The death toll of persons involved in military operations totalled 26,662 during the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-1940, later known as the Winter War. A book entitled Vapautemme hinta (Engl. transl. The Price of Our Liberty) was published soon after the war in 1941, with a few column centimetres reserved for the picture and details of each deceased war hero.
The Winter War as well as the book proved that deceased soldiers are of value. While the thunder of cannons and guns still echo through the air, they are vital for strengthening a patriotic spirit and sense of community under threat. They uphold morale among troops. After the war, they have a vital role in boosting a communal spirit, shaping identity and preparing for future conflicts.
The Winter War continues to hold a special place in political discourse in Finland, whether hankering for its spirit to crush an economic downturn, or mentioned in the context of security policy. The underlying notion is always freedom and independence redeemed through bloodshed and solidarity. Politics of today is built on a foundation of deceased soldiers.
In other words, soldiers killed during times of war and peace are repeatedly harnessed for political ends. But when you stare at the faces of deceased soldiers one by one, also taking in their names, hometown, profession and age, politics are pushed aside and replaced with a sense of urgency, sadness and reflection on how the war affected each family and village. As a group, the deceased war heroes were important on a national level, but as individuals, their deaths feel like nothing but a loss. What use is it to anyone that all three brothers of a family living in a small village died? Or when a recent graduate gets killed after just two days on the front? Dying as a war hero does not leave behind warmth, love, work or prosperity for family and friends. Instead, war death is always a violent end that results in immeasurable sorrow.