From Page to Screen: Excerpts From Martha Gellhorn's Wartime Writing


The resilience of a nation

Rumors, the inevitable by-product of war, circulated through the countryside and in the city, saying that the Russians were planning a giant air attack—they were going to flatten Helsinki. Nothing and no one would be left. In the midst of all this the Russians bombarded the city with propaganda by leaflets and by radio. The Finns reacted with bitter amusement. With the bombs came badly printed pamphlets saying, "You know we have bread, why do you starve?"

Since the Finns eat as well as any people in the world, this was not convincing. They were told repeatedly by the Moscow radio that the Finns were brothers and this war was not the work of the real Finnish people but only the devilish machination of a small band of Finnish revolutionaries. These singular statements became the best joke in Helsinki. There is less than one per cent illiteracy in Finland and the people are well and constantly informed. They believe the Russian bombs but not the Russian propaganda.

… The war was five days old and the first shock had worn off. There had been no panic at any time but only a stony determination to defend the country, and already it seemed as if people knew exactly where they had to go, and as if each person had some special work that was essential to all. An Italian journalist had remarked in Helsinki that anyone who could survive the Finnish climate could survive anything and we decided with admiration that the Finns were a tough and unrelenting race, seeing them take this war as if there was nothing very remarkable in three million people fighting against a nation of one hundred and eighty million.

… A boy of nine stood outside his home in Helsinki and watched the Russian bombers. He was blond and plump and he stood with his hands on his hips and with his feet apart and looked at the sky with a stubborn, serious face. He held himself stiffly so as not to shrink from the noise. When the air was quiet again he said, “Little by little, I am getting really angry.”

-- "The War in Finland," The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn

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