teisipäev, mai 16, 2006

War in the Woods

My wife got me this book to feed my Estonia/World War II jones. It is inevitable that, as a man, I will become more and more interested in war and conflict as I age, and hunker down as my father before me in excitement as a World War II special premieres on the History Channel.

The book is called War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival. It is by Mart Laar, the once and again prime minister of Estonia. To American eyes, Mart Laar is kind of like one of us. He's large, ballsy, a blowhard. He's a loud, shining, argumentative diamond in the rough from a region where 'dynamic'is epitomized by ... well no one. The north isn't exactly known for is charismatic leaders.

But the book is different from the man. It is told from an Estonian perspective - that is it it doesn't boil the Estonian resistance down to "former Hitlerists" as some media outlets might be told to do. But it doesn't suffer from any kind of bombastic flair. The two main sources of information are interviews with actual Forest Brother guerillas - those who fought the Soviets in the woods for the ten years after 1945 - and the archives of the Communist Party in Estonia.

The effect is strong, particularly due to Laar's attention to detail. He goes into long paragraphs about which rifles they were using, and how communications networsk were set up and destroyed by the Soviets and set up again. In fact, all I dreamt about last night was cutting Soviet communications cables. It's a good read.

Two things strike me though. One is the age of the Forest Brothers. When we think of them, we think of them as time beaten men. But these were young gentlemen, most in their 20s, loaded up with rifles, grenades, and whatever else - trying to coordinate a guerilla war with limited communication channels and support. It's like you want to go back in time and give the guys laptops and cellphones. "Here Hirmus Ants (a famous forest brother) use my Nokia, it's much more effective than your primitive radio."

The other thing that is interesting is the ferocity of the NKVD. The Soviets spent millions of rubles and thousands upon thousands of lives destroying the Estonian republic. They wasted so much of their precious resources in a land that ultimately rejected their rule, anyway. Why would they do such a thing? Were they wholly irrational, evil, corrupt human beings? They look that way. Most of their official photos make them out to look like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers series. But still, the effort undertaken to liquidate a whole system of government - to destroy a whole society - is just insane.

Fortunately they failed and the guerilla's efforts were not in vain. What the publicity of this book does though, is that it erases the notion that Estonia willingly submitted to Soviet rule. And according to the Forest Brothers cited in the book, after they realized that they were not going to regain independence, that is what they set out to achieve using guerilla tactics.

2 kommentaari:

Pekka K ütles ...

What is so amazing about history is, that even if it is about the things and events in the past, it keeps changing and evolving.

What I learned at school a long time ago, was always a point of view of white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, male Colonialists who had no knowledge about the people and regions they considered being beneath them. They even determed that Americas had to be discovered by the white man as if they ever were lost in the first place. Huge biases and distortions have little by little been displaced by the more accurate and inclusive writings and this book by Mart Laar is a welcome addition to that end.

Giustino ütles ...

There's a lot in this book for all big countries to consider - especially mine. The US has much to be proud of. We are the grandfather of western liberal democratic republics. It's not a coincidence that many of the democratic republican leaders that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries (Eamon De Valera in Ireland; Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy) had connections in the US.

But one of the greatest errors a large country can make is to forcefully import its system government to an unwilling populace.

It's sad to say I see shades of the Iraq War in this book.

Rightwingers in this country would accuse me of siding with terrorism for equating democrats fighting for the restoration of independence in Estonia with the insurgents in Iraq.

But I am merely comparing strategies. If the USSR had let Estonia remain nominal independence - if it had allowed the Baltics to develop like Finland, then it would have 1) saved resources and lives and 2) not developed as antagonistic a relationship as it has with these countries today.

There are optimal ways to accomplish things and not-so-optimal ways. That's one of the lessons I came away with from this book...