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Vesa Saarikoski:

Keskustajääkäri Aarne Sihvo. Demokraatti ja eheyttäjä murrosaikojen asevoimissa.

Bibliotheca Historica n:o 25
ISBN: 951-710-066-3 (painettu versio)
ISSN: 1238-3503
Hinta: 120 markkaa.
421 sivua, valokuvia.

Middle-of-the-roader General Aarne Sihvo (1889-1963) and the interaction between the Finnish armed forces and democracy


Who was Aarne Sihvo?

In the history of independent Finland, Aarne Sihvo, twice Commander of the Finnish army, was indisputably a person of note as a military figure, though he was not a great man in the Finnish context in the same sense of the word as, for example, Mannerheim, Paasikivi and Kekkonen were. Sihvo became a national hero on the victorious side of the Civil War of 1918, but above all he was a middle-of-the-roader who piloted the army through the crises caused by the Fascist Lapua movement and its supporters in the 1930's and by the lost war of the 1940's. Sihvo was politically a supporter of parliamentary democracy and he was also ready to cooperate with the Socialists in order to strengthen national harmony.

In the view of many of his military colleagues, Sihvo's image was that of a "leftist" from the autumn of 1918 when he had given his support to the Republican constitution and to a moderate policy. In their opinion, Sihvo's reputation as a White war-hero, won during the Civil War, was shattered because of his liberal attitude. Sihvo was also an opponent of Mannerheim, who was commander of the White army during the Civil War and Finland's military leader during the Second World War and so soldier number one in Finland. The careers of these military men were like reflected images; during "the Mannerheim years" from the beginning of the 1930's to the year 1945 Sihvo held only secondary posts. But before and after that "Mannerheim" period, Sihvo was the Commander of the Finnish army. Then, during the war years between 1939 and 1944, Sihvo was responsible for Finland's civil defence and as "a soldier of the home front" he was a secondary figure compared to the generals att Mannerheim's headquarters who made the operational plans and the generals who served at the front. He was not a war-hero of the stamp of Erik Heinrichs, Paavo Talvela and A. F. Airo.

From the above, it will be clear that Sihvo's reputation and image in the military tradition has not been very positive and prominent; on the contrary, it seems to me that his significance has been undervalued. However, it was Sihvo who secured the adjustment of the defence forces to Paasikivi's new foreign policy after the Second World War but, on the other hand, he was also critical of Urho Kekkonen's person and policy. Thus, Kekkonen's Finland did not constitute a favourable environment in which to cherish Sihvo's memory. Until this study not much has been written about him.

From the political and military standpoint Sihvo's life may be divided into three careers. The first was his career as a Jäger and as a White commander during the Civil War of 1918, which made him a national hero. From 1926 to 1933 Sihvo was the Commander of the Finnish army. His second career was made possible only by strong political Centrist support, and he had to resign when this support lost much of its significance under Rightist pressure. Sihvo's third career as Commander of the defence forces (1946B1953) took place under circumstances that differed totally from those of his earlier careers. After the Finnish Continuation War on Germany's side was lost, the Soviet Union became the key element in Finland's political future. During those tumultuous postwar years, Finland's policy was steered by President Paasikivi and Sihvo did his best to adapt the army to Paasikivi's policy.

First career: national hero

Aarne Sihvo was born on 22nd November, 1889 in Virolahti in Karelia and he spent his first years in Muolaa, in the middle of the Karelian Isthmus, and went to school in Käkisalmi, a Karelian town. Sihvo was as much a Karelian as a Finn all his life. Sihvo's family was a lower middle-class family, though the social status of his father, who was a national-minded teacher in a village school, was quite high in the local community. Sihvo's generation was one that grew up in a tense atmosphere coloured by the policy of Russification as a result of the rise of Russian nationalism from the early 1880's. The aim of the latter policy was to bring the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland closer to the Empire. Many representatives of that generation B including Sihvo B grew to be anti-Russian and very nationalist even chauvinistic.

The real tour de force of Sihvo's generation was the Jäger movement that emerged at the end of 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. Its goal was nothing other than an independent Finland. The cradle of the movement was the student community at Helsinki University, where Sihvo had begun to study to be a doctor in 1910. With the help of some Finnish emigrJs living in Sweden, the Activist student movement succeeded in establishing relations with Germany in order to send Finnish volunteers there for military training. Aarne Sihvo was among the vanguard of the volunteers who went to Germany in the spring of 1915. Taken altogether, almost 2,000 Finns put on the German Jäger uniform between 1915B1918. From the legal point of view, the Jägers, who were subjects of Russia, were traitors.

The image of the Finnish Jäger battalion in imperial Germany has been depicted as quite homogeneous and harmonious in the memoirs of Jäger officers and even in many historical works, but, in reality, a serious social tension existed between the Swedish-speaking Jägers, who were mainly officers with a middle-class or an upper middle-class background, and the Finnish-speaking Jägers, most of whom were ordinary soldiers and sons of working-men and farmers. As a Finnish-speaking officer, Aarne Sihvo became a spokesman for the ordinary Jägers and he took an active part in the move to suppress the penal battalion in Bahrenfeldt, where refractory Jägers had been sent. Alongside this tension between Swedish- and Finnish-speaking Jägers, with its background in the long political and social history of Finland, there were also many Socialists among the Jägers and they also organized themselves. However, the dominant non-Socialist context and the non-Socialist leaders of the Jäger movement made it certain that the Jägers were only to be at the service of a non-Socialist Finland. It is noteworthy that the Finnish Social Democrats who had many supporters in the battalion did not pay much attention to the Jägers.

For the pioneers of the Jäger movement, the traumatic events of 1918 in Finland constituted a war of independence against Russia. In reality, the 1918 war in Finland became a cruel civil war between Socialist and non-Socialist fellow-citizens, between the Reds and the Whites. In the circumstances of the World War, the aftermath of the October Revolution, the heightening of social and political tension, and the shortage of food and employment, the schism between Right and Left deepened in the beginning of 1918, and the war soon broke out. In the Civil War, the Jägers were an important backbone of the White Army commanded by General Mannerheim, who had made his career in the service of imperial Russia. Along with Mannerheim, Aarne Sihvo became a national "celebrity" and a war-hero of White Finland. During the war, Sihvo commanded the White Karelian army corps and his reputation was legendary. Sihvo was the only Jäger officer in such a high position and he was promoted colonel at the end of the war. Colonel Sihvo was the leading Jäger in May 1918 when the Civil War ended in a victory for the Whites, who were assisted by the Germans in defeating the Red Guards in Finland. In a way, as a Finnish-speaking Jäger, Sihvo was an alternative national White symbol to the upper-class Swedish-speaking and Russian-trained Mannerheim. The Civil War was a catastrophe for the Finnish Socialists, but it was also very dramatic for the Fennoman tradition; it was concrete evidence that spoke against the ideal of a harmonious Finnish people. The great majority of ordinary soldiers on both sides of the front were Finnish-speaking, but the top White leaders were Swedish-speaking or even Swedish or German B except, first of all, Sihvo. He it was who was needed to prove that the heart of the Finnish people was healthy and that despite the accident caused by some Bolshevik-inspired demagogues, (which was how the supporters of the Fennoman tradition visualized the situation), the Finnish nation and people were ready to build a state of their own.

After the war, Colonel Sihvo was appointed a divisional commander B there were only three divisons and one brigade in the first Finnish peacetime army B but he soon left this high office at the end of October 1918. The basic reason behind his resignation was that he could not adapt to a political climate that reflected German military and political influence. There was no confidence between Sihvo and the German officers led by General Rhdiger von der Goltz, who wanted to make the Finnish army an instrument of German military policy in north-eastern Europe. This so-called German period in Finland came to an end in November 1918 when Germany capitulated and the World War ended.

Though the main reason for Sihvo's resignation was his anti-German attitude, the resignation became political in the atmosphere of bitter constitutional debate. Even during the Civil War, the quarrel about the nature of the future constitution of Finland had become acute among the Whites. As a rule, the Conservative groups were supporters of the Monarchist constitution but the moderate and Centrist groups were against it and for the Republican constitution. An overhelming majority of the Jäger officers shared a belief in monarchism and against this background Sihvo was an odd fish. He became a candidate of the liberal and republican National Progressive Party in the Finnish parliamentary elections of March 1919, and with strong support in a Karelian constituency he was elected a Member of Parliament.

As an M.P., Sihvo was dedicated to the practice of parliamentary deomocracy and of a policy for the re-establishment of national harmony that was personified by K. J. StDhlberg, the first president of Finland and the father of the Republican constitution that came into force in the summer of 1919. Among the Jäger officers and Activists of the Jäger movement, the StDhlbergian Sihvo, who was ready to support a wide amnesty of the Red prisoners in the name of national reconciliation, carved for himself a "leftist" name. His role as commander of the Finnish Olonets expedition in 1919, an attempt to incorporate East Karelia (or part of it) into Finland, did not help to remove that tag. On the other hand, Sihvo's Finnish-nationalist image made him a persona grata from the viewpoint of liberal and Agrarian political opinion. Sihvo was not a politician by nature and he left Parliament as early as the year 1920. He was a soldier and wanted to become a more competent one. In order to do that, he took a military course in France and a degree at the Military Academy of Turin in Italy during the first half of the 1920's. During the first years of independence, many Jäger officers were sent to military academies in France and Italy since there was no Finnish military academy. The National Miltary Academy was founded in 1924, and Sihvo was appointed its first head.

Second career: Commander of the Finnish army overshadowed by the extreme Right

The new Finnish army and its officers were very heterogeneous. There was an almost irreconcilable conflict between two different military traditions, the Prussian-dominated Jäger tradition and the Tsarist Russian army tradition. There was also a generation gap between the young Jäger officers and the middle-aged ex-Tsarist army officers, and, basically, the conflict was a power struggle. After the Civil War, the Russian-trained officers held power in the army but the anti-Russian and chauvinistic political climate as well as the Jäger cult were against them. The Agrarian Party especially was a supporter of the Jägers, who now devised an active policy to displace or overtake the leading high-ranking Russian-trained officers. The threat of a mass resignation of commissions made by the Jäger officers in 1924 was a powerful but clearly non-parliamentary measure. Under this pressure, President StDhlberg and the government of the days had to yield to the demands made by the Jägers and their numerous political supporters. Thus, in the middle of the 1920's, the Jäger officers gained power in the army. The Jäger onrush reached its peak with the promotion of Aarne Sihvo to the rank of major-general, and his appointment as Commander of the conscript army by the Agrarian President Relander in 1926. Sihvo was not among the leaders of the movement against the Russian-trained officers, but his image and a strong political Centrist support brought him the post of Commander.

As Commander, Sihvo was a middle-of-the-roader who was ready to cooperate with moderate Socialists in order to strengthen the national will to defend the country. According to Sihvo and many other influential persons of the political Centre, the continued division of society between an uncompromising Left and Right represented the biggest obstacle to the positive development of Finland. The cooperation between the army and the Social Democratic government of Väin` Tanner (1926B1927) went well despite the prejudices on both sides. It was Tanner who after the Civil War piloted the moderates within the Finnish labour movement in the direction of the Western Socialist parties and so, by the 1920's, the Social Democratic Party was already a supporter of parliamentary democracy. The Left-wing activists who had moved to Soviet Russia at the end of the Civil War founded there the Finnish Communist Party that was based on an unsubtle doctrine of Marxism-Leninism.

Sihvo and the Social Democratic Minister of Defence, Kalle Heinonen, were compatible in outlook, for example, on the question of the role of the Civil Guard. The nature of the Finnish armed forces was dualistic: on the one hand, there was the army based on a compulsory military service, on the other hand, there was a Civil Guard that was a non-Socialist voluntary military organisation. For many non-Socialists, the Civil Guard was an important guarantor of internal security against the Left. In the Socialists' view the Civil Guard was a White class army and the enemy of working-men. Unlike the army, the Civil Guard was not under parliamentary control. The policy of Sihvo and Heinonen was to bring the Civil Guard under the control of the Commander of the army and the Ministry of Defence. Apart from the attempt to establish national harmony, and with it the felt need to get rid of dualism in the control of the Finnish military forces, there was undoubtedly in the picture, too, a power-struggle between Sihvo and the Commander of the Civil Guard, General Lauri Malmberg, one the leading Jägers besides Sihvo. In reality, the independent position of the Civil Guard remained unchanged on account of the support given by the wide non-Socialist opinion and by President Relander, who was an active supporter of the Guard as was his successor P. E. Svinhufvud. As a result of Sihvo's opinion and policy in this matter, his "leftist" image was strengthened.

Though Sihvo was seeking for national harmony, he was also a Finnish-speaking nationalist who regarded the Finnish-speaking population as the genuine Finnish people. In the role of the promoter of Finnishness, Sihvo, for example, forbade any use of Swedish in Finnish-speaking units in an order of the day in 1926. Along with his earlier reputation, this order strengthened the negative image he had among the Swedish-speaking Finns, but, at the same time, it strengthened his position in the eyes of the Finnish-speaking population. It can be said that the image Sihvo projected of being a true Finn was an effective political vaccine against his political and military enemies in the 1920's.

The end of the 1920's witnessed the rise of radical power among the Finnish Right. There were many reasons behind this development: the bitter memories of the Civil War, the critique of party politics and the parliamentary system, the economic depression, European models in Italy and in the German Nazi movement, etc. The anti-Communist Lapua movement was born at the end of 1929, and the pinnacle of strength of the movement was the peasants' march of 12,000 marchers on Helsinki organised in July 1930. The Lapua movement soon adopted an extra-parliamentary and violent course of action but notwithstanding this it was widely supported by non-Communist opinion, and the effect of the movement on governmental policy was great. In the armed forces, both in the army and in the Civil Guard, many officers were for the Lapua movement. In this connection, it is worth recalling that the Jäger disturbances against Russian-trained officers had taken place a few years earlier, and the Jäger officers had achieved power in the armed forces at that time, that is, in the mid-1920's. An interesting question of contrafactual history is what would have happened if the Jäger protests of the mid-20's had failed? In that case, one can suppose, the equation of dissatisfied officers and an anti-Communist movement might have been very dangerous for Finnish democracy. From Sihvo's viewpoint, the rise of the Finnish Right meant that the immunity given him by his moderate and Finnish-national image no longer worked effectively. During the Lapua years, Sihvo, who clearly opposed the illegal actions of the movement, incurred the hatred of the movement and its supporters. In the Rightist political climate, Mannerheim's position grew stronger, and, in reality, he became the strong man of the army in the beginning of the 1930's.

As a matter of fact, the triumphal progress of the Lapua movement already began to weaken at the end of 1930. The kidnapping by Lapua movement members of former President StDhlberg, the symbol of legality and parliamentary democracy, in October 1930 was one of the turning-points in the short history of the movement. The kidnapping was condemned by a very wide section of the public. Thus, the Mäntsälä incident, which took place in early 1932, was a kind of last attempt to make a radical change in favour of the political values of Lapua. Though the rebellion undertaken by a few hundred armed members of the Civil Guard was quite harmless, there was a lot of sympathy and unease among officers in the army and especially in the Civil Guard. On the whole, the Mäntsälä incident was very painful for those who sought to maintain the White tradition. Sihvo was an unconditional opponent of all the forces that were for Mäntsälä and Lapua, and he was even ready to use the army to crush a rebellion. The Mäntsälä incident was, in the event, dealt with quite easily, and its failure brought the banning of the Lapua movement.

Paradoxically, it was mainly because of the Mäntsälä incident that Sihvo, who had been on the winning side, was replaced in the beginning of 1933. The irreconcilable conflict between Sihvo and many officers in the army and the Civil Guard as well as between Sihvo and Mannerheim made him, apparently, unsuitable to be Commander. The Rightist circles especially wanted to get rid of him. Soon after Mäntsälä and the banning of the Lapua movement, those on the radical Right rallied behind a new party, the People's Patriotic Movement, and the powerful National Coalition Party, too, was influenced by that movement. The National Coalition Party was also the political home of Sihvo's superior, President Svinhufvud, who made the final decision to remove him. Among the political forces of the Centre, Sihvo was regarded as a victim of his democratic convictions. Despite Sihvo's replacement, and, indeed, partly because of his attitude, Finland's parliamentary democracy overcame the difficulties caused by the rise of the extreme Right. This was well illustrated in the fact that the Right (the National Coalition Party and the People's Patriotic Movement) suffered a clear defeat in the 1933 elections. For the creation of national harmony, the real test was the Winter War in 1939-1940.

Third career: Commander in the defence forces of Paasikivi's Finland

From 1933 to 1945 Sihvo could not be counted among the leading officers of the land. The first of these was Mannerheim, an old antagonist of Sihvo. During the Winter War and the Continuation War, Sihvo was responsible for Finland's civil defence. But it was mainly because of his role as something of an outsider during the war years and of his anti-Lapuan image that he was appointed Commander again in 1946. The new political context of Finland was coloured by the appearance on the political stage of the Finnish Communist Party and the victorious Soviet Union. In this context, Sihvo was the most suitable for the post of Commander of the defence forces from among the body of generals of the defeated army.

The Peace Treaty of Paris of 1947 and the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between Finland and the Soviet Union signed in 1948 provided the external setting for the Finnish army after the Second World War. General Sihvo was the military adviser of the Finnish delegation in Paris and one of the military advisers of President Paasikivi during the negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union for the Friendship Treaty in the Spring 1948. Sihvo's basic task was to adapt the reduced army to Paasikivi's new foreign policy in which the cornerstone was the confidental relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union. This task, a very painful one in the light of the Finnish military tradition, Sihvo undertook during his period as Commander from 1946 to 1953. The inevitable and complete about-turn in Finnish military policy cast a dark shadow over Sihvo, who also had to bear his earlier burden in the continuing attitudes of many of his colleagues.

Despite his policy of conciliation in the new political context, Sihvo was an unswerving supporter of free parliamentary democracy. In Spring 1948 when the threat of a Communist coup in the Czechoslovakian style seemed to be acute, Sihvo was among the most resolute opponents of the Communists, and the military readiness of the army was raised to a high level on his orders. After his resignation, Sihvo was a determined opponent of Urho Kekkonen whom he considered too pro-Soviet in his own interest. No wonder that Sihvo's reputation, whether when alive or posthumously, was not advanced during the Kekkonen era. General Aarne Sihvo died on 12th June, 1963.

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