Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
By Jari Lybeck
Translation by Riikka Forsström
Churchill ja Suomi [Churchill and Finland] 1900-1955, by Markku Ruotsila. Helsinki: Otava 2002. Subtitle translates, “Winston Churchill’s Ideas and Action Related to Finland.” Text in Finnish. Anyone interested in acquiring this title should contact the editor; one order will be placed.
This doctoral thesis is the first of its kind in Finnish historiography. It deals with Churchill’s opinions related to Finland and the importance of Finland for Churchill in a wider, international context.
According to Ruotsila, Churchill knew little of Finland or its culture, and was interested in the country only as a part of a larger totality containing two sides: geo-strategical and ideological. Churchill’s leading ideological idea was anti-Communism. His geo-strategy concerned the balance of power in international relations.
Churchill became interested in Finland after the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia and the Western Powers thought to undermine their control. In 1919, Churchill’s vehement campaign to help the White Russians against the Reds found sympathy with Finland’s Marshal Mannerheim; they even made common plans for an Anglo-Finnish capture of St. Petersburg. But Churchill’s influence was limited, and neither Prime Minister Lloyd George nor the United States was much interested. Mannerheim found little support in Finnish ruling circles, and Churchill in frustration held Finland partly responsible for the failure “to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle.”
Between the two world wars Churchill campaigned for rearmament in the face of Hitler. To the ordinary British conservative, Communism and Nazism had common roots; but the threat of Nazism was more immediate, so Churchill was willing to join with the Soviet Union in a “Grand Alliance,” including Finland. To Churchill’s displeasure, Finland rebuffed any thought of an alliance with Russia, which was then demanding bases on Finnish soil—an issue Churchill thought subordinate to the greater good.
After the “Winter War” broke out between the Soviets and the Finns in late 1939, Churchill faced a contradictory perspective. His geo-strategical viewpoint, allying with the Soviets against Hitler, collided with his ideological opposition to Communism. Since he wished to draw the Soviets away from Germany, his geo-strategical impulse prevailed. He elevated Finland and the Finns to heroic proportions in his January 1940 speech, “The Flame of Freedom in the Icy North,” but the Russians eventually prevailed.
The situation changed again in 1942, when Finland found herself fighting with Germany against the Soviet Union and Stalin pressured his allies to declare war on Finland.
Churchill did not want this, and would have been content if, in fighting alongside Germany, Finland did not engage in campaigns which would benefit Hitler. He sent such a message to his old ally, Mannerheim, appealing for an end to Finland’s military operations. Mannerheim’s answer was negative, and Churchill had reluctantly to declare war. All this Ruotsila documents very well from minutes and records.
Ruotsila’s style is extremely clear, but to some extent monotonous. His book is well researched through leading archives, most notably the Churchill Archives Centre, and his references are meticulously documented.
This abstract of Mr. Lybeck’s review, published in the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 26 May, was translated by Dr. Riikka Forsström through the courtesy of Prof. Paul Alkon.