Hands Off Sweden 🇸🇪

Tom Nelson for Wisconsin
3 min readFeb 1, 2022

When campaigning, people often ask, “Nelson, is that with an -on or -en?” Or, “Nelson, that must be Norwegian?”

Tom’s Swedish cousins (Tom pushing the stroller!) c. 1980

Fortunately, my Swedish grandmother is not around to hear the latter. Norwegians and Swedes have a colorful history. And everything was cool so long as the Moe Lutherans (i.e. Norwegians) stayed on their side of Highway 63 in Clear Lake..

U.S. foreign policy rarely deals with Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Norway. Sweden has not been to war since 1817. She avoided World War I and World War II and didn’t figure into the Cold War — although the King’s ice hockey team bested the U.S. in two olympiads.

They are a neutral country but they were not disengaged. And that is an important distinction.

In World War II, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg used his country’s military status to outwit the SS and saved over 100,000 Jews from concentration camps. Sweden also relaxed refugee quotas and took in injured allied soldiers to recuperate and retrain for the eventual liberation of their homelands.

With the good comes the bad. Neutral countries are not perfect and Sweden is no exception. In World War I, Sweden continued to sell their precious iron ore to Germany. The trade triggered sanctions and food shortages. In the second world war, Sweden looked the other way when the Third Reich violated terms of neutrality and rolled trains into Norway. Sweden would pay dearly. In the immediate wake of the war, the Red Army abducted Wallenberg and brought him to the Gulags — never to return.

I’ll be honest. This is more than politics. My grandparents were immensely proud of their heritage and it was contagious. Trinkets and knick-knacks could be found everywhere at the farm house: Dalecarlian horses, miniature flags and the latest edition of Ole and Lena jokes.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are from those summers I spent baling hay and unloading wagons. Or, when I was a little boy and I sat on my grandpa’s lap helping steer the tractor up a hill while he hummed Swedish hymns.

Not too many Senate candidates or sitting Senators are talking about little ol’ Sweden when Putin is breathing down the necks of the Ukrainians on the other side of Europe.

Maybe I’m looking too much into things.

Summers at my grandparents were a safe haven for me, away from the awkward teenage years. I was with my grandparents so the rules were different. They didn’t have the same expectations as my parents and did not enforce the same regime of discipline. It was neutral territory for me.

I wish there were a few more Swedens and summers on the farm in the world. Maybe that will settle us down. We sure could use it.



Tom Nelson for Wisconsin

Husband, father of 2, former candidate for U.S. Senate, Outagamie County Executive