Literature / The Unknown Soldier
The Unknown Soldier
is a novel by Finnish author Väinö Linna. It is a war novel, with its milieu being the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1941-1944. The story describes the tour of duty of a Finnish machine gun company and its men. The main protagonists are the men of rank and file and lower-ranking officers, who are all conscripts or reservists.
(Not to be confused with the DC Comics
character of the same name
The novel is based on Linna's own experiences in the war before he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to recruit training. The book is written in a very realistic style and is considered one of the best war novels ever written. Many of the protagonist personae are loosely based on real life persons from Linna's patchwork regiment where many soldiers came from different regions of Finland. The Unknown Soldier
is considered a deep analysis of the psychology of soldiers and the effects of war on people as well as the makings of a good soldier.
The novel has been made into a film two times: a black and white movie by Edvin Laine in 1955, and in colour by Rauni Mollberg in 1985. Both filmations had good success. The book has been translated into many languages; however the original English translation not only omits some scenes but even changes some character's personalities entirely. A new English translation has been made in 2014. It is highly recommended reading.
The novel contains the following tropes:
- 0% Approval Rating: Captain Lammio. His men universally hate him for being an absolute martinet but lacking actual faults to loathe.
- Anyone Can Die: And they do. They really do.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Corporal Lehto.
- Ate His Gun: Corporal Lehto. Also Private Ukkola as he gets severly wounded.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Sergeant Hietanen, Corporal Lahtinen and Major Sarastie.
- Badass: Many. Usually against their will, like Sergeant Hietanen and Corporal Rokka.
- Badass Boast: Lieutenant Koskela usually behaves in very correctly and prudently, but when drunk: Koskela Suomesta! Syö rautaa ja paskantaa kettinkiä! ("Koskela from Finland! Eats iron and shits out chain!")
- Bling of War: Averted. Men considered it rewards for deeds which would be crimes in civilian life.
- BFG: The Maxim machine gun.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Lieutenant Kariluoto. Also 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara at the end of the book.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Lieutenant Koskela
- Butt Monkey: Private Riitaoja
- Conscription: All the rank and file and the junior officers are either conscripts or reservists.
- Call That a Formation?: Finns are not really parade soldiers.
- Camp Cook: Corporal Mäkilä.
- Cannon Fodder: The Soviets. In Real Life their losses were horrendous, and not solely for their use of the Zerg Rush tactic either.
- Character Development: Most notably to 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto, who grows from Ensign Newbie into The Captain. Likewise, 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara, who is initially Ensign Newbie, becomes the most competent officer in the company, and Major Lammio's trustee. Lammio becomes the battalion commander after the death of Major Sarastie.
- Class Clown: Private Honkajoki A, A-1.
- Cold Sniper: Corporal Lahtinen. Not with sniper rifle, though, but with Maxim machine gun.
- Colonel Kilgore: Lieutenant Colonel Karjula.
- Cool Gun: The Suomi submachine gun.
- Common Military Units: A machine gun company with three platoons with three machine gun squads in each.
- Common Ranks: Finnish alikersantti (Sub-Sergeant) corresponds to Corporal in the US and British armies. Finnish korpraali (Corporal) is a rank of the rank and file, and corresponds to PFC in the US and Lance Corporal in the British armies.
- Cultured Warrior: Major Sarastie.
- Dad the Veteran: Lieutenant Koskela's father was a company commander for the reds in Finnish Civil War.
- Dare to Be Badass: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sergeant Hietanen.
- Death by Ambulance: Double Subverted by Sergeant Hietanen's case. The ambulance carrying him to the field hospital gets ambushed and everyone inside are killed.
- Dying Alone: Private Riitaoja, who gets separated from his squad in the night outflank maneuvre, and gets machine-gunned by the Soviets from behind.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Lieutenant Koskela, who destroys a tank with a satchel charge, but fails to survive. Also Captain Kariluoto, leading a counterattack to capture positions lost earlier.
- Ensign Newbie: Second Lieutenant Kariluoto. Also Second Lieutenant Jalovaara.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics won, and the second to finish was small but tenacious Finland, says Corporal Vanhala at the last page of the book. Finland managed to maintain her independence and freedom. Additionally, most of the surviving characters at the end of the book survived the war as field promoted non-commissioned officers, such as Vanhala, who began as Private.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Happens to Corporal Lehto, who gets a hit on his spine and gets paralyzed from chest down in the night outflank maneuvre. He decides to eat his gun.
- Father to His Men: Lieutenant Koskela.
- Field Promotion: Happens to several of the protagonists, due to Anyone Can Die.
- Friendly Sniper: Corporal Rokka, with a Suomi submachine gun. He single-handedly slaughters a Soviet ski company in an ambush. This is based on a Real Life event.
- Future Badass: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto (Ensign Newbie), Private Asumaniemi (New Meat).
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara, when war is over. He falls in a heap, crying openly over the fate of Finland.
- Heroic Resolve: Private Salo, who attempts to shoot down an Il-2 Shturmovik with his service rifle. He gets wounded and loses his leg.
- Hero of Another Story: Lieutenant Koskela, who appears in Linna's major opus Under the North Star.
- I Control My Minions Through......: Fear, by Corporal Lehto.
- I Shall Return: Corporal Rokka as he gets wounded in action and is stretchered away. He says to the stretcher bearers: "Goddammit, carry me head first. I won't be leaving here feet first." His Real Life counterpart, Viljam Pylkäs, survived the war unscathed.
- Jerkass: Private Korpela.
- Karma Houdini: Major Lammio, who survives the war.
- Karmic Jackpot: Subverted by Corporal Lehto, who suffers one of the nastiest fates in the book. He gets wounded in action and paralyzed from chest down, and he shoots himself with his service rifle. Lieutenant Koskela says later: It was good it happened to Lehto. He was the best of us to suffer that kind of a fate.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Private Korpela, who insults and yells at Lammio and is about to become a Dangerous Deserter, and soon gets killed in an artillery barrage.
- Military Maverick: Corporal Rokka could well be the Trope Maker. Also Private Viirilä.
- Military Moonshiner: Sergeant Hietanen's half-platoon.
- More Dakka: Finns and Soviets used weapons of same caliber and cartridge size. The Finns always looted Soviet ammunition when they had a chance. Machine guns are notoriously dakka-hungry. Also played straight by Corporal Rokka as he single-handedly destroys a Soviet ski company with a submachine gun in an ambush. He has Private Lampinen with him just to fill up the magazines. He empties seventeen magazines.
- Naïve Newcomer: Private Hauhia. Soviet sniper kills him.
- New Meat: The company gets them regularly. They grow up into decent soldiers pretty quickly, or failing that, get killed just as quickly.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Mostly played straight.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: Corporal Lehto shoots a Soviet prisoner of war. Sergeant Hietanen almost kills Corporal Lehto in retaliation, who is only saved by intervention by Lieutenant Koskela
- Officer and a Gentleman: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto grows into one. His death as Captain, commanding the company in a counterattack, is one of the saddest scenes of the book.
- One-Man Army: Corporal Rokka.
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Private, later Lance Corporal and even later Corporal Määttä. He is noted for his small stature.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Private, later Lance Corporal and even later Corporal Vanhala. He is one of the most well-loved characters.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Completely averted by both Finns and Soviets, both in book and in Real Life.
- Returning War Vet: Corporal Rokka, Private Susi and Lieutenant Koskela were all veterans of Winter War from a few years earlier.
- Rank Up: Almost all officers get promoted at least once. Lammio finishes the war as Major. Many of the enlisted men are also promoted on the field.
- Plunder: Usually for ammunition and supplies.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Rokka's ambush on Soviet platoon is based on actual events, author toned the number of dead Soviets down. Rokka shoots 50 dead, his Real Life counterpart shot 83.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Kaarna who, unfortunately, gets killed early in the war and is replaced by Lieutenant Lammio, who is a cocky martinet. Also 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara becomes one.
- Redshirt Army: The losses of the machine gun company are heavy.
- Screw the War, We're Partying!: Capture of Petrozavodsk and plunder of the liquor factory, ase well as Field Marshal Mannerheim's birthday.
- Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Hietanen. Also Corporal Rokka to newbie 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Happens to one of the newer privates on the last page of the book.
- Shot at Dawn: Two privates of the same battalion, for disobedience and defying their orders.
- Sitting Duck: New Meat Private Hauhia to a Soviet sniper.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Corporal Lehto.
- Stealing from the Till: Corporal Lehto and privates Määttä and Rahikainen. They get caught by Lieutenant Lammio, who sentences them to stand in attention for half an hour in full gear in sunshine. Unfortunately, an air raid occurs while they are doing their punishment...
- Suicide Mission: The night outflank maneuvre which goes notoriously wrong.
- That's an Order!: Captain Lammio, many times.
- The Ace: Corporal Antti Rokka.
- The Bully: Corporal Lehto. He is one of the most unpleasant characters in the book.
- The Captain: Lieutenant Kariluoto and Lieutenant Koskela. Also 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara at the final chapter.
- The Neidermeyer: Staff Sergeant Sinkkonen. Double Subverted by Captain Lammio, who is a strict martinet with No Social Skills and an ego the size of a small nation. He is also an insanely brave soldier and efficient leader, but his complete lack of weaknesses along with his other traits does nothing to endear him to the rank-and-file.
- The Quiet One: Lieutenant Koskela, who is nicknamed Ville Vaitelias ("Silent Billy").
- The Scrounger: Private Rahikainen.
- Trigger Happy: Private Asumaniemi. Where are those Russkies so I can kill them?. Also One is missing, said the Devil when he counted the fire ants.
- To Absent Friends: Marshall Mannerheim's birthday party. The Military Moonshiner squad have prepared kilju and everyone gets dangerously drunk.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Lieutenant Lammio is nominated as the company leader after death of Captain Kaarna.
- Unusual Weapon Mounting: The machine guns on the bows of the assault launches.
- Weapon of Choice: For Corporal Rokka, the Suomi SMG. For Private Honkajoki, a longbow.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Played straight.
- War Is Glorious: Private Rahikainen earns well as a scrounger and feels this way. Otherwise the trope gets well averted.
- War Is Hell: Played straight. The Unknown Soldier is praised for its strict realism.
- Wingman: Private Susi to Corporal Rokka. They were neighbours in the civilian life. Also Sergeant Hietanen to Lieutenant Koskela.
- You Are in Command Now: Lieutenant Koskela, who has to take charge of the whole company when all the higher officers get killed in the Soviet summer offensive 1944. The same happened to him already in the Winter War when he was Sergeant.
- Zerg Rush: The usual Soviet tactics. Especially the Soviet assault where Corporal Lahtinen gets killed. Early in the book, Lahtinen responds to the boast "a Finnish soldier is as good as ten Soviets" with the matter-of-fact "yes, but what do you do when the eleventh one comes?"