Civil War was Finland's first modern war
The 1918 war had terror, child soldiers, and rapid forces
By Arto Astikainen
The Civil War, which was fought in the spring of 1918, was Finland's first modern war, says researcher Marko Tikka.
Modern aspects of warfare in the fighting between the Red Guards and the White army included such characteristics as child soldiers, political purges, terror reminiscent of war crimes, urban warfare, and rapid attack forces.
Another aspect of the conflict qualifying it as a modern war was its totality. Civilians suffered greatly from the fighting, and there was no clear division between civilians and soldiers.
Tikka says that the paranoia of the situation in the spring of 1918 was reminiscent of the present fight against terrorism. The enemy lurked among the people itself, and the enemy could not always be distinguished by uniform; any stranger could come under suspicion.
Marko Tikka, a 35-year-old researcher at the University of Tampere, presents his views on the Civil War in his book Terrorin aika ("The Time of Terror"), which was published on Wednesday.
Tikka does not use the terms "War of Freedom" or "National War" to describe the events of the spring of 1918, and certainly not the expression "Class War". He feels that the terms are far too political. Instead, Tikka refers calls the conflict the "Civil War", "Rebellion", and "Revolution".
The book focuses on acts of terror, which were committed by both sides, especially by the "flying units" - the rapid action forces of the time .
Tikka has found new information about the flying units of the Whites, largely comprising schoolboys - child soldiers. Many were as young as 12 and 13; the youngest Red to fall was just nine.
"Child soldiers were not considered a morally questionable phenomenon - quite to the contrary", Tikka points out. He says that children and youths were particularly cruel in their fighting, because they lacked a developed sense of empathy, and the awareness that their actions had consequences.
Marko Tikka says that the executions of Reds behind the front lines, which have been referred to as the "White terror", were not random acts perpetrated by individual soldiers, but rather were deliberate actions led from above. The White commander-in-chief, C.G.E. Mannerheim, knew about the activities.
It turns out that the execution of 80 Reds in Varkaus in February 1918, which was known as the "Huruslahti lottery", was not the arbitrary butchery that has been etched in the memory of the nation.
According to the story, every tenth Red prisoner was shot on the ice of the bay of Huruslahti. In reality, the White "field court martial" singled out the Red leaders, the worst agitators, and those who had taken part in the murder of factory engineers. They were taken to the side and shot in groups of five.
"I do not want to blacken the Whites", said Marko Tikka on Wednesday. "It could be that the White terror was necessary."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.8.2006
ARTO ASTIKAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat