Wounds of War

Histories of Trauma and Coping among the Finnish War Veterans, 1939—2010

Project supervisor: Juha Siltala, Department of History, University of Helsinki
Research group: Gunilla Björkqvist, Ville Kivimäki, Jenni Kirves

The project studies the mental challenges experienced by the Finnish soldiers and war veterans of the World War II. The long-term analysis starts from the beginning of the Winter War in 1939 and covers the processing of veterans’ war experiences up to the present-day. The project is an interdisciplinary effort: it consists of historical research focused on analyzing the war experiences in their historical context, and of psychological research based upon personal interviews with veterans, using quantitative and qualitative methods. The combination of these two perspectives is aimed at constructing a complementary picture of the long-term coping processes and readjustment problems of the war veterans.

Empirically, the project will contribute to understanding the forms of war-related psychic phenomena and behavior in Finland. The coping strategies are analyzed as well as the diachronic processes of giving meaning to war experience on both the national and personal levels.

The Wounds of War will test and develop further an integrating understanding of trauma, which combines several corpuses of knowledge: historical and sociological interpretation of trauma, and the neurobiology of trauma and trauma psychology. This approach is not limited to the medical PTSD-paradigm, although research results behind this paradigm are applied. Neither does it reduce human reality to cultural representations, although the crucial relevancy of the socio-cultural context of trauma is accepted. The project will try to overcome unnecessary dichotomies of mind—body, culture—psyche, emotions—reason, and medicine—humanities by seeing the human experience as a hybrid of these aspects.

On the methodological basis of the above-mentioned description, the project will conduct a case study on war experience and trauma among the Finnish veterans, 1939—2010. Historical and psychological qualitative and quantitative analysis of the veterans’ experiences focuses on:

Researchers and sites of research 

Reg. Psychologist, BSW (social worker), Researcher Gunilla Björkqvist, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University and Crisis and Trauma Center (KTC)
MA, Jenni Kirves, Department of History, University of Helsinki
MA, Ville Kivimäki, Department of History, Åbo Akademi University

The project will produce two dissertations (Kivimäki and Kirves) on the basis of written sources and one monograph (Björkqvist), based on deep interviews with a representative sample of Finnish war veterans.

Topics of the researchers (each of them lasting longer than the Wounds of War project):
Björkqvist: Life experiences and health of Finnish war veterans. Traumatic experiences, reactions, coping strategies and protective factors
Kirves: The broken builders of the whole Finland: emotional landscape of the after-war rebuilders and their means to cope with their experiences
Kivimäki: War Experience, Trauma, and Military Psychiatry in Finland, 1941–45