Does anybody remember H.C. Hansen these days? He belonged to the same generation as Tage Erlander (but unlike Erlander never had an academic education), was the #2 man of the Danish Social Democrats for most of the 1940s and early 1950s and following the early death of Hans Hedtoft in 1955 he became prime minister only to die from cancer at the age of 53 in 1960.
Hansen is best remembered for – well, what is he remembered for? In a way, he was the Helmut Schmidt to Hans Hedtoft’s Willy Brandt, the doer rather than the visionary, occupied with keeping the machines of the party moving, and it is difficult to link Hansen’s name to any big project or policy decision. Unlike their Swedish brethren, the Danish Social Democracy for a number of reasons did not have a skördetid (harvest) in the 1950s.
But nearly fifty years after his death, Hansen is in the news with a story about his collaboration with US intelligence during and immediately after the Second World War.
Surprising? Yes and no. That the US would have some interest in Denmark during and after the war is pretty obvious and it is also an old story that US intelligence services had contacts to non-communist leftist movements. H.C. Hansen had contacts to the Danish Resistance movement as well as a central position in the Social Democratic party and as such, he would be a useful contact for the Americans.
What may be slightly surprising is that Hansen at a very early stage had close contacts with the Americans and not the British.1 It took some years for the Danish political elite to really grasp the central role of the US in the post-WW2 world, so Hansen would in fact have been remarkable prescient by having US contacts. That Hansen and others would keep the US informed about Danish-Soviet negotiations over a trade treaty is not really earth-shattering news.
It is an established truth that the main interest of the US with regard to Denmark was getting access to Greenland. If we leave aside the the legal niceties, the interesting question would be if H.C. Hansen’s contacts with the US left Denmark in a better or worse position with regard to defence and alliance policies.
- Here we should note that US archives are more open that UK archives. [↩]