finest chocolate-and-pastry places in Scandinavia. Bill Clinton went there. Being a broad-minded type, I go anyway. When you order hot chocolate from Pascal, what comes to you is a kind of chocolate soup, in a bowl-like cup — unspeakably delicious.

‐At the airport, a cheerful and attractive Norwegian woman frisks me, thoroughly. Unfortunately, she stops after about two minutes. Thanks for joining me, Impromptus-ites, and see you later.

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection, Here, There & Everywhere, go here

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