On September 1, US Vice President Mike Pence visited Poland to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II in Europe as guests of Polish President Andrzej Duda. President Donald Trump himself planned to go but postponed his visit to be on hand when Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Florida. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been invited.
In other words, even after 80 years, fools never learn.
Both in Poland and the West, the true history of the dark summer months of 1939 when world war and the destruction of almost all of Continental Europe finally became inevitable have become calcified in mythical legend. Once again, the grim, true story needs to be told.
The Soviet Union is in the West now blamed almost as much as Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany’s ruling psychopath, for starting the war because in August 1939 it signed the fateful Nazi-Soviet Pact with Berlin. However, this simplistic picture willfully ignores, denies and buries the years of painful but vital history that went before.
Far from presciently seeking to oppose and block Nazi Germany, previous Polish dictator Josef Pilsudski and the military junta that succeeded him were Hitler’s first allies. They were the first nation to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler on January 26, 1934. On October 1, 1938, they took advantage of the infamous Munich agreement when Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia to Hitler to seize an area of that country with almost a quarter of a million people.
Yet even then, war was still far from inevitable. The two arguably most powerful men in the world, Soviet ruler Josef Stalin and President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt both wanted to prevent it.
However, so reluctant was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to talk to Stalin about anything he staffed his strategic talks delegation to Moscow with military nonentities and then sent them on a slow, cheap private ship around Norway and through the Arctic.
By the time that Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Draxx (a fine fighting naval officer but no diplomat or statesman) and his colleagues reached Moscow, Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had already flown swiftly in from Berlin and signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Stalin.
The Soviet leader had simply run out of patience: He concluded on good evidence that Chamberlain was determined never to work with the Soviet Union but wanted to feed him and his country up to the Nazi dictator instead.
Stalin could also see very clearly that in the British negotiations with Warsaw, the Polish government led by Foreign Minister Colonel Jozef Beck, was determined not to permit any military cooperation or alliance with Russia under any circumstances.
Beck was an idiotic buffoon who regarded himself as a genius. He liked to say that only three men counted for real power in Europe: “There is Hitler. There is Stalin. And there is – Beck.”
The price of Beck’s crass stupidity was paid by his entire people. Around six million out of Poland’s prewar population of 30 million were slaughtered by the Nazis – a death toll of 20 percent or one in five. At least 87 percent of Poland’s prewar Jewish population of three and a half million were slaughtered in the Nazi genocide. Ethnic Russians and gypsies were also murdered without number.
Yet it could all have been so easily avoided. Beck and Chamberlain refused to recognize that the Soviet Union remained the dominant military power of Central and Eastern Europe. They refused to admit that Russia was essential to lasting peace and stability in Europe – just as it is today. They also refused to recognize that even Stalin wanted peace rather than war.
Beck lived in cloud-cuckoo-land: He and his fellow colonels genuinely believed that tens of thousands of Polish cavalry would rout the Nazis and sweep to Berlin in two weeks, after which Polish horsemen would wheel around and gallop to Moscow too.
Today, the make-believe fairy tales posing as deterrence and strategy in Warsaw are just as bad and their fateful consequences could be even worse.
President Trump, to his credit has consistently and courageously repeatedly expressed his desire for the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic tensions and cooperate in the world.
However, Trump has allowed himself to be surrounded and swayed by reckless, hardline ideologues led by National Security Adviser John Bolton who just recently scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe treaty. Now they are on the warpath to kill stone dead the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) itself when it comes up for renewal next year.
Duda and Poland’s other policymakers have made repeatedly clear that they back Washington’s super-hawks and armchair warrior heroes to the hilt every time.
But they would do well to remember how Poland could have been the Soviet Union’s ally in 1939, thereby deterring or successfully containing Nazi Germany. Instead, they isolated themselves, trusted in far off, militarily feeble Western allies who could not protect them and ignored or insulted the only nation that could have aided them against the Nazi predators.
Today, 21st century Russia is neither communist nor revolutionary: It has a long-established track-record of respecting its friends and allies and it is not in the business of regime change. It stands for and defends the right of sovereign nations to regulate their own immigration flows and foreign trade. These are policies that Poland claims to support too.
The dark story of the descent into nightmarish world war in 1939 proved once again that senseless hatred for Russia and all Russians is a stupid as well as a contemptible policy and that it never succeeds. Trying to organize Western powers into a Russia-hating coalition, as Warsaw’s leaders still imagine they can do today has NEVER been a Good Idea.
As the great American peace activists and folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary sang in their classic song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” – When will they ever learn?