What Happened to Sweden? - While America Became the Only Superpower. Paperback – Sep 20 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Sweden's controversial role during World War II is explored, when it had a roaring trade with both the Allies and Axis. It profited enormously during and after the war, having maintained uncomfortably close relations to Nazi Germany. The wealth was used to fund socialistic programmes that constantly increased tax rates and the size of government whilst giving the unions unprecedented influence. The Social Democratic Party ruled the country for most of the 20th century in close co-operation with the wealthy Wallenberg Family who at one stage was estimated to indirectly control up to a third of the gross national product.
In the 2006 general election a Moderate coalition defeated the Social Democrats; the new government is attempting to make Sweden more competitive and less bureaucratic. Nilson compares the attitudes of the two countries to religion, conformity and the expression of dissent. He holds a highly critical view of Sweden's foreign policy, especially under the anti-American Olof Palme who embraced and praised all kinds of dictators and revolutionary movements while having a secret agreement with NATO.Read more ›
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This book gives a brief summary of the history of Sweden with the focus being on its interaction with the United States. The book compares the two countries. Ulf Nilson summarizes Sweden with these three words; Security, Uniformity, Equality
He summarizes the Unites States with these three words; Freedom, Work, Opportunity.
I should add that most of the content of this book are well known facts and most of it was not news to me. However, the Wallenberg foundation and the Social Democratic Eugenics program were things I did not know much about. The sentiments expressed in the book are also not uncommon among Swedish emigrants to the United States and more conservative Swedes. However, the book is controversial in Sweden.
The book also discusses the following differences;
* Sweden is anti-religious while the U.S. is welcoming of religion,
* Sweden has a big welfare system while the U.S. is more Capitalistic.
* Sweden is small and not very influential, while the Unites States is a reluctant super power
* Swedes are encouraged to think uniformly and dissent is not often appreciated while the United States is a very open society.
It should be noted that the fact that the U.S. is a super power places it in a predicament in which it is often more or less forced to act. Since Sweden is not very influential this is a difficult reality to grasp from a Swedish perspective. These differences in themselves will cause some ill feelings in Sweden towards the United States. This was especially noticeable in the 50's, 60's, and 70's and again today.
Ulf Nilson is critical of the Social Democrats, Swedish foreign policy, Olof Palme, and the welfare system that the Social Democrats built. He is also critical of the Swedish immigration policy that he believes is bad for the country. He describes actions that the Social Democrats took in the past to build the Swedish Welfare system which may not have been so great.
* The forced sterilization of women who were at risk of becoming a burden to the welfare system. Thousands of primarily women were sterilized against their will every year up until the 1950's to ensure that there would not be too many dependent on welfare. To be selected for this procedure not only meant that you could not have children but it was also hurtful to be considered "not fit". This policy resulted in many tears. This was not a racist or anti-Semitic policy. It was targeted towards anyone who might not have productive offspring of any race or creed.
* Swedish politicians (Social Democrats) considered both the allies and the Germans to be war mongers and stayed neutral during World War II. During this time Sweden profited from doing extensive business with both Allies and the Nazis.
* The behind the scenes deal with the Wallenberg's. A special foundation was created which enabled the Wallenberg's to take over the majority of the Swedish enterprise in exchange for their cooperation and assistance to the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats did not want a repeat of the economic failure and needed the skill and knowledge and capital the Wallenberg's could provide. In the long run this turned out to be good for Sweden, but it was secret, and is also a major reason why Socialism worked in this case. This is something to be aware of. As a side note, the other financial families mostly disappeared, and Wallenberg is not Jewish despite the name.
* A central registry was created which contained extensive information on all Swedish residents (no exceptions). It is based on so called personal numbers, which is similar to Social Security numbers in the U.S. but a lot more than just a Social Security number, and mandatory. This is both good and bad. The registry makes welfare fraud and tax evasion harder, and paying taxes in Sweden is easy. Typically you just sign your name since all your incomes (salary, interest etc), and deductions, health status, etc, are known.
There were other reasons for the success of the Swedish welfare system, like Swedes conform easily, are very homogenous, some luck, geography, the Marshall Plan, and the protection provided by the United States. Therefore Ulf Nilson does not believe that the Swedish welfare system is sustainable in the long run.
However, what Ulf Nilson seem to criticize the most is the Swedish/Social Democratic foreign policy, especially that of Olof Palme. During most of the second half of the 20th century the Swedish foreign policy was basically "accept the protection of the Americans, but try to ruin everything that the Americans are trying to achieve, other than that we are completely neutral." Add to that, that Western Europeans were viewed as reactionary by the Social Democrats and Communists and that anyone participating in a war was viewed as a war monger independent of the side or the reason. It was a simplistic but logical stand point for a neutral socialist country which needed an excuse as to why they assisted both the Nazis and the Allies but did not take sides.
The Swedish Social Democrats were socialists and clearly sympathetic with third world revolutionaries including communists. The Swedish left cheered for Vietcong, and Fidel Castro, and there were Social Democratic politicians who gave Pol Pot support while he slaughtered his own people. Olof Palme took this radical policy further than any prime minister before him had.
If this review has made you think that Sweden is a one party state, I can add that, that is almost true. The Social Democrats has won almost every election, and when they didn't the alternative acted just like the Social Democrats. Until some years ago, when you joined the largest union (which you had to if you were a blue collar worker) you automatically became a member of the Social Democratic party. In Sweden you also vote for a party not a candidate, in fact you may not even know who your candidate is.
It should also be noted that all TV and Radio used to be state controlled, and political indoctrination was a fact. When I was a kid it was essentially the communists who controlled the children's programming on channel 2 (there were two channels). As a personal note, I remember the following children's program that I watched as a kid. A boy refused to eat his pancake and while he sat and stared at it, it turned into a pancake land full of little dolls. Little Vilse was a nice good little doll, while the big potato grouch was a mean and selfish troll. At the end of the episodes it was explained the Little Vilse was Vietnam and the potato grouch was the United States. Then a group of happily dancing and singing children danced around a water table filled with American symbols slowly sinking into water. The Hoola Bandoola band provided the music.
This indoctrination has had its consequences. I had some communist friends who justified the multi million mass killings that occurred in communist countries. They were after all counter revolutionaries or backward religious people. Sweden is also unique in that religious belief has been almost entirely eradicated. On a personal note, I think indoctrination still lingers among the Swedish population.
It is not often that you see a book written by a well known Swede criticizing the Social Democrats and the Wallenberg's and Swedish foreign policy as harshly as this book. However, it is not an Anti-Swedish book and it is not a Pro-American book either, it is more of an Anti-Social Democrat book with a wakeup call for fellow Swedes who don't get it. In general I think Swedes need to be more understanding of the differences between the United States and Sweden and should perhaps not be so quick to assume that typically Swedish thinking is always correct.
Ulf Nilsson is a well known Swedish journalist that has covered international events during his long career. He also says good things about Ronald Reagan, and he clearly likes the United States, even though he also criticizes the United States. He has now left Sweden. I am a Swede who has left for America my self and I have to say that I agree with almost all his opinions and observations. I admit that I like the United States better than Sweden at this point. Moving from Sweden and than coming back a second time with wife and kid was a big eye opener for me. That does not mean that Sweden is not a great country. The Swedish welfare system has many good points to it as well, and the Social Democrats have become more realistic. There are also many beautiful places to visit in Sweden.
During my reading of this book I found several weaknesses in the author's renditions. For example, the author uses terms that are no doubt intended to be derogatory, while failing to support them with factual sources. He describes former kings and political leaders as "fat" (p. 18), "homosexual" (p. 19), or engaged in "bigamy" (p. 44). Such statements hardly seem relevant to the leadership and political skills of the person in question and ought not be mentioned; that is, unless the author intentionally attempts to mix apples with oranges and indeed steer the less educated reader toward a prejudice view of Sweden's historical leadership.
Some of the examples that the author provides makes it appear as though his thinking has stagnated in the `50s. An example is his statement that all major decisions are made "within a group of perhaps 50-100 people, almost all of them men" (p. 12). It is a well-known fact that women have always held inferior social and political positions in all countries of the world, and continue to do so. But credit should be given where it is due. Sweden is continuously striving toward gender equality, much as a direct result of the efforts of the former visionary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Today, Sweden, along with the other Nordic countries, enjoys greater gender equality than any other country in the world. For example, according to 2006 statistics, women hold 47% of the seats in the Swedish parliament (source: Sveriges Riksdag Faktablad). Much has happened since the 1950s, `60s, and `70s. By comparison, as of today, only 16% of the U.S. Senate is female. Likewise, only 16.3% of the House of Representatives is female (source: Eagleton Institute of Politics).
A major weakness is the author's failure to place events in historical context. For example, throughout the country's history, the citizens of Sweden have experienced a great deal of poverty and oppression by their leaders. Likewise, slavery in America was not unique to our country when it was first implemented. What should be emphasized, however, is not that such distasteful practices took place, but that it took the United States until 1964 to sign into effect the Civil Rights Act outlawing segregation. Perhaps even more remarkable is that in 2008, people still question whether or not America is "ready" for an African-American president! When placed in historical context, what happened in most countries of the world hundreds of years ago is not what makes a country unique; it is not the past enslavement of the black population that makes America unique. Rather, it is our inability TODAY to view the black man and woman as our equal that makes us unique in a negative sense. This is truly shameful.
The author correctly states that Sweden might be the "least religious country in the Europe of today." Many Swedes do indeed view religion as a "ridiculous kind of superstition" (p. 40). Whether this is good or bad depends on whether one would rather view the world from a standpoint of education and logic, or from a standpoint of subjective morality and "faith." Swedes, as do most educated Europeans, mock the idea of teaching creationism in the science classroom. I agree with the Swedes. Americans, despite our good intentions in our strife for that elusive concept we call "freedom," have an undue phobia of atheists, communists, and homosexuals. Let me mention that Sweden never adhered to a communist philosophy. For example (and this is only one example of many), during the Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40, Sweden responded with anti-Soviet propaganda and decided to assist Finland against the Soviet invasion of the Karelian Isthmus by sending the country an 8,000-man strong volunteer force in addition to material help. Moreover, anti-Soviet/anti-communist Swedes set on fire the offices of Norrskensflamman, the newspaper of the Swedish Communist Party. The military leadership in Luleå in northern Sweden, in conjunction with the Committee for Finland and the Socialist Party, formed a coalition for the purpose of defeating and closing down the Communist Party newspaper (source: Vasa Gymnasiet: Om Motstånd och Kollaboration - Sverige Under 30- och 40-Talen). Although individual politicians such as Olof Palme and the Swedish people in general have spoken out against certain American foreign policies, in modern times perhaps most notably the Vietnam War which was also heavily protested within the United States by our own citizens, Sweden has always stood on the side of America and the rest of the Western industrialized world. It is short-sighted to presume that Sweden was friendlier toward the former Soviet Union and communism than it was toward the capitalistic United States.
With respect to the view that Sweden is essentially a one-party state, which the author hints at several times throughout the book, seven political parties whose views vary relatively little are currently represented in the Swedish parliament (source: Sveriges Riksdag). The reason why the Social Democratic Party (or left-wing coalition in recent years) has held power almost consistently in the last century (although the right-wing coalition is currently in charge), is because the Swedish people at large are social democratic at heart and have with overwhelming majority chosen representation by the Social Democratic Party in free elections. Or, as is written in Swedish law: "All public power in Sweden rests with the people" (source: Handbok för Förvaltningsmyndigheter). I suspect that even Ulf Nilson would agree that, regardless of one's personal political views, going against the wishes of the majority would be utterly undemocratic.
Folkhemmet, loosely described on p. 53, is admittedly an idealistic concept and, as history will attest, any idealistic view is exceedingly difficult to implement with full success. Whether Sweden reaches it or not is less important, however, than is the recognition that every one of us, regardless of which country we call home, will face the same basic needs throughout our life's journey. As Olof Palme so eloquently stated in a speech at Harvard in 1984: "During the course of life, we all meet the same challenges: to grow up and be educated; to find playmates and friends; to prepare ourselves for our different roles in adult life and make our own living; to find somewhere to live and make it into a home; to form a family and bring up children; to keep healthy throughout life and cope with illness and other misfortunes that may beset us; to secure a decent living and preserve our dignity for the inevitable frailty of old age; to live as free citizens, equal with other members of society; and to take a share in being responsible for the common good" (source: ABC Klubben: Idepolitikern Palme). The idea of Folkhemmet is primarily about the open acknowledgement that, although all people of the world will face similar paths from cradle to grave, they will undoubtedly face different degrees of hardship and strife. It is therefore the responsibility of the government in cooperation with the people to provide every citizen with the assurance that he or she can live in security in his or her own country, and have his or her basic needs satisfied: adequate food, shelter, education, healthcare, and happiness.
Much more ought to be said. However, for fear of being overly lengthy, let me end by stating that the book's main weakness is the author's strong personal bias and lack of balance. I disagree here with the other reviewers; the author is either naïve or is trying to appeal to an audience who is. Chapters 9 and 10 were by far the best balanced chapters. The author would also have benefited from listing the sources whenever making statements that are intended as factual. It would have given him more credibility. For example, how does the author know that "[n]either the defense forces, nor the police, have any good idea of how to defend [Sweden's] . . . nuclear power plants against terrorist attacks"? (p. 178) Although everyone is entitled to an opinion--admittedly, the Social Democrats have come close to overstepping their boundaries a number of times; for example, regarding the Wage Earner Funds (p. 130), but the people voiced their displeasure at the idea--in order for a literary work to be considered educational and informative, concepts such as neutrality, Olof Palme's idea of social security, the subordination of the church to the state, etc., must undergo critical analysis, which means that they must be examined from multiple viewpoints; the good must be examined along with the bad. This is where the author fails. (For the record, it is partly because of the subordination of the church to the state that women gained greater equality and could become priests and bishops; an event which Ulf Nilson views as unjust (p. 104). In a modern democratic country, however, it should go without saying that all citizens--ALL OF THEM including the female half--should have equal rights. If the U.S. had true separation of church and state, rather than just in theory, restricting abortion, for example, would not be a political issue; it would apply only to the people who freely choose to go to church.) The book's main strength is its controversial nature, which makes it at least a moderately intriguing read for those with interests in political/social history and debate, and which is why it gets two stars rather than one.
Oh, one more thing: The author has consistently stated throughout the book that the uniformity of the political system and the welfare state make Sweden a stagnant society where it is nearly impossible to pull ahead, even if one works hard. I found it interesting that the statistics listed on p. 170 conclude that the United States has 313 billionaires in U.S. dollars, while Sweden has 9 billionaires in U.S. dollars. Hmmm . . . if my math isn't completely off, that gives Sweden exactly the same percentage billionaires as the United States. Sweden has after all only 9 million people, while the U.S. has 300 million.
My wife was insulted by some of the statements early in the book because they took a brutally honest view of the national heroes of early Swedish history instead of venerating them as saints. The author goes on to chronicle the journey of Sweden into socialism and the massive government machine that evolved to serve itself. Fascinating stuff!
I'm sad to say that the editing is truly horrible-- spelling errors and punctuation blunders abound (painfully at times). But if you can wade through that and the sometimes resoundingly pro-American rhetoric (obviously written before the U.S. economy sagged) then you'll find a unique perspective on Sweden that will tickle the brains of Swedes and non-Swedes alike.