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 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’s 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 of 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 her 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 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.