Tuomas Tepora
Publication date
September 2015
Format info
372 pages

The Spirit of War: The Beautiful, Ugly Winter War

Sodan henki. Kaunis ja ruma talvisota

An eye-opening study and engaging depiction of people and their lives during Finland’s Winter War

The Spirit of the Winter War is one if the most deeply ingrained Finnish myths. But was this legendary spirit fact or fiction? Did the common threat faced by all Finns genuinely unify a people still divided by a horrific civil war; if so, how solid was this unity? And how did Finns experience the Winter War; what did it feel like?

Tuomas Tepora strips the Spirit of the Winter War of its mantle of myth and engages in a broad examination of the phenomenon from various angles, primarily from that of the home front but also from the perspective of those on the front lines. Did the Spirit of the Winter War ignite spontaneously among the nation’s people, or was it a product of state propaganda? When war broke out, people from all backgrounds rose to fight on behalf of a country they experienced as their own, but undercurrents also flowed beneath the national fervor: fear, selfishness, uncertainty.

At the end of the war, fractures appeared in the spirit, and it began to crumble. Suspicion, conspiracy theories, and searches for scapegoats emerged. The honorable fight ended in a seemingly shameful peace, and hearts were torn between desire for a rematch and hope for lasting peace.

The Spirit of War is not a traditional military history, but a story of a society at war and the cultural and emotional history of war. This landmark work also makes use of abundant never-before-seen material.

”It feels as if our personal instinct for self-preservation has been wholly shunted aside and replaced with a sense of a shared fate so overpowering that it obscures individuality and restores balance to heart and mind.” – (Eero, in a letter to the editors of Helsingin Sanomat, December 1, 1939)

”There are numerous host families whose apparent intent is to take advantage of the refugees’ plight. They strive to arrange the refugees’ maintenance in such a way as to squeeze as high a price as possible selling their agricultural products to these captive customers. Furthermore, a teacher from south-central Finland has noted that there are those who consider those [evacuees] from Karelia members of a lower caste of humanity.” – (Report on the Mood of the Nation, Maan Turva national security organization, February 17,1940)


Awards and nominations

2016 Lauri Jäntti Prize Honourable Mention
2015 Shortlisted for the Kanava Non-Fiction Award



Suistamo, late autumn 1939     7
The mythical Winter War     12
The history of emotions     17

I: A War of Nerves
Defiant in the face of fear     23
The battle for the mood of the nation     32
“Not a single inch”     48
The time of uncertainty – Is war the solution?     61
Who wants to relinquish territory?     86
The spirit of intensified reservist trainings     92

II: The Spirit at its Height
November 30, 1939     107
Fear and faith in victory     125
Steeling national spirit through propaganda     140
Melding and mourning     148
A new story about the birth of the nation?     165
“The Belgium of World War II”     174
The homeland calls     186

III: Undercurrents
Suspicions and spy cooties     197
Strange lights and funny business     205
Ungrateful evacuees and greedy hosts     214
What are wartime rumors made of?     232

IV: The Spirit Falters
Doubts and strengthening the nation’s faith     241
From dreams of Greater Finland to trimmed territory     257
March 13, 1940     271
Scapegoats of shame     277
Encounters between the front and the home front     298

Afterword     308
Acknowledgments     315
Reference     316
Sources and literature     344
Index of people     366


Reading materials

Finnish edition