Vidkun Quisling, almost universally remembered as the man who betrayed Norway to the Germans in World War Two, leaves behind two legacies. One is the cloud of mystery and contention that surrounds his motivations for his supposed treachery, and the other is the word (and its variants) whose inclusion into the English language he inspired; 'Quisling n. A person cooperating with an occupying enemy; a collaborator (especially with reference to the war of 1939-45). Also, a traitor.'<1> This term was already being generally applied as early as 1941, where it can be found in several contemporary works.<2>
Of the considerable body of historical literature dealing with Quisling, the vast majority portrays him as a pathetic traitor, opportunistically seizing power upon the German invasion of Norway, and later serving as a mere puppet-ruling fifth-columnist without influence upon or acceptance from his fellow Norwegians. Ralph Hewins' Quisling Prophet Without Honour is a rare example of a favourable treatment, and is described as an 'unabashed apologia for Quisling' .<3> However, this work has been widely criticised for its inaccuracies, distortions, biases and omissions.<4> In contrast, there is a preponderance of damning literature, some of it highly subjective and personal, such as Halvdan Koht's power. Amidst this plethora of information it can be difficult to discern Quisling's true motivations for betraying Norway.
Despite the fact that there are many apparent inconsistencies exhibited in different phases of Quisling's life (such as his humanitarian relief activities and his later disregard for human life), and that his true motives are shrouded in 'mist of notoriety and sensationalism', this essay will argue that Quisling's actions are essentially accounted for by his belief 'that he had a special mission to fulfil.'<7>
Quisling founded a fascist party, Nasjonal Samling (NS), modelled on the National Socialists of Germany. There were many similarities of both ideology and practice, although Quisling maintained that these were coincidental and were not mere replications of the German model; for instance NS adopted the Nazi salute in 1934, which Quisling justified as 'the re-establishment of the old Nordic greeting from the Viking period Quisling did not stop at imitating the Nazis; there is much evidence to support that he actually collaborated with them. In the words of Alfred Rosenberg (Nazi ideologist), at a meeting with Hitler, '[Quisling] again put forward concrete proposal for preparing a German landing at the request of a new Government that would be set up.'<9> In addition, Quisling had informed Hitler that the western powers were planning, with Norway's consent, to occupy bases of operation in Norway.<10> When Quisling was eventually put to trial after the war, charges were levelled against him that concerned these alleged misdeeds, including; the proclamation of himself as head of government on 9 April 1940, his revocation of the order for mobilisation; his call for voluntary war efforts in support of Germany; his complicity in the deportation of Jews from Norway (at the cost of several hundreds of lives), his responsibility for the execution of death sentences passed on Norwegian patriots, and a number of other counts.<11>
These actions constituted a betrayal of his country because they were undertaken without the support of the populace or government, in violation of Norway's laws and constitution. Norway would have clearly preferred to remain neutral throughout, the truth being that 'Norway desired nothing more ardently than to be left alone and to stay out of conflict'.<12> The German attack came as totally unexpected. Most Norwegians believed that Norway was strategically on the periphery, protected by British naval power, and many thought that Norwegian neutrality was also in the interests of the warring nations on both sides.<13> 'Having managed (or been allowed) to stay neutral during World War I, Norwegians saw their country as being outside the maelstrom of great-power struggles.'<14> When the invasion came, Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht failed to discern among the welter of conflicting messages and rumours the ones indicating that a large-scale German invasion force was on its way.<15> 'To Norwegians as to others, the German preparations for an invasion remained among the best kept secrets of the war.'<16>
Although Norway chose to pursue a policy of neutrality, there was an unspoken agreement that the German menace was something to be feared. A discussion of the Norwegian cabinet prior to the invasion decided:
Quisling actively encouraged Norwegians to become involved in the war on the German side, believing that Germany's victory was in fact Norway's victory. About 6,000 Norwegians served the German war cause, and 709 of them fell in battle.<24> In fact, 10, 262 <25> Norwegian lives were lost throughout as result of war, despite the fact that Norway had adopted a position of neutrality at the outbreak of war and had hoped to avoid conflict.
Despite these transgressions, it should be borne in mind that it was a German decision to invade Norway. In 1945, public opinion was convinced that Quisling, during a visit to Berlin in 1939, must somehow have persuaded Hitler to invade Norway in self-defence against alleged English plans. Later research maintains that a little known person like Quisling would only have been received by Hitler because the Fuhrer already had designs on Norway and wanted to see how the former Minister of Defence could serve his interests.<26> The decision to embark on the invasion was ultimately made by Adolf Hitler as Chief of State and also (since December 1938) as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the German Reich.'<27>
A plan to invade Norway had been promoted by the naval general staff from the opening of the war because they were afraid that a British occupation of that country would confine them to a hopeless and defensive strategy akin to that forced on them in the World War I.<28> In addition, Raeder explained to Hitler that the planned conquest of the Belgian coast would be of no advantage for submarine warfare and then, mentioning Trondheim as a possibility, pointed to the advantages of bases on the Norwegian coast.<29> Raeder saw a danger that Britain might stage a surprise landing on the Norwegian coast and take possession of a base there.<30> These fears were not misplaced, for the allies had indeed decided (on 12 March), at the suggestion of the French, to attempt a semipeaceable invasion of Scandinavia.<31> For the Germans, an allied occupation of Norway would be intolerable.<32> Although, the idea of an operation dependent on the support of Quisling and his followers was initially investigated, it was soon dropped because of the number of uncertain factors involved - not the least among them the suspicion that Quisling had vastly overstated his strength and capabilities. After December Quisling had no part in the planning.<33>
This essay now turns to the question of Quisling's character. He was described as being possessed 'by an almost fanatical nationalism, his world was a national-romantic daydream world,' and as 'a man who from the outset was so conspicuously devoid of a sense of realism .'<35> He never had a strong or fully developed, sense of political reality, and as the war went on he receded further into a world of his '. His failure to adequately grasp reality meant that he did not deliberately ignore or rise over what he held to be petty considerations or unimportant facts; rather, it seems as if these things did not exist in his mind; as if his political perception was incapable of seizing them.<37> Andenaes writes:
These descriptions of Quisling's character only go part way to explaining what drove him to betray his own country. Hewins claims that many suppose him to have had a mad lust for power which turned him into a willing stooge of the Germans and a malefactor in his own country.<43> Quisling himself however, saw himself in an utterly different light. He says:
When the Norwegian government fled on 9 April 1940, the lure of gaining the position of authority that had so long eluded him was strong, despite his initial hesitancy.<49> The German invasion provided Quisling with the opportunity to spread more widely in Norway the spiritual conversion of himself and his small band of brothers.<50> His seizure of power and subsequent violations of Norwegian law show that he was not concerned with legalities.
Quisling saw it as his destined role to save Norway from the tides of communism. Up to the end of his life, he believed the Soviet Union intended to conquer Norway from the north in order to get at Germany, and he saw Norway's main task as providing an obstacle in its path.<53> He has been a first-hand witness of the Russian revolution, and later had served in as a relief organiser in many parts of the Soviet Union. Quisling had developed an almost completely racial explanation of communism and, like Rosenberg, he believed that the future salvation of Europe would only really be assured by a large measure of racial change.<54> Quisling writes:
But these strong ideological beliefs meant nothing without public support and adequate financial backing. Quisling needed German support and money to win power - 'In the general election of 1936 [Nasjonal Samling] obtained only 18 per cent of the total vote. From that point onwards its electoral fortunes declined.'<58> The NS was fundamentally dependent on the strength of the German armed forces and the administrative expertise of the National Socialist Party to keep power.<59> Before the invasion, Quisling had been able to establish Nasjonal Samling as the main channel for National Socialist funds and political activism Norway, receiving 2005000 Reichsmarkin 1940 from the Nazis.<61>
It has been said that 'it is natural to conclude that he was informed about the German invasion plans',<62> especially given that on the day before the invasion, Quisling announced in a circular that 'a great day was about to dawn for Norway. However, most evidence indicates that it was as much a surprise for Quisling as it was for the rest of Europe. Raeder had said that Quisling had made a trustworthy impression but had to be dealt with cautiously since he might only be attempting to further his own interests it was clear that the German's had their own agenda, and Quisling didn't figure in their plans.
The paradoxical element of the Quisling episode, was that he at all times believed he was being true to his vision, and that he was operating for the good of Norway and the Nordic race as a whole. At his trial after the war, Quisling testified:
Some have argued that Quisling was a victim of circumstances; 'an honest man chained to the Nazi juggernaut; or a visionary who looked beyond a fratricidal war to the supranational community of the future but who, by an accident of history, had happened to choose the wrong partner?' Yet for many 'in his sum total of qualities and shortcomings nevertheless was a rather ordinary sort of person ... one of the terrifying things about Nazism was its ability to attract just such a type.'<67> Ultimately, he was penalised with death as a result of his allegiance to that type.
Andenaes, Johs., Riste, 0. and Skodvin, M., Norway and The Second World War, Tanum-Norli, 1983.
Brown, Lesley (ed), The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993.
Dagre, Tor, 'Norway and World War II', at http:Ilodin.dep.noludlnornyttluda-318.html.
Dagre, Tor, 'Norway's Liberation', at http:llodin . dep. nolhtmllnofovaltldepterludlnornyttluda-319.html, 1995.
Finland, Tor Egi I, 'Far Out: International History in Norway', in Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol.20, 1995.
Hewins, Ralph, Quisling Prophet Without Honour, The John Day Company, New York, 1966.
Hoidal, Oddvar K., Quisling: A Study in Treason, Norwegian University Press, London, 1989.
Keele, Alan, 'Quisling: A Study in Treason', in Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 65, No. 1, 1993.
Koht, Haivdan, Norway Neutral and Invaded, Hutchinson & Co, London, 1941.
Larsen, Karen, A History of Norway, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1970.
Muward, Alan S., The Fascist Economy in Norway, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972.
Skodvin, Magne, 'Norwegian Neutrality and the Question of Credibility', in Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 2, 1977.
Worm-Muller, Jacob, Norway Revolts Against The Nazis, Lindsay Drummond, Henford, 1941.
Ziemke, Earl F., 'The German Decision to Invade Norway and Denmark', at http:llwww.army.millcmhpglbooks170-7_02.htm, 1997.
1 Brown, 1993, p 2453.
2 Koht, London, 1941, pp 97, 171.
3 Worm- Muller, 1941, throughout, for example, p 103.
4 Hoidal, 1989, p 11. Ibid.
5 Skodvin, 1977, p 124.
6 Keele, 1993, pp 122-3.
7 Hoidal, p 13.
8 Ibid., p 170.
9 Andenaes, Riste and Skodvin, 1970, p 539, and Hoidal, 1989, p 375.
10 Larsen, 1970, p 539.
11 Andenaes et al, 1983, p 128.
12 Skodvin, 1977, p 126.
13 Dagre, 1995.
14 Finland, 1995, p 167.
15 Ibid, p 168.
16 Skodvin, 1977, p 144.
17 Ibid, p 143.
18 Worm-Muller, 1941, p 90.
19 Ibid, p 91.
20 Ibid, p 94.
21 Ziemke, 1997.
22 Dagre, 1995.
23 Andenaes et al, 1983, p 76.
25 26 Skodvin, 1997, p 144.
27 Ziemke, 1997.
28 Muward, 1972, p 12.
29 Ziemke, 1997.
30 Ibid, also Andenaes et al, 1983, p 33.
31 Ziemke, 1997.
32 Ibid, also Andenaes et al, 1983, p 36.
33 Ziemke, 1997.
34 Hoidal, 1989, p 195.
35 Andenaes et al, 1983 p 84.
36 Ibid, p 92.
37 Ibid, p 92.
38 Ibid., p 85.
39 Koht, p 97.
40 Hewins, 1966, p 27.
41 Koht, 1941, p 98.
42 Ibid, p 128.
43 Hewins, 1966, p 10.
44 Ibid, pp.21-2.
45 Koht, 1941, p 97.
46 Hoidal, 1989, p 204.
47 Milward, p 5.
48 Hoidal, 1989, p 241.
49 Ibid, p 376. Hewins describes this as, 'Stepping into the vacuum left by the departed Norwegian government', p.209.
50 Milward, p.29.
51 Hoidal, 1989, p 212.
52 Ibid, p.226.
53 Skodvin, 1977, p 131.
54 Milward, p 6.
55 Ibid, p 7.
56 Hoidal, 1989, p 199.
57 Ibid, p.196. Similar statements against threat of communism in Hewins, pp.93-5.
58 Milward, p 5.
56 Ibid, p 5.
60 Ibid, p 12.
61 Hoidal, p 363.
62 Koht, p 98.
63 Larsen, p 540.
65 Milward, p 28.
66 Andenaes et al, p 129.
67 Ibid, p 94.