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The White Death
January 28, 2010 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Simo Häyhä is often revered as the deadliest sniper in history. Using nothing more than a Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle with stock iron sights, Häyhä is credited with felling 542 Soviet soldiers during the Finnish Winter War (with as many as 150 more kills by SMG). Nicknamed "The White Death", Häyhä spent weeks in snow-covered forests, enduring sub-zero temperatures while sniping Russian officers, weapons crews and snipers. The Soviets placed a bounty on Häyhä's head, utilizing counter-snipers and artillery fire in an attempt to kill him. Over the course of only three months, the 5'3" Häyhä (a farmer by trade) killed upwards of 800 of the Red Army soldiers deployed to Finland. Despite eventually being shot in the face by a Russian sharpshooter, Häyhä recovered and passed away in 2002 at the age of 96.
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo (244 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite

 
This guy may have been tougher than me.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:52 AM on January 28, 2010 [22 favorites]


Note to self: don't invade Finland.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2010 [28 favorites]


Fredrick Zoller eat your heart out.
posted by pwally at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Despite eventually being shot in the face by a Russian sharpshooter, Häyhä recovered

You'll have to do better than that if you want to kill Simo Häyhä!
posted by shakespeherian at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Don't mess with farmers.
posted by Atreides at 8:57 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


...he made a full recovery and became a successful moose hunter...

With his skills a moose seems like to easy of a target. I would think he would have started hunting something a bit more challenging like squirrels. Or bees.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2010 [50 favorites]


I enjoyed this post from very far away.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:59 AM on January 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


Between Simo and Fire at their balls, FInland has always sounded like a pretty awesome place to me.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:00 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Besides his sniper kills, Häyhä was also credited with over two hundred kills with a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun, thus bringing his credited kills to at least 705. Remarkably, all of Häyhä's kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


On March 6, 1940, Simo fell afoul of a Soviet sniper who got off the first shot and hit him in the face. Simo retrieved his rifle and killed the Russian before making his way back to his own lines. As he was taken to a field hospital in a truck, he forced himself to sit upright and hold his head down so he wouldn't drown in his own blood.

Son of a bitch!
posted by jquinby at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


He also kept snow in his mouth so that when breathing he wouldn't reveal his position.

BADASS
posted by nathancaswell at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


The Soviets placed a bounty on Häyhä's head, utilizing counter-snipers and artillery fire in an attempt to kill him.

When that failed, Soviet psyops turned to a propaganda campaign, using flyovers to litter the Finnish landscape with posters bearing an unflattering caricature of Häyhä and, in bold block letters, the word "HAX".
posted by cortex at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2010 [39 favorites]


With his skills a moose seems like to easy of a target.

What the article doesn't say is that he hunted moose while fistfighting sharks.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2010 [25 favorites]


In three and a half months of war, the outnumbered and undersupplied Finns inflicted more than 130,000 casualties upon the Red Army while suffering 19,500 themselves.
posted by stbalbach at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?
posted by monospace at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Using nothing more than a Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle with stock iron sights

For people used to seeing modern precision rifles, accomplishing what he did with what he had would be like winning the Tour de France on a Huffy. It could be done, but you'd have to be better than astonishingly good.

Another example of snipers using unusual non-standard equipment would be Carlos Hathcock converting one of the most powerful mounted machine guns ever made into a long range sniper rifle.
posted by quin at 9:13 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

He did not murder a single person, to our knowledge. Murder is a legal term meaning "unlawful killing"; as each kill was done in war, none can be considered "murder."
posted by explosion at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


From the Wikipedia article: "Simo Häyhä spent his last years in a small village called Ruokolahti located in the south-east of Finland near the Russian border."

No wonder the Soviets never invaded again.
posted by Kattullus at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I would say that when the Soviet Army is invading your country, you have legal recourse to snipe them. (This offer may not be valid for other Invasion Forces.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


monospace: How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

From the Wikipedia article: When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said "I did what I was told to as well as I could."
posted by Kattullus at 9:16 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said "I did what I was told to as well as I could."
posted by signalnine at 9:16 AM on January 28, 2010


From the Wikipedia article: When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said "I did what I was told to as well as I could."

This seems like a statement from an Asimov story. Sometimes you have to be very careful what you tell people to do to the best of their capacity.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

The Wikipedia mentions this: When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said "I did what I was told to as well as I could."
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2010


Uh yeah, like the other two people above me said while I was slowly typing
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010


Timing.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


An Afternoon With The White Death.
posted by CaseyB at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Murder? Come on. You can't be that naive. This is World War Two we're talking about.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010


All that ha ha shit on the internet about Chuck Norris? Simo did it. For reals.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:20 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?"

These were legal killings during a time of war. Murder is defined as illegal killing.
posted by autoclavicle at 9:21 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It was not uncommon for local commanders to call down an artillery bombardment in massive attempts to destroy him. Wow. As for his kill record: if he actually killed them with a single shot, I think that's a decent way to go in a war, especially with the chance of being maimed by carpet-bombing tactics used against him. Plus, it seems to have help keep the Soviets out of Finland:
A week after Simo was wounded, the Finns and Soviets signed a ceasefire. While the Finns were forced make large territorial concessions, they managed to avoid Soviet occupation. Finnish negotiators told the Soviets that if they attempted to occupy the nation, the Finnish people would fight to the last. Their experience with Finnish resistance so far led the Soviets to believe them.
I've heard of him before on Metafilter. I think it was on the Badass of the Week thread.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:21 AM on January 28, 2010


Those were the days when umlauts meant something. I'm looking at you, Motley Crue.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:21 AM on January 28, 2010 [38 favorites]


Murder is a legal term meaning "unlawful killing"; as each kill was done in war, none can be considered "murder."

Without commenting on this individual's track record, that reasoning invalidates a number of lines that obligate us to pursue and prosecute war criminals. Just sayin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hmm, interesting. I just read this commentary—which mentions Simo Häyhä—the other day about the difference between "handcrafted" killing and larger scale military operations.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2010


Timing!
posted by chinston at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2010


dammit
posted by chinston at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


All this murder talk ignores the fact that these people really, really wanted to kill him.
posted by mullingitover at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]



Without commenting on this individual's track record, that reasoning invalidates a number of lines that obligate us to pursue and prosecute war criminals. Just sayin


Does the Geneva Convention prohibit sniping the enemy under direct orders from command? Legit question. I haven't read the convention.
posted by spicynuts at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2010


mullingitover: All this murder talk ignores the fact that these people really, really wanted to kill him.

And occupy his nation, and make all of his fellow Finns slave labor.

Seriously, this guy, apart from being an amazing soldier, was fighting for just about the most legitimate reason possible.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

What an ignorant comment. The Finnish people were pretty much alone in fending off a Soviet attempt to take over their country, thanks in part to Häyhä and others like him. If you compare Finland to its nearest Soviet-controlled neighbors (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), you'll find that Finland didn't suffer the decades of devastation to its economy and infrastructure that the Soviets brought to its neighbors, nor the deportation (and ultimate deaths) of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, the rape of its natural resources, life under a totalitarian dictatorship, and so on.

One can't attribute a percentage of the credit that Häxhä deserves for repelling the Soviets, but his actions contributed to a success that ultimately saved many times more lives than would have been lost had the Soviets succeeded. And bear in mind, Häxhä wasn't carpet-bombing cities or shooting willy-nilly at anyone who appeared in his scope; it's probable that the only people he killed were soldiers and assassins hell-bent on killing any Finn who resisted. The really question of Häxhä is, how does it feel to win the freedom of so many people against those who would take it by force?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2010 [108 favorites]


What draws me personally to admire people like this is that after they're done with their grim business, they just go back to whatever they were doing; business as usual. I know he was a Finn, but there's something about it that echoes back to ancient Romans defending their homeland with discipline and ruthlessness, including Häyhä going back to farming after the war.
posted by boo_radley at 9:38 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


This guy may have been is tougher than me Chuck Norris.

FTFY
posted by _paegan_ at 9:38 AM on January 28, 2010


stinkycheese: "I enjoyed this post from very far away."

More than two and a half kilometers?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Without commenting on this individual's track record, that reasoning invalidates a number of lines that obligate us to pursue and prosecute war criminals.

No, it doesn't. We don't pursue war criminals because they killed enemy soldiers. If it did, every soldier would be a war criminal (or an attempted war criminal).

Wikipedia article on Hathcock:
Hathcock only once removed the white feather from his bush hat while deployed in Vietnam.[10] During a volunteer mission days before the end of his first deployment, he crawled over 1,500 yards of field to shoot an NVA commanding general.[8][10][11] He wasn't informed of the details of the mission until he was en route to his insertion point aboard a helicopter.[12] This effort took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling.[8][10][11] In Carlos's words, one enemy soldier (or "hamburger" as Carlos called them), "shortly after sunset", almost stepped on him as he lay camouflaged with grass and vegetation in a meadow.[2] At one point he was nearly bitten by a bamboo viper but had the presence of mind to avoid moving and giving up his position.
Damn.
posted by kenko at 9:42 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I just read this commentary—which mentions Simo Häyhä—the other day about the difference between "handcrafted" killing and larger scale military operations.

It's an interesting read. Stanley Milgram observed that it is easier to convince someone to inflict violence on others when it is done under the aegis of a higher authority. When larger numbers of people are killed at once, it is easier to dehumanize them. I wonder if someone like Häyhä or any sniper would have to be more reliant on orders to "carry out the mission", as it were, on individual human beings, as a kind of reflection on their humanity. In other words, perhaps snipers can't operate on moral autopilot to the degree that other military units can.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2010


When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good shot, he answered, "Practice."

I am failing to come up with an eloquent way to express just how great that intersection of awesome and laconic is.
posted by Drastic at 9:46 AM on January 28, 2010 [19 favorites]


Sure, the circumstances of war legalize killing, but in the end it's the same act. And I'm just wondering if and how much that weighed on his conscience. The fact that he fought the "good fight" and that he only did as he was told (Befehl ist Befehl) doesn't change the fact that he killed an awful lot of people. Again, no judgment, but thinking about it would give me nightmares.
posted by monospace at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does the Geneva Convention prohibit sniping the enemy under direct orders from command? Legit question. I haven't read the convention.
posted by spicynuts at 12:28 PM on January 28 [+] [!]


Laws of War, from the Avalon Project

The Geneva convention largely deals with protections of POW's and Civilians. The Hague does not seem to have anything to say about sniping -- it is mostly forbidden (there's also stuff about merchant ships and noncombatants and poison gases and dropping things from balloons and mines):

To employ poison or poisoned weapons;

To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;

To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;

To declare that no quarter will be given;

To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;

To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;

To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;

To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent's service before the commencement of the war.

posted by Comrade_robot at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, the circumstances of war legalize killing, but in the end it's the same act.

Well, that's exactly what's contentious. In the end it's the taking of a life, but that doesn't make it "the same act" as if he had been shooting random Russians in St. Petersburg. Or Petrograd.
posted by kenko at 9:52 AM on January 28, 2010


Is it the same act? On the one hand, killing is killing, and the dead person is just as dead. But morally, ethically, philosophically, metaphysically, is it the same act when you shoot a random guy on the street in the back as it is when you shoot someone who has broken into your home and is threatening you with a gun?

I have no idea. I'd sure want someone like Simo on my side in a fight, though.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sure, the circumstances of war legalize killing, but in the end it's the same act.

But you didn't use the word "kill," you said "murder." Even in a civilian context, not every killing is a murder.

Context is very important in evaluating a person's actions. Killing those who are invading your country or home is different than killing someone who stepped on your shoe. It's perhaps the same result, but definitely not "the same act."
posted by explosion at 9:56 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


In three and a half months of war, the outnumbered and undersupplied Finns inflicted more than 130,000 casualties upon the Red Army while suffering 19,500 themselves.

This is an amazing ratio. However, we have to remember that historically the Russians have fought wars by throwing men at battlefronts, with little regard to whether they're properly equipped or supported.

"How can you send me to the front? I don't even have a rifle?"
"You'll find rifles at the front."
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hey look, It's Simo Häyhä, I'd li
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


Fucking camper.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [34 favorites]


The pacifist in me strongly feels that killing in a war is simply legalized murder. And I imagine that a sniper, who picks off his targets individually, must feel different about that than a pilot dropping his bombs.
posted by monospace at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know who else supported the Finnish struggle against the Soviets in World War II?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


legalized murder.

Stop saying this. The two concepts are at odds with each other. Murder is specifically illegal killing. You cannot have legalized murder.
posted by explosion at 10:08 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

It feels fucking awesome. The pacifist in me tasted delicious.
posted by False Dichotomy at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The fatalist in me strongly feels that involuntary manslaughter is simply unorchestrated murder.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should add more than just a ranty comment.

The pacifist in me strongly feels that killing in a war is simply legalized murder.

The pacifist in me feels that defensive wars are very strongly different than invasive wars. When an army is trying to take over your country, pacifism will not stop them. Killing invading soldiers is not only legal, but it's not particularly morally wrong. I'm not sure I'd have what it takes to take up arms against an invading army, but I wouldn't call those who did, "murderers."
posted by explosion at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


You know who else supported the Finnish struggle against the Soviets in World War II?

Pippi Longstocking?
posted by spicynuts at 10:12 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Uh, the Finns allied with the fucking Nazis after that war was over.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Famous Finns is more difficult than famous Belgians....

Simo Häyhä
Jimi Tenor
?
posted by Damienmce at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2010


The pacifist in me feels that defensive wars are very strongly different than invasive wars. When an army is trying to take over your country, pacifism will not stop them. Killing invading soldiers is not only legal, but it's not particularly morally wrong. I'm not sure I'd have what it takes to take up arms against an invading army, but I wouldn't call those who did, "murderers."

The Finns then took up arms against the Soviets a few months later and helped the Nazis invade the USSR.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on January 28, 2010


(This offer may not be valid for other Invasion Forces.)

Yeah, no. It is.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2010


What an ignorant comment. The Finnish people were pretty much alone in fending off a Soviet attempt to take over their country, thanks in part to Häyhä and others like him. If you compare Finland to its nearest Soviet-controlled neighbors (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), you'll find that Finland didn't suffer the decades of devastation to its economy and infrastructure that the Soviets brought to its neighbors, nor the deportation (and ultimate deaths) of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, the rape of its natural resources, life under a totalitarian dictatorship, and so on.

Yet they allied with the Nazis who did that to the Soviets less than a year later. Their presence massively helped Army Group North blockade Leningrad for 900 days, causing untold starvation.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:23 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


My guess is that "I did as I was told" has grave overtones for some commentators that it did not have for him. I take a self deprecating sense of "I only did my duty" as opposed to a self exculpatory "I am not responsible".

Perhaps lost in translation. Or in one's own sense of moral superiority. Anyone invades my country like that, I'll be happy to have men like him on my side.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fact that the Finns allied with the Nazis after the Winter War doesn't, I think, invalidate their legitimate claims to self-defense during the Winter War.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Pippi Longstocking?

Norman Fell!
posted by y2karl at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2010


The Finns then took up arms against the Soviets a few months later and helped the Nazis invade the USSR.

And then the Finns fought Germany during the Lapland War (1944-45). The point is, World Wars are kind of complicated, politically and strategically.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Monospace is fired from this thread.

Later, he was picked up by authorities during a Chicken McNuggets flavor discussion in February 2010, derailing with "How does it feel to know you are part of the holocaust of a species?"
posted by jscott at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2010


Ironmouth: Uh, the Finns allied with the fucking Nazis after that war was over.

The Finns then took up arms against the Soviets a few months later and helped the Nazis invade the USSR.


Well, they certainly didn't ally with them because they thought their ideas were swell. Also, the Soviets had been allied with the Nazis when they invaded in 1940. The Finns wanted to reclaim the land that the Soviet Union had taken from them (and a little bit more, which is more problematic morally). Finland was a democratic state throughout the whole war. Jews were not persecuted in Finland during WWII and some even fought alongside the Nazis. Of the Axis belligerents Finland was almost certainly the least morally compromised. Also, let's not forget that they did end up fighting German forces in 1944. So it's not a very clear cut situation.
posted by Kattullus at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


"some even fought alongside the Nazis"

"some Finnish Jews even fought alongside the Nazis"
posted by Kattullus at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2010


TIMINGsonofabitch
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Samuel Farrow, the Finns had no choice but to ask the Nazis for help, when the Allies completely abandoned them to Stalin. They were fighting for the existence of their country. And to their credit, they refused Nazi demands that Finland offer their Jewish residents up for murder.

The Allied failure to support Finland was a shameful act not for the Finns, but for the Allies.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

IIRC, the stock sniper answer is that it feels like recoil.

(which is to say that successful snipers have unusual psychology)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Boom, headshot.
posted by chalbe at 10:34 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damienmce: Famous Finns is more difficult than famous Belgians....

Simo Häyhä
Jimi Tenor
?


Seriously?
posted by $0up at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


The fact that the Finns allied with the Nazis after the Winter War doesn't, I think, invalidate their legitimate claims to self-defense during the Winter War.

However, it should lead, one would hope, to self-reflection about what it means to be following orders to one's best ability.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


heh, this reminds me of an old joke (generally told of Switzerland, but what the hell):

In the days just before the war, a German general went to see the Finnish military in action. He stood with the Finnish general on a hill, and watched as the men drilled in the snowy fields below. He was inwardly impressed by their marksmanship, and decided to ask how many there were.

"We have four million soldiers in the Fatherland," he said, not-so-casually. "How many do you have?"

"Two million," The Finnish general said.

"Well then, what will you do if we invade you?" sneered the German general. "What will you do if I bring those four million men to conquer your little country?"

"Simple. Each of our men will take two shots, and then go home..."
posted by vorfeed at 10:43 AM on January 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


However, it should lead, one would hope, to self-reflection about what it means to be following orders to one's best ability.

Depends on what the orders are and who's making them.

In general, you want to be careful about accusations of dodgy alliances.

The allies, after all, were shoulder to shoulder with the Russians who, be it remembered, carved up Europe with their then Nazi buddies before that relationship went sour.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:48 AM on January 28, 2010


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

I'd say that when the Red Army is about the fuck you up, it feels pretty damn good.
posted by Never teh Bride at 10:54 AM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Forgetting for a second that the Soviets also allied with the Nazis (as was mentioned upthread):

The fact that the Finns (and the Ukranians) allied with the Nazis doesn't say anything about how "bad" the Finns and Ukrainians turned out to be. Instead, it speaks volumes about how hated the USSR was.

Let's see...Nazis or Soviets. Hmmm, I'll pick Nazis, thanks! That's saying something, right there.
posted by staggering termagant at 11:06 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh oh oh oh I have a fun story about Simo Häyhä! I have no sources for this; it was an anecdote told to me by Nancy Bush, who is one of the world's greatest living authorities on the textiles of the Baltic states and Scandinavia, during a two-day workshop about mittens and gloves.

One of the reasons Häyhä was so successful, believe it or not, was because of his mitten ensemble. They consisted of three layers: the bottom layer was an incredibly finely knitted tight-fitting glove made of handspun yarn, finer than commercial woolen knits could be found at that time. The second layer was a fingerless mitt that stopped short of the base of his fingers, while covering his wrist and the first joint of his thumb. The outer layer was made of heavy, thick wool, in a technique unique to scandinavia called nålbinding, which was looped rather than knitted. This nålbinded mitten, in addition to being virtually impervious to cold, also had a split in it for his trigger finger, so he could fire his rifle without taking them off.

The underglove was fine enough that he could reload his rifle without taking THAT off, drastically reducing the amount of time that his hands had to be exposed to the cold. And if he did have to do maintenance on his rifle that required the underglove to come off, he could put the wrist-covering mitt back on; because that covered the pulse point in his wrist, it kept his blood warmer longer and kept feeling in his fingers.

The Russians, by contrast, had thick, bulky gloves or mittens in a single layer. The gloves had to be taken off to reload, which caused a lot of wasted time due to numb fingers. And the mittens had to be taken off even to FIRE the gun! Numb, frostbitten hands were the cause of many poor shots and lost ammunition, or even parts of the rifle if field maintenance had to be done.

so. Hoorah for mittens! Warm hands, strong people! Not taking away from the fact that Simo Häyhä was an enormous badass and an utter hero, mind you, because he totally was.
posted by KathrynT at 11:16 AM on January 28, 2010 [300 favorites]


how do you know how many people someone killed like this?

i mean seriously. who verifies the count? was there a list he was working off of and when it became obvious the other guy wasn't showing up for work anymore he got crossed off?

i'm by no means a war buff, so if this standard knowledge, please enlighten me.
posted by sio42 at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2010


Lord Chancellor: "Yeah, I would say that when the Soviet Army is invading your country, you have legal recourse to snipe them."

WOLVERINES!
posted by brundlefly at 11:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Samuel Farrow, the Finns had no choice but to ask the Nazis for help, when the Allies completely abandoned them to Stalin. They were fighting for the existence of their country. And to their credit, they refused Nazi demands that Finland offer their Jewish residents up for murder.

The Allied failure to support Finland was a shameful act not for the Finns, but for the Allies.


Exactly. Finland's "Winter War" with the USSR took place *during* WWII, essentially. Given the reality for Finns, it's clear that they would support Germany, and I don't think any reasonable person could fail to understand why. It was the lesser of two evils from the Finnish perspective. And the Finns, by nearly every account, maintained a highly moral position despite the sort of devil's choice they had to make.

I'm always amazed by those who would imply that Germany under Hitler was so clearly worse than the USSR under Stalin, because for many peoples, that simply wasn't the case. (Of course, for others, it was.) The number of people Stalin had killed (meaning, where there was something of a choice - outside of deaths "from war") was greater than the number Hitler had killed in the camps. The evil of the Nazi-sponsored Holocaust seems especially egregious because whole peoples like Jews and Roma were killed for no offence at all, other than being born as they were. It's an easier sort of mass murder to conceive of in horrific terms.

Stalin, to put this very loosely, was more of a picker and a chooser when it came to killing. This, despite his great number of victims and his much lengthier killing spree, makes him tougher to perceive as the embodiment of evil - though for many, that's exactly what he was. I can only imagine that was true for the Finnish people, particularly at that time. But it wasn't unique to them. For instance, plenty of Poles (whose country was carved up between Germany and the USSR), understood that life under the Germans might be preferable to live under the Russians, and they did have historical precedents for believing this. I reckon the Baltic states would have felt the same way.

It's a Western luxury to think that a choice between Stalin and Hitler would have been an easy one for most nations to make, if most of them had even had a choice.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [40 favorites]


Famous Finns?

Jean Sibelius!
Esa-Pekka Salonen!
Kimmo Pohjonen (ok, maybe not famous famous)!

Warm hands, strong people!

If my mother were the dictator of a fascist/corporatist state, this would be its motto.
posted by kenko at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


so. Hoorah for mittens! Warm hands, strong people! Not taking away from the fact that Simo Häyhä was an enormous badass and an utter hero, mind you, because he totally was.
posted by KathrynT


Mittenfilter. Mitten Blue. Ugh!

Seriously, this has to stop. I'm SO entirely sick and disgusted about the constant historical revisionism by the mitten worshipping crowd attributing every historical success to warm hands. WE GET IT ALREADY, MITTENS ARE GREAT!
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:33 AM on January 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


The fact that the Finns (and the Ukranians) allied with the Nazis doesn't say anything about how "bad" the Finns and Ukrainians turned out to be. Instead, it speaks volumes about how hated the USSR was.

Let's see...Nazis or Soviets. Hmmm, I'll pick Nazis, thanks! That's saying something, right there.


Nah. It's not like they experienced equal occupations by both, and of the two they picked the Nazis. The Nazis - for their own purposes - were overthrowing the Soviet occupiers. The Ukrainians/Finns thought it made sense to ally to the Nazis - at least there was a chance they'd get their freedom, while what would the good be of allying with the Soviets? The Soviets were already occupying.
posted by VikingSword at 11:33 AM on January 28, 2010


How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

Putting myself in his shoes, I imagine if the alternatives to killing hundreds of people were:

*being killed myself

*the enslavement and humiliation of everyone I knew and loved

*being shipped off to an Arctic mining camp and doing heavy physical labor on 500 calories a day and eventually collapsing in the snow and freezing to death

I would choose killing hundreds of people. Maybe not cheerfully. But I'd find a way to make peace with the fact.

To steal a line from Leon Trotsky, there are times in this world when you may not be interested in war but war is very interested in you. And then you do what you have to do.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


haveanicesummer, is this where I slap you in the face with a Latvian multi-stranded wedding mitten with braids on the cuff and challenge you to a duel?

. . . man speaking of which I need to finish knitting those Latvian mittens I started ages ago. Mittens are awesome but knitting them is a pain.

My husband is Finnish, btw, and he says absolutely that the alliance with the Nazis was totally due to the bitter, bloody hatred of the Russians. "The Finns would have sucked the cock of the Devil himself if it meant getting a leg up on the Russians," he may or may not have said.
posted by KathrynT at 11:43 AM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


jason's_planet, that probably all depends on who the hundreds of people are.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:43 AM on January 28, 2010


Famous Finns is more difficult than famous Belgians....

Mika Hakkinen
Kimi Raikkonen
Heikki Kovaleinen
Mika Salo
JJ Lehto
Keke Rosberg
Nico Rosberg, sometimes
Marcus Gronholm
Timo Makinen
Tommi Makinen
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


One story about the Winter War is that of the old Finnish farmer who was told to evacuate so the Finns could burn his house to keep it from being used by the invading Soviet Army. He nodded and left. The next morning they found him burning every last bit of his house. "My grandfather burned his house down when the russians came, my father burned his house down when the russians came, and I'm just here making sure you the job right."
posted by mearls at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Has Alvar Aalto been mentioned yet?
posted by kenko at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


“When an army is trying to take over your country, pacifism will not stop them.”
True. But snarky comments on a blog would totally shut them down.

“The pacifist in me strongly feels that killing in a war is simply legalized murder.”

So any degree of oppression or genocide is preferable to ever defending anything?
I have no issue, based only on the fact of their fighting, with any given armed force. Ideology is a different thing. In WWII I would have killed a German infantryman, but unless he was specifically committing war crimes he’s not responsible for the entirety of the German government’s actions. That would not have prevented me from killing him in order to stop the Nazis.
But what other recourse is there for a government other than the use of force against a regime like the Soviets or the Nazis?
Much as I admire it and adherents like Gandhi, and as much as I agree that it can be effective, being a pacifist isn’t proof against annihilation.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:49 AM on January 28, 2010


VikingSword: The Soviets were already occupying.

Finland was never occupied by the Soviets, they only lost small chunks of their territory to the Soviet Union.
posted by Kattullus at 11:52 AM on January 28, 2010


Also relevant is the Finnish word sisu: the kind of mental toughness only a Finn can possess.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Finland was never occupied by the Soviets, they only lost small chunks of their territory to the Soviet Union.

And they are still bitter about every square inch, let me tell you. Ask any older Finn about Karelia, and prepare for a long rant.
posted by KathrynT at 11:55 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know some Eskimo guys who were military sharpshooters. A lot of them wind up in that role when they join up. They grow up with guns, hunting from age 6 or 7, in a way very few lower-48ers, even the most redneck, do any more.

By the time they're 18, they can hit things an outsider can't even see without assistance. (Heck, the little girls there are crack shots too.)

So don't invade Finland. And be careful on Alaska's North Slope.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:56 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Finland was never occupied by the Soviets, they only lost small chunks of their territory to the Soviet Union.

Pretty sure if Canada seized Maine for 4 months the people there would consider it an occupation... even if it's only a small chunk of US territory.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:57 AM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Finland was never occupied by the Soviets, they only lost small chunks of their territory to the Soviet Union.

I was using "occupied" more to refer to Ukraine and the Baltic states (though w/ Ukraine given the timeline being centuries, that's a long memory!), for Finns it's the forced land grab aspect. Either way, allying with the Soviets wasn't an option since they were the victimizers. It wasn't the case, as the other poster implied, of the Finns, Baltic states citizens or Ukrainians sitting calmly and freely picking between two options after duly considering their experiences with both. Circumstances dictated alliances, and sometimes none of the choices are appealing.
posted by VikingSword at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2010


And be careful on Alaska's North Slope.

You betcha.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2010


And be careful on Alaska's North Slope.

Luckily, the Alaskan's can see the Russians coming from their back yards.
posted by False Dichotomy at 12:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Just popping for the obligatory nerd addition to Famous Finns:

Linus Torvalds!
posted by thedaniel at 12:04 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Metafilter remembers Mika Hakkinen before Linus Torvalds. How times have changed...
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:08 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, Linus's family were Swedish-speaking, so you've got the no-true-ScotsmanFinn angle, and he's famous via the Internet so he's mostly a citizen of Nerdistan in any case, and beyond that he lives in Portland now so most people have probably just written him off as a Hipster and added him to their Dead To Me list.
posted by cortex at 12:15 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Samuel Farrow: http://www.metafilter.com/88696/The-White-Death#2924601 not to fret.
posted by Authorized User at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2010


Depends what kind of bike Linus rides...
posted by nathancaswell at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2010


A *nixie, natch.
posted by cortex at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


cortex: Well, Linus's family were Swedish-speaking, so you've got the no-true-ScotsmanFinn angle

Finland is an officially bilingual country, so Swedish-speaking Finns are just as Finnish as the Finnish-speaking ones, much like Anglophone and Francophone Canadians, or the Flemish and the Walloons.
posted by Kattullus at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2010


Finland, in fact, is the Swedish name, in Finnish it's Suomi.
posted by Kattullus at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2010


Finland has it all.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter remembers Mika Hakkinen before Linus Torvalds.

Nope. See.
posted by kenko at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2010


I think a, "It was war so it's not murder" dismissal of a real examination of what it might do to someone to kill so many human beings doesn't make sense.

Does war solve problems? It solves some problems. It solves some people's problems and makes worse problems for others. Most of the time it benefits a very few with power and money and leaves a trail of devastation for everyone else. Is there a clear right and wrong when people are being killed all around you? Probably not. I think this guy sounds like the world's biggest badass and I loved reading about him. Was his cause just? Maybe it was more just than unjust, but killing causes harm no matter its context, and slapping the label "murder" on it or arbitrarily pulling that label off, depending on the made-up rules of who is allowed to kill whom in any given context is just an exercise in silliness. Were the Nazi death camps not places of murder - because they were legal under German law?

Killing people is killing people. Unless you think laws are perfect, then I don't know how you can say that a killing being "legal" makes it not murder.
posted by serazin at 12:34 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think a, "It was war so it's not murder" dismissal of a real examination of what it might do to someone to kill so many human beings doesn't make sense.

Perhaps not, but it makes perfect sense as a dismissal of the question what it might do to someone to murder so many human beings.

You don't even need recourse to laws to make the murder/killing distinction: just say that murder is wrongful killing (makes more sense anyway since it's not as if we'd all agree that it's fine to kill someone, where we currently consider it murder, on the basis of an arbitrary change in laws).
posted by kenko at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2010


I wonder if you could run one of those Nixie tubes off a generator hub.
posted by box at 12:42 PM on January 28, 2010


Just as we don't call killing someone during war a murder, we don't imply that people killed during accidents are murderers either. When one human being is responsible for another's death, the default isn't murder. Nor should it be.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:43 PM on January 28, 2010


OK, but who decides when intentional murder is wrong and when it is justifiable? I think the death penalty is state sponsored murder. Others disagree. Who decides?
posted by serazin at 12:45 PM on January 28, 2010


I do.
posted by False Dichotomy at 12:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'd suggest that in many cases, there is no clear right and wrong when it comes to killing people.
posted by serazin at 12:46 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, you're fighting an uphill battle if you want all killings considered murder. In fact, right there, you entailed intentional killings so you're making a judgment call there too (as far as "Who decides?". For most people, the word murder means unlawful intentional killing. Hell, I'm against the death penalty too, but I wouldn't consider it murder. The word has a certain meaning to most of the population. Of course, murder isn't the only type of killing that's deplorable.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:48 PM on January 28, 2010


OK, but who decides when intentional murder is wrong and when it is justifiable?

Right, which is a good and interesting question, but all the 'killing in wartime is not the same as murder' stuff was in response to 'I wonder how it feels to murder so many people and be so terrible and awful and immoral' so, y'know, read some less-moral-absolutist context into those statements.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:48 PM on January 28, 2010


Except the question was, "How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?", without that bit about terrible and awful and immoral.

I wonder too. I think if someone got through that experience still whole, that person might feel like a murderer - but maybe not. I honestly wonder what it does feel like. Maybe it feels like nothing inside - after all that.
posted by serazin at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2010


"I'm a mur-diddly-urdler!"
posted by Skot at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if you could run one of those Nixie tubes off a generator hub.

I think so. They require high voltage but not so much current. You could elegantly step up the AC voltage from the hub using a transformer. If you wanted the nixie tube to actually read something in particular, you might want a DC supply as well for a control circuit, though for something simple it might be possible to do without.

After reading about female Soviet snipers, as I read this FPP I expected Häyhä to be a woman.
posted by exogenous at 1:08 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


monospace: How does it feel to have personally murdered that many people?

You're French, AMIRITE?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2010


Who decides?

See this.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2010


OK, but who decides when intentional murder is wrong and when it is justifiable? I think the death penalty is state sponsored murder. Others disagree. Who decides?
posted by serazin at 12:45 PM on January 28 [+] [!]


I do.
posted by False Dichotomy at 12:45 PM on January 28 [+] [!]




Oh, ha, I get it. Good one.
posted by Ndwright at 1:10 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone posting in and reading this thread should be grateful that we can talk about these matters in such an academic and dispassionate way.

I know I am.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Saku Koivu?
Teemu Selanne?
Vesa Toskala?
Tuomo Ruutu?
Jari Kurri?
Esa Tikkanen?

Note: mostly famous in Canada.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought Mr. Rogers was the deadliest sniper in history. Even after it was debunked as an urban legend, I still kept thoughting it.

I could see how the "legalized killing" of war would (or should) weigh on my conscience more heavily than the typical illegal murder, which usually has passionate personalized motives, such as revenge, anger, or jealousy.

When I kill an enemy soldier, I'm just killing some stranger, who is likely nothing more than a state-enlisted slave-mercenary who probably had very little choice in his unlucky life role as cannon fodder for high status elites.

That is not a statement of pacifism. I could intellectually justify the killing as instrumental in a good cause (e.g. defending national sovereignty), but would still feel as if I had murdered a slave or an innocent. In the same manner that instrumental rationalizations can't really be emotionally satisfying when you've dropped A bombs on cities full of infants and school children.
posted by dgaicun at 1:32 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coming in late, but I took the "I wonder what it felt like...." comment as being similar to dgaicun's above. Go with me a sec.

I can't remember the documentary I saw or who it was about -- possibly ancient Greek or Ancient Roman soldiers -- but some ancient civilizations' army had a policy that any soldier who'd killed someone that day, everyone else kind of...cut him some slack for the rest of the day, because ending the life of another human being can be kind of a heavy thing to wrap your brain around. Even if it's during wartime, and even if it's justified, or even if it's self-defense. It's still you ending the life of another human being like you, and sometimes that you just need to...make sure you process that.

This struck me as a remarkably wise policy. Granted, not everyone would need this, but giving soldiers the opportunity to just kind of take a minute after the battle if they need to, to do nothing but sit there processing that, could save a lot of trouble further on, I thought.

And that's all I thought the "I wonder what it felt like to kill those people" comment was referring to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on January 28, 2010


And a little from the Russian side, after the non-aggression pact was broken by Germany, for the sake of equivalence: posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2010


Fair warning, Enemy at the Gates SUCKS.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:56 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tove Jansson!
posted by ovvl at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, the idea that "legalized killing" is really conceptually different from illegal murder would seem to imply that the people who are best at "legalized killing" are temperamentally unrelated to those who murder. I do not buy this. Häyhä's lack of retrospective remorse is no doubt related to the fact of why he was such an effective killer in the first place: hurting others didn't have much of a negative emotional effect on him. He probably enjoyed hurting people, which is how he was so calm and good at doing it.

It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers. The only difference might be a slightly different life context. The difference between a certain person being celebrated as a war hero or reviled as a serial killer might come down to the chance event of a war happening at a certain time.

See here for a military essay on the relationship between psychopathy and super soldiers:

"A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill—he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy. These men have existed throughout the history of warfare, and their feats have often been hailed as heroic. They constitute less than 4 percent of the force, yet some studies show that they do almost half of the killing."
posted by dgaicun at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers.

I'm pretty sure that's not true.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2010


The entire Finnish campaign with the Winter War and the Continuation War is great history just because it throws all of your assumptions about World War 2 out the window. An Axis power that looks like they were on the right side? An army that out wintered the Russians? A German ally that operated a field synagogue? Jewish officers that were awarded (and declined) the Iron Cross? Crazy!
posted by BenNewman at 2:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ok, so to summarize... Simo Häyhä probably enjoyed killing 700+ people and the only difference between war heroes and rapists are a slightly different life context.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:04 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


“Killing people is killing people. Unless you think laws are perfect, then I don't know how you can say that a killing being "legal" makes it not murder.”

Because murder is a legally defined term. What’s being conflated here is what is legal and/or moral with what is necessary. War itself is, essentially, the ultimate (and by that I don’t mean ‘best’ or ‘coolest’ but final in a series) result of contested will.

“…likely nothing more than a state-enlisted slave-mercenary who probably had very little choice in his unlucky life role as cannon fodder for high status elites.”

And those high status elites want to turn you into one too in order to perpetuate their power and kill anyone who says otherwise.
Lord's Resistance Army does a pretty good job with child soldiers. The RUF in Sierra Leone would drug and coerce kids into raping and mutilating villagers.
What are the rules of engagement against a group of 9 year olds?
It’s great to prosecute the adult recruiters – how do you get to them when the kids are fighting for them? Demobilization is excellent. How do you take their guns away? How do you break the cycle without any way to deflect or deter the use of force by the other side?

If an entity or other person wants you to do something, and you don’t want to, there’s an escalating degree of struggle one can engage in. Even when one of the participants is non-violent, the struggle can ultimately become life and death and often does. Actually, Gandhi cited this as a reason not to fight because if the Indians fought the British there would be killing anyway.
So, violence or not, death is in the equation. The only question is the degree to which it is necessary.
(By no means does this mean all, most or some wars are necessary. A few perhaps were. And causes and motivations are extremely complex and convoluted and distorted to varying degrees by varying governments and other interests)
So the question then: can be necessary under some circumstances to kill to prevent more killing?

There may be a question of degrees in the struggle of wills, and that’s how wars and other conflicts are won or lost, but what’s the threshold if there is one? Do you not kill even though someone is killing 100 people? 1000? One million? Do you not kill if someone is going to start a nuclear war (there Johnny Smith)?
Should who we delegate the execution of our collective will to exert direct force to stop someone from killing someone else? No? How’zabout if someone takes hostages and threatens to blow them up unless he gets recognized as supreme leader?

Point being, everything ultimately bends to the practical reality of the ability to exert/resist superior force.
So we should only kill when its absolutely necessary. (Which is why I oppose the death penalty)
That is, when we don’t have the power to stop the infliction of harm by any other means.

That’s ‘should.’ Doesn’t always work out that way because of information asymmetry and other things.
But that’s why we work to spread the privilege as widely as possible to have checks and oversight. And that’s why politicians always say they need more power in order to protect us. And why they’re always wrong.
Anyway, I think Hayha understood there was no other way to stop the Soviets (through the Red Army) from inflicting greater harm.

What was he supposed to do? Miss?

I agree with Orwell that ‘people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf’ but that is a very dangerous power to have and I understand why people have misgivings (and I agree with measures to limit its use to self-defense).
It’s important to understand the difference between when it is necessary to do violence and when it is no longer necessary. Hayha did that. He didn’t take that power upon himself after the war. He relinquished it. Fairly crucial for the military to do that. Otherwise you have Caesar crossing the Rubicon and despotism. However one feels about it.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


My mother and aunt visited relatives in Finland in '37 before all the fighting began. My mother related stories of how even then the Finns in her family were very careful of anything that they said in public. Both the Nazis and the Russians had their sympathizers listening and reporting. Finland was always a prize for any of their neighbors, including Sweden.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2010


Is it just me, or would this story make a great video game?
posted by box at 2:12 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, so to summarize... Simo Häyhä probably enjoyed killing 700+ people and the only difference between war heroes and rapists are a slightly different life context.

Precisely. Excellent summary, very subtle.
posted by kenko at 2:13 PM on January 28, 2010


Simo Häyhä entered Hell today. His face was set. His fists were clenched. He fully expected to be tortured for eternity by the souls of the 800 Russians he'd sent to Hell with his rifle in World War II. But when he walked through the fiery gates of Hades, there was no one there to meet him except one shriveled old devil, who stood there absent-mindedly rubbing a handful of lava into his crotch.
"Where is everybody?" Häyhä asked the devil.
"Everybody who?"
"The 800 Russians I killed. Murdered, I mean. That's why I'm here, of course. I didn't think it was murder until that trap door opened under my feet, and I began to sense some serious climate change. Now I realize that taking a human life under any circumstances is wrong, and I suppose I'll now have to pay the price. Those 800 Russians probably can't wait to start torturing me for eternity."
"Huh? Those guys? The 800 Russians? They left here a long time ago. They forgave you for killing them, and now they're up in heaven, where they pled to God to spare you and bring you up to heaven."
"Gee that's swell. I musta got those guys all wrong. I expected that when I got down here, they'd by angry and want to -- hey, what's that noise?"
"Noise?
"That rumbling sound. The ground... it's shaking... as if some great and terrible force was coming toward me... a mob or army of some kind... I thought you said those guys went to heaven. Tell me, what is that awful roar?"
The noise was like thunder now. The ground quaked underfoot. The dust was rising around them, and the Finn was filled with terror. He grabbed the old devil by the shoulders and shook him. "Tell me," he said, "what is it? What is that noise?"
The devil cocked his head. "Sounds to me... " he said, calmly closing one eye while fixing the ex-sniper with the other, "like moose."
posted by Faze at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2010 [46 favorites]


I can't remember the documentary I saw or who it was about -- possibly ancient Greek or Ancient Roman soldiers -- but some ancient civilizations' army had a policy that any soldier who'd killed someone that day, everyone else kind of...cut him some slack for the rest of the day, because ending the life of another human being can be kind of a heavy thing to wrap your brain around. Even if it's during wartime, and even if it's justified, or even if it's self-defense. It's still you ending the life of another human being like you, and sometimes that you just need to...make sure you process that.

This struck me as a remarkably wise policy. Granted, not everyone would need this, but giving soldiers the opportunity to just kind of take a minute after the battle if they need to, to do nothing but sit there processing that, could save a lot of trouble further on, I thought.


This is one of many insights into PTSD and unit cohesion that Jonathan Shay mentions in his books, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America. One of the central ideas of the books is that respect for the enemy and mourning the dead are essential in keeping soldiers mentally healthy. Ignoring these issues (or, worse, telling soldiers that the enemy are weak animals and that the dead mean nothing when the experience of combat tells them this isn't true) increases cognitive dissonance and the likelihood of mental damage. Ironically, many of our attempts to create "tougher" soldiers end up backfiring... as the Greeks knew, some of the finest soldiers are the ones who don't dehumanize themselves and the enemy.
posted by vorfeed at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


Simo Häyhä entered Hell today ...

The best part about this joke is the devil absent-mindedly rubbing a handful of lava into his crotch.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somewhere on the Web there is an account of someone in Finland describing the aftermath of the Winter War. His report details the carnage that was left behind, including a small lake that bubbled with gas from decomposing corpses. Really an eyeopening read on the horrors of war.

I'm not 'puter savvy enough to make a FPP on other aspects of the Finnish defense. The Finns were masters of cross country skiing and winter camoflage which were also reasons why the Russians didn't advance into Finland.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2010


Finland invented DJ Shadow
posted by Damienmce at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Famous Finns (cont'd)

Liverpool fans used to sing about their defensive stalwart, Sami Hyppia to the tune of the theme song to The Adams Family:

In our defensive foursome
He's absolutely awesome
From corners he will score some
He's Sami Hyppia!
posted by Sk4n at 2:31 PM on January 28, 2010


It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers.

It's a bit of a stretch to me. The dispositions that make for the best soldiers are the people who view it as a job. Something to be done efficiently with an economy of motion and energy.

People who enjoy the sickness that is war are the ones that do things like raping and murdering innocents. These do not make for the best soldiers because they are unpredictable, generally undisciplined and likely to get the people around them killed.

The best analogy I can come up with are people who work in slaughterhouses. The most skilled workers aren't the ones who enjoy hurting animals, the best workers are the ones who can cleanly do their jobs with a minimum of fuss and then go home afterwards and get on with their lives.
posted by quin at 2:33 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


"The difference between a certain person being celebrated as a war hero or reviled as a serial killer might come down to the chance event of a war happening at a certain time."

On the contrary without discipline you can't shoot well. Grossman (who's work Pierson cites) argues that video games are desensitizing. So if you play Grand Theft Auto, odds are you're going to turn into a serial killer/rapist.

But snipers have always been unpopular and scary even to their own forces. People for some reason don't believe that people can be trained and conditioned to do it and be disciplined enough not to.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:34 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


My husband is Finnish, btw, and he says absolutely that the alliance with the Nazis was totally due to the bitter, bloody hatred of the Russians. "The Finns would have sucked the cock of the Devil himself if it meant getting a leg up on the Russians," he may or may not have said.

This is why I have secretly enjoyed the hockey matches in the Winter Olympics when Finland plays Russia. In spite of the allowance of NHL players into the Olympics, as well as the longer-lasting European influx into the NHL, there's still no love between the Finns and Russians when it comes time to play for national pride.
posted by stannate at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2010


Hey guys watch out for the sni-
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2010


Also - I don't recall if we had a tuneful ditty for Jari Litmanen when he played for Liverpool. Probably not.
posted by Sk4n at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2010


how do you know how many people someone killed like this?

i mean seriously. who verifies the count? was there a list he was working off of and when it became obvious the other guy wasn't showing up for work anymore he got crossed off?


For a confirmed kill, somebody else watches the shot and notes that the target is (most likely) dead. In modern sniping, it's nearly always a team operating: the sniper and the spotter. The spotter will be watching the shot through his own scope. If both of them sign off on the kill, then that's a confirmed kill.

In WWII, snipers often did not work alone on deep forward deployment like they do now. Instead, they functioned more like current-day designated marksmen, embedded within a squad. So, in that situation, you'd probably have multiple people confirming that the DM made the shot and got the kill.

The "unconfirmed" number for the White Death's kills are those kills that he reported, but that went unwitnessed by a third party.

Anyway, all of the numbers are sort of ballpark, really. It's not like belligerents get together after the war and compare notes and forensic evidence on who killed whom. And there are certainly people counted as "killed" who merely looked dead from 800 yards, and who survived to tell the tale.
posted by Netzapper at 2:41 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the most 'famous' Finn, read about Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. He has been voted the most important, influential and revered Finnish person of all time by us.

I'm holding back on responding to some of the comments in this thread as I am Finnish and as such am horrendously biased on this issue. The scars of the WWII are still very present in Finland and the pervasive racism towards Russia is only now slowly starting to fade. I was born in the 80's and a lot of my peers are still as angry at the Russians as my grandparents are. Like all Finnish men, I had to do mandatory military service and most of our excercises involved an 'unnamed' force invading from the East along the border. Some 60 years after the war and 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, we still live in anticipation of Russian aggression. We have very little faith in assistance from the outside, which is a trait that is instilled into us as children.

I left Finland some 8 years ago and have no desire to move back there, but if it ever came down to it I would like to think that I, like Simo Häyhä and countless others, would put my life and, worse yet, my soul on the line for my country.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


I can't idolize a sniper, no matter how tough he was. To be a sniper you have to be no more than one notch away from a psychopath. To kill 800 people, looking at each of them in the face, you have to be dead inside.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2010


Well considering he used iron sights instead of a telescopic sight (for fear of raising himself higher from cover and reflecting sunlight to reveal his position) he probably wasn't actually able to see their faces very clearly.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2010


Famous Finns - METAL VERSION:
Lordi (Eurovision Song Contest 2006 winners)
Korpiklaani (whose lead singer is an accomplished yoiker)

Also: The forests Simo Häyhä fought to defend from the Soviets are threatened by the lumber industry.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Carlos Hathcock on being a Marine sniper: "I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody. It's my job. If I don't get those bastards, then they're gonna kill a lot of these kids we got dressed up like Marines. That's just the way I see it."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can't idolize a sniper, no matter how tough he was. To be a sniper you have to be no more than one notch away from a psychopath. To kill 800 people, looking at each of them in the face, you have to be dead inside.

I've never understood this line of thought, despite hearing it often.

How does being a sniper require any less empathy or moral compass than being a regular rifleman or a fighter pilot? In each case, you're causing the death of another human being. How does seeing the face of your target affect anything?

Frankly, it seems radically less moral to me to drop bombs on an area that you only have reports is crawling with enemy combatants, with full knowledge that you'll probably take out a few maids, drivers, and other camp followers than it does to look through a telescope and kill a single, specific man whose uniform and rank you can see.

I'm by absolutely no means a sociopath (I feel bad when I airgun the rats that invade every winter), but if I were required to go to war, I would buck hard for a sniper role. The opportunity to inflict significant losses before my eventual death is far higher than if I were inducted into regular infantry. I'd probably feel bad about each kill, but I doubt that'd stop me from fulfilling my mission

All this assumes, of course, that we're talking about a defensive war against an invasion. If you're talking about covert operations assassinations or something, I can start to understand your psychopath hypothesis.
posted by Netzapper at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


To be a sniper you have to be no more than one notch away from a psychopath. To kill 800 people, looking at each of them in the face, you have to be dead inside.

My grandfather was a sharpshooter in WWII, in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home from the war with however many dozens of kills under his belt, then set about drinking himself to death, precisely because he wasn't dead inside.

But feel free to keep on generalizing about people's characters in wartime.
posted by sobell at 3:41 PM on January 28, 2010 [19 favorites]


Kattullus: Finland was never occupied by the Soviets, they only lost small chunks of their territory to the Soviet Union.

Finland wasn't completely occupied at any point during WWII, that's true. But. At the end of the continuation war Finland lost 10% of her area, the second largest city of Viipuri and 11% of the population had to be evacuated permanently. Small chunks isn't the word I would use...

(On preview, slimepuppy speaks the truth. I, too, am biased. The winter war, the continuation war and the Lapland war are such huge part of our national mythology. Every independence day The Unknown Soldier is on tv (and every one has seen it, many times), the evacuated Karelians are still a huge cultural presence. The fear of out great eastern neighbour is still alive and well. I have not served in the army nor am I very well versed in the military history, but the moment I read that Simo Häyhä was in Kollaa into my head popped "Kollaa kestää!" or "Kollaa will hold!". So, what I'm saying is that it's wierd reading about this in Metafilter and feel myself getting all defensive and also wanting to nitpick every little thing (see above).)
posted by severiina at 3:46 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a chilling account of what it was like to fight in Finland during both the Continuation War and the Lapland War, Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by a Soldier of the Waffen-SS , is the memoir of a young German who, at 17, joined the Waffen SS mountain (gebirgsjäger) division Nord and fought both with and against the Finns. His account of his unit's retreat from Finland makes Napoleon's retreat from Moscow look like National Lampoon's European Vacation.
posted by rdone at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


To kill 800 people, looking at each of them in the face, you have to be dead inside.

If I were dead inside, and 800 men came to enslave, rape, and kill my friends and family, I would join them, or at least run away. Conversely: To freeze myself night after night. Risk death and torture, and perhaps, eternal damnation. Just to hold the marauders off so my friends and family can live another day... I suspect that requires a lot of love. Just my ignorant opinion, pulled out of my metaphoric ass because I have the luxury to do so.
posted by False Dichotomy at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


Maybe we should be staging drinking contests instead of wars. I think the Russians would win. The Finns would be a close second. Then the Swedes. The Irish would get an honorary mention. The Germans would lose, as always in all wars.
posted by VikingSword at 4:21 PM on January 28, 2010


I was the oldest grandchildren on both sides of my family, by a margin of several years. Because of this, I had some special advantages. My grandparents doted on me and would give me pocket money. My grandfathers both loved drinking coffee with me and surreptitiously letting me have a cigarette or two. And when the first stirrings of war began - far from Sarajevo - they would discuss the possibility of it affecting us from a point of experience. "It will happen," they would say. Most people younger than them - my parents' and my own generation - considered this absurd. But I didn't doubt it; I always knew my grandparents to be very wise and very accurate in their assessments of almost anything.

So what did I do to prepare for the war? Sadly, almost nothing. I was still a teenager and more concerned with having fun. The war would have to sort itself out around me.

But I did pay attention to talk - I have always done that. I discovered that the loudest and most assertive opinionated voices "analyzing" the coming war . . . ended up being wrong, wrong, wrong. My grandfathers, on the other hand, were low-key, fatalistic and calm when they discussed it. It was, of course, *the* topic of the day. "Some people will disappoint you and themselves, others you will admire forever. You won't know who will be who until later, but if the war comes and you survive, you'll know a thing or two about human nature afterward."

So when I read comments like . . .

It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers.

. . . it reminds me of those loudmouths who talked so confidently and knowledgeably and always seemed to end up being the biggest, most ineffective crybabies when it was time for action.

Sarajevo was a city with a mixed Serb, Croat and Muslim population, as well as significant numbers of Jewish and Roma people. Probably the most obviously "multi-ethnic" city in the former Yugoslavia. It was also a peaceful, cosmopolitan place. This made it a particularly significant target for those Serbs who used ethnic hatred and "the practical impossibility of people living together" as justification for genocide and violent aggression. Sarajevo's existence proved that to be a lie. Naively, many Sarajevans - myself included - assumed that our solidarity as a city would magically ward off any attacks. Wrong!

Because Sarajevo is in a valley surrounded by mountains which quickly were controlled by Serb forces, we were in an indefensible position. We didn't have much to defend ourselves with in any case. We were, at first, a purely civilian population. But we were shelled and massacred anyway.

Slowly, some of the men in town who owned rifles (for hunting) realized that one of the only ways to defend themselves was by becoming snipers. These were the same guys who - only weeks or months earlier - argued that only through pacifism would we survive and show the world. We soon discovered the world didn't care much. As many of us lost family members and started starving, we realized that if snipers would slow the numbers of civilians being killed, that's what needed to happen. There wasn't any other choice.

I lived frighteningly near the frontline. So much so, that in quiet moments, there would occasionally be dialogue between "our" snipers and the Serbs shooting and shelling us from the hills. Usually, it was our guys shouting at the Serbs in the hills to lay down their arms. (Most of the Serbs were "local" and frequently each side personally knew the guys on the "other" side.) These requests were quite obviously ignored. It didn't stop our guys from trying, and they were heartfelt pleas. Our snipers were engaged in self-defense, and I'm amazed that people are so ignorant of war - even in secondhand terms - that they see no difference between self-defense and aggression.

I can't idolize a sniper, no matter how tough he was. To be a sniper you have to be no more than one notch away from a psychopath. To kill 800 people, looking at each of them in the face, you have to be dead inside.

How can I say it? That's just fucking stupid. Maybe, if you know you're firing on civilians in an act of senseless aggression, it takes a kind of heartless person to do that. But that certainly wasn't true for Häyhä, who was defending his country and people and likely saved many more lives than he took. Unlike probably everyone else on MetaFilter, I have been a victim of snipers twice, with scars to prove it. That's not including a shelling that killed my parents, broke my scapula to bits and put me in a coma for weeks. Or the white-hot shrapnel. So if anyone has a right to judge snipers harshly, I am her. But I make the distinction between the people who shot me for no good reason and those who were defending a peace-loving, multi-ethnic city. Because there is a difference.

I vaguely knew a girl who "worked" the Sarajevo tunnel. Every day, she took people out, and up a hill over a mountain spiked with landmines. She saw countless people killed and blown up in front of her. Then she'd return through the tunnel again, with food and clothing and supplies for her family and the city at large. She did this probably hundreds of times, nerve-wracking every step of the way. I think of myself as fearless during the war but couldn't fully manage it even once. Her experiences made her look like a ghost; I'd guess she was in a sort of permanent state of shock. She just didn't stop. Was there something psychopathic in her behavior? I'd guess so. It didn't stop her from being a heroine in my book - she must have saved many lives. To compare her to serial killers and rapists would be abhorrent. I'd say the same for Häyhä.

For those with stark "black and white" opinions about war, and snap judgements about how people go aboutsaving lives and defending a country, consider yourselves lucky to live in peace - an inflexible, closed mind is one of the greatest defects one can have in a war zone.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2010 [170 favorites]


The Grand Duchy of Finland declared independence in December 1917 after being part of the Russian empire for over 100 years. The Soviet Union then supported the Finnish Reds during the Finnish Civil War. So Finland wasn't occupied by the Soviet Union, but there was a history of friction.

One of the central ideas of the books is that respect for the enemy and mourning the dead are essential in keeping soldiers mentally healthy.
You know the [letters] "VC" [stood for Viet Cong]; the military radio call sign for that is "Victor Charlie," so his nickname became Charlie to us. And we used to say that he's Charlie to you before you fight him, and he's Mr. Charles afterward.
-- Philip Caputo
posted by kirkaracha at 4:27 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


False Dichotomy says it nicely in about 4% of the space I took.

And off topic, but the mention of "Kollaa kestää!" reminds me of the Finnish postpunk band of the same name (with the British daughter of Finnish Jews, Lora Logic, on sax!) So hurray for that.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2010


"Also: The forests Simo Häyhä fought to defend from the Soviets are threatened by the lumber industry."

Are you sure he was defending the forests and not his nation?
posted by Sukiari at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2010


Despite eventually being shot in the face
I thought Cheney used his deferments to stay out of the war.

posted by kirkaracha at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about this. For me, a major part of the miracle of the Winter War was that our nation survived with a clean conscience, that history hasn't found that, oops, there were death camps and inhuman treatment for Soviet war prisoners or that there were shippings of jews to Germany. Because I think that is such things had happened, if Finland had been a little evil empire in itself, it wouldn't have made a bit difference to soldiers fighting on the front lines.

They would have been there just like in this known historical story, fighting for their homes and against invasion. Only that afterwards their stories would have had a different context. White Death would then be remembered as a White Butcher, a monster coldly killing people that his country perceived as of inferior race. He was certainly a tough guy and without a peer, but only the context that he couldn't control or fully know at the time* made him a hero instead of a villain.

* Think what if, when he was soldiering on in -40°C woods, there would have been axis-style purges of jews, gypsies and homosexuals going on by the nation he was defending, without his knowing. His actions would have been the same, but their meaning different.
posted by Free word order! at 4:37 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, it does seem that snipers can claim more moral high ground than other kinds of fighters in war, because at least each of their kills is intended, and more likely to be another combatant than a civilian. This guy wasn't a baby killer.

Nope, Simo Häyhä killed armed men who were coming to kill him and his family. It may have broken his heart each time he pulled the trigger, you don't know. When talking to my own (American) grandfather about the fighting he did in WWII, I got the impression that it troubled him more than he cared to say that he participated in killing, and that so many of his buddies died. Being a man of his generation, I don't think he ever felt like he could talk about it much. He certainly wouldn't have broken down blubbering about it just because some reporter asked him about it, though, no matter how bad he felt. He probably would have said something about just doing the job he signed up to do, that he felt morally obligated to do..

Unfortunately, killing other living things (people included) has been a feature of human behavior for as long as we've existed. To kill something, I imagine you have to "otherize" it, objectify it. Whether it's a moose or a chicken or a person. You can't really care about its feelings if you're hungry and it has tasty flesh OR if it's trying to kill you! Brutal and distasteful, but killing is sometimes necessary for your survival.

I think more human beings than you realize have the capacity to kill 800+ people, if not the skill to do it with a sniper rifle. Fortunately, most of us never have to find out.

I hope someday we, as a species, can move past this, but so far, we haven't.
posted by apis mellifera at 5:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hope the people making comments about rapists, serial killers, and psychopaths read Dee Xtrovert's comment about living in Sarajevo. And then read it again. And then feel ashamed.
posted by Justinian at 5:22 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


"So when I read comments like . . .

"It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers."

. . . it reminds me of those loudmouths who talked so confidently and knowledgeably and always seemed to end up being the biggest, most ineffective crybabies when it was time for action."



Dee, I always appreciate your comments about your experiences in the Bosnian War. But I can't say I'm fond of personal insults like this.

I did not state or suggest what you are seemingly implying I did (e.g. no moral distinction between self-defensive killing and murder; anything about the desirability of pacifism).

But as far as the psychological underpinnings of killing are concerned, I think those who are best emotionally equipped for impersonal killing in self-defense and war (a relativity small minority of people), are likely those best emotionally equipped for killing more generally. Those who can plunge the knife into a stranger for a "good cause," (8:30) are also the same people who are otherwise emotionally wired to do it for a bad cause, or no cause at all.

See the essay I provided in my comment: "Most soldiers are unknowingly conscientious objectors".
posted by dgaicun at 5:35 PM on January 28, 2010


Wrong? You ain't never been right, about nothing! And dig this you assholes, and dig it good. Barnes Häyhä has been shot seven times in the face and he ain't dead, does that mean anything to you, huh? Barnes Häyhä ain't meant to die! The only thing that can kill Barnes Häyhä is Barnes Häyhä.
posted by bwg at 5:38 PM on January 28, 2010


What the hell kind of list of famous Finns doesn't include Alexi Laiho?
posted by MikeMc at 5:48 PM on January 28, 2010


I would submit that anyone objecting to war snipers has never had their country invaded and occupied by the army of another.

Until that happens you don't know what you would or wouldn't do.

I can't be 100% certain what I would do because it has never happened to my country, but my dad found way to fight back even as a kid when the Nazis occupied Holland (sabotage, not killing, of course), and thus I suspect I too would find a way to fight.

And please, no Wolverines jokes.
posted by bwg at 5:56 PM on January 28, 2010


I hope the people making comments about rapists, serial killers, and psychopaths read Dee Xtrovert's comment about living in Sarajevo. And then read it again. And then feel ashamed.

I'm actually the only person in this thread who mentioned serial killers and rapists. And as far as I can tell, there is nothing in Dee's comment that contradicts anything I said.

I did not say or imply that soldiers are the moral equivalent of rapists and serial killers.
posted by dgaicun at 6:01 PM on January 28, 2010


But as far as the psychological underpinnings of killing are concerned, I think those who are best emotionally equipped for impersonal killing in self-defense and war (a relativity small minority of people), are likely those best emotionally equipped for killing more generally.

Ah. I'll agree that, of course, those who are best emotionally equipped to kill are those who feel no emotions about it whatsoever. Emotions make it hard to shoot straight, even if those emotions just come from "if I hit the 10-ring on this shot, I win the match." People who feel nothing are probably more capable of, say, committing home-invasion robberies or kidnapping. So I kind of agree with your qualified claim.

However, those who are psychologically capable of killing in defense of self or family or country are not necessarily those who are capable of killing for another reason. Before I purchased my first weapon, I did considerable soul searching on this question: "If confronted with someone intent on taking my life, could I take theirs?" After several weeks of consideration, I came to the resounding conclusion that, in fact, I could do so without hesitation--and that I'd feel god-awful about it afterward, despite preferring the emotional toll to oblivion.

If someone invaded my home country (the USA; putting aside how and why), I'm quite confident that I could fight and kill to defend it. And I hope I could do it with the efficacy of Hayha.

But, here's the important part, that you seem to be missing: you cannot tell who was best psychologically equipped to kill based on who succeeded at it. He may have been stone cold about it, but he might have felt intense self-loathing (up to the time of his death). For all you know, Hayha was crying every night for those 100 days he was on the front. Meanwhile, the other guy in his cohort at sniper school could have been a real, diagnosable sociopath... who fucked up his first mission and got himself shot by the Russians.

What's telling, to me, is that Hayha didn't become a murderous rapist/robber. He didn't even stay in the army. He went back to farming. I really, really fucking doubt that somebody as mentally defective as you presume him to be would have turned in his weapon for a plow.

Those who can plunge the knife into a stranger for a "good cause," (8:30) are also the same people who are otherwise emotionally wired to do it for a bad cause, or no cause at all.

Yeah, I don't know if I could kill a man with a knife. But I promise I could kill a man with a gun, or a sword, or a bat. A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.
posted by Netzapper at 6:13 PM on January 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


“but only the context that he couldn't control or fully know at the time* made him a hero instead of a villain.”
I tend to eschew both terms. Again, it’s either necessary or it isn’t.

“ “I think those who are best emotionally equipped for impersonal killing in self-defense and war (a relativity small minority of people), are likely those best emotionally equipped for killing more generally.”

Except, what’s the relevance except the seeming left-handed compliment? Even taking that as a given – so? If someone’s wired to kill, and doesn’t, what’s the practical difference between that individual and someone else who doesn’t kill someone?
Ok, so Häyhä killed Soviet troops. So he was wired to. He comes home, doesn’t harm a fly. And?
I’d speculate that that line of reasoning leads, again, to blaming troops for war.
Haya is a possible psychopath because he discriminately shoots troops bearing arms against him, but Joseph Goebbels is, what, less responsible because he didn’t personally shoot anyone?

Albert Speer is a better man than Hayha because he shared command responsibility for killing millions but hey, he felt really bad about it later?

Rhetorical questions there, not implying these are views on your part.

"I did not say or imply that soldiers are the moral equivalent of rapists and serial killers."

So how does equating their dispositions 'identically' to the 'worst rapists and serial killers' differ? I'm not seeing how there's no implication of equivalency there. At the very least because it was an unqualified remark preceded by the assertion that they were temperamentally related to those who murder.

Believe whatever you wish, it's a fact of training that individuals who enjoy hurting people are less capable of executing. This is not to say one cannot enjoy the exercise of the skill. But that's a thing apart. Unalloy despite the proximity of action (shooting and killing).

The visceral nature of the act can also be enjoyable, but that's not taking pleasure in doing harm any more than someone who eats meat revels in the pain and death of the animal it came from.
(In fact, as a hunter - I see more desensitization and disassociation with the people who buy meat from a store than those of us who are supposedly bloodthirsty because we kill an animal ourselves instead of letting in linger in pens being force fed its whole life)

And I see no connection between someone like H.H. Holmes and Hayha. Goebbels and Speer on the other hand, yeah, they seem pretty close to Holmes psychologically.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Full disclosure: I'm currently on MidwayUSA searching for new scope bases and rings. And awaiting delivery of my custom-built rifle stock. I'm maybe not the most objective person when it comes to idolizing snipers. This despite never having shot anything but paper, clay, rats. Well, and, one time, accidntally, a cherry tree.)
posted by Netzapper at 6:24 PM on January 28, 2010


Yeah, I don't know if I could kill a man with a knife. But I promise I could kill a man with a gun, or a sword, or a bat. A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.

I think a lot of people don't realize exactly how easy it would be to shoot someone. I know that the first time I fired a gun I was amazed at how anticlimactic it was. I expected to feel this enormous rush holding it, that I had a death-maker in my hands. Instead it was like... that's it? I just squeeze this trigger and it jumps a bit and now the target has a tiny little hole in it? That's all it takes?
posted by nathancaswell at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


from Wikipedia: “When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said ‘I did what I was told to as well as I could.’”

a robot made out of meat: “This seems like a statement from an Asimov story. Sometimes you have to be very careful what you tell people to do to the best of their capacity.”

On the contrary, this comment seems extraordinarily apt, very fair, and moreover pretty telling. In my mind's eye, I picture Simo inwardly being very angry as he gave this answer, because the question to him would probably seem extraordinarily stupid. Killing hundreds of people? How would anyone feel? How would any sane, healthy, normal human being feel about killing hundreds of people? Is there supposed to be an answer to that question about how he felt that does justice to it? If you kill even one man, does someone ask you, "so, how do you feel?" On the one hand, is the person who asks that question hoping to hear him express regret? – as if Simo is going to break down and say 'I'm sorry, I just went nuts for a hundred days back during the war?' – as if he's never thought, even once, about what that massive and inordinately, immeasurably bloody campaign meant? And on the other hand, is he supposed to say that he doesn't regret a minute of it – that he's glad he did it? Even to sullenly insist that it was right, to say 'well, it seems like a lot, but I was forced by the circumstances – those men had to die' – that seems like a fairly disrespectful thing to say about Russians (Russian though they may be) who were thrown by the machine and by Stalin under the gears of war, doesn't it?

I'm sure that he did the right thing. But his actions were heroic precisely because there can be no room in a healthy human brain to contemplate whether one has done the right thing after the fact. It's really not his place to justify the killing he had to do, and it's not his responsibility. Maybe historians and pacifists and various other people somewhere can debate these things; he really can't be one of them and be at peace with what happened, I think. His answer that he did what he was told as best he could is really the best answer anyone in his place could give: it is, more than anything else, a humble answer. Consider: just how arrogant, not to say bloodthirsty and perhaps psychotic, would it have been to respond by saying it felt terrible, but that those Russians simply had to die for the good of Finland and the world? No. He did his job, and he did it well; we can add - because he did his job and did it well, Finland remained free.

Justinian: “I hope the people making comments about rapists, serial killers, and psychopaths read Dee Xtrovert's comment about living in Sarajevo. And then read it again. And then feel ashamed.”

I think it's understandable, and even a little fair, for those of us who haven't lived through this stuff to react with some horror and shock when we hear about the vast scale of the killing. Moreover, I may be wrong, but I have a feeling Simo is not unacquainted with that feeling. Personally, I think the first line of this thread, while probably historically correct, adequately illustrates the cult of war among us non-warriors that doesn't make any sense at all. I know nobody here is really doing it, so I'm not afraid of it cropping up, but it's easy, when thrilling to the account very heroic actions, to forget that there was a horrific and terrifying side to what Simo found himself having to do. In other words: I think he was a hero, but that doesn't mean I'd ever want to find myself in his position; his heroism consists in doing things that no human being should ever be forced to do, doing them well, and doing them with an efficiency and accuracy unmatched.
posted by koeselitz at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know if I could kill a man with a knife. But I promise I could kill a man with a gun, or a sword, or a bat. A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.

I have to commend you on that unusual observation. I would think most people would lump a knife in with other bladed weapons, or with other close combat weapons like a bat, in terms of psychology of use, and I'd have to disagree with them.

And a rifle... well, I used to hit the range pretty regularly -- paper targets, of course, but there's no comparison, even in imagined use. Anything but a knife.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2010


A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.

They don't call it 'wet work' for nothing.
posted by bwg at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2010


"But as far as the psychological underpinnings of killing are concerned, I think those who are best emotionally equipped for impersonal killing in self-defense and war (a relativity small minority of people), are likely those best emotionally equipped for killing more generally."

Joanna Bourke addresses this issue in her book An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-face Killing in Twentieth-century Warfare
It is almost universally accepted among writers on warfare that battle is a terrible experience, and that men who fight are at the very least sobered, and often deeply traumatized, by the horrors of combat. Bourke uses the letters, diaries, memoirs and reports of veterans from three conflicts - World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War - to establish a picture of the man-at-arms.

What she suggests is that the structure of war encourages pleasure in killing, and that perfectly ordinary, gentle human beings can become enthusiastic killes without becoming "brutalized". Bourke forces the reader to face some disconcerting truths about society that can so easliy organize itself for war.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:37 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Netzapper: “Yeah, I don't know if I could kill a man with a knife. But I promise I could kill a man with a gun, or a sword, or a bat. A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.”

As the essay dgaicun linked to points out, while you may think you could kill someone with a gun, statistically at least you'd be wrong; that is, you might be able to, but most people aren't, even if they think it'll be easy and even if they have a lot of experience with guns. It quotes General Marshall's study during WWII of infantry units, noting that only 15%-25% of soldiers fired their weapons in battle, and that riflemen, i.e. soldiers who'd probably used guns in civilian contexts before the war or at least fired them before, were the least likely to fire in battle. It goes on to point out that this difficulty has been overcome by the introduction of training with human-shaped targets. In other words, you almost certainly could kill a man with a knife; it'd be as easy as learning to kill a man with a gun. All you'd have to do is stick a knife in a human-shaped target, simulating battle conditions, a few hundred times; then, when in battle, you could just do what you'd done a hundred times before.

I don't think that's really the point, however. I imagine that a soldier who had actually done some killing would probably say that it's not very difficult to do the killing; it's what comes after that's hardest. The act itself merely consists in repetition until it becomes natural to pull the trigger or slash the artery without thinking; afterward, you have time to think.
posted by koeselitz at 7:42 PM on January 28, 2010


A knife is an awfully personal weapon, man.

They don't call it 'wet work' for nothing.


Too true.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2010


Dee, I always appreciate your comments about your experiences in the Bosnian War. But I can't say I'm fond of personal insults like this.

But as far as the psychological underpinnings of killing are concerned, I think those who are best emotionally equipped for impersonal killing in self-defense and war (a relativity small minority of people), are likely those best emotionally equipped for killing more generally. Those who can plunge the knife into a stranger for a "good cause," (8:30) are also the same people who are otherwise emotionally wired to do it for a bad cause, or no cause at all.


That insult wasn't directed at anyone in particular, really just to anyone for whom the shoe fits. But in any case, what you wrote (in addition to what's above) was:

It's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers. The only difference might be a slightly different life context. The difference between a certain person being celebrated as a war hero or reviled as a serial killer might come down to the chance event of a war happening at a certain time.

And I call utter bullshit on this. I suppose I could have been more explicit about people striving for peace in Sarajevo who later took up arms to defend the city, but it *does* directly contradict what you're saying. These people, like Häyhä, didn't want to take up arms and become snipers due to their "disposition" - often, they did so in direct violation of their natural selves. They did so when there was no realistic alternative to their (and their family's, and their city's or country's) survival. I know plenty of people who were pained to even hold a gun. Some of them killed many, many soldiers. Some were snipers like Häyhä. They all, to a person, put down their guns as soon as they could, and most of them have a greater awareness of the sacred aspect of life than you could ever imagine.

Some of the most heroic of these people were Serbs who resisted the call to join other Serbs in destroying the city. Because their numbers were diluted (by the Serbs who left Sarajevo because they sided with the aggressive Serbs, or by Serbs who simply had the means and obvious desire to escape a war zone), as a group, the Serbs who stayed were incredibly pacifistic and I have some direct knowledge of how incredibly difficult it was for some of them to not only set aside their pacifist beliefs and bear arms, but to shoot "their own kind" - people who were once friends and neighbors.

So sentences like . . .

The difference between a certain person being celebrated as a war hero or reviled as a serial killer might come down to the chance event of a war happening at a certain time.

or

Häyhä's lack of retrospective remorse is no doubt related to the fact of why he was such an effective killer in the first place: hurting others didn't have much of a negative emotional effect on him. He probably enjoyed hurting people, which is how he was so calm and good at doing it.

. . . are borne out of true (and frankly repellent) ignorance. You don't have a clue what went through Häyhä's mind, let alone "no doubt." I know yours is armchair psychology, but it really sucks and it's really off-base. Take it from someone who's been there.

The Finnish are notoriously guarded in their emotions, while Bosnians are quite the opposite. Yet still, I know plenty of Bosnians who did similar things, who are extremely haunted by them . . . but they'd never, ever tell you.

(Many war-surviving Bosnians are appalled that I share anything here, as they consider people who haven't lived through similar events utterly incapable of meaningful comprehension. "You're wasting your time on people who didn't care when the war was going on, and still don't know where Bosnia is," they tell me. I argue this with them, but I have to say they'd probably point to you as exactly the sort of thing they're talking about.)

The Bosnian defense snipers were often the last people who'd ever pick up arms for reasons of aggression; their "disposition" was often 180 degrees from the Serbs on the hill who were killing civilians. After my parents died, I *begged* for a gun so I could walk up the hill and take a couple of these fuckers out myself. And I would have, believe me! Of course, no one would give me one. "Have some slivovitz, Dee, and relax." And today, I realize that it's because at that moment I had very little respect for the intrinsically "un-human" act I would have been committing. It would have caused me endless grief later. The men who defended Sarajevo, I know, had made some sort of uneasy peace with what they had to do. I know some of them have trauma for it. But I know that they were doing something that needed to be done. So that others would not be burdened by the trauma of killing, they did it themselves, and they do carry the trauma today.

That you characterize what Häyhä did as "hurting people" speaks volumes of how absurdly little you know - or can even imagine - about a country and people under siege and the sort of bravery and discipline it takes to do what Häyhä did. He was aware of what he was doing, but it's like what they say about why soldiers fight: It's not because they believe in their cause or because they hate the enemy. It's not because they enjoy battle. They fight because if they avoided it, or if they deserted, their brothers on the battlefield would suffer. This is true for all wars, but in wars of self-defense (from, say, the Bosnian or Finnish side), it's not only your brothers-in-arms, but your mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and friends at home who would suffer. Häyhä stepped up to the plate in a big way, then went quietly home where he apparently led a deserved long and peaceful life.

There are psychopaths in all walks of life, but to characterize this man as one, based on your wholly-imagined "idea" of what it would take to be a sniper . . . is just wrong.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:23 PM on January 28, 2010 [44 favorites]


"That you characterize what Häyhä did as "hurting people" speaks volumes of how absurdly little you know - or can even imagine - about a country and people under siege and the sort of bravery and discipline it takes to do what Häyhä did."

Killing is hurting people. You may not appreciate that description on an emotional level, but it is accurate. It does not contradict bravery or discipline.


"These people, like Häyhä, didn't want to take up arms and become snipers due to their "disposition" - often, they did so in direct violation of their natural selves. They did so when there was no realistic alternative to their (and their family's, and their city's or country's) survival. I know plenty of people who were pained to even hold a gun. Some of them killed many, many soldiers. Some were snipers like Häyhä. They all, to a person, put down their guns as soon as they could, and most of them have a greater awareness of the sacred aspect of life than you could ever imagine."

Most men will become soldiers if they have to (e.g. to defend themselves or their family). The distribution of how well they do as soldiers is log normal. With a small minority doing most of the killing. A reasonable (but by no means "proven" or singular) explanation for this is that this minority has a specific suite of emotional differences that makes killing significantly less emotionally difficult. With emotions being a significantly greater hurdle for soldiers than say, marksmanship, discipline, or desire to protect loved ones or comrades. This explanation is much less attractive than the flattering unique skills people very much want to ascribe to war heroes (aka super soldiers), such as unusual "bravery" or patriotism, which is why it is this controversial.


So sentences like . . . are borne out of true (and frankly repellent) ignorance. You don't have a clue what went through Häyhä's mind, let alone "no doubt." I know yours is armchair psychology, but it really sucks and it's really off-base. Take it from someone who's been there.

I provided a link to a more detailed and sourced discussion. This is part of a larger scientific body of thought. It may not be true, but it is not simply armchair speculation or my own ignorant musings.

Your on the ground experiences of war are very, very valuable in many ways, but don't quite serve as the scientific end statement you'd like them to, to every complex psychological and sociological question concerning war. I'm entitled to weigh evidence and issues you'd rather summarily dismiss or not consider.

I did not say I have "no doubt" about Häyhä's mind or disposition, but I have some information on the unique class of soldiers like him, and he has a priori plausibility of fitting to the type for the reasons discussed.
posted by dgaicun at 9:54 PM on January 28, 2010


I did not say I have "no doubt" about Häyhä's mind or disposition,

Hmm, ok, I see I did use that expression. But it was intended as a manner of speech, not as some bold declaration of clairvoyance.
posted by dgaicun at 9:59 PM on January 28, 2010


Häyhä didn't become a murderous rapist/robber. He didn't even stay in the army. He went back to farming.

That's the notch away from being a psychopath I mentioned.

How does being a sniper require any less empathy or moral compass than being a regular rifleman or a fighter pilot?

A rifleman or a pilot has the perceived threat of his enemy to drive him to kill. A bomber pilot can simply hide himself in denial of the thousands he kills. But a sniper has to look right at each person he kills, who only threatens him in an abstract way, and kill him. To do that, you either have to turn off a fundamental part of being human, or not have it at all.

Häyhä was acting in defense of his country, and his efforts had a much larger effect than the 800 he killed, since resources had to be devoted to stopping him. So he rendered good service as a soldier...but that doesn't negate the reality of how how he rendered it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:50 PM on January 28, 2010


>Häyhä didn't become a murderous rapist/robber. He didn't even stay in the army. He went back to farming.

That's the notch away from being a psychopath I mentioned.


Yeah, okay, well then those are pretty big notches. Like, there are only about eight of them between Gandhi and Dahlmer.

A rifleman or a pilot has the perceived threat of his enemy to drive him to kill. A bomber pilot can simply hide himself in denial of the thousands he kills. But a sniper has to look right at each person he kills, who only threatens him in an abstract way, and kill him. To do that, you either have to turn off a fundamental part of being human, or not have it at all.

That seems specious to me. For several reasons.

1) A successful rifleman or a pilot often takes the first shot, without the target even being aware. The ambush is a tried and true military tactic used by every which side in every which war. And jet fighters, since Vietnam, have operated at or beyond visual range--there hasn't been a traditional cat-and-mouse, you-or-me dogfight since Korea.

2) A sniper is threatened by every enemy soldier on the field. We're not talking about shooting a world leader on the streets of a city. We're talking about hanging out 800 yards from a military encampment and shooting someone. 800 yards is trivially within range of a machine gun--the machine gun being the most basic anti-sniper countermeasure. To get that close, you sneak. To get out, you sneak. If you fuck up, or you're unlucky, you're dead. That's not abstract.

Besides, as I said above, Hayha didn't operate as a sniper does today. He wasn't a forward observer/scout. He was a designated marksman. He wasn't shooting from 800 yards--not with iron sights. He was every bit as much in the line of fire as every shmoe infantryman. The difference is that he shot at much longer ranges than the regular shmoe was capable of, while concealing himself.

3) Killing is human. The sociopath does it without any feeling, and that's pathological. But it's the lack of feeling that's pathological, not the killing. Most sociopaths don't kill anyone; they just make your workplace unpleasant.

Killing out of passion, necessity, lust, greed, jealousy, rage, hatred... that's not pathological, that's human. You may not like it, but it is. It's only in the past couple hundred years that killing has become rare--we're actually living in the most peaceful time in human history, despite what the news would have you believe. War used to be constant.

What you consider "a fundamental part of being human" wouldn't have even occurred to an ancient Greek or Mongolian. Or a Renaissance Italian. Or even a Revolutionary American. Of course you look your enemy in the face. And, hey, if you can get him before he notices you, all he better.

Actually, I had a look at your posting history. There's roughly zero chance that you have any idea what I'm talking about, so I'll just stop. It's fine. You consider a sniper's job immoral, and so consequently marginalize his experience by ascribing some pathology to it. I imagine that you do this so that you don't have to face the reality that, given the right circumstances, you'd probably do the same fucking thing.
posted by Netzapper at 11:37 PM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Cortex: When that failed, Soviet psyops turned to a propaganda campaign, using flyovers to litter the Finnish landscape with posters bearing an unflattering caricature of Häyhä and, in bold block letters, the word "HAX".

Damn, I just sprayed my bourbon over my keyboard :(

Also: Jarno Saarinen 1972 World Motorcycle Champion, attributed with pioneering the "knee down" style.
posted by Duke999R at 1:48 AM on January 29, 2010


You consider a sniper's job immoral, and so consequently marginalize his experience by ascribing some pathology to it. I imagine that you do this so that you don't have to face the reality that, given the right circumstances, you'd probably do the same fucking thing.

Actually, I rather doubt that he would. I don't know him, but from his words, I rather imagine he'd have someone else do it for him.

In my war experiences, which are plentiful, those who had to do something awful and simply got on with it tended to be the most sane - because in the long run it's all about common sense and immediacy. Kill one sniper and you've saved many lives, distasteful as killing may be to any of us. The psychological repercussions come later, if you are lucky to live long enough to deal with them.

People I knew in the war who sat around psychoanalyzing everything from unrealistic (and ultimately self-absorbed) tenets tended to be pretty worthless. They had excuses for why they couldn't go out scrounging for food (others fed them), they had excuses for why they wouldn't defend the city (though they tended to complain the most), they had excuses for *not* doing anything. As a teenager who lost her parents in front of her eyes, and with few "real world" skills (I'd just started university), I didn't have too much to offer. But I did work as a medic (my experiences putting body parts in bags partially delineated elsewhere), I worked with many journalists to get the real story of our tragedy told, I found clothes and food not just for myself, but for others. I did what I could.

Whatever one might think of the psychological disposition of someone who picks up a gun to defend his family and country, my experiences made clear to me that the psychological disposition of the sort of people who sit around senselessly theorizing about that sort of shit and looking for a "scientific end statement" is a lot scarier, does nothing for anyone and is ultimately a burden on those willing to do the heavy lifting in terrible times. Judge me as you will, but in war I'll take a potentially psychopathic sniper on my side over a theorist with no direct knowledge of what he's supposedly analyzing. Every time. This may be why I'm walking the Earth today.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:27 AM on January 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


I am as non-violent as anyone this side of Gandhi in my actual life. However, if there were an invasion of Massachusetts, I would become a sniper without a second thought. Becoming that good of a sniper requires a very special set of skills and a very specific personality but that personality and those skills are in no way similar to those of a serial killer. I honestly cannot fathom how anyone could correlate those too things. Serial killing is a compulsion for pleasure. Even if you killed hundreds of people as a sniper defending your homeland and didn't feel remotely bad about it, you would STILL not be ANYTHING like a serial killer (nevermind a rapist.)
posted by haveanicesummer at 4:34 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Famous Finns:
Saku Koivu
Teemu Selanne (the Finnish Flash!)
Loituma!
posted by Vindaloo at 4:59 AM on January 29, 2010


Another MeFinn here, with mixed feelings about the topic and the thread.

My maternal grandfather, who passed away a few years ago, got sent to the Winter War at age 19. He went on to spend the prime of his youth fighting all the way through the Continuation War ('41-'44) and Lapland War ('44-'45), just like all my great uncles.

My grandfather never, ever talked about the war, and it was a close kept family secret that after he came back, he woke up screaming every night for nearly a decade. I guess some very bad things had happened, and maybe he had done some of them himself. Not being able to deal with it all "like a man" was considered a source of shame. (I'd wager Häyhä's laconic reply discussed in this thread is at least just as likely to stem from that demand as from cold-hearted psychopathy.)

The repercussions of my grandfather's PTSD, as well as the death of my paternal great uncle (at age 20) during the attack in '41, my grandmother's experiences during the bombings and her narrow escape from the advancing Soviet troops in '44, their whole chaotic evacuation, the bitter refugee identity around which they built their post-war lives - it all continued to ripple through our family for decades. Still palpable when I was growing up, and I was born in the 70's. Perhaps echoing the way in which my entire country is still coming to terms with this grim and complex part of our history.

Reading the discussion here has been a little eerie. Growing up in Finland, you've heard it all before - the rah rah badass! (nowadays hijacked by the populists and the nationalist zealots), the blaming and shaming (popular among the left wing during the Cold War), the what-ifs of history.

I don't know if I can add anything here. My grandfather was a good and decent man, caught in the tide of war, just like their entire generation was.
posted by sively at 5:11 AM on January 29, 2010 [12 favorites]


"People I knew in the war who sat around psychoanalyzing everything from unrealistic (and ultimately self-absorbed) tenets tended to be pretty worthless... the psychological disposition of the sort of people who sit around senselessly theorizing about that sort of shit and looking for a "scientific end statement" is a lot scarier, does nothing for anyone and is ultimately a burden on those willing to do the heavy lifting in terrible times."

Yes, it is likely that academics and intellectuals with their impractical knowledge/interests, romantic leftist politics, and poor eyesight are disproportionately useless during war time crisis when practical knowledge, hardnosed rightwing politics, and good eyesight are what gets shit done.

You are treating intellectualism (i.e psychological theorizing) as if it was a character deficiency, when it is not. You are also passive-aggressively trying to insult me by drawing an equivalence between myself and these burdensome war-time intellectuals as a kind of "revenge" for my perceived slights against soldiers. (e.g. "Judge me as you will, but in war I'll take a potentially psychopathic sniper on my side over a theorist with no direct knowledge of what he's supposedly analyzing. Every time."). (You are also still implying I'm wrong ["unrealistic, self-absorbed tenets"], without going through the formality of rebutting my claims with any kind of evidence or reasoning.)

As I have now clarified several times, I did not intend to imply soldiers, be they psychopathic or not, are morally deficient for what they do during war-time (not necessarily anyway). Implying that intellectuals are morally deficient for what they do outside of war-time is just as fallacious, and beneath you. Two wrongs don't make a right, especially when the first wrong never happened.
posted by dgaicun at 6:04 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I provided a link to a more detailed and sourced discussion. This is part of a larger scientific body of thought. It may not be true, but it is not simply armchair speculation or my own ignorant musings.

dgaicun, did you read the thing you linked to? At no point does it say that [t]he difference between a certain person being celebrated as a war hero or reviled as a serial killer might come down to the chance event of a war happening at a certain time. It also never says that the described personality type enjoys 'hurting people,' as you asserted-- merely that s/he enjoys combat, which is not the same thing. It draws no parallels between the 'natural killer' and murderers, and it does not attempt to speculate on the evil and illegal things that might otherwise be enjoyed by the people it describes-- which is what you did, which is why people are taking offense.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:34 AM on January 29, 2010


shakespherian, the essay is explicitly talking about psychopathy. If you need the associations (e.g. between sadism and psychopathy or serial killing and psychopathy) spelled out more clearly, read more about psychopathy.
posted by dgaicun at 6:49 AM on January 29, 2010


He wasn't shooting from 800 yards--not with iron sights. He was every bit as much in the line of fire as every shmoe infantryman. The difference is that he shot at much longer ranges than the regular shmoe was capable of, while concealing himself.

Remember the rifle he used provided him no special powers over the rifles in the hands of the men he shot.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:05 AM on January 29, 2010


shakespherian, the essay is explicitly talking about psychopathy.

I know that, because I read the essay. Did you? Because it says Such people who enter the military are not monsters waiting to be released. That seems a little different from [i]t's not a stretch to believe that the dispositions that make the best soldiers/snipers are identical to the dispositions of the worst rapists and serial killers. The only difference might be a slightly different life context.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2010


The quotes are orthogonal. Please don't snipe if you don't have a relevant criticism.
posted by dgaicun at 7:39 AM on January 29, 2010


Please don't snipe if you don't have a relevant criticism.

I see what you did there.

But really, I'm trying to point out that I think you have overstated your case and are saying more than your evidence reasonably suggests you should. You are taking two facts about someone you will never meet (he shot eight people a day for 100 days; he later said that 'I did what I was told to as well as I could') and, with an related article that says that some members of the American military are useful soldiers because they are remorseless, you are saying of this person that you will never meet that, given a slightly different context, he probably would have been a rapist.

If that isn't what you're saying, it is certainly what it sounds like you're saying.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:07 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please don't snipe if you don't have a relevant criticism.

hahahahhahhaha
posted by RussHy at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2010


Actually, I had a look at your posting history. There's roughly zero chance that you have any idea what I'm talking about, so I'll just stop. It's fine. You consider a sniper's job immoral, and so consequently marginalize his experience by ascribing some pathology to it. I imagine that you do this so that you don't have to face the reality that, given the right circumstances, you'd probably do the same fucking thing.

Actually, I rather doubt that he would. I don't know him, but from his words, I rather imagine he'd have someone else do it for him.

Thanks for the laughs.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2010


Lauri Törni, another obviously quite tough finn from the winter war was apparently the template for the main character in the Green Berets movie.
posted by uandt at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2010


“Take it from someone who's been there… Many war-surviving Bosnians are appalled that I share anything here, as they consider people who haven't lived through similar events utterly incapable of meaningful comprehension.”

It’s been my experience that very few people are willing to listen. Even though it’s the basic facts. Even the ones who are ostensibly ‘on your side.’
Sometimes I get pissed off, which seems pretty counterproductive. I’m just glad there are other folks willing to carry the ball and foster some understanding. A lot of times I’m with your friends. Hell, I share damn little personal information in the first place. I respect your willingness to do so despite the all too common reactions. Like your friends, I'm not convinced it's worth it.

dgaicun won’t even answer simple questions regarding his own logic or understand there’s more than one treatise on the nature of combat training at least from me (much less discuss Pierson’s work, beyond what he thinks it says. Pierson was a competent officer
(and Tuskers wasn’t a bad book, little too hyperbolic – I don’t know that the 24th Division in the Gulf War achieved the most amazing operation ever in military science, I mean, Agincort was a pretty good win, Alexander’s victory at Guagamela which led to the downfall of the Persian empire had a few things going for it in the annuls of military science– not running anything down here, McCaffrey was a competent general before he got into the drug stooge business, just saying there’s some history)
but gosh, maybe he’s not the only S2 in the world with an essay. In fact, it’s ironic that dgaicun uses Pierson’s work to support the point about how only someone inhuman could kill so many people since Pierson talked about having such a lopsided win in the Gulf and felt guilty about doing so well. Apart from defending the extrapolations as the reference.)

All that aside, the only reason I care at all is because - whatever we’re failing to understand or dgaicun’s apparently failing to or refusing to delineate aside - if the premise that some kind of psychopathy underlies success in warfare, that it’s a innate trait rather than learned, that removes the responsibility for dealing with it from cause. It’s treated rather as something a society has to endure as an inevitability. An effect.

If we recognize war as the result of social pressure (for good cause or ill) and something that must be taught, we can address the roots of it and stop it before it gets rolling.

Indeed, it’s been consistently the fear of localized, high profile and interpersonal violence (terrorism) that governments have exploited to gain more power to make war and commit atrocities. If the last eight years can’t convince someone in the U.S. of that I can’t imagine anything that would.

So again – whatever he is, Hayha is not a truly dangerous man. He only killed a few hundred. The truly dangerous ones are the ones that can convince others to kill millions. People die, causes can live forever.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:30 AM on January 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


And I don't know how many times Hannah Arendt has been referenced on MeFi, but one would think it'd be enough.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


(ordinary people, premises of their state, thinking their actions were normal, all that)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:37 AM on January 29, 2010



A rifleman or a pilot has the perceived threat of his enemy to drive him to kill. A bomber pilot can simply hide himself in denial of the thousands he kills.


I really don't understand the view that hiding yourself in denial of killing thousands somehow conferring the possession of greater empathy and a stronger moral compass than killing hundreds from a short distance. Or that a sniper, taking shots from cover, is morally deficient when compared to an artilleryman firing a shell from a mile away because the latter doesn't see his victims and can hum really loudly and pretend he is just blowing up copses and farmhouses.
posted by reynir at 11:09 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The other word for "moral victory" is "loss".
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:11 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand the view that hiding yourself in denial of killing thousands somehow conferring the possession of greater empathy and a stronger moral compass

It doesn't. But there's a screen there than can protect you from recognizing the awfulness of what you're doing that you can't have as a sniper.

Actually, I'm more disturbed by the people who lionize snipers than I am by actual snipers. The snipers can have a whole range of emotional responses to their actions. Their fans have exactly the worst one, and they are the kind of people who fall into the potential serial killer class.

Like that comment above about how people used to kill each other all the time back in the old days...someone's getting their history from Robert E. Howard.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:40 PM on January 29, 2010


But really, I'm trying to point out that I think you have overstated your case and are saying more than your evidence reasonably suggests you should. You are taking two facts about someone you will never meet (he shot eight people a day for 100 days; he later said that 'I did what I was told to as well as I could') and, with an related article that says that some members of the American military are useful soldiers because they are remorseless, you are saying of this person that you will never meet that, given a slightly different context, he probably would have been a rapist.

Yes, given a slightly different life context someone without remorse and entirely selfish motives (i.e. a psychopath) could have been a rapist or murderer. I'm not sure what mathematical probability would justify this statement in your mind. I don't have an exact number, but a psychopath is many times more likely to become to become a rapist or serial killer than a non-psychopath. To me that seems more than reasonable enough to justify the statement. I'm not sure what the odds ratio would have to be justify the statement in your own mind, and I doubt that your thinking even follows along Bayesian lines. I suspect you would snipe no matter what the odds ratio was.


dgaicun won’t even answer simple questions regarding his own logic or understand there’s more than one treatise on the nature of combat training at least from me


Smedley, my eyes kind of glaze over on most of your posts, as if we speak different languages. Going back over your posts, I still don't really get the point of your questions. You asked me what it "matters" if a super soldier is a psychopath but never kills outside of war. I have no pressing need to chew on this metaphysical fat with you. Obviously the reason that it's controversial to suggest that super snipers are super snipers because they are unusually remorseless rather than unusually "patriotic" (or some such flattering attribute) is because people see patriotism as a heroic trait and remorselessness as a criminal or evil trait.

Perhaps it matters in that people should discount their assessment of "war heroes," or perhaps it matters in that people should reassess their attitude toward "evil" personality traits like sadism, which usually cause trouble for society, but in certain contexts can actually be much more useful to society than universally revered traits like intellectualism or compassion.

It was not my intent here to say how people should feel about it, just to introduce a theory which I believe is true.


In fact, it’s ironic that dgaicun uses Pierson’s work to support the point about how only someone inhuman could kill so many people since Pierson talked about having such a lopsided win in the Gulf and felt guilty about doing so


I never said "inhuman" and I never said "only".

Anyway, I think I'm just about done for this thread.
posted by dgaicun at 5:54 PM on January 29, 2010


Like that comment above about how people used to kill each other all the time back in the old days...someone's getting their history from Robert E. Howard.

I believe it's been pretty well established that murders were far, far more common in the past than they are now; on the order of 10x to 100x (depending on location) was common, and that the amount of violent crime in general would be considered shocking today.

Obviously "all the time" is a judgment call, but a murder rate 20x today's is pretty dang high.
posted by Justinian at 5:55 PM on January 29, 2010


What!? dgaicun's in a joust and gone before I stumble back here ? Somebody grab him and hold him--I wanna punch him! kiddin! Not that I otherwise have a dog in this moral Finn fight. Not in black and white. Not on the topic at hand. Only a conditional consensus in my particular congress of selves and later on that. These things are hard to hear about and hard to think about. What an awful gift Häyhä had, what a thing to be remembered for. It makes one shiver.
posted by y2karl at 6:10 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like that comment above about how people used to kill each other all the time back in the old days...someone's getting their history from Robert E. Howard.

War Before Civilization: The Myth Of The Peaceful Savage (Google Books)

War Before Civilization (Wikipedia)

posted by jason's_planet at 6:38 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


dgaicun: Anyway, I think I'm just about done for this thread.

Thank goodness.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:52 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, even a murder rate that's 100 times what we have today would still mean your chances of getting murdered, or of murdering someone (unless you were one of the folks racking up those numbers) would be pretty low. So overall, the vast majority of people in the history of the world never killed another person...and yet you want to claim that killin' is just natural.

Yeah, you're reading too much REH. Or rather, you're mistaking it for fact.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:58 PM on January 29, 2010


There's another possibility. You'd like to kill someone, but you're afraid to, so you just fantasize about how you could have done it back in the good old days, and write slash about real people with big body-counts.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:05 PM on January 29, 2010


Are you talking to me? 'Cause I have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by Justinian at 11:00 PM on January 29, 2010


So overall, the vast majority of people in the history of the world never killed another person...and yet you want to claim that killin' is just natural.

The vast majority of people in the history of the world have never made a fool of themselves in an otherwise civil discussion on the internet.

And yet you're doing a bangup job showing it's part of human nature, Jimmy Havok.
posted by Netzapper at 11:09 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great argument, Netzapper! Full of pith, facts, and wit! You rule!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2010


Looking this over, I see that those of us who have suggested that there's something psychologically wrong with a person who could kill so many people have been subjected to a good deal of personal abuse.

That behavior supports my further thesis that there's something psychologically wrong with people who idolize someone who has killed so many people.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:37 AM on January 30, 2010


Jimmy Havok: Looking this over, I see that those of us who have suggested that there's something psychologically wrong with a person who could kill so many people have been subjected to a good deal of personal abuse.

That behavior supports my further thesis that there's something psychologically wrong with people who idolize someone who has killed so many people.


It also supports the counter-thesis that being an insufferable ass to everyone and willfully ignoring anything they say counter to your argument whilst insulting their nations/heroes/selves, is a good way to kill the civility of discourse until only coarseness remains.


But, special snow flake that you are, there is no reason to suspect that anything unpleasant is the result of anything you said or did; it must just be that the whole rest of the world is psycho- and sociopaths who are only a breath away from being serial rapists and war criminals. That must be it.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:10 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


kill the civility of discourse until only coarseness remains.

Good job!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2010


Good job!

Honestly, I have no dog in this fight, but do you think you're actually accomplishing anything besides worsening the tone in here with these kinds of sarcastic non-responses? If you disagree with someone, disagree with them, but drop the schtick if you have a goal here other than making yourself seem like a jerk.
posted by cortex at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Medicalizing dissent is rarely a positive step.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:35 PM on January 30, 2010


Jimmy Havok: “Looking this over, I see that those of us who have suggested that there's something psychologically wrong with a person who could kill so many people have been subjected to a good deal of personal abuse. That behavior supports my further thesis that there's something psychologically wrong with people who idolize someone who has killed so many people.”

How can we judge whether something is right or wrong? That seems like a broad question, but it runs to the heart of your position, I think, which (if I'm not mistaking it – please tell me if I am) seems to be that, no matter in what context it occurs, there is something wrong about killing. And I agree with that. Moreover, you seem to be saying that there's something wrong with a human being's mind if that human being can kill the way a sniper kills: by looking at people. Specifically, you said this:

“... a sniper has to look right at each person he kills, who only threatens him in an abstract way, and kill him. To do that, you either have to turn off a fundamental part of being human, or not have it at all.”

I've been thinking about this statement of yours ever since I read it the other day; it's an interesting and sympathetic one, one which I can imagine believing myself. It seems at least to be supported by the military essay that dgaicun linked about, which pointed out that when General Marshall brought his infantry to the field in WWII, he found that only 15%-25% of his soldiers ever fired their weapons at all in combat, especially those most trained in using guns, the riflemen. That seems to support your point: that there's something fundamental to human beings about not being able to kill, and killing repeatedly is an indication that someone has 'turned that off' or else they never had it at all.

But the trouble is that you don't say what this fundamental something is. In fact, I would argue that it doesn't exist – that a shocking and frightful part of what makes us human is the apparent fact that we can actually kill without much trouble at all. The thing about the article dgaicun linked is that it went on to note that, when Marshall came back and tried to improve those firing rates, he found that he could reach 55% and even 95% with simple conditioning, ie having men fire at a human-shaped target in training over and over and over again until it became reflexive. Most of us aren't soldiers, so we don't have to think about it, but I believe the fact is that it's extraordinary easy to kill someone; you just have to practice the motion a lot, repeating it over and over, and after a while the gun rises and your finger slips on the trigger before you've had time to contemplate it. The studies of General Marshall do indeed indicate that anyone can learn to kill very easily that way.

So if there's any "fundamental part of being human" that he, or any soldier in warfare, had to "turn off," it was merely the habit of reflecting on what he was about to do before he did it. And I have a feeling you might agree with me that thinking about what you're about to do isn't actually much of a fundamental part of being human at all. You speak as though Simo here had time to contemplate the killings as he was doing them, and indeed the shocking thing about them is that there are so very many, but I think it's actually quite clear that he didn't; this was, after all, only a space of three months, during the dead of winter, and he spent that three months hiding and keeping from freezing to death when he didn't have his gun out. He didn't give himself time to think about it. Indeed, he didn't have much time to think about it even if he had given himself the chance.

The painful part, the part where we're brought to "fundamental parts of being human" and human kindness and human affection and the desire not to kill and the simple, blunt, obvious fact that another person, fully alive and fully capable of beauty and nobility and spirit, has been snuffed out – that part comes after. For Simo, I imagine it must have come in the hospital bed, recovering from having had his face blown off. In an odd way, I want to say that I think that horrific injury probably made it easier for him in the long run; the really painful, terrible curse, I think, would have been to walk away from the field of battle knowing you'd killed so many without ever suffering so much as a scratch. But the injury can't have taken that pain away; without going insane, no human being can actually forget and completely come to terms with having killed that many. I don't doubt that it's something that probably haunted him for the rest of his life. He doesn't seem to have talked much about what happened, but that's common for people who face this kind of shadow, I think; having killed so many is a tremendous burden, and many people, I think, just break down and become quite unhappy because of it.

I happen to be one who believes that Simo did the right thing, and that his actions are indeed heroic, but I don't 'idolize' him, and I want to say that it's a bit unfair to accuse people in this thread of having done that. There are places where he was pointed up as being cool, as being heroic, and as doing something tremendous and vast – I don't think anyone will deny that – but nobody here has worshipped him for his killing, or idolized him at all. Heroes can indeed be people who do things we'd never wish to have done ourselves; maybe there has been a good deal of naivete in this thread, but it hasn't stooped to the worship of murder that you seem to think it's been. (I have similar problems with your repetition of the disjointed phrase "something psychologically wrong with him," as though psychological disorders admitted of categorization as "right" or "wrong," but I won't get into that.)

Suffice it to say: you may disagree that his actions were necessarily or laudable, but you can believe they were necessary and laudable without believing that they were psychologically healthy or good for him. In warfare, certain people make the decision to ignore the psychological harm they're doing to themselves for the sake of the greater good. Simo was one of those people. You may think he's foolish, but he certainly didn't do it because he was anything like a psychopath. Psychopaths can't kill others any more easily than anybody else; it's only that, after the killing, they don't have a problem with having done it.
posted by koeselitz at 3:36 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


You are treating intellectualism (i.e psychological theorizing) as if it was a character deficiency, when it is not. You are also passive-aggressively trying to insult me by drawing an equivalence between myself and these burdensome war-time intellectuals as a kind of "revenge" for my perceived slights against soldiers. (e.g. "Judge me as you will, but in war I'll take a potentially psychopathic sniper on my side over a theorist with no direct knowledge of what he's supposedly analyzing. Every time."). (You are also still implying I'm wrong ["unrealistic, self-absorbed tenets"], without going through the formality of rebutting my claims with any kind of evidence or reasoning.)

By most standards, I am an intellectual. And I came from a family of intellectuals. So I certainly don't think intellectual theorizing is a character defect, even though I grew up in a nation based on decades of action based in intellectual theory, which in the end was all trumped by simple common sense and real-life experience. But that's an aside - what is a character flaw is the tendency to treat garbled personal beliefs as though they were genuinely "intellectual" - especially when they eschew both common sense and personal experience. And triply so when they draw "concrete" conclusions of an extreme nature. Your so-called "intellectual theorizing" does all of these - that's why I treat it, in your case, as a character flaw.

Look at just one passage of what you wrote that no one's taken issue with yet:

When I kill an enemy soldier, I'm just killing some stranger, who is likely nothing more than a state-enlisted slave-mercenary who probably had very little choice in his unlucky life role as cannon fodder for high status elites.

The first thing I like about it is that you insert yourself in this scenario! I don't think you've killed any enemy soldiers. Tell me if I'm wrong and please explain your military history. When I write on MeFi, I tend to do so from a personal point of view. It's obvious from my writing. But believe it or not, I do have an "intellectual" arena in my life, and I know - as good academics would - that what you wrote above is pretty damned sloppy at best. As a hardly-veiled attempt to make your purely abstract theories resonate more personally, you've made yourself that sniper! It's totally bogus and dishonest. And as someone raised in a world where this sort of propaganda to self-aggrandize was king, it's also quite easy to see through.

More than that, it's utter bullshit. In my experiences as a would-be victim of genocide in Bosnia, what can I say about the Serbs who rained shells down on innocent civilians? Do I feel sorry for them because they were "state-enlisted slave mercenaries." Not one bit (and mind you, I don't and never have engaged in simple anti-Serb rhetoric.)

Why? Because they were volunteers in a war they knew to be of rampant aggression! To a man! Strictly speaking, their engagement in the military was illegal. Now if you want to make the case that all those Serbs were "psychopaths," go for it. But my parents were killed in cold blood in front of my eyes, and I wouldn't even joke about all Serbs being psychopaths.

So when you talk about how soldiers are "likely nothing more . . ." not only is it another wholly unacademic way of perpetuating your own propaganda under the guise of "intellectual theorizing," it's also completely FALSE, at least in the last massive genocidal war in the West. And doubtless many others.

I could go on and on.

(You are also still implying I'm wrong ["unrealistic, self-absorbed tenets"], without going through the formality of rebutting my claims with any kind of evidence or reasoning.)

This sort of continues from what I was saying before. Your writing and conclusions aren't really worthy of a full-scale "formal" reply. On their own, they're pretty obviously flawed, as is your very biased way of writing (of course, mine is biased too, but I'm not attempting or claiming to write anything "objective" - just from my own experiences) and your exceedingly judgmental conclusions. Futhermore, they're unrealistic, because no one's real experiences square with them.

My point of view in writing what I wrote was simply to set the record straight. I've got plenty to do without engaging in a debate with someone who's very writing style displays no intellectual integrity and whose argument is specious at best. I trust in the people here to see what's what even if I don't expect the issue to ever be solved to everyone's ideal, and based in the commentary from others and relative numbers of favorites, I feel I've done that.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:34 PM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


he found that he could reach 55% and even 95% with simple conditioning, ie having men fire at a human-shaped target in training over and over and over again until it became reflexive.

Yes, Marshall taught his troops to evade that part of themselves that prevented them from killing another person.

There are places where he was pointed up as being cool, as being heroic, and as doing something tremendous and vast – I don't think anyone will deny that – but nobody here has worshipped him for his killing, or idolized him at all.

I guess we disagree, then. The first part of your sentence is what I'm talking about. The second part is simply raising the bar too high to be passed. I find the cult of the sniper to be exceedingly creepy, and many of the responses to this story fall squarely into that area. The personal attacks on anyone who dares to disagree with the cult are squarely in that area as well.

I agree that Häyhä's actions were necessary, and noted that he rendered good service in defense of his country. But what he had to do to render that service was horrible. I really can't say how he personally dealt with that horror, but he certainly didn't revel in it, to his credit.

"Right" and "wrong" don't necessarily have a moral quality (is it immoral to give the wrong answer on a quiz?), and "psychologically wrong" isn't a moral judgement, it's a functional judgement. A person who can kill without remorse is not a functional member of society. That's why we lock them up. If killing other people was "just natural," we wouldn't have systems designed to weed the killers among us out. In fact, we wouldn't have civilization at all.

Idolizing killers weakens that psychological block against killing. That's why, for instance, the military gives medals to them. That idolization is what I find morally wrong.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2010


Looking this over, I see that those of us who have suggested that there's something psychologically wrong with a person who could kill so many people have been subjected to a good deal of personal abuse.

That behavior supports my further thesis that there's something psychologically wrong with people who idolize someone who has killed so many people.

Ahh, to be spoiled by a life free from war. I'd argue - and I've said as much above, in passages about those who took up arms to defend Sarajevo - that snipers and the like may have a greater appreciation of human life, and understand that the difficult task they must engage is somewhat assuaged by the fact that they save many more lives by taking out an enemy sniper - and that these lives saved are those of people they know. There are people in war who maintain the "all killing is wrong" belief both in their minds and in their actions. Some of them get through a war with this intact. Plenty of others quickly come to realize that this belief may lead to greater numbers of people dying than would have occurred if they'd let their actions belie it.

So well I can't say I idolize Häyhä per so, I've got great admiration for him in the sense that I know just how tough it must have been to do what he did, then return to his simple life in the country as if it hadn't happened. He saved a lot of people, helped in a major way to reply an invasion that would have meant a great many tragedies for the Finnish people and had to carry what was likely a heavy burden on his shoulders alone. I admire him because he stepped up and did a physically and psychologically difficult job so well, and afterwards lived in a way that appears to have displayed all the civility and normality that a person should.

One can chalk that up to a "psychopathic" mindset if that's the only way one can grapple with it. But that mindset is a luxury of inexperience. Ironically, it's also an exceedingly pessimistic one, which always strikes me as rather odd, since it generally comes from people who've been lucky enough never to be faced with this sort of reality - one would think those people would be the ones capable of optimism in the humanity of others, and not someone like me who's seen horrors up close. It's a mystery.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:03 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


to be spoiled by a life free from war

Well, I lucked out, in that I never got drafted. But it was something that was heavy on my mind when I was younger, and I wasn't sure what I would do if my number came up. I definitely didn't want to be put in the position where I would be required to kill.

Sarajevo was victimized by psychopaths, natural or manufactured. The snipers who shot back at the ones in the hills were driven by the threat they faced, and did what was necessary. Today, we aren't in a position where shooting back is necessary...unfortunately, we have put other people into that position, and the glorification of killers is one of the mechanisms that has been used to do it. I suspect that the killers who shot down on you were glorified by their compatriots.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it idolatry to say someone's a hero who did terrible but necessary things?
posted by koeselitz at 5:38 PM on January 30, 2010


It can be used as a mechanism to get people to do terrible but unnecessary things,and that's what disturbs me.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:40 PM on January 30, 2010


"But that's an aside - what is a character flaw is the tendency to treat garbled personal beliefs as though they were genuinely "intellectual" - especially when they eschew both common sense and personal experience. And triply so when they draw "concrete" conclusions of an extreme nature. Your so-called "intellectual theorizing" does all of these - that's why I treat it, in your case, as a character flaw."


Dee, the article I originally linked arguing that super soldiers (like Häyhä) are psychopaths was written by a man with plenty of first-hand war experience, so if you insist on using your own war experience as a kind of trump card in debate, I can appeal to authority too.

Subjective personal experience is actually seldom useful in resolving objective sociological/psychological debates. Unless you somehow quantified things which would support your interpretations of events. In this thread you have pointed out that those you knew picked up arms reluctantly as an act of necessary self-defense. I fully accept your description of these events, but I am talking about something different: the log-normal distribution of killing among those who take to arms. What distinguishes the small minority who do a majority of the killing in war?

On this topic you have, as of yet, offered nothing from your personal experiences, and nothing to contradict me (More puzzling, what you offered from your experience appeared to be a sort of agreement!: "Was there something psychopathic in her behavior? I'd guess so."). You simply persist in misrepresenting my position as being that anybody that picks up a gun or kills people during war must be a psychopath. This is not my position.

You say that my ideas "aren't really worthy" of a serious reply because they are "obviously" false. Yet you've taken the time to write numerous insulting replies, which don't even attempt to engage the ideas I've actually expressed.

It's unfortunate, because this conversation could've been much more constructive.
posted by dgaicun at 5:59 PM on January 30, 2010


Also:

Jimmy Havok: “‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ don't necessarily have a moral quality (is it immoral to give the wrong answer on a quiz?), and "psychologically wrong" isn't a moral judgement, it's a functional judgement.”

Yes, but you're clearly not using the word in any very technical sense. I mean that I don't think you're being precise enough about it. To be exact, I don't think there is any sense in which a readiness to kill can be called a disorder. That simple readiness – which only consists in being habituated to the method and aloof of the consequences – has nothing to do with whether a person is psychologically disordered, or moreover with whether they are moral or not.

“A person who can kill without remorse is not a functional member of society. That's why we lock them up.”

I agree completely. My whole point here has been that remorse, and emphatically not readiness to kill, is the functional identifier of those who aren't sociopaths or psychopaths. Amazingly, if you put a gun in almost anyone's hands and give them the right circumstances, they will pull the trigger; there is no thoroughgoing moral compunction against killing that keeps them from doing it.

“If killing other people was "just natural," we wouldn't have systems designed to weed the killers among us out. In fact, we wouldn't have civilization at all.”

One notes that we don't have systems designed to weed out the killers among us until they actually kill someone.

“Idolizing killers weakens that psychological block against killing.”

You speak of this 'psychological block' as if it were a substantial thing, and I get the feeling you believe it's the same as the 'psychological block' against hurting a friend or lying to our parents – ie 'conscience,' the moral urge. I disagree; conscience develops in childhood from our experiences of right and wrong, but killing isn't something most of us (one hopes) experience when we're in childhood. Killing is merely something of which we tend to have a vague and irrational fear. Note that that essay pointed out that all people, moral and immoral, can be quickly conditioned to kill; conditioning isn't something which easily removes moral scruples in this way, but it easily removes "that psychological block against killing."

Again: the difference between psychopaths and non-psychopaths isn't the ability to kill. Anyone can kill, given the right training and circumstances; this tells us nothing about their moral or psychological state. The difference between psychopaths and non-psychopaths is remorse, and the complex set of emotions that make up our fellow-feeling toward other human beings. Psychopaths and sociopaths have been trained rigorously by their circumstances and usually by their childhoods to completely ignore that system of empathy. Non-psychopaths, however, can't kill without feeling something about it afterwards.

So the fact of being able to kill 800 says nothing about a person's moral or psychological health, or about their similarity or dissimilarity to a psychopath or sociopath. It's what they feel afterwards that makes the difference.
posted by koeselitz at 6:07 PM on January 30, 2010


We disagree on the innateness of conscience. I think it is a natural part of the human makeup, expressed in greater or lesser amounts in each person. It can be strengthened or weakened by various experiences, and it can also be extinguished by brain damage.

We don't know much yet about the sociopathic brain, if it's born damaged, is the result of physical damage or psychological trauma. My suspicion is that sociopathology is for the most part genetic, but that genetic lack can be overcome by proper conditioning, but that's just a suspicion.

As you point out, various mechanisms can be used to overcome conscience. In group/out group identification is one of those mechanisms.

You say that it's after-the-fact reactions that demonstrate the difference between a sociopath and a normal person. True enough. But killing isn't an accident, it takes intention. A sociopath doesn't have anything to rein in that intention except his own self-interest. A normal person has to have some sort of psychological mechanism to push him past the inhibition against killing, and, one would hope, a reaction following the act that keeps the mechanism from becoming permanent, and so unlike a sociopath, won't kill even if he sees profit and no

Sorry, I have to go.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:30 PM on January 30, 2010


Jimmy Havok: Sarajevo was victimized by psychopaths, natural or manufactured. The snipers who shot back at the ones in the hills were driven by the threat they faced, and did what was necessary.

Ok, I agree with you. But, in the original link, Finland was facing absolutely certain victimization by psychopaths, natural or manufactured, and the sniper who shot back was driven by the threat he and his entire nation faced. He did what was necessary.

Right?
posted by paisley henosis at 7:53 PM on January 30, 2010


paisley, maybe you missed this:

Jimmy Havok: “I agree that Häyhä's actions were necessary, and noted that he rendered good service in defense of his country. But what he had to do to render that service was horrible. I really can't say how he personally dealt with that horror, but he certainly didn't revel in it, to his credit.”
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 PM on January 30, 2010


Oh, maybe I did.

Sorry about that, I really shouldn't post after beer o'clock.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:35 AM on January 31, 2010


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