Zelensky shows us what’s worth defending

Author and historian Roger Moorhouse (source: Culture.pl)

Acclaimed author and historian Roger Moorhouse, whose Poland 1939 I had the pleasure of reviewing on this blog last weekend, accepted to answer my questions about Polish military history, the war of aggression against Ukraine and the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Below is the content of our exchange.

Mr. Moorhouse, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, despite your busy schedule. While reading Poland 1939, I kept wondering if and what Western countries did to help the government of Warsaw in the crucial weeks and months leading to World War 2. Could you tell us more about that?

Not enough, is the short answer. There were military alliances signed with both the British and the French – the French one in May 1939, and commitments were made – specific in the French case, more vague in the British – to assist in the event of an invasion. The French committed to send “the bulk” of their forces across the Rhine on Day 15 of mobilization, and the British talked vaguely about sending RAF squadrons to Poland. Little of it, of course, came to pass once Germany actually invaded. The French made a half-hearted advance across the Rhine, and the RAF dropped leaflets over Germany politely asking that the Germans cease and desist. They then shifted the narrative from one of defending Poland to one of promising to restore an independent Poland at some time in the future. It was driven by circumstances, of course, but it was also morally rather cowardly.

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Putin is following Hitler’s blueprint

I started reading Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II by historian Roger Moorhouse last summer, with the intention of reviewing it on the 82nd anniversary of the tragic events that unfolded in September of that fateful year. But life caught up with me and the book remained unfinished on my desk for several months. That was until Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

Let me start with an observation. Not much – not enough I should say – is written in English about Polish military history. I remember reading Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920 in 2012, when I first visited Poland. During that trip, I also visited the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army and the Warsaw Uprising Museum, both located in the capital city. Notwithstanding these contacts with Polish military history, I always have the image of Polish lancers attacking the mighty Wehrmacht in a useless charge.

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Will Kyiv be another Stalingrad?

Adam Zamoyski (source: History Extra)

Few years ago, around the time I visited Poland for the first time, I devoured the insightful book Warsaw 1920 by acclaimed biographer and historian Adam Zamoyski. He is also the author of a masterful book about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. I therefore reached out to him, asking if he saw any parallel between history and the current invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. He generously accepted to share some thoughts with me and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Here is what the acclaimed biographer of Napoleon generously shared with me:  

The parallel that struck me, weeks ago, is that with 1811-1812, when Tsar Alexander I set as his condition for maintaining his alliance with Napoleon that the French Emperor issue a formal public declaration that he would never allow the re-creation of a Polish state. This was something that Napoleon would and could not do (any more than NATO could bind itself to refusing Ukraine membership if that country wished to join).

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Poland vs. Russia

Photo credit: Polish Ministry of Defence
Photo credit: Polish Ministry of Defence

In the current geopolitical context, Poland is on the first line of any potential extended military confrontation with Russia. And you can feel, when you speak with people, a sense of nervousness. After all, Poles are historically very close to Ukraine (a significant part of the territory of Ukraine was once part of Poland – but that’s for another discussion).

It therefore comes as great news that the Polish government has decided to increase its military budget.

And this decision seems to have gained legitimate support across partisan party lines:

 ““A condition for Poland’s independence is her own strength. It is worrying that it is considered a success that Poland increased its defence spending by a mere 0.05pp, whereas a success would be to up it by 1pp to 3% of GDP,” left-leaning commentator Jerzy Rolicki wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza on April 14, in an article that well depicts the mood in Poland, where even the traditionally less hawkish left is now demanding more money for the armed forces.”

In front of the military might of Russia, Poland comes across as David having to potentially confront Goliath.

As the Romans said, Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. With contemporary history as a witness, who could blame the Polish people for taking no chance?

Would Poland be abandoned?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I just came across this very preoccupying article, which attests that many people in Poland – and in other former Eastern European countries – are worried about the current situation in Ukraine.

I’m nevertheless particularly troubled by 2 specific excerpts:

“Poland is a member of NATO, but the defense alliance rejected requests from Warsaw to establish a substantial permanent presence on Polish soil. That has shaken Poles’ faith in NATO’s resolve, officials in Warsaw say.”

And:

“”Let’s be honest, at war we would likely be cannon fodder,” Przybyl said in an interview. But he said it was his duty to serve if war does break out.”

Despite the fact that Poland is left hanging dry by NATO, Poles are still ready to serve as “cannon fodder” and defend their homeland and values.

In the event that Poland was invaded and attacked, would we let it suffer the same fate as it endured in September 1939?

Let’s hope the answer is a resounding no.

Czechs Cheer On U.S. Troops

U.S. Troops NATO Nachod Poland Czech Republic
Several Thousands People Cheered U.S. Army servicemen in the Czech Republic.

US Flag, US troops, Nachod NATO Poland Czech Republic
The Star-Spangled banner was proudly displayed by the local residents.

Yesterday (March 29th), on their way from Poland to the Czech Republic, U.S. troops from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment base in Vilseck, Germany, were cheered by thousands of people lining up the road to observe the “Dragoon Ride” convoy.

Several dozens of them were waving the American flag with pride. To be honest, I’ve never seen as many Star-Spangled banners (outside the US) as yesterday, in Náchod, a Czech town on the border with Poland. “For us, in the context of the difficult situation we are living, the presence of the Americans is a comforting sight. I know some people are protesting against the U.S. military presence in our country. But they’re a minority. The vast majority of people understand that the Americans are here to help, not to cause problems”, said one Czech man.