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Archive for the ‘Poland’ Category

First, Obama yanked missile defense on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Invasion of Poland.  Now, with the decimation of Poland’s leadership, Obama spends the day golfing rather than heading to a museum, an embassy, or the funeral itself.  What the hell is wrong with this guy? Is he smarting that they were pro-Bush and fought with us in Iraq?  Or did too many guys named Kowalski give him funny look back when he was community organizin’ in the heavily Polish city of Chicago?  If there’s one thing we can be sure of, this guy is petty and narcissistic, so perhaps this is a perfect storm of his leftist politics and black identity-seeking chauvinism!

The thing that probably really does make someone like Obama so angry is that ethnic whites–Poles, Irish, Italians, Slovaks, Serbs–do not have the same guilt-ridden baggage of older generation WASPs.  They came here broke, worked hard, have had modest success on the whole, and contrast their own work ethic and up-by-the-boots-strap values with the idleness, violence, promiscuity, and alien ways of the inner-city blacks with whom they competed for jobs and political power.  Not only did they compete, but they moved away, en masse, when forced to integrate.  They were willing to live harmoniously (if separately) but not if it meant their kids safety and education would suffer.  This story was repeated many times in cities like Philly, Chicago, and NY.  These Reagan Democrats abandoned the Democratic Party not because of capital gains tax cuts, but because they felt alienated from the unpatriotic New Left and the various programs aimed at the idle, mostly black poor. While a hustler like Obama could do a pretty decent job of getting guilty WASPs and Jews to go along with his social-peace-through-surrender-to-the-savior schtick, this rhetoric doesn’t fly that well among the ethnically proud people like Poles who are not nearly so rich and privileged to be lumped in with the supposed oppressors.

One wonders, though, if someone like Obama is too ignorant to know or care much about the tragic story of Poland or the triumphant story of Polish Americans and all of the other ethnic whites who have achieved so much in America, simply because they were free to allow their talents shine.  Or does their success remind him of the persistence of black social stagnation and decline, even though these people had as much or more poverty as the blacks 50 years ago.

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The large plane crash involving Poland’s president and other key leadership oddly mirrors the tragic events of Katyn, which this generation of leaders were flying to Smolensk, Russia to honor.  Of course, the scale of the 2010 crash is many times smaller than Katyn, where some tens of thousands of Polish Officers and intelligentsia were murdered by the NKVD during the early stages of World War II.

Poland has been an unlucky country in many ways:  its national borders snuffed out for most of the 19th Century, its leadership beset by infighting in the 18th, conquered by Germans and Soviets in the 20th, some 6 million of its citizens murdered by Nazis and some several hundred thousand more murdered by Soviets and their lackeys thereafter.  Yet it has risen again, many times over, no matter what it has endured.  Indeed, the 20 years in its post-Communism phase have largely been a period of expanded wealth, military power, and good relations with both Germany and Russia.

The glue that has held Poland together through all of these events is Catholicism, which is believed widely and more sincerely there than in nearly any other European country.  Let us hope that the Polish people’s Catholic faith sees them through this latest tragedy.

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My close friend, Marek Chodakiewicz, is a serious historian of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Nazi and Soviet occupations of his native land. He is an intelligent, balanced, and honest scholar, who does not indulge in nationalist myth-making, is willing to slay sacred cows, and is not devoid of appreciation for the moral complexity that faced the Jewish and Polish people under foreign occupiers. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)–a money grubbing supposed civil rights organization run by the morally challenged Morris Dees–has decided to attack him, as they have attacked so many others, for deviating from leftist orthodoxy in a ruthless campaign of censorship:

Many of Chodakiewicz’s controversial writings about Jews predate his appointment to the museum board. In a 2003 book, After the Holocaust: Polish Jewish Relations in the Wake of World War II, he argued that postwar violence directed at Jews in Poland was seldom due to anti-Semitism. Instead, he cited other factors: Poles’ resistance to Jewish communists; self-defense against Jews who wanted to murder Poles who had collaborated with the Nazis; and thwarting efforts by Jews to reclaim property seized by the Nazis and later taken by Poles.

Chodakiewicz also maintained in the book that 400 to 700 Jews were murdered in Poland after the war; other estimates place the toll at 1,500 or higher. And he argued that Jewish communists killed more Poles after the war than vice versa.

In an article about Chodakiewicz’s book for a newspaper in Israel, Laurence Weinbaum, a historian, one-time Fulbright scholar and executive director of the Jerusalem-based World Jewish Congress Research Institute and the Israel Council of Foreign Relations, wrote that Chodakiewicz and “like-minded historians … are hard at work explaining why the murdered — not the murderers — are guilty.” Chodakiewicz, Weinbaum added, is a historian with “twisted views.”

I have read the book. The scholarship is impeccable. It has hundreds of footnotes per chapter. It cites sources in Russian, English, Polish, Ukrainian, and even Hebrew. It literally researches and reports on each and every reported violent death in Poland from 1944-1947.

The Holocaust was a great crime not only against Jews, but also against Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Belarussians, and others. If the essence of the crime was mass murder of innocent civilians for ideological and racist reasons–which I think it was–then the mass murder of Polish Christians, often by Russian or Jewish communists in post-war Poland, is also a crime worth studying in a rigorous way. Such scholarship does not detract from or minimize the Holocaust against the Jewish people. Context is everything in history, including context necessary to understand the magnitude of the Nazi mass murder of Jews. But an event shorn of all context is not historical but mythological or religious: beyond discussion, beyond comparison, beyond understanding, beyond reason. This is not healthy. This is not history.

The real history of World War II has been eclipsed by a fairly recent focus in popular culture almost exclusively upon the Holocaust. This focus has come about through the exclusion of understanding of other Nazi crimes, Japanese crimes, Soviet crimes, and most other aspects of the war. The popular history of the Holocaust has been especially distorted to render the perpetrators beyond human and their victims beyond reproach, even when some of those same victims (or would-be victims) were also victimizers in the uniforms of the NKVD in Poland from 1944-1947. In the post-war milieu of Poland and Eastern Europe, no doubt there were many crimes perpetrated, whether by anti-semitic Polish nationalists, ordinary bandits, rape-addicted Red Army soldiers, or overly zealous Jewish “Avengers.” But this layered story, where the evil Europeans of the Holocaust were now victims is inconvenient, and it has been suppressed.

There is no excuse for mass murder of innocents. This should not be controversial. But to discuss these others victims is considered suspect, whether those innocents were Poles killed by German Nazis, Poles killed by Jews, Ukrainians killed by Poles, Poles killed by Ukrainians, Germans killed by Russians, or any of the other permutations of ideological mass murder that marked the middle of the 20th Century. It is a narrow ideological goal that takes one especially effective species of such mass murder–the Nazi mass murder of the Jews–to exclude, ignore, and downplay other instances of civilian genocide, not least that of the long-suffering Poles, who endured a situation where the erstwhile Jewish victims of the Nazis (in recently donned and also threadbare Soviet uniforms) were also in some cases the victimizers of the Poles–Poles who were themselves also victimized by the Nazis alongside the Jews simultaneously during 1939-1944.

Chodakiewicz’s crime is that he speaking the truth. And that truth threatens the agenda of a certain kind of leftist, a leftist that hates Christianity, hates America, hates Europe, and hates the white race. Such leftism needs the Holocaust to have primacy over all other history because this viewpoint renders the Nazis as uniquely diabolical in history, the apotheosis of the genetically evil Western World. It is the same leftism that defames the Catholic Church, the Spanish conquistadors, the soldiers of the Confederacy, and the brave knights of the Crusades. The leftism comes first; facts and context are secondary.

As a result of leftist dominance in academia and the media, an unnuanced series of concepts about the Holocaust have become etched in stone as conventional wisdom. The most central such myth is that of a completely perfect victim sacrificed by a completely evil and irrational perpetrator.  As such, the official Holocaust of the Left becomes the mirror-image of the Christian Passion story: the perfect and blameless Lamb (then Jesus, but now the Jews) slaughtered by the hateful Jewish mob (Christian Nazis) with the acquiesence of the amoral Romans (Polish, Russian, French, and other Christian Europeans who did not do enough to stop the mass murder). After all, what else was Hitler’s Pope or Hitler’s Willing Executioners all about?

Scholarship, such as Chodakiewicz’s, that shows the perpetrators too sometimes were victims of evil, and that Jews too were sometimes bystanders, and that their cousins in NKVD uniforms killed even more people than the Nazis did in the Ukraine and Poland and Russia, would pull down the entire edifice of leftism which depends upon a very particular and quasi-religious Holocaust story, as summarized above.

The SPLC and its allies seek to suppress and marginalize scholarship such as Chodakiewicz’s–rather than refute it–because his work teaches implicitly that all people everywhere may commit evil and mass murder in the name of modern ideology of one kind or another. In other words, his words may reveal that the Western World, far from being evil to the core, was in much better shape before it tasted modernism, ideology, secularism, and the various poisonous fruits of the Enlightenment.

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It’s been a heady few weeks for Obama’s foreign policy.  It has echoes of Carter all around.  It is animated chiefly by guilt and a lack of confidence.  Its big features in recent weeks are as follows:  (1) we will have more due process for al Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan; (2) we are going to give Russia a huge victory (and our allies a huge headache) without anything in return by dropping missile defense in Eastern Europe; and (3) we are going to meet unconditionally and bilaterally with North Korea, even though this marginalizes Japan, South Korea, and other important and interested parties in the region.

Foreign policy was a campaign prop for Obama, but it was not nearly  as important as it was to John Kerry, for whom getting the respect of the French was the most important thing in life.  Obama’s apparent belief that if we are “nice” to people that are critical of us, hostile to us, or competitive with us, they will back down. This is reminiscent of President Carter, who dropped the B-1 bomber program, abandoned the Panama Canal, defunded the MX Missile, and reduced military spending–all in an attempt to treat all countries as our equals, even when we were many times stronger, and also to placate the Soviet Union.  The end result was an emboldened Soviet Union that invaded Afghanistan, the toppling of the Shah in Iran, and the loss of the Panama Canal.  Obama takes this principle further, thinking that it is important not to be nice merely to potential competitors like Russia and China, but also to cultivate the self-respect of the Third World by treating weak dysfunctional countries like Egypt or Iran or North Korea, as if they were our equals.

It’s true the Cold War is over. Insofar as NATO should exist at all, it made sense after the Cold War to integrate the fundamentally western and friendly powers of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into its command structure.  These countries were bullied by the Soviet Union and also by Tsarist Russia, and the would risk being bullied by an independent Russia after the Soviet collapse without western support.  That said, Russia is a great power, and there is no good reason today to antagonize a post-Soviet Russia through policies like missile defense or expanding NATO to countries on its border like Georgia.

Whether aimed ostensibly at Iran or in actuality at Russia, missile defenses in Eastern Europe were a mistaken policy of the last eight years, a product of the neoconservatives’ view that Russia was an intractable enemy as opposed to a manageable regional power with basic nationalist concerns for influence and security.

Even with these caveats in mind, the President and conservatives who applaud this decision, such as Daniel Larison, should recognize that the friendly countries of Central Europe have gone out on a limb for the United States in Iraq, and their governments whethered a great deal of pressure from domestic political factions and Russian saber-rattling for their friendliness to missile defense.  If this policy turned out to be counterproductive, the reward for their support of the United States should be something tangible such as conventional arms sales, and this substitution should have been public and showy.  Instead, for Poland in particular, insult was added to injury as the dropping of missile defense was announced on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in 1939.  Nice optics there Obama.

It’s not so clear this policy will gain us anything from Russia on Iran, which was the ostensible purpose of this gesture.  Russia simply implied this would be an opening for more brinksmanship, viz., Putin was quoted as saying “And I hope very much that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others.”

Why did the administration do this in a way so insensitive to our partners in Eastern Europe? Well, first, I think Obama thinks the US was not such a great guy in the Cold War, and that our pig-headedness and myopia did much to increase tension.  Giving Russia respect is part of his concept of justice, therefore.  Second, he believes we’re much too concerned with Europe in general.  To him, part of global social justice requires the protection of the rights, independence, and sovereignty of the Third World from the machinations of the First World (US and Western Europe) and the Second World (former Communist Countries).  Keeping the First and Second Worlds’ conflict down to a dull roar allows him to focus on the Third World, with gestures like amnesty for illegal aliens, human rights reforms in our treatment of terrorists, increasing foreign aid, standing on the side of leftists in Honduras, and kowtowing to Muslims in Cairo.

Obama’s heart is in the Third World.  In the 1980s when he was in college, he was inspired by anti-apartheid politics and movements for domestic nuclear disarmament, not the heroic Contras of Nicaragua or the Poles of Solidarity. As he said in Dreams of My Father regarding a post-college trip to Europe, “[B]y the end of the first week or so, I realized that I‘d made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I‘d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine.”   And love of the Third World, the Third World of his father’s national socialist Kenya, is the ideology of the Third World nonaligned movement. The Nonaligned Movement was led by countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil to forge a new, independent socialist destiny.  It viewed the Cold War as an act of quasi-imperialism, which diverted attention from the Third Worlders’ nationalist interest in expropriating wealth from First World businesses and their interest in gaining independence from the influence of both the United States and the Soviet Union.  As Obama said in Cairo, “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

In this view, Russia will not treated with exceptional respect, and it wasn’t on his recent state visit. Instead, it’s just a big hungry bear that needs to be appeased so the real business of radicalizing the home front and forging common cause with “oppressed peoples” at home and in the Third World can continue.

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Pat Buchanan has again put forward the view that World War II was avoidable, that the Western Allies should not have defended Poland’s frontiers, and that the confluence of events compelled Hitler to seek world conquest where he might have otherwise been appeased.  I believe this is rubbish, it contradicts Hitler’s own stated messianic aims, and Buchanan’s error is rooted in his attempts to rewrite the past to conform to his foreign policy preferences of the present, namely, American isolationism.  While isolationism may be justified now–after the defeat of Hitler and the defeat of Soviet Russia–it is unfortunate that he has ignored and twisted the facts about Hitler and the very necessary European War to make a point (and in the process discredit a point) that is otherwise quite compelling under the historical circumstances of today.

I think his view of Hitler as a victim of British insouciance is his absolutely weakest position.  If neoconservatives look at foreign policy as a puzzle that must be solved in such a way that the foreign policy positions today should always yield a response to WWII that gets America involved earlier than it did to avoid the evils of German expansion and oppressive racial policies in occupation, Pat views the evils of excessive American interventionism today such that history must be re-written so that all such intervention is morally suspect (including British intervention to prevent the rise of a German hegemon) .

While Germany was treated pretty shabbily after Versailles, it was the Poles who were deprived by the Austrians, Germans, and Russians of a nation state from 1795 to 1918.  Their national defense and their position on Danzig was hardly an extreme one.  Further, the question of borders being resolved by force has a very thin and unsustainable moral basis, as pretty much the entire Western half of Poland such as Silesia, Posen, Danzig, as well as other parts of Europe with German minorities, were subject to colorable German claims for realigning borders because of scattered German minorities in all of these regions, and the East of Poland was equally subject to Russian claims because of scattered Ukrainian and Belarussian minorities.  There was no perfect solution that did not arguably require the country to be destroyed in the name of an amoral European peace.  The Pilsudski regime was not perfect, but Hitler would not have been content with anything less than annexxing a half or more of Poland, most of Ukraine and Belarus, and the Baltics.

I wrote two longish pieces on this subect at Takimag last year here and here.  Among other things, I note the following:

But the war in the East did not depend on British involvement, nor did it become more likely because of the Franco-British security guaranty to Poland. Indeed, the war arguably would have been delayed by these measures if they were undertaken with greater vigor. Britain reasonably viewed their diffidence on the eve of WWI as having emboldened the Kaiser; they reasoned that clearer commitments might arrest the conflagration from occurring a second time. This became particularly important after Munich, because Hitler showed his bad faith and moved on to the next item on his list by threatening the weak and recently re-born nation of Poland.

Second, the argument about the justice of liberating millions of Germans under Czech control “proves too much.” Many Germans also lived in Poland, Russia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and France too. Poles lived in Lithuania. Russians lived in Ukraine. Ukrainians lived in Poland. Magyars lived in Romania and Slovakia. Jews and Gypsies lived everywhere. It would have been impossible to align the political and ethnic borders in 1938 Europe. To avoid the real and imagined harms to vulnerable ethnic minorities, either the borders of all of Europe would had to move and at least some of the people would have to be moved en masse, which is more or less what happened post-war. The Germans would not have stopped at Danzig, and there is no logical reason under Pat Buchanan’s reasoning that they should have. For the Germans, any German being ruled by a non-German was an injustice.

In other words, from the Alsace-Lorraine to the Volga, the Germans had a pretext to engage in wars to “liberate the oppressed Volksdeutsch.” Let’s be clear. This was a zero sum game: if the Germans got Danzig, the Poles of Pomerania would be Germanized, expelled, or oppressed, as they eventually were when it was annexed by the Third Reich.

Britian in 1939 is not America in 2009.  Further, Hitler and the Nazis, like Stalin and the Soviet Communists, were unique and thankfully rare threats to world peace and the entire human race.  Their threat was sui generis, and the American response should be seen as such as well.  It neither requires permanent pax Americana, but nor does that exceptional engagement become wrong, simply because it’s wrong to fight for democracy today when the threats of barbarism from African or South American or Caucasian hell holes are picayune in comparison.  It is appropriate Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were stopped with the help of American arms, and it was even morally defensible to ally with the Soviets from 1941-1945 given the stakes.  Sometimes the enemy of my enemy must be cooperated with, even if far too much was eventually lost at Yalta and Tehran.

As bad as the latter situation was, it would have been far worse if a successful Hitler had dominated Europe with his crackpot, racist, and anti-Christian ideology.  Since nationalism is inherently stronger in many ways than communism, and since the post-WWII environment preserved a distinct competitor to the Soviets in the form of NATO and the United States, it is quite likely that a successful Hitler or his successor regime would still be dominating Europe today and in effect destroying European civilization but for the actions of Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and the rest of the West in World War II.

It is the worst kind of ideology that can defend a general principle, such as American non-interventionism–a principle which I share–but is blind to the exceptions and willing to refashion them in the most naive and results-oriented manner possible.

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German Troops Dismantling a Polish Border Post on September 1, 1939

How did World War II begin?  It didn’t begin on D-Day or at Auschwitz or on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  It began 70 years ago today with the German invasion of a newly independent Poland.

The Poles fought valiantly against the Germans and waited for promised aid from the French.  The French and British instead sat by as the Polish Army was crushed.   Less than a year later the French themselves were overrun by the German Wehrmacht in a campaign more swift than the Polish campaign.

The Poles continued to fight for many years underground against both the Nazis and their erstwhile Soviet allies.  It is an inconvenient historical fact that the Soviets invaded Eastern Poland nearly simultaneously with the Germans.  The Soviets were not attacked by Germany until 1941, but were instead attacking Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia in 1940 in the same fashion as they attacked Poland in 1939.  After all that, FDR got many Americans to whitewash the very recent past and call Stalin “Uncle Joe.”

The German invasion, like so many wars, was a war of territorial conquest based on the supposed “natural frontiers” of Germany and alleged offenses against German ethnic minorities in Jozef Pilsudski’s nationalist Poland.  The Soviet attack was a bit of opportunism and score-settling going back to the Miracle on the Vistula. After World War I, the Poles saved their newly reborn country from the Bolsheviks and annexed parts of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine from the former Russian Empire during the brief window of opportunity during the early days of the Soviet regime.

After the Nazi invasion, Poland would not form a collaborationist regime, unlike most of Western and parts of Central Europe.  Instead, it was subject to government by German rule, in some cases annexed directly into Germany, and in all cases subject to mass privation, ethnic cleansing, and forced labor.  Far from being mere “bystanders” to the Holocaust, the Poles suffered mightily from the Nazis’s campaign of anti-Slavism.  Some 3 million Polish Christians died at the hands of the Nazis in addition to the more well known mass murder of some 3 million Polish Jews.  The Polish people would resist until the very end, when its exile government was secretly sold out to the Soviets at Yalta by the British and Americans.

For those westerners who think of World War II as the “good war,” it’s worth remembering that the story is a bit more complicated.  While the Nazis were clearly very evil and a threat to European peace, it’s to their shame that the Allies so frequently subordinated their strategic aims and moral authority to the Soviet Union.  The war that began in defense of Polish sovereignty ended with a Soviet land-grab in the East.  The Soviet-controlled communist government of Poland soon undertook the liquidation of the Polish leadership and intelligentsia that had been begun by the Soviets during the 1939-1941 interregnum at Katyn.  The  mass murder and ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Soviets in Eastern Europe was very predicable.  The Soviets’ bad faith should have been self-evident 70 years ago when they invaded Eastern Poland in a preplanned destruction of the Polish state undertaken in concert with their Nazi allies.

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