On June 3, 2004, these three organizations presented a private screening of:
CNN Presents: Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II.
Afterwards, the following remarks were given.
by Brig. Gen. Walter Jajko, USAF Ret.
Sixty years remove many historians would say is a sufficient duration to examine dispassionately the Warsaw Rising of 1944. To seek its meaning, I think that we must look not only at the event itself but also backward and forward from it. Was it just another sad, tragic, and bloody event among so many such events in European history? It may be such for most peoples. It is not so for Poles. It should not be so for Americans. For Poles, it is one of the several exceptionally painful tragedies that indelibly stamp Polandís struggle for survival from its extinction from Europeís political map in the Third Partition of 1795 to its independence in 1989. For Americans, it should be the understanding that, to be a successful Great Power, intentions, wealth, strength, courage, determination, and skill are necessary but insufficient. It is essential to know oneís enemy and to know the ways of the world.
After the defeat of the Bolshevik invasion of Poland (and what was to be the invasion of Europe) by Pilsudski in 1920, a long lasting and bitter argument over military strategy ensued among the Soviet Unionís leaders. Some accused Stalin, who had been political commissar to Budyonnyís First Horse Army on the southern front against Lwow, of losing the war by using inappropriate Cossack and partisan tactics and failing to coordinate and keep contact with and to assist Tukhachevskiy, the overall commander of the Russian invasion. Others held Tukhachevskiy responsible for blowing the opportunity to bring the Revolution to Germany, and, therefore, Europe. The argument was resolved when Stalin murdered Tukhachevskiy during the Great Purge of the Thirties. Two decades later, when Stalin took Poland, many surviving Bolsheviks believed that he saw this as his vindication for 1920. And so, Bierut entered Poland on Russian bayonets as Marchlewski had not a quarter century earlier.
When Stalin and Hitler allied in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (not only against Poland but also Great Britain and France) and the Soviet Union invaded, partitioned, occupied, and began the Sovietization of Poland, it was clear to statesmen, except the British and Americans who continued to misunderstand international politics and to be informed by Soviet spies and agents of influence, that Stalin intended to annex almost half of Poland, to capture the remainder, and to do to it what he had done in Polandís former borderlands, Ukraine and Belarus. Yet, the United Kingdom and the United States in their diplomacy continued to operate past the Potsdam Conference as if the empty words of their mild rebukes, pleas, and protests would cause Stalin to tolerate an independent, sovereign, free, democratic, and capitalist Poland. Anglo-American diplomacy was an unartful and inept combination of pretense, self-delusion, and dissemblance with the Poles, their own peoples, and themselves. The dishonesty added to betrayal made the Anglo-American hypocrisy almost palpable. It was starkly clear in 1945 that British and American statesmen did not understand why they had gone to war in 1939 and 1941 respectively.
The United Kingdom and the United States made unfortunate, inordinate, and unnecessary concessions to Soviet Russia throughout the Second World War. Lend-Lease was necessary and in itself sufficient to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany. The territorial concessions to Stalin were grossly out of proportion to what was needed to keep the USSR in the war. The give-away of countries to Russia by Roosevelt puts the question mark to his understanding of geopolitics. Eisenhowerís refusals to push for Berlin, declaring the city not to be a military objective, and to continue the advance into Czechoslovakia put the question mark to his understanding of strategy. (Eisenhower was denying that war is the use of force to achieve a political objective; otherwise it is a pointless slaughter.) The United States destroyed Hitlerís Twelve-Year Reich; it did not secure freedom and democracy on the Continent. The United States acquiesced in consigning half of Europe to captivity and the deconstruction of its - our - civilization. It was Russia that won the war in Europe. The Russians understood that war is politics conducted by different means. In the next few years, in the Cold War, the Russians would demonstrate that peace is war fought by different means and that peace and war are not separable Ė and Poland remained a battleground.
The destruction of the Warsaw Rising had long-term consequences. Not least of the consequences was the destruction of the szlachta, historically the basis of Polandís political class. The szlachta was Polandís aristocracy, hereditary but untitled, that for centuries had created, spread, and preserved Polish culture. The szlachta had fought again and again to preserve Polandís independence, and indeed Western Civililization: in 1683 at Vienna, against the Three Partitions from 1772 to 1795 which sent Kosciuszko to build the fortifications at West Point and Saratoga and Pulaski to die leading Washingtonís cavalry at Savannah, in 1830 and 1863 against Tsarist Russification, and in 1919-1920 against Communist invasion. The szlachta had produced Polandís intellectual, political, and military class. In the Warsaw Rising, and the earlier mass murders in Katyn and other camps, Stalin finished what Hitler started. Those who remained were sent to the Gulag.
As to the Warsaw Rising itself, the Poles had a realistic understanding of what they were doing. The Rising was not a grand beau geste, although it was in keeping historically and psychologically with the unique character of Polandís centuries-long fight for survival. The Poles had to stake their right to independence so strongly that the West could not ignore it. It was for this reason and to combat the Germansí organized genocide that the Poles had formed a completely elaborated Underground State. But the Poles had misplaced their hopes and expectations and misjudged the depth of the indifference, ignorance, and fecklessness of the West and, therefore, the worth of its promises. The Poles should have remembered Chamberlainís characterization after Munich of their southern neighbors as a faraway people of whom little was known, and, I might add, for whom little was cared. With such statesmanship, the Warsaw Rising, even added to the bloodshed of the Polish Second Corps at Monte Cassino and the Polish Airborne Division at Arnhem and the singular shootdown score of the Polish squadrons in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, was insufficient.
Stalin deliberately waited until the Polish Home Army was exhausted in the sixty-three days of battle against the Germans before he ordered the Red Army to cross the Vistula and enter the Polish capital three months later. The defeat of the Warsaw Rising essentially finished the Underground State. Stalin knew that the Underground State was an existing alternative government, organized throughout all of Polish society, that would prevent his Sovietization of Poland. Stalin knew too that the Home Army was the force that would insist on Polish independence even unto war against the Soviet Union. Stalinís facilitation of the German suppression of the Warsaw Rising prevented the armed opposition to the Sovietization of Poland. The Warsaw Rising showed that Nazis and Communists still had overriding interests in common. The moral equivalence of Hitler and Stalin, of Nazism and Communism, of Germany and Russia is striking.
It was the capture of Poland, followed by eastern Germany, that so changed the map and much else in Europe so profoundly for a half century, so much so that the West was cowed from proclaiming the illegitimacy of the Soviet Union and the immorality of Communism and attacking the vulnerable foundations of the Soviet Russian Empire. The suppression of the Warsaw Rising allowed this to happen without any serious opposition and certainly without any armed opposition. This capture ensured the impoverishment of half of historic Europe, for whose social, economic, and demographic consequences we are paying yet today and will be paying for years to come. More important, this capture also ensured the moral and ethical impoversishment of half of Europe, which will require generations to set right.
There are other consequences of the defeat of the Rising. The half-century-long occupation of Eastern Europe that followed has given the Russians a conviction of their entitlement to these countries, a proprietary right. To this day, they resent their eviction. If they could, they would return tomorrow as landlords. Putin and his power ministries embody this ambition, and other Russians too share these sentiments, though more subtely. It behooves the U.S., NATO, and the EU to be mindful that Russia is not of Europe and, when Russia is in Europe, Russia seeks to dominate Europe, and it is against and through Poland that Russia must enter Europe.