Saturday, September 26, 2009

Captain Kirk Models the Average American's Response to a Request to Explain Finland's Role in World War II

"Uh... give me a minute... uhhhm, neutral, like Sweden?

" No? not neutral? You sure? Well, I guess maybe they were knocked out early by the Germans, like Poland?"No? Really? I know! Switched sides at the end, like Italy.
Not exactly? Huh."

[Reward for reading the rest of this post: more Kirk at the end!]

By Captain Kirk's time, this history is about 300 years old, but I bet I'm far from the only American who would flounder around hopelessly trying to answer this. Until today, when I read all about it.

(Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure the average American would come up with the examples of Sweden, Poland, and Italy... Our movies mostly imply it's just Indiana Jones fighting the Nazis.)

I'm still confused, but I feel a little better that Wikipedia's article on Finland in WWII says Finland was in many ways unique--being, for instance, the only nation that cooperated with Nazi Germany whose army also ran field synagogues.

As I understand it, Finland's main interest was to keep out from under Stalin's aggressive Russia (USSR), right next door. (Russia used to own Finland--is "own" the right word?)

So, turns out Finland fought three wars during World War II:
1. The Winter War (winter of 1939-1940) on their own against the the USSR
2. The Continuation War (1941-1944), in which they were "co-belligerents" with Germany against the Soviet Union; Great Britain declared war on Finland, but the United States didn't (I don't know why, yet), and
3. The Lapland War (late 1944-April 1945), during which, having lost the Continuation War and now under Soviet orders, the Finns drove from their northern province of Lapland the remaining German troops, who did not leave politely.

"No fair! That's what I was going to guess next! You didn't give me enough time. "Your questions are too hard.
"I'm not playing with you anymore."
(Don't you just love him when he pouts? Let's ask him more questions about Finland!)


Jennifer said...

Whoo hoo! I did manage to muster from the recesses of my brain (while looking at Jim's pretty, confused face) that Finland mostly fought against the USSR, and even some vague knowledge of the Winter War. That is a complicated set of history! Worth it to make Jim pout a bit. :)

Mortmere said...

"Let's ask him more questions about Finland!" - Yes, let's! <3

I don't think the average (young) Finn would be able to summarize that sequence of our history as nicely as you did there. In my mind it all gets a bit fuzzy after the Winter War ("and then there was the Continuation War and before it all ended, the Germans burnt Lapland, but that's all I know about it"). There's still a lot of squirmishness among historians about how to describe Finland's relation to Germany during the war. It's embarrassing for us that some might think Finland was an actual German ally (well, to think of it, it must've been embarrassing already back then, to have Hitler casually crashing Mannerheim's birthday party and so on...)

Fresca said...

JEN: I did actually know that Finland fought the USSR, but from a a song (from the 80s, I don't recall which one) by Laurie Anderson. She sing/talks about how Finnish ski troops would shoot fallen Russian parachuters caught in the deep snow, and I was as baffled as Kirk as to why.
In this case, a map might have given me a clue! At that time I didn't even know Russia runs along Finland's entire eastern border.

MORTMERE: You answered one of my burning questions: How do Finns today think about this history?
I would *love* to write "Capt. Kirk's Guide to Earth History"! You know he studied it, but it was all a long time ago, so he's kind of vague on the details. As am I!

momo said...

Well, I did not know that! I know that my mother's oldest brother spent the war years in northern Europe somewhere as a ski-patrol medic and that he would never talk about it.

Captain Kirk's guide to earth history would be a gas!

Nancy said...

Your use of Kirk to lighten the load of learning Finnish history made me LOL! I eagerly await the next quiz for him on Finnish history.

By the way, the Museum of Contemporary Art here recently had a show featuring a great big wall of reindeer moss. I remember thinking as a kid, how could the Laplanders' reindeer survive on moss? There can't possibly be enough of it! Turns out the stuff is very thick and deep, a soft beige color and soft texture, like cotton balls, with a matrix like loofa. It covers the rocks in a billowy coating for miles (at least it looked that way in the pics in the exhibition). I hope you put some pics of it in so kids won't be thinking green, low growing, sparse stuff. It was a revelation to see it.

fresca said...

MOMO: I always thought the Finnish ski troops looked so cute, but reading about it, war in the cold has its own special kind of nastiness--as I should know from living in through cold winters... Vicious.

NANCY: Thanks for the tip about reindeer moss! I will see if I can include a photo, or at least write up a good description of it---I think of moss as that stuff on river rocks.