International Reaction

World War 2 had begun in Europe on September 1st, 1939, but the war had not yet begun in earnest. Poland had been conquered in a few short weeks, and the Phony War was going on in mainland Europe, with few military operations being conducted by either side. The Winter War was the only show in town at the end of 1939, and so the worlds eyes were focused upon it.

World opinion was very much on the side of the Finns. The Winter War was seen as an unprovoked attack by a hugely powerful nation on a tiny, defenceless and peaceful victim. Foreign reporters in Helsinki wrote glowing articles about the Finnish defence, and foreign aid organisations did what they could. Several thousand volunteers from all over the world travelled to Finland, though most of them arrived too late to actually get involved (the first batch of volunteers from the US arrived the day before the war ended).

"Only Finland-superb, nay, sublime-in the jaws of peril-Finland shows what free men can do. The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent. They have exposed, for all the world to see, the military incapacity of the Red Army and of the Red Air Force. Many illusions about Soviet Russia have been dispelled in these few fierce weeks of fighting in the Arctic Circle. Everyone can see how Communism rots the soul of a nation; how it makes it abject and hungry in peace, and proves it base and abominable in war. We cannot tell what the fate of Finland may be, but no more mournful spectacle could be presented to what is left to civilized mankind than that this splendid Northern race should be at last worn down and reduced to servitude worse than death by the dull brutish force of overwhelming numbers. If the light of freedom which still burns so brightly in the frozen North should be finally quenched, it might well herald a return to the Dark Ages, when every vestige of human progress during two thousand years would be engulfed."

There was plenty of goodwill, as the West cheered Finland on. On the other hand, there was very little concrete assistance, which is what Finland desperately needed. For once Sweden was not neutral and sent Finland military supplies, cash and 8700 Swedish volunteers who made their presence felt in February 1940, as well as a third of the admittedly small Swedish airforce. However Sweden was worried that the utter collapse of Finland in the event of their expected defeat would result in a hostile Soviet Union right on their border, so their support was somewhat qualified.

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