During the last 48 hours or so, two things have happened that have underscored the special nature of the relationship between the United States, of which I am a citizen, and Norway, where I live.
The first is the arrival in the harbor of Oslo of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the world’s largest and newest aircraft carrier.
This massive vessel, described as “the largest warship ever constructed,” began its first full-length deployment on May 3. It arrived in Oslo, its first port of call, on May 24.
Its docking in the Oslo harbor was the lead story on the May 24 evening news here. NRK, the left-leaning national broadcasting system, typically managed to find two high school teachers who found the ship’s presence alarming. One was math teacher Abeer Alammouri, a Syrian refugee, who considered the ship’s proximity to her classroom “frightening.”
To its credit, NRK also interviewed two schoolboys thrilled to see the giant vessel in the harbor. One, with a pair of binoculars strapped around his neck, was excited to have observed F-16s and F-22. It was nice to know that at least one Norwegian of that age can identify and is delighted by the sight of those fighter jets. Such a kid won’t be too easily influenced by the views of a teacher like Alammouri.
In any event, those enthusiastic young men were definitely in the majority. Aftenposten’s headline about the carrier’s arrival was “A Special Day for Oslo.”
The newspaper of record noted that not long ago, the presence in Oslo’s harbor of “a gigantic American warship” would have triggered widespread criticism. Members of the Norwegian Left, which has always been obnoxious about Norway’s close American ties, would have howled on TV about Norway being a part of the “American empire.” The country’s Socialist Left Party was founded in 1975 with the explicit purpose of pulling Norway out of NATO.
That cause never caught on. Yes, Norway’s elites lean left—even further than America’s. But the country’s ties to America are deep and go far beyond politics. Almost every Norwegian has relatives in the U.S. Norwegians grew up on American movies, TV, and music. American popular culture is as close to their hearts as it is to ours.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine swept away most, if not all, of the Norwegian antipathy toward NATO—or at least put it on hold. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Norway is the only founding member of NATO that borders Russia. Two years ago, this was just a “fun fact.” After the war in Ukraine began, the reality of that border hit home.
And so this immense carrier, a symbol of the strength of the NATO alliance and of the scale of American military power, isn’t a cause, this time around, for the usual anti-American carping on Norwegian TV. Instead, as Aftenposten noted, its presence has engendered a spirit of celebration in Oslo that made the day of the ship’s arrival feel like “a second May 17”—a reference to Norway’s Constitution Day, a day of parades, flag-waving, and patriotic songs.
The other recent event that underscored the close ties between Norway and America was the death of Tina Turner. While the arrival of the USS Gerald R. Ford was the lead story on the evening news on May 24, Turner’s passing led the 11 p.m. news.
As it happens, the first concert I went to after moving to Oslo in 1999 was a Tina Turner concert. It was held outdoors. I don’t remember ever seeing so large and enthusiastic a crowd. She was magnificent, of course. Unforgettable.
After news of her death was reported, I was moved to see how many of my Facebook friends in Norway posted tributes to her. “Decidedly one of my greatest sources of inspiration!” wrote one.
I’m a baby boomer from New York. Tina Turner has been as much and as long a part of the lives of Norwegians of my generation as she has of mine.
Sometimes, for an American living in Norway, the U.S. doesn’t feel so far away.
Photos by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images (left) / Paul Natkin/Getty Images (right)