Talvisota: How Finnish Men Kept their Country


Last night, I watched Talvisota, the 1989 film rendition of the Winter War, a short but fierce border conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union during the first year of World War II. Finns, newly independent from Imperial Russia, were confronted by Stalin’s ambition and paranoia. With no allies to speak of, outnumbered and lacking modern fighting vehicles, they inflicted enormous damage on the Red Army. Stalin ultimately achieved part of his objective, but lost a great deal of international sympathy and respect in doing so. Finland, for its part, avoided the fate of its Baltic neighbors (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland), remaining independent throughout WWII and the Cold War.

Talvisota depicts Finland as a simple, but proud country with an egalitarian spirit and incredible tenacity. Finns have a respect for tradition, their Lutheran faith, and, most of all, their land, refusing to yield an inch of territory without a fight. Despite being confronted with enormous numbers of Red Army soldiers, tanks and airplanes, they managed to inflict casualties at a ratio of approximately five to one. It may be tempting to write off the Red Army of the time as hopelessly incompetent and bungling, but just a year before the Winter War general Zhukov had crushed Japanese forces in theBattle of Khalkin Ghol in Manchuria and Mongolia, which was the true beginning of WWII, and featured the most recent Mongol cavalry action in East Asia, although probably not the last.

The movie focuses on two brothers who leave their family farm to defend a border outpost as political tensions rise. When negotiations between the Soviets and Finns fail, they are attacked by tanks, airplanes, artillery and massed troops. Holding on in their trenches and bunkers in the forests and farmland of the frontier, they repel wave after wave of Soviet assaults, suffering severe losses themselves. The young men of the platoon featured in the movie are from the same region – Ostrobothnia – and many are related by blood and marriage. Although this amplifies the pain of loss, it also strengthens their resolve to fight, as they know they are risking death not only for an abstract notion of Finland, but for their own kin.

This is a lesson lost on many Americans, and may explain our failure in Afghanistan, where the war is very personal for the Pashtuns. We may think of Afghans as feudal, backward barbarians, but their blood ties are very strong in the isolated valleys of the mountainous land. On the other hand, as the US evolves into a “proposition nation,” we may find that our citizens have little regard for any territory or the fates of their fellow citizens, who may as well be foreigners, thereby requiring other incentives for fighting.

However, the strong feeling of solidarity is not the only characteristic of a nation united by a common heritage, but a sense of egalitarianism as well. Finnish superiors are reluctant to throw men away, and officers share the discomforts and misfortunes of their men. One gets the sense that when it’s all over, the survivors – whatever their rank – will return to their villages and farms and take up their old lives on an even footing. It seems that Finland retains this sense of solidarity and egalitarianism today, which has prevented both the country and the Finns as a people from descending into the tyranny that has come to characterize the UK, where thousands of native Britons are arrested every year for what are, essentially, thoughtcrimes, even as their national identity is crushed and their patrimony stolen by a hostile elite.

Unfortunately, for those of us living in what are essentially modern empires, such solidarity may be impossible. The United States is too large, as is China, India, and even Russia. Feelings of nationalistic pride can never become a fixed part of the national identity in these states, as they are too rigid and unwieldy for spread-out civilizations of hundreds of millions of inhabitants. They are better suited to smaller countries that, due to a lower population and/or geographic proximity, encourage both blood ties and personal relationships throughout the country. Examples would be Ireland, Israel, Korea, etc.

I’d highly recommend the movie to men who are interested in 20th century history, as well as those who might be curious about what real patriotism looks like. The film offers a portrayal of one of the noblest qualities of men, and yet one of the greatest tragedies of the human condition. As far as war movies go, it holds its own with classics like Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, and what it lacks in flashy cinematography is easily made up for in its very human realism and historical accuracy.

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n 1946 a young, post-war Italian businessman from Valenza, Gino Amisano, began producing leather seats and motorcycle saddles. One year later he repurposed his skills to start AGV SpA (helmets) designing some of the earliest motorcycle protective leather helmets on the market in Italy. As safety testing and standards were not commonplace in this time of history, Amisano was one of the first to begin producing protective motorcycle racing helmets with his 1954 model 160 helmet. Fast forward sixty one years and worldwide the AGV name is living legend. After the production of the first leather “pudding bowl” shaped, crisscross inner lining and harnessed helmet, which would mold to the riders head, AGV had thus separated themselves from the competition, and Gino Amisano would soon be known as the “King of Helmets” in the European industry. To attain such a high status, a “King,” AGV had to establish their dominance in the helmet industry. They started with a riding helmet, but what was to follow? Their first step was by producing a protective jet helmet in 1956, later signing the best motorcyclist to ever participate in the sport in 1967, Giacomo Agostini, who would go on to win 14 World Championships while wearing AGV helmets. The first AGV full faced helmet worn in racing was in an Italian race, worn by Alberto Pagani, in 1969. And finally by creating and sponsoring the now famous “Clinica Mobile, this mobile clinic which would treat injured riders at the race track starting in 1977. It was clear that AGV had a commitment to excellence, both in safety of their products and the sport itself. It was right about this time that Michael Parrotte began riding motorcycles while attending the American School of Paris for three years. During this time AGV was the undisputed King of the helmet world in Europe while Bell Helmets reigned supreme in North America. During this time in Europe AGV Helmets were worn by many of the top Grand Prix Riders – Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Angel Nieto, Johnny Cecotto, Steve Baker, and Kenny Roberts. AGV was not just the sponsor of racers but of race series. The AGV World Cup consisted of 200 mile events at Daytona, Paul Ricard, and Imola. Shortly after returning to the US Mr. Parrotte wrote a letter to Mr. Amisano enquiring about the possibility of importing AGV Helmets into the US. Communications continued and in late 1976 AGV granted the exclusive rights for the AGV brand to Mr. Parrotte and his new company AGV USA. The first helmets arrived in the port of Baltimore in the spring of 1977. As an avid road racer Michael traveled the race circuit promoting and selling AGV as well as participating in races. During this first season AGV USA sponsored their first racer, an up and coming fourteen year old from Louisiana-named Freddie Spencer. After years of operating as the exclusive importer of AGV helmets, Parrotte saw yet another opportunity in the motorcycling market by producing safety apparel for riders, particularly club racers who needed very durable and safe products and who did not have unlimited budgets. In 1985 Mr. Amisano licensed the use of the AGV tradename to begin a joint venture with Mr. Parrotte in this new sector. In the first year American GP rider Randy Mamola began wearing AGV gloves, the CX-1. AGV road race suits and boots quickly followed, all handcrafted in Italy at the time. After only a couple of years of business in the US motorcycle apparel industry Yamaha Motor Canada became the first international importer of the AGV apparel. After the success of the AGV motorcycle safety apparel in the United States and Canadian markets, the decision was made to expand the name from AGV to AGVSPORT for cosmetic reasons particularity the Suits, Jackets, and pants. The AGV logo was perfect for helmets and worked for Gloves and Boots but was too short for use on arms and legs. So in the late 1980’s the AGVSPORT brand was born. For a number of years products were branded both AGV and AGVSPORT depending on their styling requirements. In the early 1990’s Italian designer Sergio Robbin designed the AGVSPORT logo. Sergio was the top designer for AGV and Spidi and had done extensive design work for Ducati and Bimota. One of his first creations was the Bimota V-Due 500cc two stoke sport bike. The company may have been young in age, but with the years of helmet industry knowledge that AGVSPORT founder Michael Parrotte brought with him from his early years with AGV SpA proved to be invaluable when creating high performance safety apparel. As many other producers focused of fashion, Michael focused on safety, performance, and value over all else. In 1992 AGV SpA purchased a majority ownership of AGV Sports Group. The reputation for durability spread throughout the club racing world and it is not uncommon to see AGVSPORT suits twenty years old or more still being used by club racers today. This ultimately led to a great and long-lasting partnership, now for more than 25 years, with Keith Code and the California Super Bike School, where all instructors would be suited up in AGVSPORT leather suits. The California Superbike Schools’ instructors and students have been using and abusing AGVSPORT leather suits for more than quarter century. These suits are put to a stress test like no other often being used for days on end, rain or shine year after year. These instructors and students often remain in their suits for the entirety of the day’s lessons, and essentially are living in our leathers. You may think the top sponsored riders would be the best example for why our suits are of the highest quality, but it is the instructors and students at this school that showcase how our suits can literally handle the heat and take a beating, all while staying safe, cool and comfortable. Throughout the 1990’s AGVSPORT apparel began to explode on the racing scene, beginning with Loris Capirossi wearing AGVSPORT apparel while winning an FIM GP World Championship in 1991. Back in the US the list of sponsored riders started to look like a who’s who of the racing world: from the US the riders Ben Bostrom, Eric Bostrom, Thomas Stevens, Kurtis Roberts, Aaron Yates, and Roland Sands; from Canada Miguel DuHamel, Pascal Picotte, and Steve Canadians; and from Australia Troy Bayliss, Sean Giles, Craig Coxhell, Josh Waters, Jamie Stauffer, and 7-time AMA Super Bike Champion, Mat Mladin. It was now time for AGV Sport Group Inc. to become an independent entity and all the shares of the company were purchased back from AGV SpA in Italy. But it was not until the fall of 2001 that AGVSPORT was officially recognized by the Italian helmet company as an independent brand, owned by entirely by AGV Sport Group Inc. Today AGV Helmets is owned by famed Italian apparel manufacturer Dainese. Since that time AGVSPORT has enjoyed a comfortable position in the apparel industry. By continuing their age old business model “Designed by Riders, for Riders,” and “The Science of Safety” which combined years of helmet industry knowledge. AGVSPORT has always been on the cutting edge of the safety apparel design and construction. AGV Sports Group has always been, and will always be, a company of avid riders and enthusiasts who are wearing and always developing AGVSPORT apparel. This ensures that you, the customer, will experience the best and safest products we have to offer, and we hope that you will actually be able to feel the history of Gino Amisano and progress of AGVSPORT every time you ride and are wearing any of our AGVSPORT leathers or textiles. Each AGVSPORT product is designed by riders for riders, and function is never sacrificed for aesthetics. By keeping product development and design in house and using experience riders, we are staying true to the dedicated following of discerning motorcycle enthusiasts who respect the quality and value of AGVSPORT performance driven products. We at AGV Sports Group are among the sport’s greatest enthusiasts.

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