"They must learn what our democracy is"
Gunnar Sønsteby reflects on 70-year anniversary of the German invasion
Gunnar “Kjakan” Sønsteby (92) never hesitated when the Germans came. Exactly 70 years ago today, the Germans invaded Norway.
He hesitates not today either: “Loss of civilian lives is inevitable. It may even be an advantage.”
Sønsteby not blink when he says these words. He does not think it’s hard to talk about.
“I saw the pictures of the civilians killed in Iraq. If I led a guerrilla group, I would have used civilians to the last possible opportunity. We tried always to save civilians, but also in our time, we could exploit to our advantage to civilian life among our own who were lost,” said Sønsteby.
It may sound cynical and brutal out. But – before or now – the war’s logic is the same. Whether it’s Americans who kill civilians in Iraq, or whether it is the Germans or Hitler’s suicide during the war, the loss of life is a natural consequence of war. So simple, so brutal – and so necessary. Gunnar Sønsteby knows all about it.
This is the same man who for decades have mesmerized Norwegian school children. The gentle, quiet, the realist in the suit.
The country’s most highly decorated citizen has liquidated opponents. He has escaped death a number of times. He has killed in combat, and is happy about it, without shame or big words.
“It’s never bothered me. I’ve never had nerves, never,” said Sønsteby.
Today he is among the few eyewitnesses who lives and who can tell the younger generations about the war and the time that was. Since 1950, he defeated another obstacle: noisy school children.
The pattern is always the same: The older gentleman in a suit starts to talk, without gestures, without raising his voice.
Towards the gum-chewing children accustomed to flashy computer presentations, he should never have a chance.
Nor here. The result is always the same. After a few minutes it is completely silent.
“Norwegian youth are solid people. I would not have a problem to recruit among them, should it be necessary,” he said.
And he believes it is, naturally enough without him as principal.
“For today’s young, this is the key message: that they are fighting against all threats exposed to democracy, be it in the battle over the Mohammed cartoons or the nascent Jewish hatred in the schools. It’s about taking a strong settlement, and it must be done immediately. New countrymen do not know better. They must learn what our democracy is, “says Sønsteby
The struggle for democratic rights is so important that Sønsteby think it justifies that the Norwegian forces standing with weapons in hand also on foreign soil.
“It is quite natural. The spread of anti-democratic forces from these countries have fought. In Afghanistan, we use weapons to defend a democratically-elected Government,” he said.
The British regarded him as the foremost among “Europe’s best saboteur gang.” After the war, intelligence experts have used the Sønsteby special expertise and experience.
“I knew from the start that I was going to end up in the middle of it. I’ve never been bothered by anger. I’ve never been nervous. The war was not an adventure for me, it acted just the facts,” said Sønsteby.
In 1943 he used a house in Slemdalsveien in Oslo as a hiding place. One evening he came home, he sensed impossible. For safety’s sake he rang the door rather than going straight into the way he used to. It saved his life.
“Come in here,” roared a German.
“Hell no,” I answered and ran. Three Germans shot. All three missed,” said Sønsteby.
“Others would have thought a lot about it in retrospect, that they might have been killed there. How have I never thought,” he said.
Some who knew Kjakan claimed he developed a sixth sense.
– I did. Several times I have had Vardøger, that you can see things before it happens. It has saved me several times. Others in my family has had it like this,” he said.
The absence of nerves, anxiety and stress made the Norwegian and U.S. military units later used him in the training of young boys on their way to war areas.
“I have taught in both Norwegian and American special forces. For me it’s about to stop thinking about things in retrospect. I think it just makes nerves, “he said.
For Sønsteby, there has never been an option to close their eyes to events around them. He is no other excuse for doing so. Neither then or now.
“There is no excuse to stay in a small hamlet and claim that you did not know what was going on in the world. It’s about defending the whole idea because our society is built on: Democracy and freedom of the press,” he says.
At age 92 he is among the last witnesses of a war new generations find the remote.
“Death? Why should I think of something so sad? It’s completely uninteresting. I’m going to keep going 10-20 years. At least ten in each case,” he says.
He’s used to getting right.