While most countries have a monument to the Unknown Soldier, Iceland doesn’t have a military, so they have a Monument to the Unknown Civil Servant - an interesting difference of focus.
Oli, our tour guide, told us how Iceland, in fact, has not been to war in centuries – not since the time of the Vikings. “But Iceland, technically, WAS part of a war recently. Kind of.”
Apparently, Iceland became part of the “Coalition of the Willing” back in 2003 when USA was prepping to invade Iraq. As the story goes, President Bush phoned up Iceland, and asked them to be part of this new coalition, and someone (likely the Icelandic president or Prime Minister) was willing, so Iceland got put on the list. Icelanders found out because the country’s name was listed on a White House website (which has since been taken down).
Iceland had no soldiers, but sent a lone reporter for media coverage.
In 2007, apparently it became an election issue; there was a massive cry from Icelanders to “Bring Home the Troop!” So they did, and that was the end of that.
But not QUITE the end. Iceland, being a reflective place, decided to reconsider things. Before the incident, it had been unclear who in Iceland had the power to declare war, which enabled the President or the Prime Minister to accept Mr.Bush’s invitation. Iceland decided to change the law. Now, only parliament could vote to declare war, not simply the President or Prime minister. Even with no military, it makes the decision more democratic - a good change, I think!
United States has the same rule in its constitution (only Congress can declare War). In Canada, military actions are still officially prerogative power (left in the hands of the Crown), though Canadian Parliament is often consulted before military intervention. Still, maybe Canadians should take a lesson from Iceland and claim some of our democratic power?
What interesting to me is how this change in Iceland came about! The whole situation seems sort of silly, but the fact that Iceland was willing to change its policy shows that it was willing to learn. People should do the same thing!
We all follow rules and policies of some sort in our own lives – we tell ourselves that we don’t talk to strangers, for instance, or what foods we eat or what sports we play. And that’s okay, but we might do well to reconsider those policies. Sometimes old rules that have served us very well in the past may not be the best rules to move us forward in the future!
This month, as school starts, why not reconsider the rules by which you live? What personal policies will you adjust this year? Good luck!
Joel looks at the Monument to the Unknown Civil Servant.
August 31, 2010
“People are always asking me about Eskimos, but there are no Eskimos in Iceland.”
Icelandic Pop Musician, b.1965
Joel Hilchey is the founder of The Beanstalk Project, a youth engagement initiative to develop global leadership and create positive social change. He speaks at schools and events across North America, inspiring character and creativity by juggling, storytelling, and playing with mousetraps.
This geyser, called Strokkur, erupts about every 10 minutes, firing steam and water 25-35 meters into the air. Cool!
Iceland is home to only about 300,000 people. Below,Joel is holding the phone book for the WHOLE COUNTRY!
RIDDLE: I'm paper and metal and named like a crown, and Icelanders might say I make the world go around. I was big and strong just a few years ago, but in 2008, I hit a personal low. I'd trade with the Euro for 90 to 1, but now two times that, it's not so much fun! What am I?