Friday, June 4, 2010

Mannerheim's Birthday! A Flag Day of course!

It has been four days since we touched Finnish soil. Sounds very dramatic, doesn't it? Chris and I are going through withdrawal. Sophia, however, is back in the swing of things. But the school librarian did tell me that Sophia asked for Finnish books during library time. Maybe she too is pining for Finland.

I haven't had sufficient opportunity or wireless internet access to blog. What would Field Marshall Mannerheim say about these poor excuses? I think he would take a dim view of any excuse not to do what I set out to do.

It is hard to blog about Mannerheim, even on his birthday because he is such an important figure. Of course the flags were flying today in Finland because his birthday is also the flag day of the Finnish Defense forces. There is so much to learn about Mannerheim, but I will start with the basic facts. I hope to learn more about him as I continue to study all things Finnish.

I would say that Mannerheim could be as important to Finland as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln all rolled into one impressive person. Military leader, founding father, fighter of a civil war. But it is more complex than that. There is the lingering shadow of the civil war to add more subtle shading to the portrait.

Mannerheim was born in the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of Imperial Russia, in 1867. He served in the Tsar's army and fought in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Upon his return to St. Petersburg he was asked to be a spy/archeologist and travel from Turkestan to Beijing. This was a fascinating trip and the photographs of his journey are wonderful. He met the Dalai Lama on this trip. So, please roll Indiana Jones into that ball with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.

He fought for Russia during WWI, but fell out of favor with the communist government after the Russian revolution and was relieved of his duties. In January 1918 he was appointed commander in chief of the non-existent armed forces of the new Republic of Finland. After leading the Whites to a swift victory in the Civil War, he left Finland because he had misgiving about how close the Finnish government was to Germany. Mannerheim went to visit relatives in Sweden. He also met with the British and Americans hoping that those governments would recognize the nascent country of Finland.

In December of 1918 he was summoned back to Finland to serve as Regent. He ran for president in the first election, but lost and left the public stage until WWII. After the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, Mannerheim became Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Armed Forces:

The President of the Republic has appointed me on 30.11.1939 as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the country. Brave soldiers of Finland! I enter on this task at a time when our hereditary enemy is once again attacking our country. Confidence in one's commander is the first condition for success. You know me and I know you and know that everyone in the ranks is ready to do his duty even to death. This war is nothing other than the continuation and final act of our War of Independence. We are fighting for our homes, our faith, and our country.

He was 72!

I will close this post with this video from youtube of Hitler attending Mannerheim's 75th birthday party. I am not sure that this visit was at all welcome, but your enemy's enemy is your friend.

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