Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical source

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
Hosted by Juha Tompuri
Anne G,
Member
Posts: 710
Joined: 02 Jan 2007 15:02
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Anne G, » 02 Nov 2011 07:50

Philip S. Walker wrote: With regard to Finland being lucky to have lost the war, I don't think it has much to do with borders against Russia etc. Linna simply shudders to think of the psychological effect it could have had on the Finnish people if they had won that war. Success is a very hard thing to cope with, and particularly if it comes out of a partnership with Nazis. And there's nothing like a good fiasco to make you move on in life.
There were good effects, like creating a more equal socierty (which, however, had begun already during the war). But there were also bad effects, like thinking that there is no justice in the world and that empathy is a dirty world. The last connected with silence meant that f.ex. war children could speak about their experiences until much later).

Anne G,
Member
Posts: 710
Joined: 02 Jan 2007 15:02
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Anne G, » 02 Nov 2011 08:06

PBlitz wrote: Yes, Linna continues, they had lost. Received their punishment. The thing they have in their side, Linna says, is that by losing they have also been freed of the responsibility of being a victor. Freed from responsibilities of their actions, freed from responsibilities of their victory being a reason for another future conflict.
- - -
The ultimate message by Linna, then, as he has had ten years to obtain a perspective to it all, is to warn the next generation of turning against their fathers. Left wing politicians were already in fifties putting all the blame to Finland as an aggressor, who should and could have stayed out of all wars. Do not turn on these common men, Linna says.

But the sixties-seventies generation did not listen. "Why did you go there?" they mocked their fathers. "You stupid, stupid fools!", they continued.
Though accusations of these kind were clearly wrong, I think it's also problematic if you have no individual reponsiblity. Was Lehto forgiven to have shot a POW though nobody even ordered him to do so? Also, there was a man who was a pimp. There was men who gave bread to children a man who didn't.

I think accusing only leaders is an adolecent way to do as many really were enthusiactic to go to war. Rokka certalnly had a personal case for it.

Being a victor certainly gives a great responsiblity to the future actions, i.e. that one doesn't act so that one creates too much hate among those who are deafeated though also they are responsible for their feelings. But could one really think that the Allies were reaponsible for Germany's actions before and during the war?

Philip S. Walker
Member
Posts: 1113
Joined: 06 Jan 2011 17:44

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Philip S. Walker » 02 Nov 2011 12:57

@Anne G
Can one really describe death?
One can try, but what I was protesting against was the idea that Linna's aim was primarily Existentialist and dealing with "the meeting with death". The way I see it, he deliberately avoids the issue because it would ruin the construction and tone of his novel entirely. For the same reason there is practically no character development among his clientele, and no one seems to be taken prisoner or ending up in hospital.

Linna also avoids a number of other essential subjects that would have been crucial parts of everyday life at the front, such as homosexuality and masturbation. In the 1950s such issues could not be presented directly, but they could certainly be hinted at, as Hemingway did.
No living has experienced it.
That's a question of definitions.
You leave out Linna's own experience of being the only one left alive when others got killed. Then there is his "Messias crisis" which moved him from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy, but the questuons remained.
Again, I am barred linguistically from many of the sources you refer to - I only know Stormbom's biography, which is more like a tribute book. However I will agree that underneath Linna's stories there is an undercurrent of something bigger than politics and everyday life. I just don't think you can point it out in the text as such. It's more to do with the amount of human knowledge he displays, and his ability to control his private bitterness and trauma so it isn't allowed to ruin his stories.
There were good effects [of losing the war], like creating a more equal society (which, however, had begun already during the war). But there were also bad effects, like thinking that there is no justice in the world and that empathy is a dirty world. The last connected with silence meant that f.ex. war children could speak about their experiences until much later).
I think Linna's message here is mainly more basic. For Finland to win the war, Germany would have to win it too. That is something we often forget in these discussions: Finland was fighting a war against itself, because Finland as a democratic Nordic society had no interest whatsoever in a Germany victory. No matter how much we try to explain it away, the simple fact remains that the Finnish war effort was a substantial help to the Nazi attempt to take over all of Europe and turn it into a Fascist dictatorship governed from Berlin.
I think accusing only leaders is an adolecent way to do as many really were enthusiactic to go to war. Rokka certainly had a personal case for it.
The misunderstanding here may be due to me, but actually Linna doesn't free everyone except the leaders of responsibility. He only frees his own group of soldiers. They were very young, had been called up for army service and only acted under orders.

But as you say yourself, let's not make the man more kindhearted than he actually is. If we look a the beginning of the book, these young chaps are very enthusiastic as they go out to war. If we look at the scene where they massacre a larger Soviet unit in an ambush as they walk down the road, our Finnish heroes are all described as completely ruthless killers - none of the famous Winter War throwing up over the machine-guns there. If we look carefully at the famous scene where Rokka singlehandedly kills a colossal amount of Russians as they cross an ice covered lake, this otherwise protagonist character is simply resembled with the Devil himself.

Linna likes his Finnish soldiers, he even likes them for their "wild man tendencies" (I'm borrowing an expression here from a friend of mine who lived in Finland for a while and knows the country inside out). In that, he corresponds with Aleksis Kivi. But as the above mentioned scenes show he is also aware that there is a very dark side to this part of Finnish national characteristics, and it is something to be acutely aware of.

Where does this come from? Linna may in some ways appear a Socialist, but he certainly doesn't believe in Marx's theory of heredity, i.e. that every man is born the same. Linna is constantly referring the his characters' "nature", not a particularly fashionable thing to do in the 1950s (though it got worse later on). Funnily enough, that only means he is so behind his times that he is actually ahead of them. His world view fits much better into what we know today about the extreme importance of genetic makeup.

I have said previously that it is a prime task for a writer like Linna to point out weaknesses in the National Character of the characters he describes and the audience he addresses. And that is exactly what he does, but never without the same love and respect as the rest of us also feel towards the Finnish people, and never searching for some kind of final solution that doesn't exist. He's just saying: watch out, boys. Just like the rest of us knows the equation: Finnish person+alcohol+knife=time to get out of the way.

So going back to the previous point it is perhaps relevant to ask how these darker and more dangerous sides of the Finnish national character could have developed if Finland had won the war? Thinking back to the Civil War, I personally don't believe it would have developed into a particularly nice society, and that is putting it rather mildly. And I think that is also a part of why Linna feels it was better to lose that war.

Vaeltaja
Member
Posts: 886
Joined: 27 Jul 2010 20:42

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Vaeltaja » 02 Nov 2011 14:17

One can try, but what I was protesting against was the idea that Linna's aim was primarily Existentialist and dealing with "the meeting with death". The way I see it, he deliberately avoids the issue because it would ruin the construction and tone of his novel entirely. For the same reason there is practically no character development among his clientele, and no one seems to be taken prisoner or ending up in hospital.
There are several reasons for that, one is that book actually describes only very specific scenes which are separated by long durations which Linna does not describe at all. As for being taken prisoner, such an occurrence was a rarity - and as for no one 'ending up in hospital'... what exactly happened to Rokka?
Linna also avoids a number of other essential subjects that would have been crucial parts of everyday life at the front, such as homosexuality and masturbation. In the 1950s such issues could not be presented directly, but they could certainly be hinted at, as Hemingway did.
Except you are forgetting the Finnish society and behavior. Or that in Finnish society private matters are kept private.
I think Linna's message here is mainly more basic. For Finland to win the war, Germany would have to win it too. That is something we often forget in these discussions: Finland was fighting a war against itself, because Finland as a democratic Nordic society had no interest whatsoever in a Germany victory. No matter how much we try to explain it away, the simple fact remains that the Finnish war effort was a substantial help to the Nazi attempt to take over all of Europe and turn it into a Fascist dictatorship governed from Berlin.
Finland was fighting only against the Soviets. Not against itself or against democratic countries. Had it been left alone by Soviet imperialism in 1939 it is very doubtful that Finns would have taken part to the war.

Vice versa (using your claims) in similar manner Western Allies gave substantial help to create oppressive regimes - Communist dictatorships - all around Eastern Europe.
But as you say yourself, let's not make the man more kindhearted than he actually is. If we look a the beginning of the book, these young chaps are very enthusiastic as they go out to war. If we look at the scene where they massacre a larger Soviet unit in an ambush as they walk down the road, our Finnish heroes are all described as completely ruthless killers - none of the famous Winter War throwing up over the machine-guns there. If we look carefully at the famous scene where Rokka singlehandedly kills a colossal amount of Russians as they cross an ice covered lake, this otherwise protagonist character is simply resembled with the Devil himself.
If those events were literary inventions then you perhaps might be right, however they were not. Also there wasn't much resemblance between Winter War events, in which machine gunners were gunning down attacking Russians day after day, and the events of the Continuation War. Also the scene with Rokka singlehandedly killing Russians is based on true events - though in reality there were even more Russian KIA's than in Tuntematon Sotilas gunned down by Viljam Pylkäs (to whom character of Rokka is mostly based on). As you can those were not literary inventions like you suggest.
Linna likes his Finnish soldiers, he even likes them for their "wild man tendencies" (I'm borrowing an expression here from a friend of mine who lived in Finland for a while and knows the country inside out). In that, he corresponds with Aleksis Kivi. But as the above mentioned scenes show he is also aware that there is a very dark side to this part of Finnish national characteristics, and it is something to be acutely aware of.
As described the events were not literary inventions...
So going back to the previous point it is perhaps relevant to ask how these darker and more dangerous sides of the Finnish national character could have developed if Finland had won the war? Thinking back to the Civil War, I personally don't believe it would have developed into a particularly nice society, and that is putting it rather mildly. And I think that is also a part of why Linna feels it was better to lose that war.
Given that white victory in the Civil War resulted quite swiftly a democratic society i fail to see your point.

User avatar
Juha Tompuri
Forum Staff
Posts: 11520
Joined: 11 Sep 2002 20:02
Location: Mylsä

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Juha Tompuri » 02 Nov 2011 16:35

Locked, at least for a while

/Juha

David Thompson
Forum Staff
Posts: 23568
Joined: 20 Jul 2002 19:52
Location: USA

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by David Thompson » 02 Nov 2011 18:27

An off-topic post from Philip S. Walker containing insulting remarks about another member of the forum was removed by this moderator -DT.

Philip -- The forum staff has already warned you several times about abusive posting practices. If you can't control yourself, I suggest that you wait until you can before posting, because you're about to star in a local production of "They Were Expendable."

User avatar
Juha Tompuri
Forum Staff
Posts: 11520
Joined: 11 Sep 2002 20:02
Location: Mylsä

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Juha Tompuri » 02 Nov 2011 20:40

Opened for discussion according to the Forum rules
/Juha

Anne G,
Member
Posts: 710
Joined: 02 Jan 2007 15:02
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Anne G, » 02 Nov 2011 21:51

Philip S. Walker wrote: what I was protesting against was the idea that Linna's aim was primarily Existentialist and dealing with "the meeting with death".
I see that i said it unclearly. What Varpio said that Linna doesn't describe death as noble, heroic, admirable etc. but horrible, painful and lonely. In describing death Linna shows how much he values life
Philip S. Walker wrote: I think Linna's message here is mainly more basic. For Finland to win the war, Germany would have to win it too.
Basic message that is left unsaid? Of course the effects are shown f.ex. how the officers behave in Mannerheim's birthday.
Philip S. Walker wrote: If we look a the beginning of the book, these young chaps are very enthusiastic as they go out to war. If we look at the scene where they massacre a larger Soviet unit in an ambush as they walk down the road, our Finnish heroes are all described as completely ruthless killers - none of the famous Winter War throwing up over the machine-guns there. If we look carefully at the famous scene where Rokka singlehandedly kills a colossal amount of Russians as they cross an ice covered lake, this otherwise protagonist character is simply resembled with the Devil himself.

Linna likes his Finnish soldiers, he even likes them for their "wild man tendencies" (I'm borrowing an expression here from a friend of mine who lived in Finland for a while and knows the country inside out). In that, he corresponds with Aleksis Kivi. But as the above mentioned scenes show he is also aware that there is a very dark side to this part of Finnish national characteristics, and it is something to be acutely aware of.
Do you really think that these characterics are only Finnish?
Philip S. Walker wrote: I have said previously that it is a prime task for a writer like Linna to point out weaknesses in the National Character of the characters he describes and the audience he addresses.
It was believed in the 50ies that Linna criticized ideal Finns of Runeberg and wanted to smash those. But now his characters have come as much mythical as Runeberg's once were.

Anne G,
Member
Posts: 710
Joined: 02 Jan 2007 15:02
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Anne G, » 02 Nov 2011 21:57

Vaeltaja wrote: Given that white victory in the Civil War resulted quite swiftly a democratic society
It demanded also the deafeat of Germany. The Svinhufvud Senate had made Finland a colony of Germany - and the forest industry didn't like that at all.

Vaeltaja
Member
Posts: 886
Joined: 27 Jul 2010 20:42

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Vaeltaja » 02 Nov 2011 22:08

Anne G, wrote:It demanded also the deafeat of Germany. The Svinhufvud Senate had made Finland a colony of Germany - and the forest industry didn't like that at all.
Not colony but affiliate of Imperial Germany.

Philip S. Walker
Member
Posts: 1113
Joined: 06 Jan 2011 17:44

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Philip S. Walker » 03 Nov 2011 13:25

@Anne G
I see that I said it unclearly. What Varpio said that Linna doesn't describe death as noble, heroic, admirable etc. but horrible, painful and lonely. In describing death Linna shows how much he values life.
We agree now.
Philip S. Walker wrote: I think Linna's message here is mainly more basic. For Finland to win the war, Germany would have to win it too.

Basic message that is left unsaid? Of course the effects are shown f.ex. how the officers behave in Mannerheim's birthday.
Yes, that scene says it all. Thanks for pointing that out. Brilliant. If Linna is up there reading this now he must be very pleased because we are really getting to the bottom of some completely essential issues.
Do you really think that these characteristics are only Finnish?
No, but it does seem to be a suspiciously recurring theme in Finnish films and Finnish literature along with the knives and the alcohol, though other deadly weapons also occur, in one case even a vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile all the wisdom, at least in East Bothnia, is claimed to be isolated in old women.

Vaeltaja
Member
Posts: 886
Joined: 27 Jul 2010 20:42

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Vaeltaja » 03 Nov 2011 13:36

Yes, that scene says it all. Thanks for pointing that out. Brilliant. If Linna is up there reading this now he must be very pleased because we are really getting to the bottom of some completely essential issues.
How exactly would that be? While Linna's enlisted characters are loosely base on real life equivalents the depicted officers however are not, instead they are nearly caricatures - for a good reason, Linna himself being enlisted.
No, but it does seem to be a suspiciously recurring theme in Finnish films and Finnish literature along with the knives and the alcohol, though other deadly weapons also occur, in one case even a vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile all the wisdom, at least in East Bothnia, is claimed to be isolated in old women.
Using that as a source or conclusion is about as truthful as using Italo westerns or John Wayne movies as historically accurate representations of Wild West.

Anne G,
Member
Posts: 710
Joined: 02 Jan 2007 15:02
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Anne G, » 03 Nov 2011 15:46

Philip S. Walker wrote:
Do you really think that these characteristics are only Finnish?
No, but it does seem to be a suspiciously recurring theme in Finnish films and Finnish literature along with the knives and the alcohol, though other deadly weapons also occur, in one case even a vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile all the wisdom, at least in East Bothnia, is claimed to be isolated in old women.
I see that you have read also Antti Tuuri.

The problem, however, is that the Finnish men kill in peace time, they have usually drunk (and a victim too). But alcholo was not given to the Finnish soldiers (unlike to the Russian ones) before the attack. During the Continuation War some Finns got fron Germany Pervitin and other drugs to keep them awake.

Paavo Rintala tells in Napapiirin äänet that in Lappland, the Finnish soldiers could give any clothing (or even a POW) to the Germans in exchange of alchohol.

As for the Finns being specially warlike, Z. Topelius thought in Hertiginnan af Finland that tells the story of the war 1741-3 that the Swedes were traditionally keen to begin wars, especially offensive ones whereas the Finns would have rather lived in peace and if that wasn't possible, were only interested to defend their country. The expalanation was of course that Finland was occupied 1710-21, 1741-3 and 1808-9, but this shows how "national characteristics" change with time.

Vaeltaja
Member
Posts: 886
Joined: 27 Jul 2010 20:42

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Vaeltaja » 03 Nov 2011 17:07

As for the Finns being specially warlike, Z. Topelius thought in Hertiginnan af Finland that tells the story of the war 1741-3 that the Swedes were traditionally keen to begin wars, especially offensive ones whereas the Finns would have rather lived in peace and if that wasn't possible, were only interested to defend their country. The expalanation was of course that Finland was occupied 1710-21, 1741-3 and 1808-9, but this shows how "national characteristics" change with time.
If anything it seems that the same attitude still continues. Finns still desire to live in peace - and more importantly to be left alone. As per what I. Juutilainen stated... "If you threaten Finns, they do not become frightened - they become angry." And there much reason to be angry to Soviet Union in Finland in 1941, more than 420 000 reasons to be angry.

User avatar
Panssari Salama
Member
Posts: 448
Joined: 03 Feb 2010 17:42

Re: Väinö Linna's novel "Unknown Soldier" as a critical sour

Post by Panssari Salama » 03 Nov 2011 17:34

Vaeltaja wrote: How exactly would that be? While Linna's enlisted characters are loosely base on real life equivalents the depicted officers however are not, instead they are nearly caricatures - for a good reason, Linna himself being enlisted.
This is precisely the issue I have with Unknown Soldier.

While the book does an excellent job describing the life of soldiers and to some extent NCOs (funny how little we see squad leaders operating as squad leaders. It seems that almost any kind of leadership action was deliberately shunned by Linna?) during Continuation War, it miserably fails while describing the officers core, at least as far as we consider the book as a critical source. As a novel this can be forgiven, but for painting a more generic picture it comes short in aspects especially related to officers, and women.

Where Linna's hate for women auxiliaries stem from, I have no idea ???

As for officers and reserves officers especially, that's why I mentioned Yrjö Keinonen's Veriset Lumet. Unfortunately, it seems to be not available in English. He does an excellent job in picturing a life of a young reserves officer and his officers collegues, leaving his civilian job and studies behind, and trying to make sense of it, to keep his men alive while doing the job he is given to do.

Given the extra toll reserves officers paid in casualties, it is heart breaking. I do not have the stats for Continuation War, but during Winter War it became such a concern to high command they needed to several times issue orders for platoon and company leaders to not have themselves killed so easily.

Where Linna agrees with, is that it seems the only way to lead Finns is to lead them from the front, instead of from the back. I believe Platoon and Company officers realised that, and while professional officers were able to lead from the back, the reserves officers often felt they needed to show a couragous example in order to earn the trust and respect of their men.

And for the record, I am not an reserves officer, just a lowly Lance Corporal :milwink:
Panssari Salama - Paying homage to Avalon Hill PanzerBlitz and Panzer Leader board games from those fab '70s.

Return to “Winter War & Continuation War”