"The Riddle of the Snows"

Beverley Baxter February 15 1940

"The Riddle of the Snows"

Beverley Baxter February 15 1940

"The Riddle of the Snows"


Beverley Baxter

LONDON (By cable)—The snow lies deep in my garden. One of the mysteries of the British climate is the way snow appears on the ground without anyone having seen it arrive. It is simply there, like a milk bottle on the step when one opens the door.

Our thoughts these days dwell much upon snow. This is the time of year when those curious hawk-faced creatures who live only for winter sports would be leaving for St. Moritz. Today, they can only cast longing eyes at the leaden skies and console themselves with memories of the past. For no one can travel to the Continent on pleasure bent. And there are thousands of Canadian soldiers here looking at England’s puny attempt at a winter and telling local inhabitants of Northern Ontario or the Ottawa Valley, or back home in New Brunswick where the snow falls so deep that it comes to the level of the windows, while motor cars have to be dug out with a shovel.

But our thoughts are neither on British nor Canadian snows. Our eyes are fastened on the riddle of Finland, where the snow is being reddened with the blood of soldiers from Red Russia. Is the Finnish conflict an incident or the turning point in the war? Can the courage of this incomparable people be turned to the cause of the Allies, or will it bring repercussions which no one can foresee?

At the moment, politicians and military experts over here are watching every item of information which comes from the conflict in the bitterly cold lakelands of the little northern state. More than with the conflict itself they are concerned with the question of whether or not we are seeing the end of the great Russian legend.

For years now Europe, and in fact the whole world, has believed in the bogy of Communist Russia’s colossal strength. Again and again in the House of Commons I have seen that wily old rascal, Lloyd George, wag his finger and warn the Government that at all costs we must have Russia on our side. When she knifed Poland and occupied the little Baltic states there were people who said openly that we would have to come to terms with Germany so that Germany, Italy, Britain and France could combine to resist the Russian onslaught. Men like H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw, who had been to Russia and been shown a modern factory with plenty of sunlight coming into it and precious little of anything going out of it, had returned and announced the birth of a new super-efficient civilization.

“Beat the Pants Off Them”

IT WAS in the midst of all this that Finland decided to resist the colossus. People gasped. People applauded. They agreed it was magnificent, but that it would be sheer butchery, and over in a week. My first inkling that that might not be so was when that magnificent soldier. Colonel Walter Wilson, dropped in with Air Commodore Critchlev for supper at my house. Wilson was a staff officer with Ironside at Archangel, and had fought the Bolsheviks in 1918. Since then he has kept contact with every new development in that part of the world. Discussing the Finnish war, which had just broken out, I suggested gloomily that Denmark and Sweden might be drawn in. Wilson nodded. Then, with his soft refined voice, he remarked, “If that happens, they will beat the pants off Russia.”

It was not so much the expressiveness of the language as the unusual theory which startled me. In the last war we had seen Germany overrun Belgium and Roumania in a matter of days, and in this war we had seen her crush Poland in a fortnight. By what freak of imagination could Finland and the little Scandinavian countries inflict defeat upon the mighty Red Army with its endless tanks, its vast fleet of airplanes which we have seen so often in the news-

reels and heard of so many times from the lips of returning travellers?

Wilson shrugged his shoulders. “I doubt if Russia has more than 200.000 first-class troops,” he said. “The rest are just rabble, and remember the larger the rabble, the greater the disaster if things turn against them.”

Then he told us a pitiful little story. After the Archangel business was over in 1919, he had the task of repatriating Russian prisoners. “I would ask each one where he lived.” said Wilson. “They would reply. ‘Down the road from the mill owned by Ivan Ivanivitch.’ or ‘Near the little hill by the church.’ They did not know what part of Russia they lived in, or what place it was near. We just had to turn them loose to search, for the rest of their lives, for the homes they had left. The Russians of today are no different, except that Stalin has taken from them the comfort they got from the little church on the hill.”

At the time, I listened with those doubts one always feels toward a man who knows his subject too well, but often since I have recalled the assurance with which he predicted the course of events. To him Russia was a colossus not only with feet but with a head of clay. Certainly, on the defensive Russia might absorb an invader like a morass, and even draw him to his doom, but, according to Wilson, it could not wage war outside its frontiers against any resolute and well-equipped army.

Nowhere has the riddle of the Finnish snows caused such consternation as in Berlin. The Germans now believe they never needed to deal with Russia; that she would not have fought with any heart for the peace front, and that she

would have concluded a separate peace as in 1917. Ribbentrop, who already must be an extremely poor risk for any insurance company to carry, is being denounced for having A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. advised Hitler to cede all the Baltic territories and rich portions of Poland when Stalin would have withdrawn at a snap of the fingers. Only a few days ago Hitler was revealing his magnificent plan of Russia sweeping through Afghanistan and driving the British out of Iran and India while Germany swept up the Balkans. What a broom the Russian Army had proved, in merely trying to sweep up a few Finns in the snow!

The Germans, however, could not afford to look back too long. They had to think ahead. Already the effeminate British and the decadent French were openly aiding Finland. This was unjustifiable and damnable impertinence on the part of the Allies. And Scandinavia was helping Finland, too. The indignation of the Nazis reached such a pitch that the heat could almost be felt from over here. Germany had aided Finland twenty years ago in her struggle for freedom against the Bolsheviks. Now she warned Sweden that any attempt to assist Finland in fighting a second time for that same freedom would be regarded by Germany as an unfriendly act. So debased is German honor, so contemptible her pitiful surrender to expediency.

One man —one man and the snows—sustain the incredible Finnish resistance. General Mannerheim once served in the Russian Imperial Army and then fought against the Bolsheviks. “1 can hold out with one man against a hundred.” he says, “but not with one against a thousand. The whole world is giving us its sympathy. We are grateful, but sympathy is not enough.”

The beleaguered Finns turn their eyes, bloodshot with lack of sleep, toward the United States. Surely that great republic, born of its own struggle for freedom, would understand? And the U. S. answers. “Yes. we understand. We shall give you back the last installment of interest you paid us on your debt.” As I write these words, however, there is talk in Washington about further and more substantial financial assistance. I hope it is true.

Mannerheim watches the gathering hordes of Russian troops. From behind he hears Germany preparing to repay Russia for her graciousness in knifing Poland in the back, and he cries. “Fight on.” Well might some new Tennyson exclaim, “God of battles, was ever a battle such as this?”

A New Revolution

THERE is something else that is being talked of quietly in Paris and Dindon. Are we going to see a new Russian revolution? Is Communism going to go down before a blow struck from within the Russian frontiers? Communism is staggering about the ring like Camera after being hit by Joe Iouis. It is out on its feet, exposed to the world as the inept fake that it has always been—robbery, murder, confiscation, repudiation, slave labor, all under the godless banner of a new jxilitical philosophy. Russia remains what she has always been, the supreme incompetent. But how can there be a revolution? Who will lead it?

To answer those questions I would ask you to send your minds back to the morning of June 12. in the year 1937. On that date it was announced that eight of the highest Red Army leaders would be court martialled in secret for high treason. Those leaders included the assistant Commissar for Defense, the Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian forces, the Commander in Chief of the White Russian forces, the Chief of the Military Academy, who was also Commander in Chief of the Moscow garrison, the Commander of the Kharkov garrison, the G. S. O. in charge of Red Army personnel, the head of the Aviation

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Department and another who was just a mere general. The decision to try them by military tribunal and in secret meant that they were doomed before the first word of the prosecution was uttered. It meant something else. While Communism is dilatory and inefficient in many things, it is splendidly organized for carrying out a death sentence. Once the court had found these men guilty, they would be shot during the morning immediately following.

What was the crime of these distinguished soldiers? Stalin said it was treason. The propaganda department let it be known that the generals had been treating with the German Army. The Russian newspapers said they were preparing to sell Russia to Germany. The truth is quite different. These men were proud. They had no intention of selling Russia to any foreign country. They were determined, however, to overthrow the government, drive the Bolsheviks out, and put an end to the wretched farce of Communism and bring Russia into the comity of nations under a normal form of government and with its frontiers open to the outside world. The plot was so widespread it covered every section of Russia. Unfortunately for history and for Russia, two of the conspirators lost their nerve and gave the secret away. One cannot blame Stalin for his drastic action. It was his life or theirs. It was Bolshevism or freedom, and he could not afford to be merciful. So the trial took place. Next morning, shots rang out. The famous purge had taken place. But in carrying it out, the brains of the Russian Army were exterminated and the morale of the Russian Army destroyed.

Sequel to Massacre

"DETREAT of the reeling Russian forces in Finland at this moment is a sequel to the massacre in Moscow two years ago.

Not long ago, a friend of mine was dining with Kerensky, the man who for a little time was head of the provisional Russian Government between the first revolution in 1917 and the triumph of the Bolsheviks. My friend asked Kerensky if he had any hopes for Russia in the future. “No country,” said Kerensky, “that has once known freedom will be content to stay permanently a slave.”

My friend smiled. “Even if it only knew freedom for five months?” he asked.

There was no smile on Kerensky’s face as he answered, “Even if it only knew freedom for five days.”

The position in Russia today is not only of absorbing interest, but it transcends in the elements of drama even the story of

Germany herself. Every shot that the Finnish soldiers fire echoes round the world. Every time the Russians give way, the mists clear and we see the giant in all his grotesque weakness. Germany hesitates between two alternatives. Should she fasten her grip on Russia and by relentless means drill her into some kind of efficiency, so that she could be of help in the war? Or should Germany end the non-aggression pact and make a plea for the sympathy of the world as leader once more against Bolshevism?

Never has a gamble collapsed so swiftly or so lamentably as Germany’s alliance with Soviet Russia. But there are others watching Russia, waiting for their moment. Trotsky is still a name. Like all megalomaniacs, he never loses faith in his star. There are Czarists, with their Grand Duke, to whom they still prostrate themselves as head of Holy Russia. These men are meeting now in Paris and London. They believe that thrones are going to return to Europe and that Russia will want an emperor again.

In my own opinion, revolution in Russia is certain, unless Stalin is shrewd enough to bring his Finnish'war to an end. Perhaps it is a fortunate thing that the old saying is still true, that those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. One thing Stalin could not afford to do was to go to war. Having shot his generals, he never should have armed his regiments for battle. The bullet that can be fired against an enemy can also be fired against a government. The collapse of Poland and the weak submission of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania must have gone to his head. He was a Caesar who had never had to fight a battle. No wonder he thought the Finns were bluffing, and that once the Russians marched they would collapse like a pack of cards.

Although I am cabling this, I am well aware I must take the risk that it may read strangely when it appears in print. Yet I do not believe that the Finnish defense is a fluke, and when the winter passes and the frozen lakes are melted by the sun, there is no reason to think Russia will do any better against her gallant little enemy—providing we give Finland the equipment to go on fighting.

This battle of the snows, this valiant fight of a resolute people against inhuman odds, may be the introduction to the new world that must follow this dreadful war. We may be seeing the beginning of the end of dictatorships, of tyranny, of blasphemy and of that cruel mockery of human philosophy called Communism. Destiny is awake, and events are on the march.