THINKING ABOUT GUSTAF

I have been thinking a lot about Gustaf Mannerheim of late.  For one thing the 75th anniversary of the Winter War is approaching.  For another, I just spent nearly four months in Helsinki bicycling by the Marshal’s equestrian statue, still resolutely standing guard at the entrance to the Helsinki peninsula, in front of Kiasma, the Finnish museum of modern art (see inset).  Three quarters of a century after Finland’s finest hour—and arguably his, as well—the shadow of the most significant figure in modern Finnish history still looms large over both Finland, as well as my career (I am currently at work on a biography of the second most significant, Urho Kekkonen, also known as the “King of Finland,” who presided-cum-reigned over Suomi for twenty five years, from 1956 to 1981, more about which to come.)

Perforce Mannerheim was one of the main characters—if not the main character, alongside the Finnish nation itself—of my own ode to the Talvisota, Taistelu Suomesta (Battle of Finland), as the original Finnish edition was called.  Nearly five years after its publication, that book continues to garner praise in its most recent incarnation, The Hundred Day Winter War, the U.S. edition of the book published last year by the University Press of Kansas, as well as for the Estonian and Russian editions which have also since come out.

The Marshal standing guard.

The Marshal standing guard.

Herewith excerpts from some of the outstanding reviews for the Kansas edition which have popped up over the last few months:

From www.strategyworld.com:

“Although a number of books have examined Finland’s heroic, if doomed resistance to Stalin’s aggression, Sander manages to throw a great deal of new light on the 105 day conflict, a work that was a best-seller in Finland.   [He] covers much more of the civilian side of the war than is common.  He also tries to give the reader the feel of events as they unfolded, rather than taking a longer-term rearward view.

“Sander reveals some of the warts on the Finnish side, including an overly rigid press censorship that contributed to false hopes of victory, gives us some detail on foreign aid to the Finns, including foreign military aid, and even some help from Mussolini!, and goes into some depth on the complexities of the proposed Anglo-French relief expedition.   Sander explores the reasons for Stalin’s decision to end the war at a time when arguably he might have overrun all of Finland.  There are also good profiles of many participants, notably Marshal Mannerheim and Stalin himself, a man who seems to have had a grudging respect for the Finns.

“Sander’s discussion of military matters is very good, and his battle pieces are very well done, often gripping, and illustrated with excellent maps.  [He] also gives the reader more coverage of the Soviet side than is common, including the effect of the war on the Red Army.”  All in all, A.A. Nofi, the review editor, concluded, The Hundred Day Winter War gives the reader an excellent look at one of the most unique conflicts of the twentieth century.”  (8/14)

And here from the even more detailed review from H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences On Line by Christopher Rein, a professor of military history at the United States Air Force Academy:

WWar“… Sander manages to capture both the feel and the international significance of this relatively brief episode.  His main argument, that Finland made a ‘gallant stand’ before being overwhelmed by both the sheer numbers and increased effectiveness of the Soviet forces, is well-supported by stories from both the front lines where soldiers from both sides decided the issue, and the backroom parlors where diplomats negotiated the consequences.

“Sander organizes the book chronologically, tracing the initial Soviet assault which floundered in the deep snows and dark nights of the Finnish winter, the interregnum when Finland was unable to marshal significant external support, either militarily from the Allies or diplomatically from its neighbor Sweden while the Soviets implemented the necessary reforms, and finally the decisive Soviet spring offensive that finally broke the vaunted Mannerheim Line and led to the permanent (after 1945) loss of both Finnish Karelia and Finland’s second-largest city, Viipuri (now Russian Vyborg) as well as the arctic port of Petsamo.  Sander jumps with ease from the exhausted Finnish ski troopers manning the inadequately supplied pillboxes, to the halls of government in Helsinki and Moscow, the feckless League of Nations, and the numerous fundraisers in the United States in which the nation, paralyzed by isolationism and unpreparedness, salved its conscience with generous funds for nonmilitary relief.  The result is a comprehensive coverage of the war which includes a deft blend of diplomatic, military, social, and cultural aspects, all of which make the work a very enjoyable read.winterwar

“Militarily, Sander contrasts the incredible destructiveness of the Soviet air force’s indiscriminate raids on Finnish cities with the heightened will to resist among the Finnish civilian population, for whom the end of hostilities and subsequent territorial concessions came as a shock.  For military practitioners of the day, the ineffective air campaign should have served as further confirmation of the inadequacy of air theorists, such as Giulio Douhet’s [the prewar Italian air power theorist] ideas about the fragility of civilian morale, which would be later confirmed on the streets of London and Berlin alike.  Despite complete command of the air, the Soviets were unable to shake Finnish resolve with terror bombing and required a decisive land campaign to finally force the Finns to concede the territory they desired…

“In the end, Sander’s work is a deeply satisfying and enriching account of one of the lesser-known episodes of the Second World War…and a model of how to integrate numerous strands of inquiry within the field of military history into an illuminating and enjoyable work of scholarship.”  (9/14)

I’ll take it!  Order yours now at Amazon.com!

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