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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

World's Greatest Cowards: Swedes?

In 1914 we Swedes celebrated 100 years of peace, should we very soon celebrate the 200th anniversary, or ignore it?

Journalists around the world are about to cover the different ceremonies commemorating the outbreak of World War One, starting in Sarajevo on June 28. Rightly so, but as a Swede dealing with war history it is my obligation to also remind about the Swedish–Norwegian War of 1814 and question the feelings about the rare peace that we have since enjoyed.

The Swedish–Norwegian War, known here in Sweden also as the Campaign against Norway, was a war fought between Sweden and Norway that broke out with a Swedish naval attack against Norway on the 26th of July 1814. It ended quickly, on the 14th of August with Norway entering into union with Sweden, but with its own parliament and constitution. That war is today of little consequence for Sweden, as the union was dissolved in 1905. But the peace we have enjoyed since 1814 can still be a hot subject, as was recently demonstrated at a debate in Stockholm when Anders Lindberg, editorial writer of Sweden´s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, stated "neutrality is the world's most successful policy, it has spared us from wars for 200 years". This praise for neutrality was not quite correct, as Sweden since joining the EU has scrapped the principle of neutrality. However, our non-aligned policy continues, and that is most probably what Mr. Lindberg had in mind. The reaction to these words from Erik Helmerson, editorial writer at Dagens Nyheter, our largest morning paper, was scathingly self-critical: "Sure, if success is that others sacrifice their lives for our sake - then neutrality is a mega-hit".

I would say that both Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Helmerson have missed some key parts of Swedish history. For example, we were not neutral when our neighbour Finland was attacked in 1939. But the help that the Swedish government provided was not flaunted and the full scale of it only became known decades after the war. Also in 1941-44 the Swedish government allowed a volunteer movement for Finland and made it possible for Swedish officers to serve Finland. Perhaps not that many Swedish lives were laid down for Finland 1939-44, 117 lives to be exact. But let´s not forget neither them nor the around thousand Swedish lives lost in Allied supply convoys and military units 1939-45. Most were not in Allied armies but on ships under various flags. However, the Norwegian memorial in Oslo for the around hundred Swedes who died for Norway 1940-45 makes no difference at all between those that died in the Norwegian Merchant Navy and those that died on battlefields in Norway and Normandy. So, there is no reason for us to differentiate, a life is a life.

The number of Swedes who died for Finland or in Allied convoys may largely be described as volunteers and the figures pale when one compares to the war dead of other countries. But one must not forget that the Swedish state facilitated both categories and the number of Swedish sailors who assisted the Allies, 8,000, just cannot be regarded as insignificant.

Let us now look back at August 1914, when Europe was largely at war but we Swedes celebrated our first century of uninterrupted peace by erecting an 18 metre tall monument on the border between Sweden and Norway to celebrate 100 years of peace between our countries. There is a book in English that provides us with a unique view of the ceremony that day, Scandinavia in the First World War edited by Claes Ahlund. I know of no similar book in any language, as it provides insights into several very little known subjects like the intelligence and counter-intelligence war in Scandinavia, the 26,000 (sic!) ethnic Danes in the German military, the 1,100 Scandinavian volunteers in Australian (!) uniform and the immense losses of the Scandinavian merchant ships in 1914 and 1918 - Norway alone lost 829 ships. Yes, that´s right, 829 ships.

Scandinavia in the First World War really is a must if you want to get to know Scandinavia in 1914-18 and also paints vital background for the stance in 1939 - not joining the warring sides had worked in 1914-18, so why change that basic strategy? Just bear in mind that Scandinavia in the First World War is not a regular history book but exactly what the subtitle says: Studies in the War Experience of the Northern Neutrals. A more regular history of Scandinavia in 1914-18 has yet to be written and should preferably include more about Finland and thus be called something like The Nordics and the First World War. A parting tip to those who eventually will write that book, check out Swedes at War.

Finally, should we on the 14th of August celebrate that it will then be - unless the Ukraine War of 2014 turns into something much bigger - 200 years since we were officially at war with another state? Shouldn´t we rather ignore the coming anniversary, considering the many abroad that sacrificed their lives for our sake? Well, aside from that more than a thousand Swedes lost their lives for others, i.e. Finland and the Allies, let me quote the British ambassador to Sweden during WWII, Sir Victor Mallet: "Swedish neutrality was of far greater value to us than a Swedish act of suicide in 1940 would have been."


  1. Our problem is not that we are cowards, if anything it is the opposite. But we are conformists (not me thou) that have no Culture. That is why some people Think;

    "I don't care if I am considered a coward just because I am not standing up for my country or defending any values, as long as I don't get any of that manure splattered over me. I want to live for my self and my family and I have a protecting airbag of loveing parents from when I was a child".

    It's either that or;

    "I have an airbag of moral", if it is a lefty.

    There is a Jewish saying; "trivial evil" or something like that, which speaks of a big hunk of the Swedish people! They only stand up for things that doesn't result in splattering with manure. Like the multi-cultural society. We even have a political party for people like that - Nya Moderaterna.

    It is easier for a Camel to pass through a needles Eye than for a rich man to get into heaven! And this is why.

    We are screwed!

    Roger Mikael Klang

  2. Posted this interesting piece of history on LinkedIn, and got following comment.

    "Clive Raymond MNI" I regularly pass the site of the Swedish Hospital for Allied Wounded of the First World War in what is now the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, London. How many hospitals like this were there, and were there any Swedish hospitals set up in Germany and Austria?

  3. Thanks Lars, aside from the Swedish military hospital in London I know only of individual Swedish medics in Entente, German and Austrian war hospitals. There were perhaps a dozen on both sides.

  4. It was unacceptable for Sweden as a nation to stand idle when friendly nations who share cultural background and language similarities like Denmark and Norway were conquered by German Wehrmacht.

    Cowards is a easy and soft word to describe the swedish foreign policy and political class of those times.

    You can be mad at what I am writing here but I dont care.
    I hate individualists and cowards who only think about themselves and dont give a damn about your own people like Norway and Denmark who share big similarities and many historical relations.

    No wonder norwegians and danes have negative opinion about Sweden's historical shameful record in WW2.

    1. Funny that you don't have the guts to comment under your real name or telling us which country your from. But let me reply:

      Most european contries like Finland, Jugoslavia, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and as mentioned Sweden and also Norway declared themselfes neutral at the start of the war. All states but Portugal, Spain (which were fascist states), Sweden and Switzerland were pulled into the war. Even the superstate USA declared itself neutral publicly by Franklin D Roosevelt 1939-1940. But remember that the US congress allready 1936 had voted in favor for an American law about American neutrality, so the declaration was just a formality. Learn your history history revisionist!

      But this said our gouvernment has made some really cowardly decisions over the yars because they are a sociopatic mafia whom only cares about being in Power and they are actively counteracting the indigenous native people. If you are from the USA you have the good fortune to live in a democracy. We have a mafia. Besides, we have no friends, you have helped proven that.

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment. I do believe I have shown, on this blog and in my books, that I have great respect for the Swedes who decided NOT to be neutral when our neighbours were attacked.