The Spy Who Saved The World- The Tragedy of Colonel Kuklinski

In a chapel at Arlington Cemetery a memorial took place few years ago.  It was attended by government officials, many current and former CIA agents, a military honour guard, along with a military band.  That in itself was not unusual.  Arlington has seen many such memorials, what was unusual was the ashes of a man honoured in such way.   They were draped not in an American flag, but a Polish white and red banner with a crowned white eagle in its centre.  The officer’s cap on top of the flag was that of a Colonel of the Polish Army.  But they were there because he was a true American hero.  And that fact can not be disputed.  He received the highest CIA award, one of only 8 recipients, the first foreigner.  Many say that he helped save us from WWIII, the information he passed on helped the US win the Cold War, in fact, he saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

His name was Ryszard (Richard) Kuklinski.  He was a Colonel in the Polish People’s Army.  He was the head of the Office of Strategic Planning in the Polish General Staff.  He was a great Polish patriot.  And he was a CIA spy.  Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national Security Adviser to President Carter called him “the first Polish officer in NATO.”  To many Poles, me included, he is a national hero.  Tomany others, sadly, he is a traitor.  It is a paradox and the Colonel’s tragedy that he is an undisputed hero to all Americans while many of his own countrymen see him as a traitor.

The Real Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Letter That Started It All

Its a story that could well have come from a fictional spy thriller.  In 1972 the American Embassy in Bonn received a strange letter written in bad English.  Its author claimed he was an officer in an Army of a Communist “Kantry” (sic! country), and he was seeking a meeting with an officer (Lt. Col. or Col.) of the US Army (not the CIA).  The letter gave dates and times of meetings in a couple of different Western cities.  Colonel Kuklinski was actually on a official spy mission.  He was not a spy himself, but he proposed and sailing trip through Western ports during which he and his companions (most of whom were other officers) would gather information on those facilities.  He signed the letter “PV,” he later explained it stood for Polish Viking.

He was met by a CIA agent, who did not identify himself as such.  During the meeting he explained that he wanted to provide the US Army with information about Warsaw Pact plans and capabilities.  At no time during the meeting did he ask for money or any other reward.  Further meetings were planned, a system of drops was developed, and Ryszard Kuklinski became an American agent.  Soon, the CIA was deluged with detailed information about the Polish and Warsaw Pact armed forces.  According to one veteran CIA analyst, Kuklinski did not fill in the picture, he gave American THE picture.  In all he passed on over 40,000 documents in his 9 years as a spy.  In November of 1981 he and his family, wife and two sons, were smuggled out of Poland after the Polish counterintelligence received information of a spy working in high in the Polish General Staff.  He personally was not suspected.

For 9 years Kuklinski was a tragically lonely man.  No one, not even his wife, knew he was passing on information to the Americans.  I did not say working for the Americans on purpose.  Because he never really did.  He never signed an agreement, unlike most spies.  He did not take any money for his work.  His motivation was not to help America, but to help Poland with America’s assistance.  He was not approached.  It was Kuklinski himself who came to the Americans.  He asked for nothing but equipment (some was specifically invented for him, like the precursor to the Blackberry, a mobile text sending device).  When he was smuggled out of Poland he had to leave almost everything behind.  Yet he took with him a drawing of a ship titled Tempest, he gave the drawing to his handler as a sign of gratitude and friendship.  That was Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski.

A Spy is Born

Ryszard Kuklinski was born in 1930 in Warsaw.  He came from a patriotic working class family of socialist traditions.  When Ryszard was ten his father, a member of the Polish resistance in German occupied Poland, was arrested by the Gestapo.  He later died in a concentration camp.  Ryszard barely a teenager joined the Warsaw Uprising.  After the Nazis were thrown out he went back to school and joined the army.  He quickly rose through the ranks and became a trusted officer in the Polish General Staff.  The opinions of Kuklinski by his colleagues, superiors and Soviet general was very positive.  He was part of the Polish UN Mission to Vietnam during the war there.  He was one of the main planners of the Polish part in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  In December of 1970 he, along with the rest of the country, witnessed the Pomorze crackdown during which 40 workers were killed and several hundred wounded by the Polish Army.  The last two events, he said, motivated him to do what he did.  In the words of his best friend, upon learning of the Army’s actions in the December 70 crackdown, he burst into his apartment, lit a cigarette, and said ‘I can’t believe those motherfuckers did that!”  he was visibly upset and disappointed in the role of the Army which he loved.  He lost the last hopes that the Polish Army was not just a tool of the Soviets.  The work he did in the General Staff further convinced him that the Soviets intended to use Poland as nothing but a tool in the possible WWIII during which the country he loved would be annihilated.  He was a direct witness of the signing over of Polish military command to the Soviets in case of a war with the West.  The Polish generals would become simple messengers.

He now had the motive, what he needed was means.  He was a passionate, and a very knowledgeable sailor.  He build his first kayak.  He then owned a small sailboat.  But when he saw that the Polish Militia (police) had raised an old sunken small yacht, he exchanged that sailboat for it.  For three years he restored it to pristine condition.  That yacht later gave him the means.  As mentioned he proposed the sailing trip during which he contacted the Americans.  It became an annual trip till the Soviets requested that it stop a few years later, for fear that it might become an opportunity for the Western powers to recruit the sailors as agents.

Kuklinski hands documents to Soviet Marshall Kulikov

I wont try to tell the story of his life and work as a spy, that has been done extensively and far better than I could ever hope to attempt.  I will provide several links later where you can read about him if you wish.  The importance of his contribution is undisputed.  40,000 vital documents full of information about the Warsaw Pact, its plans, capabilities, and perhaps most importantly, the mood and intentions of the Warsaw Pact high command.  He regularly met with the highest ranking Polish, Soviet, and other Warsaw Pact commanders.  He gauged their mood and intentions as well as future plans.  All this he passed on to the Americans.  But that is not the main point of my story, despite its somewhat misleading title, I do not want to talk about his importance to the Cold War, and its conclusion, but about his legacy in Poland itself.

Konrad Wallenrod

(link above)

Though unlike Mickiewicz’s “Wallenrod” Kuklinski did not commit suicide, his story is not any less tragic.  For years he was in exile.  He was sentenced to death, in absentia, by the Polish Communists in 1984 for the high crimes of treason and desertion.  His rights as a citizen of Poland were revoked and his property ceased by the state.  Two years later the communists launched a propaganda campaign to discredit Colonel Kuklinski.  And the Polish Goebbels, Jerzy Urban (spokesman for the Commie govt in the 80’s), I am sorry to say, succeeded somewhat.  In the late 90’s, after he was finally exonerated, a poll was conducted in Poland.  34 % saw him as a traitor, 29 % as a hero, with the rest undecided.  And that is a very sad state of affairs.  What is sadder still is that quite a few of the members of the Polish anti-Communist movement Solidarity also see him as a traitor or at least have reservations about him.  Is it any wonder then that it took President Clinton, former National Security Adviser Brzezinski and the prospect of joining NATO to finally do right by Kuklinski in 1997?  For 8 years after communism fell he was still persona non grata in Poland.  The only thing done was to change his sentence in 1990 from death to 25 years in prison.  Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, when he was president, refused to pardon him and still does not see him as a heroic figure.  His poor ass excuse was that no one can work for a foreign government and be considered a hero because that would set a precedent for future cases or even past convictions of spies.  However the exoneration and return of full citizenship and military rank clearly spoke of “conditions of higher necessity.” These “conditions” were Poland’s de facto lack of sovereignty.

And even that sent Kuklinski’s critics into a frenzy.  The said critics came not only from the Red camp of former Communist officers and officials, but also from some Solidarity circles, aforementioned Walesa included, as well as the influential Adam Michnik, a leftist intellectual (now the editor of Poland’s biggest daily paper Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Newspaper)), who was imprisoned for his anti-communist activities several times, though his opposition to Kuklinski seemed mostly to be politically motivated in relation to modern Polish politics.  Others simply just could not stomach anyone working for a foreign government at anytime under any circumstances.

So there we have it.  An officer does more to bring down the Commies than almost any individual, and opinion in Poland is divided.  Of course it is.  Poland would not be Poland if we did not argue amongst ourselves all the time over everything.  Unlike Poles who only lived in Poland I don’t have a problem with Kuklinski working for the CIA as much as some would.  I am a Pole and an American.  I love both countries almost equally.  I have lived here (the US) most of my life, close to 30 years.  So its natural that I love this country, plus I am not one who lives in the past.  But as a Pole I love Poland.  I am also a historian by education and love.  I appreciate Polish history more than most.  And as much as I do not live in the past and have accepted my new homeland as my own and love it as any properly patriotic American would, I can not forget my own roots.  Especially considering the times I have lived in and my parents and grandparents have lived in.  I do not take Polish independence for granted as perhaps many young people do these days.  But its great that they do, it means Poland is free and not under immediate threat.     

However, many a Pole can not stomach someone working for a foreign nation, even America, against Poland, even a Poland that was a vassal of the evil Soviet Empire.  These people have some reason in their beliefs, even if I disagree with them.  Colonel Kuklinski put his faith in America, he saw them as an ally.  After Yalta and many other incidents, Poles have a right to be weary of “Allies” of any kind.  Many of course dismiss Colonel Kuklinski’s motivations and great patriotism and see him as only a foreign agent.  And forget that many a great national hero served in foreign army.  The best example being the First World War during which Poles served under the order of Russia, Germany and Austro-Hungary, many a time fighting against one another.  But while they were serving their foreign masters many did so with the hope that this would help Poland regain its independence.  And it did.  So I have to disagree with them and assume that they see the world in a very simplistic way.  Their attitude also helps legitimize those who served their Soviet masters like good trained dogs.  I also assume that many feel the need to justify the PRL (Polish People’s Republic, commie Poland) because of the need to justify themselves and what they did during those times.

Colonel Kuklinski's Army id photo

The most vocal group in need of validation and justification consists of course of former officers and officials in the PRL.  They are Kuklinski’s biggest critics.  And they attacked him from all angles.  His motivation was questioned.  He was accused of doing this for money.  There were insinuations that he was in fact recruited by CIA while in Vietnam.  The CIA was said to have threatened to expose some unspecified transgressions.  He apparently was a sleeper agent for years and only activated in 1972.  Then they tried to belittle the value of information he gave the CIA.  Of course that contradicted many of their own statements as well as of those made by the Soviets themselves.  Then came the best one.  The pity angle.  Jaruzelski, the former “general” and dictator of Poland in the 80’s stated that if Kuklinski is a hero and not a traitor what does that make him and the thousands of officers and soldiers who served during the PRL.  Well I know what that makes him and those like him.  A servant dog of a foreign state that made Poland into a vassal of the USSR.  He is also a criminal who ordered the deaths and imprisonment of countless thousands of Poland’s best and brightest citizens.  Nothing less but.  And there were many like him, eager careerist servants of a foreign power who oppressed their own people.  However there were also many others who served because of honest beliefs and patriotism.  Those we have to separate from the servant dogs, even high ranking officers could be honest and patriotic and not have blood on their hands.  According to them an oath, no matter to whom it was given, is sacred.  These are the same people who ironically called Hitler’s soldiers fanatics because they were faithful to that evil bastard.  If Jaruzelski and his henchmen are right then so was the Wehrmacht, so were Hitler’s generals.  But history has proven that being a servant of evil, a mindless drone, or an eager dog like Jaruzelski is wrong.  That “I was following orders” bullshit does not fly anymore.  I understand that they do it.  They did it well too, because they have a considerable part of the Polish population believing their propaganda.  And good propaganda it was, begun in 1986 and is continued to this day.  But it does not make them any less wrong, nor any less of servants to a foreign master and true traitors of Poland and its people.  The saddest part is that Jaruzelski and his clique have convinced most of Poles (up to 60%) that the Martial law they imposed and the oppression that followed was actually for their own good.

Dec. 13, 1981, we got this instead of morning cartoons, and tanks on the streets.

Yes, the majority of Poles are convinced that the imposing of martial law, the killing of protesters, arrests of thousands, and general oppression was a lesser of two evils.  Because their “saviours” have convinced them that they saved Poland from a Soviet, or a Warsaw Pact invasion that would lead to great bloodshed.  Well, I call bullshit.  The Soviets, evidence in declassified documents supports this, were not going to invade.  Not after Colonel Kuklinski told the CIA they planned to.  In 1980!  Over year before the matrial law was actually imposed.  The Commie bastards, while talking and making deals with the Solidarity, were making plans to squash them.  And the Soviets wanted to help.  However once President Carter saw what Kuklinski gave the CIA, with the urging from Brzezinski, he threatened the USSR that if they do invade there will be unforeseeable consequences.  The Red Army quickly changed its mind and came to the conclusion that Poland was not worth the trouble of a possible nuclear war if things went too far.  Besides, they had a better idea.  They told the Poles to attend to their mess themselves.  Jaruzelski for his part practically begged the Soviets for help.  Even after they told him to do it with only Polish forces he asked for assistance in case things did not go as well as planned.  He was told no again, the Poles were ordered to do it themselves.  He wanted to resign, to his credit, but after being told to man up and do their bidding, being the coward that he is, he obliged and one cold Sunday morning I saw his face instead of cartoons.

So do excuse me if I do not believe that the man who presided over the politically motivated, anti-Semitic “cleansing” of the Army, who eagerly ordered troops into Czechoslovakia, and who ordered the Polish troops to shoot protesting Polish workers in 1970, and who allegedly was also a confidential agent of the Polish SB (our version of the KGB), is a saviour of Poland.  And that only he prevented a great tragedy in 1981.  No one supports his bullshit claim.  The problem with Poles in this case is twofold.  They respect anyone in uniform too much.  Poles really do revere their soldiers.  They will make all kinds of excuses for them as long as they wear a Polish uniform.  And they are too forgiving.  Our very own Caucescu was allowed to be the first President of a free Poland and then allowed to retire with a full pension.  We actually are supposed to be thankful to him for the peaceful transition to democracy.  When they finally got around to trying the bastard he cited ill health, his trial is still ongoing.  Meanwhile last month he was invited, along with all the other former presidents of post communist Poland, by the current president for an advisory conference before the visit to Poland of Russian president Medvedev.  The excuse given was that he has great expertise concerning all things Russian.  Well of  course he should, a dog knows its master like no other, and he served his masters faithfully for many decades.  It still does not excuse president Komorowski.  Jaruzelski should be a pariah, not an elder statesman invited to presidential conferences.  Its pathetic and wrong!

But this kind of opposition to Kuklinski being proclaimed a national hero is understandable really, and expected.  He left them, he betrayed them and their masters.  What is not expected is that Walesa and some from the Solidarity oppose him and even call Kuklinski a traitor.  But here too we can see their intentions.  Walesa and the Solidarity see themselves as the only rightful, aside from maybe the Pope John Paul II, saviours of Poland.  And if Kuklinski is given the credit he deserves they fear that history will judge them differently.  Basic jealousy.  Understandable, even if wrong.  There is enough room for credit to all.  The fall of Communism in Poland and the end of the Cold War had many heroes and adding one very important one to the pantheon wont diminish the contributions and sacrifices of others.  Others still are bitter that neither Kuklinski nor the USA, while possessing the knowledge of the impending Martial Law warned them about it.  He was after all not in danger anymore.  What was the motivation?  Well I can’t speak for the Reagan administration.  But Kuklinski claimed that if the Solidarity was warned the plans might have been changed and it could have led to more bloodshed.  The Solidarity was under constant surveillance and was infiltrated by SB agents even at its highest echelons.  Any attempt of organized resistance would have been met with force.  The Poles who so revere their soldiers conveniently forget how willingly the army participated in the 1970 crackdown and during the Martial law itself.  Any proper resistance was impossible.  Perhaps some Solidarity members could have avoided arrest, but at what price?  Unfortunately, they do not ask themselves that question.

So there you have it.  Revered and reviled, accused of everything possible.  Such was the life and tragedy of Colonel Kuklinski.  And the tragedy extended to his family.  For years they lived in hiding, under assumed names.  They were forced to move frequently, they were not able to participate in Polish-American life openly.  They lived in fear.  Such was his reward for helping to stop a nuclear holocaust.  In 1994, within the space of 6 months he lost both of his sons.  One disappeared with a friend of the Florida Keys while diving, their boat was found several days later, their bodies never recovered.  The other was killed when hit by a car.  The driver fled, leaving no fingerprints in the car!!!!  There are unsubstantiated claims that this was revenge by the commies for what he did.  There is no evidence of that however.  But while I am not a believer in conspiracy theories, its very hard for me to believe there were just mere accidents, plus it would not be the first time the commies took revenge on someone.

Perhaps I exaggerated in the title.  No one man could stop WWIII, but he did more than most.  After he saw that the Soviet plans basically assumed that Poland, as a vital communication line, would be nuked back to the stone age in an event of a war with the West, he did everything possible to prevent that.  It must be remembered that this was the time of the Vietnam war.  The US Army was in crisis in the early 70’s.  Its eyes not properly focused on Europe and the Soviet threat.  The US needed to match the Soviets on the ground.  And they did, from the late 70’s onward the US begun an arms race that the Soviets could not hope to match.  It finally broke them.  The Soviets deny that those plans were for an offensive war.  However all of their equipment and doctrine suggests nothing else.  And one Soviet general smugly claimed that the French Western Atlantic coast was not very far from them.

In the end Colonel Kuklinski won.  He got his honour and rank back.  He was able to go back to Poland for a tour of sorts.  He was honoured by several Polish cities which gave him honourary citizenship.  His ashes, were returned to Poland and he was buried in the Powazki Cemetery (our Arlington) with full military honours.  But while he is a hero of the Cold War and a hero in America, his status still is debated in the country he did all this for.  But we should take heart in the fact that when asked if he would do it again, he said he would, and this time he would work even harder.  In order to save his country he had to betray it and the uniform he loved.  That is not an easy choice to make for anyone.  Especially a person of integrity and honour that the Colonel was. For that I thank you Colonel Kuklinski.  And to me at least you are a true national hero of Poland.

The links I promised for those who want more:

CIA Article on the Vilification of Col. Kuklinski

A very good book on his life in English

Somewhat Different View of Kuklinski

CIA Released Documents

An effort much better than mine

Warsaw Uprising Remembered- Was It Worth It?

Necropolis- Death of A City

Warsaw After the Uprising

And so we come upon yet another sad anniversary in the history of Poland.  In a couple of days Poland will commemorate the 66th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.  A sad chapter in Poland’s recent history.  Well most were sad chapters in the past 200+ years, but this one stands out above most.  A whole city was destroyed, hundreds of thousands people were killed.  The lives lost were especially tragic too.  Warsaw’s best and brightest went to the barricades and perished under the rubble and the hail of bullets.  Civilian casualties numbered around 200,000.  That is on top of the military casualties of 20,000+ killed and wounded and the loss of hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Jews (and those from near Warsaw who were forced into the Ghetto).  By the time the Germans were done with the city there was hardly a building standing, hardly a live person left.

In 1939 Warsaw’s population was over 1.3 million.  Several thousand lost their lives during the September Campaign and during 5 years of brutal Nazi occupation.  Germans then collected many Jews from around Warsaw and crammed them into an already overcrowded Ghetto.  Most of those were murdered, whether in the gas chambers or through disease that came from starvation and overcrowding.  But it was murder all the same.  Still, on August 1, 1944 Warsaw had about 1 million people.  When the Soviets finally decided to “liberate” the city in January of 1945 there was hardly anyone left.  Most of the population was buried under the ruins or were forcibly driven out.

Girl praying at a makeshift grave next to a bloc of flats in one of many makeshift cementaries during the Rising.

And what ruins they were.  By this time 85% of the city was rubble.  Systematically destroyed by Hitler’s order.  Poland’s capitol, one of the biggest cities in the middle of Europe, simply ceased to exist.  The death was not instantaneous.  Warsaw was dying for well over 5 years.  A good part of the city was destroyed when Warsaw defended itself from the initial Nazi onslaught in 1939.  The Germans bombed the city indiscriminately right from the beginning of the war.  When they approached Warsaw with their armies the aerial bombing was combined with artillery fire.  On Hitler’s orders nothing was rebuilt, except for what Poles did themselves in order to live.

Then came the Ghetto.  Several buildings were destroyed when the Germans isolated the Jewish population from the rest of the city.  A wall was erected surrounding the Jews from the rest.  In 1943 came the first Warsaw Uprising.  Some 60,000 Jews were left in the Ghetto by then, from what was over half a million at the peak of overcrowding.  Almost half a million perished in Treblinka or died inside the Ghetto.  Hitler ordered the final clean up of the Ghetto, except this time the Jews fought back.  Numbering around a thousand, the Jewish fighters said no more.  They were not going to go to their deaths peacefully.  They wished to die on their own terms.  They wanted to show an uncaring world that they are human and they will not go quietly into the night.  And fight they did.  With hardly any weapons, they used what they had heroically.  The brilliant and tragic fight of the Warsaw Jews infuriated Hitler.  Once the Ghetto was cleared it was turned into rubble.

Remains of the Ghetto

During the Warsaw Uprising itself a further 25% of the city was destroyed.  The Germans once again indiscriminately bombed the city.  They even used their famed, but by then outdated Stuka dive bombers due to the Poles not having any anti aircraft weapons, and the Soviets were hardly going to send fighters to protect Warsaw.  Hospitals and churches were even targeted by the Luftwaffe.  Heavy artillery weapons were employed.

In October of 1944 when the Rising ended the Germans, after they stole what they could, systematically turned what was left of Warsaw into rubble.  More than 35% of what was left of the Polish capitol was destroyed.  85% of the whole city.  A lot of what stood was on the right bank of the Vistula River which the Red Army occupied since September of 1944.  Warsaw was no more.  Hitler achieved his dream.  The destruction was so bad that there was a debate about rebuilding Warsaw at all and about moving the capitol elsewhere.  To their credit, the Soviet run Polish Commies decided to rebuild Warsaw.  But they being red bastards could not do even that the right way.  In a hurry, and for the glory of Communist Poland the commies rebuild Warsaw at the expense of other Polish cities.  No, not by not rebuilding them.  But by actually taking apart perfectly good, centuries old buildings.  The shortage of materials “forced” the commies to demolish many a historical and beautiful Old Town.  Mainly these were “materials”  taken from ex-German cities (but belonging to Poland now, though they were underpopulated at the time).  But the short sighted attitude of the new communist regime was shocking.  Stalin’s motto about breaking eggs to make omelets was never so true.

Tempest and Battle for History

Polish Held Warsaw During the Rising, August 4, 1944

The Warsaw Uprising did not come out of nowhere.  It was part of a bigger battle.  Operation Tempest (Burza) was an Armia Krajowa (AK, Home Army) nationwide operation that aimed to disrupt German defences in Polish territory when the Red Army approached.  From the moment the Red Army entered the pre-war 1939 borders of Poland the AK fought behind the lines, or in cooperation with the Red Army itself to make the Red Army’s job easier.  This came on top of the Soviet partisan operations and those of the Soviet controlled Polish Armia Ludowa (AL, People’s Army, formerly Gwardia Ludowa, People’s Guards, though their numbers in the grand scheme of things were insignificant).   Almost all of the forces who were not controlled by Moscow fought under orders of AK.  From some very right wing small organizations to left wing ones like Bataliony Chlopskie (BCh, Peasant Battalions).

Armia Krajowa resembled the government in London.  Most of the pre-war political factions united themselves under the orders of the unity govt in exile.  When the Germans occupied Poland several different resistance groups immediately came into being.  What became Armia Krajowa was the result of reorganization and consolidation of many different factions.  By 1944 only the small extreme right wing groups were not formerly incorporated under the AK, nor were the communists, but they had a different master, one in Moscow.   However to their credit, both the right and the communists did fight under the orders of AK during the Uprising.  Their numbers were insignificant, but their heroism was as great as the rest.  Several different groups and individual Polish Jews also joined the Rising.  Estimated range from 20,000 to almost 50,000 of AK fighters (estimates are wide due to the fact that some include forces in the Warsaw district and many of those only participated in the fighting in Warsaw itself for a very short time before withdrawing to the surrounding forests, or not at all).  With up to 4,000 that came from other groups.

By the time of the Warsaw Uprising “Tempest” was in full force.  The Polish partisans liberated several cities and towns by themselves even before the Red Army arrived in what was Eastern Poland before the war.  On many occasions the cooperation between the AK and the Red Army was quite satisfactory.  However behind the Red Army the NKVD (internal police forces, later known as the KGB) units followed, whole divisions of them.  Most of the AK formations were disarmed, their soldiers were forcibly incorporated into the Communist led Polish People’s Army which fought alongside the Red Army on the Easter Front.  Most officers and many AK  soldiers were imprisoned by the NKVD.  Sent to Soviet gulags, shot, or kept in prison on trumped up charges, or without being charged at all.  Reports of these incidents reached Warsaw by the time of the Rising.  With time as the knowledge spread, Polish partisans were more reluctant to fight alongside the Soviets or to even make themselves known.

The Decision

Barricade in Warsaw

Still the government in exile (without consulting the CiC of Polish Forces General Sosnkowski) gave General Komorowski “Bor” permission to make the decision in country along with the government’s civilian representative.  By late July the Germans were reeling.  Just days before an attempt was made on Hitler’s life by his own soldiers.  The Wehrmacht was retreating on all fronts and the Red Army was approaching the Vistula Line and Warsaw itself.  Time was up.  It was now or never.  A decision had to be made.  Warsaw’s numerous fighters were eager to free their own city.  Soviet controlled Polish Radio, on Stalin’s orders, called on all Poles to rise up and fight the Nazi menace.  And so, on the last day of July of 1944 General Komorowski made his decision.  W Hour was to come the next day 17:00.

The hour of the start of the Rising is peculiar.  5 PM in August in Poland is not the ideal time to begin military operations.  It would be light for several more hours.  And while night would hinder coordination of the Rising, the defenders would have problems seeing the attackers.  But Warsaw was under martial law.  No one was allowed to be on the streets at night without special permission, so thousands of mostly young men gathering in certain areas would get attention in late evening.  The afternoon “rush hour” gave them a decent cover.  In any case the secret was out soon and the Germans were quite prepared for something, though the scale of the Rising did surprise them.

Even before the fighting was over the Armia Krajowa command was criticised for giving the order to fight.  Accusations flew from left and right.  A dangerous adventure, criminal action, reckless, responsible for the destruction of Warsaw and hundreds of thousands dead, were just a few of the descriptions.  The people who encouraged Warsaw to rise up immediately accused the AK command claiming that the Rising was aimed against the Soviet Union as much as it was against Germany.  By the middle of August Stalin was calling the fighters a “gang of criminals.”

The Rising turned out to be a tragic event.  A city was destroyed, over 200,000 dead, unspeakable suffering, the Home Army as a fighting force pretty much ceased to exist.  Questions come up to this day.  Due to not being able to have an open nationwide debate about this till 1989 Poland is still dealing with the issue of the Rising.  For 45 years lies and accusations were spread by the official Communist “historians.”  Armia Krajowa was accused of being fascist, of cooperating with the Nazis, the importance AK and its  actions were minimized, instead all glory went to the tiny in comparison, band of Communists who called themselves Armia Ludowa.  At first the Communists accused the AK of not being aggressive enough in their struggle against the Germans.  Then they were called reckless.  The Communists of course were just heroic.  Armia Krajowa had a policy to not engage the Germans if it meant that the general population would suffer disproportionately, after all, they were fighting to free those people from Nazi oppression, there was no point to this whole exercise if no one was left to enjoy the hard won freedom.  The AL had no such problems.  Their struggle was for world revolution and their efforts were aimed at helping the Red Army in their fight against the Nazis.  Chaos behind the German lines accomplished that, by any means.  If any civilians suffered, so much the better, an angry population is likely to turn against the occupiers.

Till communism fell in Poland there were no monuments commemorating the AK.  But several were erected to remember the struggle and sacrifices of the communists.  For the communists it was best when the AK was totally ignored, when they could not ignore it they made sure to paint the AK command and officers as reactionary at best, fascist and Nazi sympathizers who were more obsessed in trying to destroy the Polish communists than fighting the Germans at worst.  Home Army soldiers were murdered, imprisoned, branded as traitors by the communists after the war.  The fight by the remnants of the AK and others against the communist regime after the war ended just gave them ammunition.  Any trouble was blamed on the reactionary fascists whether they had anything to do with it or not.  In a short time the Home Army went from being the biggest anti Nazi organization to Nazi sympathisers and the West lapped it up as it gave them an excuse to do nothing about Poland’s new occupation.  Slowly the Home Army and the Polish struggle is getting its deserved recognition.  But still a debate goes on.

Life Among Chaos. A Wedding Takes Place During the Rising

Edit:  Brilliant.  I was just watching a Polish newsreel from 1990.  And unbelievably saw a video from the wedding pictured above, followed by an elderly couple reminiscing about their wedding.  Both survived.  His Uniform was borrowed, as was her blouse, the flowers they found in some vase.  The doctor who saved his arm wanted to lend them his and his wife’s wedding rings, but they declined.  Instead they used metal rings that held up some curtain on a rod.  They had them till 1990 at least.  I hope they had many happy anniversaries.

Military reasons for the rising seem simple enough.  The aim was to wrest control of Warsaw and the bridges on the Vistula to give the Red Army an easy way to cross the river and establish themselves on the left bank.  While a major city is not an ideal springboard for further offensive the Warsaw bridgehead could have been easily defended and would draw German forces from other areas of the front to defend against further Soviet advance.  With the help of the AK and with the full support of the civilian population the Red Army’s job would have been made easier if they had pressed on into Warsaw.  They didn’t of course.

Political reasons seem not so simple.  After the disarming and arrest of several AK units earlier in Eastern Poland the Poles did not trust the Soviets very much.  There was also the inclination to show that the London supporting AK was a force to be reckoned with.  As the representatives of the legal government the Poles wanted to welcome the Soviets into a free Warsaw as hosts.  This is especially important in light of the 22 July announcement of the formation of PKWN in Lublin (Polish Committee of national Liberation).  A group of nobodies who were formed to govern post-war Poland, and who took their orders from Moscow.  They were the red alternative to the Polish government in London.  The fighting went on for 63 days, but the Uprising was meant to last no more than a couple of weeks.  Neither the AK nor the people of Warsaw were prepared for such long and ferocious fighting.  So.  Was it worth it?

In hindsight we can judge them quite harshly.  The Warsaw Uprising was a military disaster.  It achieved none of its objectives.  It led to the complete destruction of the city and countless deaths.  But to judge the Rising in such a way does not give the fighters, and the people responsible for it justice.  We can of course separate the fighting man from the decision maker and put all blame on the latter while honouring the former.  And that is the tactic of the leftist debaters who still believe that it was at best reckless, at worst, criminal.  But as I mentioned, the fighters themselves wanted to fight, they have been preparing for this for almost 5 years.  If they did not fight then what was the point?  They of course would be called cowards and Nazi sympathizers by the same people who now accuse them of recklessness.  The debate, despite radical geopolitical changes, did not change much.  Damned if their did, damned if they did not.

A very young nurse of the rising.

WWSD? – What Would Stalin Do?

One hardly hears that any more.  Now religious Christians just ask themselves “what would Jesus do?”  But the communists had their own god and saviour.  And make no mistake, that is not an exaggeration.  His word was holy to them.  Everything he did and said was adhered to.  So of course the people who now so eagerly accuse the AK command forget one thing.  They forget, or make excuses for the Soviets.  Now of course revisionism is not communist invention, but they sure were good at it.  They conveniently omit the actions of the Soviet leaders and its army.  Just days before the Soviets were calling on the whole Polish nation to rise against the Germans.  When they did they got no help.  In fact Stalin did everything to make Hitler’s job easier in fighting the Warsaw Uprising.  Suddenly supplies stopped being given out to frontline units so they could not advance any more.  The scale of the fighting was diminished by Soviet propaganda.  “A Band of Criminals.”  Yes up to 50,000 criminals fighting to free their city from Nazi yoke.  Simple fact is that the destruction of the AK and its leadership saved Stalin a headache later.  Why kill them after the war when Hitler can do the job for you.

Any efforts to help the fighters in Warsaw were thwarted.  RAF and Polish (among them also brave South African pilots) supply flights were first not allowed then hindered.  Most of the casualties these brave pilots suffered were actually at the hands of the Soviets who shot them down any chance they got (by mistake of course), as the Germans had very weak air defences in the area.  The help was minimized still by Stalin’s refusal to let the flights land on Soviet air bases.  This meant lighter payloads as they journeyed from Britain and Italy.  The Americans for their part were quite willing to go along with everything Stalin did and said for fear of antagonizing him before Yalta.  When the Red Army finally did reach the Vistula at Warsaw in mid-September it hardly did a thing to help Warsaw.  A weakly supported landing of a couple of battalions of Polish People’s Army troops was not enough.  They suffered heavy casualties and their bridgehead was isolated.  Only a few returned to the right bank of the river when the fighting was ending.  General Berling, the commander of the Polish First Army was soon dismissed from his post.  He showed too much initiative in trying to help his countrymen.

The defenders of the Great Stalin will of course point out that the Red Army couldn’t help the Rising even if it wanted to.  Well that’s an admission that they did not want to help, but communists and their defenders never bothered themselves much with moral issues.  So could they have?  Of course they could.  Fact is they did not even try and they did everything possible to make sure it failed.  It is possible that even if they did try they would have failed.  But that is no excuse.  Yes the great 1944 offensive was reaching its end.  And the STAVKA (Soviet Command) was moving the point of new attack north and south of Warsaw.  But this was a local action.  The units the Germans had in the area were not first rate nor were there a lot of them.  Hitler threw 2 Panzer Corps to north and south of Warsaw to defend the Vistula line (the last natural barrier before Germany).  But they would not send their best troop into urban combat.  Stalingrad was not that long ago.  Facing the Soviets were weak Wehrmacht infantry divisions which lacked heave weapons and air support.  The units in Warsaw were having a tough time dealing with under armed partisan forces.  Properly supported a corps could have reached the banks of Vistula crushing any German resistance, while another corps could have made the crossing and taken Warsaw along with the AK.  The Soviets did not even need to lift a finger fighting on the left bank, the Poles would have gladly gone.  All they needed was supplies, and air and artillery support to cover the crossing and the fighting later.  The Germans had no reserves to speak of in the area, or anywhere for that matter.  Any forces sent to Warsaw would mean weakening an already weak line.

Did Any of Them Survive?

But the Stalin forbade it.  Instead the world watched as Warsaw died.  And with Warsaw went the AK command, its fighters and its citizens.  They faced unspeakable horror, for this was not your normal urban combat.  The brave Wehrmacht was tasked with squashing the Uprising.  And so special units were called in, under the command of SS General von dem Bach-Zalewski (one of the worst war criminals tasked with anti-partizan operations through out the war, never tried for his crimes in the East because he agreed to testify against his masters at Nuremberg).  Von dem Bach was supposed to be an expert at this.  The main force fighting the Poles became known as Kampfgruppe Reinefarth named after its commander, another war criminal who was protected by the Western Allies and never tried, he even became a small town mayor in Germany after the war and lived of his general’s pension.  A special group of fighters this was.  It included what was known as the  Dirlewanger Brigade.  A motley penal SS unit composed of criminals and deserters.  Full of rapists and murderers they distinguished themselves by looting and murdering civilians.  Von dem Bach also had the Kaminski Brigade.  A unit of Russians loyal to the Nazis.  And while they were not officially a criminal unit they gave Dirlewanger’s men a run for their money.  By August 8 they managed to massacre tens of thousands of civilians in Wola and Ochota alone (two boroughs of Warsaw).  Kaminski’s men were so bad that he was later executed by the SS.  Now of course the honourable Germans were not shocked at the murders, his crime was stealing material belonging to the Reich.  His sin was not sharing what he looted.

EDITFun Fact.  I forgot to include the post war life of Oskar Dirlewanger.  Under the authority of the French Occupation Forces, who used Polish troops for the occasion, he was captured and brought to prison where he was tortured for several days and basically beaten to death.  🙂  Now I am against revenge and even the death penalty, but this brought a smile to my face.  And a silly Wiki article on the murdering bastard call his death a “murder.”  How?  At worst it was justifiable homicide and the Polish troops certainly did much better than the Western Allies who dealt with and protected many a very guilty Nazi after the war.

Sabaton’s “Uprising” a Swedish group that sings mainly about military history.  Most of the footage in the video is from the Uprising.  “Warszawo Walcz!” means “Warsaw, Fight on!”

But Germans used anyone they could to fight the Poles.  A unit from the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” was used.  Police, Wehrmacht, SS, garrison troops, anyone who could be spared was thrown into Warsaw. Tens of thousands of Nazis fought in the Uprising.  All in all the Germans lost around 17,000 in killed and missing, with a further 9,000 wounded and as high as 5,000 taken prisoner.  Of course the Germans did not take prisoners in the beginning.  Any Polish fighter captured, whether man, woman, or child was summarily executed.  After all these were just bandits and untermenschen to boot.  Only later did the Germans begin to treat the Polish fighters as POWs.

Warsaw Fights On

The Poles themselves fought first to free Warsaw and later to win honourable terms after it became apparent that the Rising was doomed and no help was coming.  Terms they did gain, but Germans being Germans stuck to them only when it was convenient for them.  As I said, the fighting was to last no more than a couple of weeks.  The fighting begun even before the official start hour as German units came across Polish fighters in their areas of concentration.  The element of surprise was gone.  Only some objectives were taken.  The Poles never did manage to consolidate their gains enough to control the whole city.  And what they did control was a patchwork of areas (as the map above shows).  The Nazis defended their lines of communication across the river to the front fiercely.  When they lost them they fought hard to gain them back.  Even though they were under constant fire for several days the Poles never did manage to cut off Warsaw from the front.  The all important bridges remained in enemy hands.  As the battle drew on the Polish forces were squeezed and surrounded.  Isolated areas held on as long and whenever they could.  When they could not they either tried to break the ring and fight through to other Polish controlled areas, or withdrew through Warsaw’s sewers.

The Warsaw sewer system was used trough out the occupation as means of escape and communication with the Ghetto.  Now it became means of communications between different districts and areas of operations.  Young runners, girls and boys, when not dodging bullets above ground, went through the sewers to bring orders and supplies whenever possible and to evacuate the wounded to safer areas.  Many a brave Pole found his death in those tunnels (those who have not seen it I would suggest watching Andrew Wajda’s “Kanal,” Canal).  Wells were improvised as water became scarce due to destruction of pipes or because the Germans turned it off.  Food shortages came.  Along with destruction Warsaw had to worry about feeding itself.

A Polish built improvised armoured vehicle used during the Rising, nicknamed Kubus (a cute name in Polish, we call Winnie the Pooh, Kubus Puchatek)

The Poles did manage to control most of Warsaw for a time.  They even captured some fighting vehicles.  A few armoured personnel carriers and even a couple of SS “Wiking” Panther tanks that they repaired and used against the Germans.  Barricades were erected.  The city became a bastion.  The civilians, though somewhat afraid, welcomed the Uprising.  Field kitchens were operated by civilians, mechanics, builders, anyone who was useful helped.  Men, women, young and old, all helped.  The whole city fought the hated Nazis.  But it was the civilians who paid the ultimate price and who suffered the most.  The official figures do not include the thousands who were sent to forced labour or death camps after the fighting ended.  The figures don’t speak of the rapes and murders.  They don’t tell anything about how these people lost everything they had.  Their homes in ruins, their possessions destroyed or looted.  Whole families uprooted.

And what of the fighters themselves?  Most were kids really.  Some as young as 12.  Child soldiers.  All volunteers.  All brave and idealistic.  Many were students completing their education in underground schools and universities as the Germans allowed only for the most basic education of Poles, nothing above a few grades.  They were poets, painters, engineers, or manual labourers, many still just students.  They were everyone.  From all walks of life.  The Polish Boy Scouts deserve a mention here.  The organization was forbidden in Poland under the German occupation.  But it did not die, it met and organized in secret.  It kept the spirit of Poland alive.  These young men and women (the girls of the Rising were as brave as any heroes of WWII) fought side by side with their elders for their city, for Poland.  The famous Battalion Zoska (a female name, pseudonym of an AK commander who was killed in action earlier ) fought gallantly in the Rising.  It was a Scout (Szare Szeregi, Grey Ranks, Underground Scout Units) unit under the AK.  They freed a concentration camp in the middle of what was left of the Warsaw Ghetto.  All able bodied freed prisoners (most of them Jews kept alive to work for the Germans, just under 400 in number) joined the battalion and fought alongside their saviours.  Or “Parasol” (Umbrella), another famed unit of the AK Scouts.  Along with many famous actions throughout the occupation “Parasol” fought on gallantly all through out the Uprising.  Among its ranks was a famous Polish poet, Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski, he was killed at his post on August 4 by a German sniper, he was just 23,  His wife, Barbara, 22, was killed less than a month later.  No happy endings here.

In memory of the youngest fighters

The fight did not end for some with the end of the Rising or even the war.  Persecuted some went underground and kept fighting the commies.  Many were persecuted even though they did not fight the communists.  By virtue of association brave heroes were imprisoned by the communists.  All the surviving members of the “Zoska” battalion were imprisoned after the war after fighting for the very freedom the commies enjoyed.  For those who survived the end did not really come till 1989.  It was only then when they could come out of the shadows and be officially remembered.  It was not till then that they could be honoured.  Most though did not live to see those days.  While their oppressors, both Nazi and Communist, were free to enjoy their pensions and peaceful life.  Unlike Hollywood films, most of Polish war films do not end on a happy note.

In the end the Rising was doomed to fail.  And fail it did.  But was it worth all the blood and ruins?  Objectively speaking no.  It was not.  Nothing is worth that much suffering.  But in that case nothing is worth fighting for, nothing is worth the sacrifice.  So we can’t be objective here.  And its not as if they had a choice.  They had to fight.  The brutal occupation had to be ended.  The sooner the better.  They had every right to expect outside help.  Especially from the east in the form of the Red Army.  It was not their fault that Stalin was willing to let his mate Hitler deal with the Poles.  Blaming the AK commanders for what was a straight forward military operation aimed at freeing the capitol of Poland, with Soviet help, is absurd.  That means those who do blame General Komorowski blame him for all the suffering and not the Germans or the Soviets.  Its not as if he could have predicted the Soviets will happily watch while Warsaw bled.  Or that the Western Allies would hardly lift a finger to help in any way.  General Komorowski and the Polish leadership are not responsible for the destruction of Warsaw.  Hitler and Stalin are.

So those willing to tarnish the memory of those brave men and women would do well to remember that.  I for one, rather remember them, their bravery and sacrifice.  As long as we remember them they have not died in vain.

Finally Remembered. Warsaw Uprising Monument

Author’s Note:  Thank you for taking the time to read this.  These brave men and women deserve to be remembered.  Feel free to post comments, especially if you have issues with this post.  But do remember it is by no means meant to be complete history of the Rising or even a partial one.  I just wanted to commemorate their sacrifice in my own way and to argue a bit with those who in my opinion tarnish their memory by placing blame where it should not go.  And sadly the debate still goes on.  Its hard to reverse over 40 years of lies and propaganda.

There are a lot of good works written about the Rising.  First and foremost a comprehensive study by Norman Davies titled: Rising ’44.  There are also several good works by Polish historian translated into English and witness accounts from those who fought in the Rising.  As well as quite a few good films and TV programs.  Not all is in English, but quite a lot is, and some of those are very good on their own, the subject matter only makes them better and more important.

For quicker sources there is a lot of stuff on the web, all you need to do is google.  Wikipedia has pretty good articles on the whole and several different aspects of the Rising.  I encourage anyone interested to look, there are fascinating stories of bravery, sacrifice, idealism and tragedy that can make anyone tear up.

Anyone visiting Warsaw please visit the new Warsaw Uprising Museum.  It had to wait till communism fell, and sadly for some years after, but finally under the mayor Lech Kaczynski (later president of Poland, he died in a plane crash this past April along with 95 others) Poland built its heroes a proper place of remembrance.

A fascinating digital reconstruction project done by the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Thank you again.  We shall never forget.

Who Really Won World War Two?

Who Really Won?

On the 1st of September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland.  Two days later Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and thus begun the Second World War.  The biggest and most deadly conflict in out planet’s history.  In short time it engulfed 3 continents, its participants came from every continent bar Antarctica.  It lasted 6 years and one day, it was not until September the 2nd of 1945 that Japan surrendered.  Countless millions perished, hundreds of cities were turned to ruins.  But who actually gained from the conflict?  Who achieved their aims?

In the strictest military sense all those on the side of the Allies won.  Germany was defeated, Italy surrendered and Imperial Japan finally gave up after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on two of Japan’s cities.  All their puppet states and allied nations like Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, surrendered.  So every year since 1945 those who fought on the side of the Allies celebrate VE and VJ days.  However not many have a lot to celebrate.  At least until recently.

War brings change.  And a significant geopolitical change followed WWII.  The world looked much different than it did just six short years earlier.  Borders we realigned, countries went missing, some new ones appeared, everyone needed new maps.  Empires died in the aftermath of WWII, the so called victors lost most of their territories.  It seems that from all of the participants there were only two nations who actually WON World War II.  Yes it came at a great price, and to the victors should go the spoils, but we are led to believe that there were more than two victors.  Hell tens of nations have parades and commemorations every year, celebrating the defeat of the Axis powers.  Great.  But lets look at what they actually won.

Take Poland for example, you know that country in the center of Europe that everyone went to war over.  Yes, that one, the one Germans invaded and the Brits and the French would not allow to perish.  Well in the end it turned out to be a bit more than just a fight for Danzig.  But that’s where it started.  So what did Poland get for losing almost 6 million of its citizens, for having many of its cities in ruins, for 5 years of brutal occupation, for losing its best and brightest?  Well it lost some of its most Polish cities like Lvow and Vilno, it lost its eastern territories.  To be fair Uncle Joe and Roosevelt gave Poland some of Germany’s territories, richer, more developed.  But Poland also lost its freedom, because the price for Breslau and Stettin was 45 years of brutal communist rule under the yoke of Stalin and his successors.  Poland’s legitimate government became exiled, its best and brightest (those whom Hitler did not manage to murder) were thrown in jails or gulags, were tortured, murdered, made paupers, were exiled.  Hooray for Poland for losing almost 20% of its population in fighting the Nazi menace.  Well that’s one country that did not enjoy victory as much as it should.

But its only Poland, so who cares, even if it was the fourth largest contributor to the fight against the Nazis, it was not seen as a serious country that mattered much.  Lets look at real powers, those who stood with Poland.  Yes, the major powers of great Britain and France won WWII.  Only to lose most if their influence and power and their empires.  Now the last of those was a good thing, freedom is great.  But I doubt that is how the French and the Brits envisioned their victories.  Lets keep going shall we.  The Baltic states ceased to exist alltogether, they were swallowed by the Soviet Union.  Yugoslavia did ok, but it fell under Tito and his murderers.  Belgium and Holland also lost whatever was left of their empires soon after WWII.  Iceland became a protectorate of the United States instead of Denmark.  Norway managed to make out ok, but Finland, pushed under Hitler’s protection by Stalin lost some of its territories.

The nations allied with Great Britain, New Zeeland, Australia, Canada, South Africa, got just a thank you.  Asia became one big mess, Korea is still divided to this day, half of it still under a despotic maniac always on the brink of starvation to say nothing of oppression.  China, already in a civil war lost millions and fell under the Red menace.  Vietman was divided.  All this just for a promise from Uncle Joe to declare war on Japan.  What a deal.  Easiest victory ever.

The Soviet Union did fight, and gallantly too, but before it did lets remember something.  It made a pact with Hitler allowing him to start WWII, it also invaded Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Soviet judges then presided over Nazi generals and tried them for waging wars of aggression, you can’t make this stuff up.  Soviet Union it appears, was allied with Nazi Germany!!!  Yes.  But it managed to do this in a way that Allied powers did not see it as an enemy.  Hell even the Poles hardly fought the Red Army after it invaded.  Then when Hitler invaded the USSR the commies became part of the Allies.  The Allies bent over backwards to accommodate the Soviets, sacrificing whole nations to please Uncle Joe.  Now I get realpolitik and understand why it was done.  I too would probably say what Churchill said about the communists.  Fair enough.  But there it something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

So what did Uncle Joe get for allying himself with Adolf and then being betrayed by him?  Well he got the Baltic States, gained territories from Poland, Germany, Romania, Finland, China, and Japan, also, control of Easter Europe, and parts of Asia.  Did I miss anyone?  The Soviet Union became a proper empire, with control of large parts of the world and influence that outgrew anything they could have imagined.  Its amazing, a truly genius political move.  they helped start WWII and got rewarded in the end.  They did not even want to switch sides.  Stalin was quite willing to see Hitler’s Germany destroy large parts of Europe and the world before he would actually do anything.  But Hitler was an idiot, and the commies won.

The other victors were the Americans.  While they did not receive major territories for their troubles they did gain influence.  The isolationist America became a leading world power.  Its influence was truly worldwide.  Its only challenger was the Soviet Union.  Instead of letting the world burn on its own, America developed alliances all over the globe.  The world became polarized between the forces of democracy led by the United States and the forces of communism, those were of course led by the Kremlin.  Fortunately the  Cold War is over now.  Most of the places touched by WWII have once again become free and can finally truly celebrate.

However, for decades there were only two places that could really celebrate on May 9th and September the 2nd.  And those were Washington DC and Moscow.  Because for all their sacrifice and blood in defeating the Nazi menace most other nations were not really victorious.  Its not true that there are no victors in war, but there are not as many as we like to believe.

Obama to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan

Finally A Decision?

It took a while since General McChrystal requested additional troops.  Last night as many of you saw, Obama made a speech in which he outlined his “new” Afghanistan strategy.  Folks from each side with be able to pick holes in it, and right now, I can bet, many pundits, “experts,” politicians, bloggers, etc., are writing and talking about what a mistake it is because of something they heard or read in Obama’s speech.  To be sure the plan looks far from perfect, and the future, I am sure, will also prove that it was not perfect.  But before we scream our collective and very partisan heads of , lets think about this for a second.

Whatever you thought of the war in Iraq this was different.  This was the “good war.”  Most of us supported President Bush in the wake of 9-11 and his decision to invade Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  However because of Iraq our attention turned elsewhere and the situation in Afghanistan remained dire.  Underfunded, undermanned, our efforts there have stalled, reversed in fact.  So that leaves us with a question of what the hell do we do now?

We have few choices, each worse than the next.  We can pull out right now, cut our loses and hope for the best.  The anti-war activists, some who come from Obama’s own party, would love nothing else.  But can we really?  Will this solve everything?  Will Afghanistan be able to survive on its own?  I doubt that.  So what’s next?  The Taliban or an equally ruthless dictator takes over (we have seen this film in the 90’s), more civil war, more suffering for the Afghan people.  And an another 9-11 possibly.  Yes.  Your own asses are on the line here and not just some hick Afghans.  Because if we do pull out, it would show that we can be defeated, we are a paper tiger, and America in not that scary.  It would give comfort to those who want to kill us (and whatever else you believe, make no mistake, there are people who want to kill you).  And finally, cynically perhaps, Obama can not afford to pull out.  Bush would not be blamed for the fiasco, Obama would.  Whatever feeble efforts the Bush administration made there they still made them.  Packing up and leaving now would be the worse of options.

Then on the other site Obama will get criticised by the chicken hawks, who would like nothing better than to go “nuclear” on the Afghans.  meaning, a huge increase in troops and an open ended campaign, and nation building.  Well sorry, we can’t afford that.  Our military is overtaxed as it is.  And we can not afford it financially nor politically.  Financially it would mean hundreds of billi0ns of dollars more.  Politically we could not sustain the goodwill of the Afghans, our allies nor of the neutrals.  And yes it matters.  The “fuck you, will do it alone” attitude is boring and has never worked.  And has never been attempted, even by the “fuck you” president George W. Bush.

Obama also set a date.  18 months.  By July of 2011 he expects these troops to start pulling out.  Now the sillier of pundits and “experts” will scream that this just gives a date for our enemies to wait us out and then they’ll rise as soon as we leave.  Which part of “start” do you not understand?  It does not mean that we’ll be gone by the end of that 18 month period.  Obama even set clauses, “depending on the situation.”  We will pull out “responsibly,” yes, meaning that if the situation has not improved enough for us to pull out, we wont.  My god, what a concept!  The dates are set to put pressure on the Afghans themselves.  Knowing that the Yanks are not going to be there forever protecting their corrupted asses, they might actually do something in that time.

The above “critiques” are not something that I just made up, you have, and will hear them, again, and again, depending on who you are watching, reading or listening to, they will present their cases more or less in that way.

So we are left with what appears to be a sensible medium.  A substantial increase in military power to combat AQ and the Taliban, and protect our rebuilding efforts there.  At the same time we will have more capacity to train Afghan military and police force.  30,000 is not the “up to 40,000” requested by McChrystal.  But good enough I believe.  Yes, he did not give the military everything that it wanted, but he gave most.  Which is more than many other presidents have done.  Hopefully this will work, and we can leave Afghanistan a better place than we fount it, and we ourselves will be safer.  But there are no guarantees.

The region is a mess.  Not everything depends on what we do in Afghanistan.  Pakistan matters.  Matters a lot.  Afghanis themselves have to do much more than they have done up till now.  The govt there is ineffective, without us it would fall apart.  This surge might give them the will to go on and move forward.  I still have fears that we will fail.  Its quite possible that we might, even with the surge, or another surge.  But we have to do something.  And right now, President Obama’s new plan seems reasonable, with a reasonable chance of being effective.  Lets hope so, for all our sakes.

And The Wall Came Tumbling Down

wall

20 Years Ago

It was a great time.  I remember being glued to my TV watching, as German met a German.  And it did turn out that they were Ein Volk. It was amazing.  Unbelievable really, I watched with my eyes wide, mouth opened, almost in shock at what was unfolding.  A great time.  It was the culmination of almost the whole year of  amazing events that changed the world.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was the most visible symbol of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.  Its that one event we can all point to.

Just a few years earlier it was unimaginable to think that such an event could take place.  In December of 1981 I remember waking up to no cartoons, instead, a dour looking uniformed man in glasses was on our television reading a statement that said that Poland was under Martial Law and any and all reforms that the Solidarity managed to gain were all gone.

jaruzelski

General Jaruzelski, under orders from his masters in Moscow, implemented Martial Law.  Solidarity was outlawed, massive arrests were made, tanks and armoured personnel carriers were on the streets.  There was an official curfew.  There were deaths of some who protested.  And here we were, less than 8 years later, Poland already after the Round Table.  Then Solidarity wins the June elections, and Jaruzelski names the first non-communist Prime Minister.  Hungary follows, opens its border with Austria and then East Germany.  And all hell breaks lose.  One by one, Communist Regimes fall.  All sybolized by the fall of The Wall.

I remember a young West German climbing on top of the Wall and offering a very confused East German border guard a drink and a hug.  The gathered crowd roared and applauded.  Such a spontaneous act, such a wonderful symbol.  Soon the Wall itself was full of people, drinking, hugging, dancing with joy, for they knew, a new day had dawned.  One where totalitarian regimes would fall, and a people would be united.  There were more great, and tragic events that would follow.  Czechoslovakia would free itself, and then divide.  Romania would take revenge on its dictator.  Yugoslavia would disintegrate into a civil war.  The Soviet Union itself would fall, it would shake the yoke of communism and let its subject choose for the first time.  It too would fall apart into many different states, some were allowed to leave, some would have to fight.  Communism in Europe would fall into the ash heap of history.

And good riddance I say.

BerlinWallDODEastMeetsWest(320)

I have a piece of it.  A small fragment of a symbol of oppression and division.  The Wall stood for everything that was evil in Europe.  It may have divided one city, but it was a symbol of a divided continent.  And now its n0 more, only small sections are left as a monument of the past that was.  Technically the fall of communism in Europe did not begin, nor end, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There was the main architect of the fall of communism, Gorbachev, it was he who let it all happen.  There was Solidarity, the Round Table, the first free elections behind the Iron Curtain. There was Hungary.  Later there was the Velvet revolution, death of Caucescu, fall of the USSR.  But its the Wall we all remember.  That symbol of division, of oppression, of longing for freedom.  It was not just a symbol though.

It really did isolate a city and divide its people.  People died trying to get to the other side.  It served a purpose.  Whatever illusions the more naive had about communism were shattered by the Wall.  Its gone now.  20 years, and I look back happy remembering that day, that year really.  And the time that followed.  A Germany united, Europe free.  Soviet Union is no more.  Now life is not perfect.  Old problems were replaced by new ones.  But we all can look back and think that it DID turn out for the better.  And I would not change that day for anything.