Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fighting the Evil Empire

Whether as a sign of intellectual curiosity or general aimlessness, I often find myself reading about random subjects late at night. The other night, I found myself reading about Finland in World War II.

It's an interesting subject. Finland was invaded by the USSR in 1939, at pretty much the same time and they occupied the Baltic states and split Poland with Germany.

In the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Finns successfully slowed the Soviet advance, and eventually the USSR agreed to a peace treaty. Finland was forced to cede the parts of her territory she had not yet won back from the Soviets, but 90% of the country's territory remained intact. This itself was an amazing military feat for such a small country. It's also interesting in that they essentially out-Russianed the Russians. Just as Napoleon's and Hitler's armies bogged down and froze while trying to invade Russia, the Soviets bogged down and froze while trying to attack Finland, which was even better versed in winter warfare than Russia.

Finland resistance was the subject of much international sympathy, and volunteers from around the world flocked to the country, though few actually saw action. (The young Christopher Lee went to Finland as a volunteer, but returned home without seeing action. He later served in the RAF and British intelligence forces.)

During the brief peace, Finland fortified its new border with Russia, rebuilt its armed forces, and sought to forge new alliances. However, the only country interested in providing serious support was Nazi Germany. Germany offered to support Finland, thus providing a northern front to Germany's planned invasion of Russia. Finland eventually accepted, and from 1941 to 1944 waged the Continuation War against the Soviet Union, with the support of the Nazis.

In the end, the USSR's total defeat on the Nazis on the Eastern Front left Finland without an ally, and so Finland was forced to make peace with the USSR again, returning to borders very much the same as those forced on them at the end of the Winter War.

Nonetheless, Finland remained independent and retained a democratic form a government and a market economy, despite sitting on the USSR's doorstep.

One of the things that struck me as interesting reading about all this was the way in which Finland continued to pursue a single, wholly just priority throughout World War II: defending itself against the USSR and an trying to regain conquered territory. However, because of the shifting alliances during the war, Finland found itself first on the side of the Allies and later (at least somewhat) aligned with the Nazis.

Now, allying with the Nazis is certainly not a socially acceptable thing to have done. But then, we quite willingly threw in with Stalin in order to defeat the Nazis and Japan. Was that, in a sense, any different? The general wisdom seems to be that it was morally acceptable for the Allies to work with the USSR in order to defeat Germany. And yet, it seems to me the same moral calculus pretty much puts Finland alliance with Germany above blame.

The US perhaps recognized this, because it never declared war on Finland, despite the fact that Finland was allied with Germany in fighting Russia. Britain declared war on Finland in 1942, but never followed up on that with any actions.

Although I'd have to read more about it to come to any reliable conclusions, it seems like it's an interesting case of a just war waged in cooperation with a very unjust ally -- the other side of coin that is our WW2 alliance with Stalin.

8 comments:

Jay Anderson said...

Excellent post!

Now let's all recite the Kalevala in honor of Finland.
;)

Rick Lugari said...

You raise good points about the nature of the Finland-Nazi alliance and rightfully observe that the FDR-Killer Joe is similar. I do think there is a subtle ut important distinction to be made.

Finland was only at war with the USSR and relied on another nations help - end of story.

The USSR was a part of the seizing of Poland and was the in effect an aggressor nation. They only became an "ally" in that they went to war against their partner-in-crime.

Personally, I think it was quite possibly immoral to ally with Stalin (who on his best behavior was a humdred times worse than Hitler), and it certainly resulted in many evil consequences for the Eastern Europe and the world as a whole.

Dan Berger said...

Rick, I'd say you're trying to make a case for preferring Beelzebub to Satan. And, to be picky, it was Stalin's partner-in-crime who went to war against him.

Nevertheless, this is a nifty case study and I think I'll save it to give to my students (Christian Values in Global Community) for our module on ethics of war.

Have you read Black Edelweiss? It's the (very naïve) memoir of a Waffen SS alpine soldier, who spent most of the war fighting with the Finns. He managed to avoid getting shot for being an SS trooper--he missed the day they were getting their tattoos--and ended up as a gopher for the Nuremberg prosecution team. Very interesting, and worth looking at from an ethics-of-war point-of-view.

Rick Lugari said...

Well Dan, I can't disagree that were are talking about two faces of the same evil. I often times feel compelled to act on a pet peeve of mine, which is that Stalin, who is responsible for the killing of approx 22 million people seems to get a pass because he ended up as an "ally", though he used FDR more than FDR thought he was using him.

And yes, Hitler was the one who turned coat on Stalin, but the point remains, they were complicit in the occupation of Poland and that one evil bastard was betrayed by another doesn't make him any less culpable - and certainly not a friend.

To glean a little more of my thoughts on the alliance with Stalin, I have a brief explanation here under the FDR section. It certainly isn't anything comprehensive, but does reveal what I consider important in the matter.

I haven't read Black Edelweiss, but it sounds like a good read. I'll have to mark that down for latter in the year (I've been neglecting my spiritual reading and am trying to right myself, I have a real passion for WWII history, so WWII books and even The Hitler Channel are like an occasion of sin for me. Begrudgingly, I let my WWII and Military History magazine subscriptions lapse).

Father Martin Fox said...

This is a great post, a good story. Thanks!

I look at these alliances this way. I don't have a problem with the fact that the U.S. made common cause with the Soviet Union, and even saw it in our interest -- in the interest of freedom -- to cooperate with Stalin to some degree. I even understand, I think, some of the PR we did, during the war -- you have to put the best face on things.

With all that, however, I think Roosevelt et al. should have kept their eyes open, and not been deluded about the reality; and it seems to me that is where we fell down.

Likewise, the fact-situation about Finland, as you present it, justifies seeing Finland as not a villain.

Darwin said...

As several people have mentioned, I don't think that cooperating with the USSR during WW2 was itself wrong. I do, however, think FDR put waaaaay too much trust in Uncle Joe. Churchill seems to have understood what was at stake in Europe with the USSR in a way that the US did not until some years after the war.

I think Rick also makes a very good point that the Nazis have earned a place of permanent hatred in history which, in all truth and justice, the USSR of Stalin deserves at least an equal if not a greater place in.

Perhaps if our GIs had marched through Russia and seen for themselves the cruelty of the USSR (in the way we did with the Nazi death camps) then our historical instincts would have been different.

Fidei Defensor said...

Some other interesting facts about the war between Russia and Finnland...

The first US Military casuallity of WWII was an American Army Observer stationed to the Finnish Army.

All the rifles used by the Finns (M22's and M39's) were merely rifles captured from the Soviets, either when they broke off from Russia in 1917-1919, or captured later in the winter war. The Finns took Russian guns and improved upon them, new stocks, bent bolts, better sights, and created what are considered the best Mosins of all time.

dilys said...

Reading the memoirs of Anthony Powell (author of the magnum opus Dance to the Music of Time) and the behind-the-scenes liaison among Allies during WWII, indeed the execution of the war at any level, was a very mixed bag. The Cause extremely just, the methodology full of human frailty.