Paavo Susitaival 1896-1993. Aktivismi elmänasenteena
Bibliotheca Historica n:o 29
Paavo Susitaival 1896-1993. A life dedicated to activism
SummaryIt was above all as a soldier in three wars that Lt. Col. Paavo Susitaival played a part in Finnish history. However, during his long life he was much more than just a soldier: he also went into politics, and he was a writer. This study is not the story of a great man in the traditional sense, because Susitaival never rose to the highest echelons of public life in Finland – nor, indeed, did he endeavour to do so. Although we must, perhaps, place him in the second rank of those who forged our history, his life nevertheless offers a rare view through the length and breadth of Finnish political and military history this century.
Paavo Oskar Edvard Sivén (from 1927: Susitaival – like many patriotically minded Finns with Swedish names he took a Finnish surname) was born in Helsinki on 9 February 1896. His childhood coincided with the years of oppression under the Russian Czar, but the family enjoyed a position of financial security; his father, Dr. V.O. Sivén, owned the renowned Kammio Hospital for Nervous Disorders. The father was an ardent proponent of the Finnish independence and one of the leading figures in the activist organizations opposing the Czar, the Voima-liitto and the Jäger movement. From him Paavo inherited his russophobia and his belief in direct action. His unbreakable self-confidence, on the other hand, he got from his mother Siiri, who was devoted to her children and had unshakable confidence in their abilities. She herself had grown up in a home that had cherished the Fennoman (Finnish nationalist) ideals of Snellman, and she became one of the first women to pass the matriculation examination in Finland. In the minds of her children she branded indelibly the principle: ”You must live by an ideal; otherwise life is not worth living.” And this principle guided the lives of her sons, Paavo and his younger brother Bobi.
When Susitaival passed his matriculation examination in the spring of 1915, a world war was being waged in Europe, while in Finland the Jäger movement was actively underground working for independence. To this end, it sent almost 2000 young volunteers to Germany for military training. Susitaival worked as a recruiting officer and a courier and organized the maintenance of supply lines. His studies in chemistry at the Polytechnic were gradually forgotten. It was due to his administrative duties and his fragile health that he himself was not able to go to Germany for training as a Jäger.
When the March Revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, the activists stepped up their activities, and together with E.E. Kaila (1888–1935), Susitaival set up an enterprise called Uusi Metsätoimisto, under the cover of which they directed the activities of the Civil Guards all over Finland. The aim of the Civil Guards was to drive the Russian soldiers out of the country when the right moment came. It was necessary to get both the socialist and non-socialist elements of the people involved. Arguably, after his father, it was the modest and seemingly indefatigable Kaila who provided the most influential role model for the formation of the young Susitaival's Weltanschaung. Activism was the creed by which they lived their lives: a remorseless and unrelenting struggle to bring about Finland's independence.
In January 1918 the battle for Finnish independence began. However, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik October Revolution, tensions in Finnish society lead to a bloody civil war. The Civil Guards were the troops of the constitutionally elected government (the Whites), while on the other side the socialist rebels (the Reds) formed the Red Guards. Susitaival entered the war as the Regional Commander of the North Karelian Civil Guards and made a reputation for himself on the Karelian front as a gallant company commander. He recruited his troops from Karelian volunteers. He was promoted directly to the rank of captain without any formal military training. Direct promotion to officer rank was not uncommon in those days, but it was much rarer, if not indeed without parallel, for someone to be given the rank of regular captain. Probably, the promotion was the result of an error. When the war was over, however, it encouraged Susitaival to try and obtain for himself the best possible military training.
The years 1915–1918 that the young Susitaival spent in the Jäger movement and grew into manhood were extremely formative. The Jäger movement had been an undertaking with a high risk. The achievement of independence moulded the views of those who were involved in it about how the course of history could be changed. A small group of determined activists had shown how a minority could make history when the right moment in world politics presented itself. After that nothing was impossible if only one had the strength of will, the clarity of mind and the determination to pursue one's goal ruthlessly. The dual character of the war – independence versus civil – did not constitute a watershed in Susitaival's thinking as it did in the minds of many of his contemporaries.
His promising military career came to an end in spring 1921. Susitaival took up the efforts of his brother Bobi Sivén to rouse the people of Eastern Karelia into rebelling against the Soviet Russia. Bobi had been the District Chief of Police of the East Karelian municipality of Repola, which had been united with Finland in 1918. He shot himself in protest against the Tartu (Dorpat) Peace Agreement of 1920 between Finland and Soviet Russia, which like the other activists he considered a shameful surrender because it left so many Eastern Karelians outside the borders of Finland.
Susitaival was embittered by what had happened. He went to Germany as a civilian, and there with the help of Gen. Rüdiger von der Golz he organized forhimself and twelve other Finnish officers private High Command courses, initially held in secret because of their sensitive implications for foreign politics. Susitaival sought a military training in which war experience was given priority. The leader of these Berlin courses (the first was held in the years 1921–1922 and 1925, and the second 1923–1925) was Maj. Wilhelm Brückner. This German officer was then invited to Finland, where he taught tactics at the Staff College of the Civil Guards from 1925 to 1935. In this way, the German influence on the military training of the Finnish officer corps became more widespread. The influence of Brückner's teaching showed itself in the mobile operations of the Finnish forces during the Winter War (1939–1940) – for example, in the tactics of K.M. Wallenius in Lapland, Susitaival himself at Suomussalmi and A.O. Pajari at Tolvajärvi.
After the course, Susitaival's military career continued in the Civil Guards. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1929. For an officer who had not been one of the Jägers, his promotions came at a pace faster than normally. However, his military career was interrupted once again in early 1932, when he became involved in politics. He plunged into the turmoil of the Mäntsälä Revolt. This abortive uprising was directed against the government of the country by a group which had assumed command of the anti-communist Lapua Movement (Lapuan liike). As a result of his involvement in it, Susitaival was sent to prison.
On release, Susitaival began to organize a new organ to continue the work of the banned Lapua Movement. It was called the People's Patriotic Movement (Isänmaallinen kansanliike or IKL), and Susitaival worked for it during the 1930's. He organized it on the model of the German National Socialist Party. Ideologically, however, the IKL was closer to the Italian Fascists.
Through the IKL, Susitaival wanted to build a strong, independent Finland, free of class and party-political conflicts. He was one of the movement's major ideologists. Instead of a parliamentary democracy, he envisaged a corporatist professionally-based state with a strong president and government, a modification of the Italian Fascist system. In his view, the movement should not be of the right or of the left: its task was to boldly promote the interests of the whole nation. However, the IKL received but modest support in the general elections, and Susitaival's efforts to persuade the movement to adopt his own more radical line failed in the face of opposition from its more conservative leaders.
Susitaival was sometimes hard put to make ends meet to support his family of five children, but what was lacking in material plenty was made up for in ideological enthusiasm. In the Academic Karelian Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura), whose agenda for the Greater Finland (in both the spiritual and the geographical sense) was influential among the university students, and which cherished the memory of his brother Bobi Sivén, and especially among the youth members of the IKL, Susitaival was a living legend. He was known as a lively writer and a forthright speaker: indeed, he was imprisoned for one speech for maligning the government. He never tired of warning the Finnish people of an imminent invasion by the Soviet Union.
As the international situation grew more tense, Susitaival was elected to Parliament in 1939. The only bill that he introduced concerned a pet hobbyhorse of his – opposition to free-masonry. He was suspicious of what he assumed to be the international leadership of the masons and of the clandestine nature of the organization. In addition to this, in October 1939 he informed the Finnish government of a secret codicil to the Molotov–Ribbentrop agreement assigning Finland to the Soviet sphere of influence, which he had learned about from his Nazi friend F.W. Borgmann. Some consolation for the gravity of the situation was afforded by the unification of the Finnish people, the closing of the chasm created by the war of 1918.
When the Winter War broke out, Susitaival immediately gave up his parliamentary duties. He was put in command of the Group Susi, which at its largest comprised the 65th Infantry Regiment and a couple of separate battalions. With these forces he took part in defeating the 163rd Division of the Red Army in the sparsely populated forest tracts of Suomussalmi. In so doing, the Finns thwarted the Soviet attempt to split the country into two at its narrowest point. Group Susi took a large war booty while suffering relatively small losses in spite of the fact that it was inadequately equipped.
This victory was the summit not only of Susitaival's military career but of his whole life. Admittedly, his pleasure was later diminished by a book written by Gen. Hjalmar Siilasvuo, Suomussalmen taistelut (The Battles of Suomussalmi, pub. 1940), in which the writer took practically all the credit for the Suomussalmi victory for himself. The success nevertheless once again opened up the way to a commission in the regular army, which was of great importance to an activist tired of politics. Finland needed every able officer she possessed, and Susitaival was a soldier by vocation.
During the so-called Interim Peace between the Winter and Continuation Wars, Susitaival was a battalion commander in Kuhmo. In the initial offensive stage of the Continuation War in the summer and autumn of 1941, Susitaival set out as commander of the 29th Infantry Regiment to win the Greater Finland that he had dreamed of. The offensive began well. When the regiment showed signs of fatigue in the autumn, Susitaival fell into a dispute with his division commander, Col. K.A. Heiskanen. Susitaival wished to advance more slowly in order to save his men, while Heiskanen was in a hurry to get to the capital of Soviet Carelia, Petrozavodsk (Petroskoi, Äänislinna). Susitaival, who was accustomed to taking independent decisions, was not popular with Heiskanen, who demanded absolute obedience of his orders. Heiskanen's poor view of his subordinate was passed on to the High Command, and Susitaival's military career was derailed.
As a military commander, Susitaival was more an independent guerilla leader admired by his men than a conventional officer, let alone one in the rigid Prussian mould. This was to a great extent a result of his experiences in the War of Independence and in his work in the Civil Guards. There seemed, however, to be no longer any place for this kind of leadership in the Continuation War.
The war ended in a rearguard victory, which from Susitaival's point of view constituted a defeat. Instead of the Greater Finland he had desired, only atruncated Finland was left, and at the end of 1944 Susitaival was once again discharged from the army. The Communist Party was legalized and the IKL banned. The Communists assumed important positions in society, and many feared that they would make a revolution with the support of the Soviet Union. Although society had changed, Susitaival continued to follow his own line and pursue his life's calling by other means. He withdrew from public life and became a prolific writer. In addition to the numerous histories of firms he was commissioned to write, he produced research articles on military history, journalistic articles, his memoirs and, a couple of years before his death, some poetry. On the other hand, he would not have been the man he was if at the end of the Continuation War, he had not hidden away a cache of arms in case of a Soviet occupation of the country.
In the 1950's, Susitaival went around the country for a couple of years interviewing people and collecting material for the State Archives on radical right-wing activities in the period between the two world wars. This work has been of immense value to historians. Over the years, Susitaival became known as an opponent of President Urho Kekkonen and as an éminence grise in defence circles, although after the war he no longer actually took part in politics. Nevertheless, he never admitted regret for what he had done. To reporters who interviewed him on important birthdays he would mischievously claim to be the same Mussolinian fascist that he had always been.
The reputation that Paavo Susitaival left behind him has been to some extent divided. In the years after the war, his distinction as a soldier was known and recognized in military circles. For example, among his wartime subordinates there lived a memory of a humane leader who attempted to spare his men. The general public, however, was for the most part confused by his political background.
Although Susitaival cannot be considered an extremist in his attitudes in the conventional sense of the word, exceptional individuals like him always belong on the fringes of their own generation and age. Their propensity for seeing things in black and white is at the same time their strength and their weakness. From the historical point of view, they exert the greatest influence in times of crisis, but in of peacetime they are destined to swim against the stream.
The interest that Susitaival has for us lies in the fact that he never gave up his struggle after the Continuation War as many of his contemporaries did. The ideals he had absorbed in his youth were so deeply rooted in his conscience that the new age was not capable of eradicating them. Susitaival did not become bitter at the turn of events, though perhaps his idealism became a shade more cynical. The activism that had formed his character during the years he was involved in the Jäger movement remained the principle that guided his whole life. Paavo Susitaival died at the age of ninety-seven in Lappeenranta on 27 December 1993.