Below is a review I wrote for Finland's best known quality weekly, Suomen Kuvalehti, It appears in early November, 2013/43.
Tuntematon Lauri Törni, by Juho Pohjonen and Oulu Sivennoinen, Otava, 2013
It is surprising that a “Tuntematon Törni” treatment did not come earlier. Historians always face academia’s imperative for something original, sometimes at any cost. Unfortunately, the authors’ missionary zeal to separate the “real Törni” from the one everyone else knows is not more successful, for the book has new information with the potential to add to our understanding.
The book begins with two contrasting scenarios apparently to illustrate the “confusion” between the popular view of Törni and the authors’ own insight. Yleisradio’s 2004 contest where people voted Törni Finland’s 52nd most famous Finn is juxtaposed with Suopo interrogation of Finnish mentally ill war invalid Matto Outonen. Outonen tells that in 1949 in Stockholm Törni and Col. Alpo Marttinen tried to turn him into a subversive against Finland. The book fails to mention that in 1949 Marttinen was in Kansas not Sweden. Outonen’s claims would have been questionable even if Marttinen had been present. It is not a convincing start, and similar problems continually plague the work.
Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu wrote “know your enemy.” This would be sound advice for anyone opening a front against as formidable a character as Lauri Törni, and especially true for a book that, at least in many parts, tries to be biographical. Instead, its treatment of Törni is selective and limited. It neglects almost entirely Törni’s American military experience. When drafting confidential semi-annual make-or-break performance evaluations of Törni, American commanding officers invariably rated him both in peacetime and wartime among the top 10% of officers of his rank – and these were the cream of the officers serving in an army some say was the best the USA ever fielded. Many described him as highly intelligent, a naturally born leader, polished, and superior. This all is omitted in an account that calls him “a mediocre man,” “a gifted killer”, and “anti-intellectual.”
People enjoy creating “heroes” from characters who could never live up to their iconic persona in the popular imagination. Törni is like the other chosen. But what is remarkable is that in his brilliance and quirks, achievements and failures, escapades and disasters, he is – in the words of those who actually knew him – one of those few who actually brings some veracity to that imagination. Maj. General Uno Fagernäs, who wrote Törni’s Mannerheim Cross citation, Antti Lindholm-Ventola, who followed him, Lars Ronnquist, who commanded him, and Paavo Kairinen, who mentored him, all knew him well. And Green Berets author Robin Moore was a friend of Thorne’s and was actually present at Törni’s battles described in his book. Few fiction writers invent better stories than those verifiable tales that witnesses like these leave us. Tuntematon Lauri Törni dwells on the darker side and thus remains too often two-dimensional.
By J. Michael Cleverley
Author of Lauri Törni, Syntynyt Sotilaaksi
© J. Michael Cleverley 2008