Having caught Rothbard before in some lies about the Winter War (Soviet Russia vs. Finland, 1939-1940), I thought it only fitting that I should point it out when I caught him in some more, brought to us courtesy of Lew Rockwell, the pseudo-libertarian crypto-fascist I love to hate:
All this, of course, is a beautiful way of vindicating a “hard-line” policy against the Enemy regardless of what actually happens. Two particularly neat examples are the policy of Finland toward Russia in 1940, and of Poland toward Germany and Russia in 1939. The Finns (Poles) insisted up to the moment of outbreak of a war that could only be disastrous for them that the Russians (Germans) were only “bluffing,” and that a rigid, inflexible, hard-line, no-negotiation policy would force Russia (Germany) to back down and cease their demands. After adamantly proclaiming this view throughout, the ruling Finnish (Polish) hard-liners suddenly found that the reverse had happened, that the Enemy had not been “bluffing,” and that war had indeed broken out. Was their reaction an abject admission of error and a turn toward peace and negotiation? Certainly not; on the contrary, the hard-liners immediately proclaimed that no negotiations were now possible until every single Russian (German) soldier had been driven off every square inch of holy Finnish (Polish) soil. The rest is history; the difference in ultimate outcome is only due to Finland’s having the luck to find leaders willing to abandon a hard-line policy before it was too late.
Did the Finns think that the Soviets were bluffing? Not unanimously:
…it was the opinion of nearly everyone in the Finnish government that these [Stalin’s] demands, as stunning as they were, were only the prelude to other, more severe demands–demands that the Finns would be powerless to reject because they would have already lost their strongest line of defense.
Foreign Minister Erkko in particular was convinced that Stalin was bluffing and that Finland needed only to stand fast and the Russians would back down. There were acrimonious discussions in helsinki between Erkko, those who thought as he did, and Marshal Mannerheim, who kept insisting that the Russians meant what they said, would not hesitate to take what they wanted by force, and could not be stopped by Finland’s armed forces.”
– William R. Trotter, “A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940,” p. 16
Rothbard clearly misrepresents the Finnish response to Stalin’s demands by presenting only the side of Finnish Foreign Minister Erkko, and not the side led by Marshal Mannerheim, the architect of Finland’s military defense.
Were the Finns unwilling to negotiate?
All through the rest of October and into November, negotiations continued. The Finns were willing to compromise slightly on the Isthmus border and were willing to cede some, but not all, of the gulf islands. As for giving the Russians a base at Hanko, on the Finnish mainland, that was quite unacceptable.”
So, once again, Rothbard’s account proves false: the Finns weren’t entirely unwilling to negotiate and compromise, although they were far less willing than the Soviets had expected. The Finns had good reasons for the position they took, too, as demonstrated by the subsequent Soviet invasion & attempted annexation of the whole of Finland.
Finally, the Finns did hold to a hard-line policy of refusing to negotiate with the Soviets right after the war began, because it would be wrong for them to appease Soviet aggression, and because the Finns were winning the war in the battlefields. However, the Soviets were equally unwilling to negotiate because they only recognized their puppet government as the legitimate government of Finland. It took some doing for the new Finnish Foreign Minister, Vaino Tanner, to get negotiations started with Molotov.
The Finns were induced to resume negotiations with the Soviets because the Soviets finally managed to improve the quality of their forces enough to start winning the war on the battlefield, but by that time pressure was being brought to bear upon the Soviets, too, by the Western Allies, who had condemned the Soviet aggression against Finland and were threatening to intervene on Finland’s behalf. So, shortly after the Red Army’s honor was restored on the battlefield, Stalin was willing to negotiate with the Finns and compromise for much less than total annexation and Sovietization of Finland.
That greatly differs from Rothbard’s account of the factors explaining the different outcome to the Soviet invasion of Finland and the German invasion of Poland. It wasn’t that Finland acquired enlightened leaders who were willing to appease Soviet aggression and thus end the hostilities, while Poland’s leaders remained intransigent. It was that, first of all, Finland’s armed forces killed enough Red Army soldiers to give Stalin pause. Secondly, the Red Army eventually was successful enough on the battlefield to make the Finns more willing to compromise. Thirdly, the threat of Western intervention made Stalin willing to settle for less than his maximum demands.
Unfortunately, Poland had none of these advantages with regards to Germany. The Polish Army proved no match on the battlefield for the Wehrmacht, the Poles didn’t have enough time to change their minds about Hitler’s demands, and there wasn’t enough of a credible threat of Western intervention to make Hitler back off from his maximum demands.
Thus, Rothbard’s falsification of history in defense of appeasing totalitarian aggression isn’t confined to the Winter War, but extends to the German invasion of Poland, too.