"Our population is destined to roll its resistless waves to the icy barriers of the north," said William Henry Seward 101 years ago. Twenty-one years later, he bought one of the Arctic marchesAlaska for less than 2¢ an acre. He would have bought Canada and Greenland if he could. He tried to get Denmark's Virgin Islands, but was a half-century ahead of his countrymen. When the islands were bought during World War I, one of Seward's successors, bumbling Robert Lansing, tossed in a quitclaim to northern Greenland.
This week, as U.S. strategists studied the azimuthal map of the Arctic (see cut), it looked as though Seward had been right about Greenland; and Lansing wrong. The U.S. frontier is now on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Thanks to "Seward's Folly," the fortress of North America has a castellated outpost at the northwest angle in Alaska. But at the northeast angle it has only tenuous base rights, to expire with the peace.
So long as U.S. servicemeneven radio beacon operators and weathermenremain at Greenland outposts, the U.S. is exposed to verbal sniping from Moscow for "keeping troops on foreign soil." But with the Soviets trying to muscle in on Norway's Spitsbergen (TIME, Jan. 20), Washington military men thought this might be as good a time as any to buy Greenland, if they could.
Greenland's 800,000 square miles make it the world's largest island and stationary aircraft carrier. It would be as valuable as Alaska during the next few years, before bombers with a 10,000-mile range are in general use. It would be invaluable, in either conventional or push-button war, as an advance radar outpost. It would be a forward position for future rocket-launching sites. In peace or war it is the weather factory for northwest Europe, whose storms must be recorded as near the source as possible.
There was always the objection that Denmark's national pride would stand in the way of a sale. But U.S. military men thought they had an answer: Denmark owes U.S. investors $70 million. That is less than the cost of an 850-ft. carrier for the Navy, but more dollar exchange than Copenhagen can easily raise.