Helena Pilke, The nation was at war – what did the men tell? Publishing and censoring Winter War literature in 1940
During the eight month period between March and November 1940, more than 80 books about the Winter War written by Finnish authors were published in Finland. All best-selling books of the year were about the conflict and the largest print runs were in the tens of thousands. For example, the publishing house Karisto estimated the print runs of its books on the Winter War to be about 150,000.
The first books about the conflict appeared in March-April 1940. A large number of semi-documentary war diaries and memoirs were published in the summer and autumn. The most important motivation for the authors was to put their experiences on paper, and during the summer and autumn of 1940 publishers rejected very few of the manuscripts offered to them.
Books on the war were enthusiastically received by the reading public and critics, and all the best-sellers were about the conflict. The critics did not pay much attention to imperfections or clumsiness; what was considered important was the sharing of front line experiences through literature. Many of the critics felt that the books written about the Winter War should pass memories of the war on to future generations. At the same time, readers demanded that the books, both non-fiction and fiction, should be a close to reality as possible. In their opinion, the fighting on the front line should only be described by those who had been in the thick of it. Both censors and critics condemned books in which the conflict was described using humour.
All books on the conflict had to be submitted to official censors for checking. War censorship was abolished in June 1940. However, even though it was no longer obligatory, most publishers still submitted the manuscripts of war books for censoring. The coarsest expressions used for the enemy, names of places, persons and similar references that were considered dangerous for military-political reasons were removed by the censors.
In the autumn of 1940 the Soviet leadership demanded that Finland ban all books on the Winter War. The censorship decree was amended, making it extremely difficult to publish books about the conflict. Publishers also became cautious, which meant that by late 1940 nearly all books about the Winter War had disappeared from public circulation.
Books about the Winter War can be summed up as a mixture of 1930s nationalism, heroic stories about the ‘Spirit of the Winter War’ and, in some cases, realistic descriptions of battles. They filled the role of mass media, whose operations were restricted during the conflict, and informed the public about the events in the front line. However, at the same time, they also glorified the Finnish army, which was portrayed as a small group of valiant and victorious fighters.