Gordon Sander, author of, The Hundred Day Winter War; Finland’s Gallant Stand Against the Soviet Army, received Finland’s Order of the Lion in a ceremony Oct. 12 at the Finnish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. The medal of the Knight of the Order of the Lion, bestowed by Sauli Niinistö, president of the Republic of Finland, was presented to Sander by the Finnish embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Antti Vänskä. Sander has written two books and hundreds of articles about Finland’s military history.
“I was motivated to write The Hundred Day Winter War, because I wanted to write a book about the Finnish characteristic which I most admire: sisu, which roughly translates to toughness,” Sander explains. “The story of the Winter War is essentially the story of sisu. I had written many articles about Finland before, and it was time to write a book about this little known country, and the war was the perfect subject, as well as one which I knew would interest foreign audiences. I also have been fascinated with the war ever since my first visit to Finland all the way back in 1977. Most importantly, perhaps, there was not a good one volume history of the war which covered it from both the Finnish and Russian side, as well as both the diplomatic and military points of view.”
During his research while writing The Hundred Day Winter War, Sander’s discovered the war was the first to be a battle of weapons and words.
“The most significant lesson I learned from my research, I suppose, is that the Winter War was, because of the attention it was given in the foreign press, and the sheer number of correspondents who descended on Finland to cover it, the first information war, insofar as it was the first war where at least one of the belligerents, Finland, recognized the importance of dealing with the media–including both welcoming it and, censoring it, i.e., shaping the media’s coverage of the conflict–which in turn influenced how it was perceived by other governments, and affected their willingness or unwillingness to provide aid to the Finns as the British and the French did, and the US did–to a degree.”
Sander’s experience in Finland writing The Hundred Day Winter War afforded him the opportunity to interview veterans of the war, visit battle sites and use his work to honor Finland’s victory.
“All of the interviews I did with the aging veterans, some of whom died before the book was actually published, were moving experiences,” Sander explains. “From the interview I conducted with the member of the Lotta Svard (women’s auxiliary), which played a crucial role in the home front, to the colonel who commanded some of the men who fought on the Mannerheim Line. And then of course there was my own visit to the former Mannerheim Line, the main defensive line, near Viipuri, looking much as it did eight decades ago. Finally, and perhaps most memorably, there was the reading from the book I did at the remarkable monument at Suomussalmi, the site of the Finns’ greatest victory in the snow to a silent, appreciative group of one hundred Finns from the area.”
Sander is currently living in Daugavpils, Latvia, working on assignment from Politico. He has written for more than 20 publications including The New York Times, Financial Times of London, The Christian Science Monitor and the International Herald Tribune.
“Obviously the knighthood is one of the greatest honors of my career,” Sander says. “As far as I know I am only the American writer or journalist who has ever won it. Beyond that it validates my decision to devote half of my career to helping put Finland on the map.”