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Background

A few months ago the Swedish government sent a small booklet to all Swedish households titled "If crisis or war comes" which contains official information on how to prepare for and react to crisis or war. One part that stuck out to me was this:

If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up. All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.

To me this seems like a dangerous thing to say. In case of an invasion there may very well be a time where it would be best to just surrender, war is rarely fought to the bitter end and allowing a way out could very well save many lives that might be lost in a futile resistance.

Questions

  1. Why might a country have such a policy?

  2. Do other countries have similar policies?

I am tagging this with the Sweden tag but I am interested in similar policies and their justifications from around the world.

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    Comments deleted. Please don't answer the question with comments. If you would like to answer, write a proper answer. – Philipp Oct 24 '18 at 22:51
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    To point out: that booklet was simply a new version of Om kriget kommer (If the war comes). – MichaelK Oct 25 '18 at 10:46
  • What is surrender, btw? When you agree with anything another side tells you, whatever it is, probably it is surrender. In this case it seems to me the right thing to never surrender, not only in [formal] politics. – rus9384 Oct 26 '18 at 19:20
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    I think if Japan surrended, it's safe to say any state would if it's their best option. – user22277 Oct 29 '18 at 18:05
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    @user22277 Japan's word war 2 surrender was actually one of the reasons I asked this question since it had several combatants that for a long time refused to accept that the surrender was real. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroo_Onoda – Diasiare Oct 29 '18 at 18:15

11 Answers 11

74

We will never surrender! has a pretty famous history.

The obvious advantage of such a policy is that it makes invasion less likely. Let's assume that Russia invades Sweden. A natural step would be to kill politicians until they find one that is willing to say that people should not resist and should instead return to their homes. So plans that Russia might make now would include such a step. But Sweden has already sent out this pamphlet explaining that that's not what to do. So in an actual invasion, many Swedes would ignore the politicians calling for submission. Russia may choose a more amenable invasion target.

As you note, once invaded, such a policy is less helpful.

In terms of other countries, I would point out that there is a small but significant group of people in the United States who believe that it is important to stockpile weapons in case of potential invasion. The movie Red Dawn was about such a scenario.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Oct 27 '18 at 10:12
38

Ever heard of the term, "price of occupation"?

Yugoslavia had a policy that no one, not even Marshal and president for life Josip Broz Tito, could declare surrender in the event of an invasion. It was also decided that a total war would be waged on the occupation forces, with everyone in a country contributing as best they could. Even if the government collapsed, it was considered treason to make peace with the enemy or, even worse, to collaborate with them.

It was determined that, with such resistance and no way to surrender, an occupation force would need roughly 13 (really need confirmation on this as I've read it quite a while ago) soldiers per 1 square KM of country to effectively occupy it.

This policy was considered the only way that a smaller country could defend against superpowers like the USA and USSR (or both if needed).

The whole thing was derived from Yugoslav partisans in WW2, who were some of the most effective resistance against occupiers in the whole of occupied Europe.

I can't even believe how someone can say, that it might be better to surrender.

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    "I can't even believe how someone can say, that it might be better to surrender." One major advantage is not dying. – Obie 2.0 Oct 25 '18 at 15:35
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    there are worse things than dying. – zenith Oct 25 '18 at 16:33
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    @Obie2.0 Once you surrender your population is at the mercy of the occupiers. History shows us that this is generally bad for the occupied people. Surrender does not guarantee survival. It is entirely dependent on the intent of the occupier. – Tal Oct 25 '18 at 19:28
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    @Tal - Surrender certainly doesn't guarantee survival. It's more that not surrendering is usually a good way of guaranteeing a...shall we say, lack of survival. – Obie 2.0 Oct 25 '18 at 19:29
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    @zenith If a government starts a fight in the name of its people, that most civilians do not agree with, then surrender is typically far superior to death to most civilians (and soldiers typically as well), since most wars aren't fought to torture or eradicate the other nation, but over resources, land or particular strategic interests. Once you lost those, you typically rather cut your losses and move on. An extended guerilla war might hurt an occupying military force somewhat disproportionally, but it also keeps your country from recovering. – Frank Hopkins Oct 25 '18 at 21:14
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Public Opinion/Morale.

The nice thing about this kind of declarations is that they are not binding. Today Swedish politicians can say "Never Surrender!" and tomorrow surrender after the first shot is fired1.

So, since it is free(both in cost and in not tying future decisions), it makes for good grandstanding.

Compare with "Well, if the enemy is much stronger than us then we will surrender. It would be the sensible thing to do." It does not have the same ring to it, true? Who would you vote, the politician who says "The enemy will never prevail!", or the one who says "Well, life goes up and down, and countries appear and disappear. Let's see how this one goes."

History shows us lots of examples where people claiming to "never surrender" who found reasons to change their position.

At a more practical level, publicly acknowledging that the government would be willing to surrender could be bad for morale. If people count on the government surrendering due to the disparity of forces... why stay at the front at all? Why not surrender individually today, instead of having to endure the very actual risk of being shot just to give the government time to surrender?

Of course, if this situation would happen it would become kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if the soldiers decide to surrender then the government would be forced to surrender even it initially it did not have to, or at least it will be at a worse position when negotiating a peace treaty.

This is underscored by the last phrase of your quote.

All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.

This could be of particular importance in the first hours or days of an attack, with the army still being mobilized, failures of the chain of command and units becoming isolated. In that case, this kind of affirmation could be useful to try to stop rumours about a surrender.


1I am not saying that they would surrender, only that this declaration will not be the thing preventing them from surrendering.

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    I'd add that whilst the government may surrender, it doesn't mean the people do. The government controls the army/forces, and so they would stop fighting in the traditional sense. However, citizen resistance can continue indefinitely, potentially mobilised by statements such as this one, possibly co-ordinated by a foreign power (or a native power in exile). As the Nazis found in WW2, the French Resistance was a significant problem for them, even once they'd 'officially' occupied the country. – Ralph Bolton Oct 25 '18 at 11:35
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    It should probably also be noted that generally and historically speaking, politicians who advocate "fighting to the death" and "never surrendering" tend to embrace this mindset just so long as it's not them, personally, doing the fighting and dying. As one storied villain famously put it, "Many of you may die, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make." – Shadur Oct 25 '18 at 12:48
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    @Shadur Really? Somebody once told me that wasn't true. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if a politician were to say that in public they'd be looking kind of dumb. – Richard Ward Oct 25 '18 at 14:08
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    @RalphBolton Problem is at that point the civilian resistance also turns against its own government, and thus would be hunted as terrorists by its own government as well. Assuming the surrender deal struck was "in good faith" and not just a strategic ruse to cover guerilla resistance by said government. – Frank Hopkins Oct 25 '18 at 14:14
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    @Shadur Read my comment again, but think... "Shrek-ly". – Richard Ward Oct 25 '18 at 14:19
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False information

Speaking as the target audience for this pamphlet, I think that the answers so far are much too complicated, almost moving into conspiracy theory territory, and I will offer a more immediate explanation.

This message is simply there as a protection and warning against the enemy spreading false information. It is relatively easy to spread information that the war is lost, that the enemy has won, and that the war is officially over. If the population at large believes it, the war will be lost.

You paraphrase the first sentence in your question, but I think it is important to put it in the context of the second sentence: All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false. This is the important message in that paragraph, and this is also emphasized in the original pamphlet from 1943:

Motstånd skall göras i alla lägen.

Varje meddelande att motståndet skall uppgivas är falskt.

Something like: Resistance shall be done in all cases. Every message that the resistance shall cease is false.

This is repeated on page 12.

The same mindset is also used in the more immediate act of mobilization. It is explicitly stated that once mobilization for war has been declared, it can not be aborted. This is also because it would be devastating if the enemy manages to convince everyone that the mobilization was not necessary and that the war is over.

13

1) Pre-empt false information

Russian use of disinformation

The Russian government is the most probable aggressor that Sweden may be considering at the moment, and the Russians have spread disinformation/lies extensively in recent years against Ukraine (Reuters, Washington Post, Univ. of Washington, FPRI), during their recent military invasions of Crimea and Dombass, and even against Sweden in diplomatic matters (Washington Post). It seems highly likely that a Russian invasion of Sweden would involve deception of some sort.

Technological developments

The development of technology has made it possible to fake the statements of leaders. In the past, militaries worried about voice impersonators faking orders from the president, but now real-time facial reenactment technology makes it likely that a government can produce highly realistic-looking computer-generated video of a recognizable public figure such as a president saying anything the video maker would desire, complete with emotional expressions. A general could be videoconferencing with their president, asking them questions about their decision, and not be able to discern whether they are videoconferencing with a person or a computer-generated image.

Consequences

If an aggressor can convince the general public in the nation being invaded that their army has surrendered, then the public will put up less resistance.

2) Deter invasion by increasing occupation costs

A hostile populace with significant resistance to occupation is very difficult to govern. Thus, this declaration is an attempt to increase the nation's civilian-based defense, and make occupation more costly and therefore less desirable for potential aggressors.

3) Boost morale

Discussing fighting no matter what takes the battle out of a pragmatic mode of thought and puts it into a different motivational framework. This is part of a rhetorical strategy which declares that it is valiant, honorable, and right to die fighting rather than surrender.

In an era where Russia has been annexing territory, some might ask: "Are we next?" Refusing the possibility of surrender makes the answer a resounding "No and never" rather than a more measured "We'll make the best choices we can given our circumstances."

4) Avoid the authority problem of surrenders

The problem of who has the proper authority to surrender is a difficult one. In times of war, the military situation can change quickly and accurate information might be difficult to communicate. Leaders may be killed or unable to be communicated with while they are in hiding. Other leaders may be kidnapped, coerced, or bought.

In this situation, who should get the authority to declare a surrender, and under what circumstances is this surrender valid? This is difficult logistical problem, and it's conceivable that is easier to simply forbid surrender than solve this conundrum.

5) High costs of surrender

The rest of these answers are better explanations because they explain why this policy would be determined in advance and publicly declared. This policy seems to prohibit later policy changes to adapt to different circumstances.

However, there may be circumstances where the projected costs of surrender are believed to be unacceptably high. For example, the opponent state may limit individual freedoms or perform practices which the culture in question finds unconscionable or abominable.

These answers are in order of realistic significance, with #1 being far and above the others in my opinion.

9

In Sweden's case this instruction to 'never surrender' has historical precedent in WW2. They remained steadfastly neutral and did not implement a third reich puppet government. It's a national point of pride.

Norway did have a puppet government within the country, on the other hand. Their non-puppet govenment worked in exile in London.

If the population is primed to refuse surrender, they're resistant to propaganda saying they have already surrendered.

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    I wouldn't exactly say that Norway as a nation implemented a puppet government. The existing government and parlament fled to London, and Quisling (leader of the Norwegian nazi party, which had 1.8% of the votes) declared himself as the new prime minister. However, he lost power after only a week, and on the 25 September, Terboven (the German High Commisioner) took over as the de facto dictator of Norway. The Norwegian government in London continued to operate throughout the war as an exile government. – user13380 Oct 25 '18 at 14:43
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    Sweden cooperated with the Nazis, exporting a bunch of their iron to Germany through 1943. Why are they proud of this? – elliot svensson Oct 25 '18 at 21:46
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    Considering that the Nazis were dedicated to secure their access to Swedish iron mines, it made little sense for Sweden to resist the Axis powers openly. Remaining neutral allowed them to avoid war damage, retain a functioning government, support Norwegian resistance, and rescue tens of thousands of KZ inmates and Jews. Maybe they could have done more, especially, towards the end of the war, but in the case of occupation Sweden would have lost any agency. For example, stopping the Nazis from deporting Jews from its territory would have become impossible. – MauganRa Oct 26 '18 at 8:41
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    @elliotsvensson If there would have been a clear way to do more without exposing themselves to further risk, they should have done more. In late 1943 though, the Nazis were still quite capable of deploying troops. Cutting off ore supply at the wrong time would have turned Sweden into a battlefield, like Italy. Forcing the Nazis to open another theater of war would have clearly accelerated their demise. But by risking the latter scenario, the Swedish government would have acted against the interests of its population. – MauganRa Oct 26 '18 at 15:12
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    Hmmm. I am glad I didn't have to make decisions in the 1925-1945 era in Europe, or Asia, or America for that matter. It seems there were few good choices available, and I hate to second-guess the ones who were forced to make them. – O. Jones Oct 26 '18 at 19:41
8

The strategy is credited with having helped deter an Axis invasion of Switzerland during WW2:

The Swiss were prepared to fight fascism to the bitter end

The other European nations were easily toppled and had little means to wage a partisan war against the occupation. Once their standing armies were defeated, the governments capitulated and the populaces were defenseless.

Only in Switzerland was the entire populace armed and prepared to wage a relentless guerrilla war against an invader. When the war began in 1939, Switzerland mobilized 435,000 citizen soldiers out of a population of 4.2 million. Production figures for Swiss service rifles, which had firepower equal to those of the Germans, demonstrate an ample supply of small arms. Swiss militiamen were instructed to disregard any alleged "official" surrender as enemy propaganda and, if necessary, to fight individually. This meant that a nation of sharpshooters would be sniping at German soldiers at long ranges from every mountain.

While neutral, Switzerland was prepared to fight a Nazi invasion to the end. The celebrated Swiss Gen. Henri Guisan developed the strategy known as defense du reduit--an initial opposition followed by a retreat into the Alps, where a relentless war to the death would be waged.

  • Norway is also a mountainous country where many rural people are armed, albeit for hunting purposes, yet Norway was occupied. – gerrit Oct 26 '18 at 16:48
  • The relevant questions is not "can it be done?", but "is it worth doing?". Even if the cost of occupation of Norway was comparable, the gain was also presumably larger, including access to natural resources and harbors. – andejons Oct 30 '18 at 9:28
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    Wikipedia says Norway wasn't expecting a German invasion, wasn't ready, e.g. "The German invasions for the most part achieved their goal of simultaneous assault and caught the Norwegian forces off guard, a situation not aided by the Norwegian government's order for only a partial mobilization. " – ChrisW Oct 30 '18 at 9:34
  • This essay (which also mentions the apocryphal "shoot twice, and go home" story from WW1), also mentions Swiss democracy's being decentralised, as if that were at all relevant. It also mentions 850,000 citizens under arms (a fifth of the total population). I don't know about modern Sweden, there are 20,000 in the formal Home Guard. – ChrisW Oct 30 '18 at 15:01
6

The obvious cases would be countries such as Israel, where surrender would most likely mean genocide (at least in the opinion of many Israelis). (If so minded, insert long digression on how European Jews mostly went unresisting to extermination camps.) A more recent example would be ISIS and the Yazidis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yazidis#By_the_Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant_(ISIL)

Other examples would be where the invading country intends to inflict practices that many people find so abhorrent that fighting to the death would seem preferrable, e.g. Communism during the Cold War, or Islamists today. (Insert your own opinions re what's abhorrent if you like.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Oct 28 '18 at 20:52
0

This is obviously some kind of bureaucratic standard issue. It is just to remind people that in the event of traditional war, any disinformation that resistance/conflict has ended (that the state has capitulated) is simply disinformation.

Your concerns that people may be dragged into perpetual war are supposed to be allayed by the knowledge that war will only end in either total destruction of Sweden or victory.

Some important points to note:

  • The paragraph does not address information war or other 'asymmetric' approaches, prior to declaration of traditional militaristic war. In my opinion Sweden as a nation and culture has recently been under attack in the sense that ideas transmitted via social media are aimed at aligning it with certain aims.
  • The paragraph does not address non-state aggressors, such as corporations, media entities, terrorist groups, oligarchs, plutocrats or others
  • The paragraph really only briefs you from a militaristic perspective on how you are expected to behave under military control
0

Consider two counties with similar military capabilities, one with this policy (no surrender) and one with the opposite policy (we will surrender if there is a reasonable chance that we might loose).

You are an agreesive nation that can potentially reach either one, which do you attack?

When attacking, which nation are you going to drop leaflets on saying “the government has surrendered, we are now in charge, be good citizens and obey the new lawful authorities, taxes are suspended for 6 months”.

Not making such a declaration just seems crazy.

-1

One would have to ponder how is government truly prioritizing a potential threat to national security. If the government is willing to challenge the EU stance of keeping guns out of civilian hands, then one might think their concern is serious. Otherwise I would assume it is more of a political gesture against US demands for a higher contribution to NATO's budget from european countries

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    EU stance of keeping guns out of civilian hands, source for EU policy on firearms possession? Sweden and Finland have high rates of personal possession of firearms. – gerrit Oct 26 '18 at 16:49

protected by Sam I am Oct 28 '18 at 20:51

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