“I understand that if I attack the West, the Poles will honor their commitments to their allies and attack us. This is why I have decided to attack Poland.”
-Adolf Hitler, 22 August 1939 Berchtesgaden officers conference
No serious thinker who wishes to truly understand the second World War can do without two books; Londonihilists and Green Eyes. Sadly, most serious thinkers will have to do without them because they are available only in Polish and absolutely no one is in much of a rush to translate them into English. Their author, Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz, was the premiere conservative Man of Letters and Statesman in interbellum Poland. In his youth, he was a cavalry officer who fought during World War I in Belarus. An aristocrat born in St. Petersburg and leader of the Vilnus old guard conservatives—Cat was the very best that Poland had to offer. He was the most intelligent political thinker of his age. Adopting his pen name “Cat” from Kipling’s poem about The Cat that walked by Himself, Mackiewicz lived up to the archetype.
As a Statesman, his greatest achievement was the organization of a grand conference between Polish socialist dictator Marshal Józef Piłsudzki and the Polish Nobility following the May 1926 coup d’état. Cat’s goal in organizing the conference was to secure Poland against any extreme forms of socialism. His greatest triumph as a matter of influence was the conclusion of the Polish-German non-aggression pact of 1934, a policy he argued for in earnest as editor in chief of the conservative journal “The Word” . Following the death of Marshal Piłsudzki and the rapid deterioration of Polish-German relations under Foreign Minister Beck and his “dictatorship without a dictator,” Cat was arrested and imprisoned by the Polish Sanation for his staunch opposition to the governments policies.
Upon the invasion and collapse of Poland, Cat was a member of the Polish government in exile, first in France (where, following French collapse, he advocated the establishment of something akin to the Vichy regime in Poland), then in London. Following the war, Cat was Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile. Eventually, he came to oppose his fellow émigrés and negotiated a return to Communist Poland with the Stalinist regime, offering to cooperate with the People’s Republic of Poland. Naturally, this opened him up to accusations of treason, accusations which his two books, cited above, delineating the origins of World War II, effectively disprove. No one who reads Cat’s books has dared venture the opinion that they are propagandistic, nor radically different from Cat’s earlier works. This is the same old Cat, and his view is very much worth considering given that he was in the center of some of the most serious political events of the XXth century.
As a matter of methodology, Cat explicitly makes clear in a chapter of Green Eyes titled “on politics”, that he writes and acts in the tradition of Machiavelli. Although referencing only Clausewitz and never mentioning Machiavelli by name, he outlines a view of politics that is unmistakably Machiavellian. Cat notes that only effects matter in political life, particularly in war, which he compares to mathematics. War, Cat argues, is everywhere a case of tallying up numbers and factoring probability. War should not be waged unless it can be won. The role of a virtuous statesman is to wage successful wars, avoid unsuccessful wars and mitigate the effects of unsuccessful wars through the use of political means. Cat blames Poles for being romantics who are incapable of coming to terms with these simple realities. Cat does not advocate the abolition of Polish culture, which is romantic and Catholic, but argues that effective political science must support the preservation of Poland.
Writing Londonihilists and Green Eyes in the 1950s, his political aim is clear. His two books are works of opinion leadership. Polish public opinion in the 1950s was favorable to Great Britain, to Anglo-Americanism, to Radio Free Europe and unfavorable towards Soviet Communism and Russia. Cat’s goal is to lead Polish public opinion away from these views and towards a view which is favorable to Poland. Cat’s enemies perceived his books as cheap anti-Western agit-prop which only reinforced the Soviet stranglehold on Poland. Cat’s enemies were wrong. They mistakenly believed that no distinction existed between Polish and British interests, and took on faith that what was good for Britain and America was good for Poland and what was bad for Russia was likewise good for Poland. Cat aims to cure Poles of their illusions.
Cat was the principle anti-communist of his generation, both in terms of his political opinions and his heritage. Those who accuse him of becoming a “useful idiot” for Stalin are themselves useless idiots for Poland who demonstrate their ignorance of the essence of conservative thought. Cat means to prove it. His argument, laid out in two books, can be summarized in a few taught sentences. Cat argues thus:
Great Britain, as a world empire, has always fought every Continental power that demonstrated real potential for attaining the status of a rival to British Imperialism. Thus England fought Spain or France and, with the rise of a strong German nation state in the late XIXth century, England would fight Germany. England never fought Continental wars alone, always in a coalition. England only fought colonial wars alone and lost only one in the last 250 years – to General George Washington. England fought colonial wars alone against inferior peoples, often using these peoples as cannon fodder in order to limit the amount of English bloodshed. England fought Continental wars in coalitions, recognizing that Continental rivals were not inferior and required different means to tame. England endeavored never to fight first, but to let others bleed, and then fight last in order to dictate terms as the strongest party.
Since 1863, England had used the Polish question to aggravate its continental rivals. The British war guarantee to Poland in 1939 was one in a long line of guarantees and declarations misunderstood by Poles as a sign of friendship. In point of fact, England desired a war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in order to reduce these potential rivals for world domination to containable proportions. Poland stood in the way of this British ambition, thus England endeavored to eliminate Poland by all means possible in order to create a Nazi-Soviet border in hopes of bringing about a Nazi-Soviet war. England, particularly Winston Churchill, not Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, is to blame for the invasion and destruction of Poland.
Cat’s thesis appears to us as the height of revisionism, but it cannot qualify as revisionist history because it was written immediately after World War II by a man whose political experience cannot be questioned even if his conclusions are suspect or shocking. Yet these conclusions are not the stuff of ad hoc fantasies, but careful historical analysis of facts. To understand these facts, it is necessary to recognize the key factor which allowed British intrigue to turn Hitler’s guns on Poland in 1939: Polish stupidity manifested, as Cat explains, in the Polish view of war rooted in the middle ages notion of an honorable duel between knights. Poles, when their honor is challenged, are simply incapable of refusing a fight a psychological trait that can easily be used by an enemy to goad them into one. Cat has no remorse for his motherland, which he loves with all his heart. He explicitly argues that Polish foreign policy leading up to World War II might as well have been conducted by 12 year old girls for all the idiocy demonstrated by the Polish government under Beck. Cat notes two flaws in the Polish character which foreign enemies of Russia have used to their benefit ever since the time of Napoleon; Polish romanticism and Polish honor. He details very clearly how Poland stupidly sided with Napoleon against Russia during the French revolutionary wars, how Poland stupidly allowed the British to incite anti-Russian Polish uprisings in 1863, and finally how the British maneuvered Poland into a war with Germany in 1939. In all of these cases, the effect of Polands struggle for British interests under the illusion of a struggle of Polish liberty was the reduction of Polish liberty and of Polish interest.
Cat notes that Adolf Hitler had no vast designs against Poland, that his principle enemies were France and England in particular. German designs on France and England were motivated by a desire to avenge Versailles, to restore lands populated by Germans to Germany, and to challenge Britain for world empire. Adolf Hitler’s ambition was to break Germany free of the illegitimate, unjust restraints that the Versailles treaty had placed on his fatherland. Versailles was a clear case of Victor’s justice.
Poles, who had fought with Germany and Austro-Hungary against England and Russia during the first half of World War I, intelligently turned their guns on a weakened Germanic empire during the second half of the war, winning their political liberty in Versailles as a result. They were left to defend this liberty on their own by the West in 1920, and Cat saw no reason why this scenario of abandonment should not repeat itself.
Cat realized that Polish liberty was the result of the disintegration of surrounding empires, not Polish political brilliance. True, the founders of the II Republic wisely took advantage of good fortune, but Beck and his colonels entertained the hubris that Poland existed because they were strong, not because the Empires had been weak. He blamed Poles for entertaining the notion that Western nations would ever go to war for anything except their own national interests. Poland, Cat believed, was reborn in the XXth century due to fortune, and required political virtue to survive. To pursue the political interests of Poland, Cat argued, it was necessary to be on good terms with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
Relations to Great Britain were secondary or irrelevant and should have been made relative to Polish-German and Polish-Russian relations. Polish interest in 1938 was clear: Poland did not have the capacity to fight a victorious war against Germany. Soviet Russia was pursuing a policy of isolation. Stalin believed European Empires would soon be at war and destroy one another, offering another opportunity for possible Communist revolution. Unprepared for a large war, following the Spanish civil war, the Soviet Union pursued a policy of withdrawal from European affairs, leaving the field to Hitler and hoping for a war between the imperialists. Under the circumstances, Polish-German peace was possible to achieve.
Cat openly and explicitly details how Hitler pursued peace with Poland. Hitler required peace on the Eastern front in order to attack his enemies in the West because Germany could not fight a two front war. Nazi Germany had specific geopolitical aims with regard to all of its neighbors. These aims were fueled by Nazi ideology and German national interest. Hitler desired a reunification of all German peoples under the Reich. To this aim, he used diplomacy backed by the threat of force. He achieved his goals peacefully in Czechoslovakia and Austria. He then set his sights on Danzig and East Prussia. Danzig was a majority free German city under Polish rule, brought under Polish jurisdiction to deprive Germany of an important Baltic port. German industry had developed the port under Polish jurisdiction, and the port, though in Polish hands, was outside of Polish economic control. This is why the Poles built their own port nearby, in Gdynia. East Prussia, on the other hand, was isolated from the III Reich and Hitler desired to integrate the Germans of East Prussia with the Reich. These then were Hitler’s sole interests with regard to Poland: Danzig and reintegration of the Reich and East Prussia.
To secure his interests, Hitler undertook significant efforts in 1938 seeking a diplomatic solution with Poland. He offered to build a highway linking the Reich, Poland and East Prussia. This proposal would not only have achieved the immediate goals of German national interest which called for linking the Germanic peoples of Prussia with their fellows in the Reich, it would have also increased commerce between Germany, Poland and East Prussia which could have mitigated the probability of future war. Finally, given the immediate problem of Polish military weakness relative to German strength, a Polish-German agreement to build a highway from the Reich, through Poland to East Prussia would clearly make German military aggression against Poland practically impossible in the immediate short term because Germany would not attack a country where German engineers and workers were building a mass transportation system.
From the point of view of long term Polish national interests, full Polish control of the Baltic port city of Danzig was seen as key to Poland’s capacity to excel economically. Many Poles considered “Poland” to legitimately encompass the geographical landmass between the Black sea and Baltic seas. Potential access to the Black sea had been lost with the conclusion of the Treaty of Riga between Poland, Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia. The loss of Danzig to Germany would be a major blow to Polish national interest. Unlike the highway from Germany to East Prussia, little if any gain could be had for Poland on account of the loss of Danzig. This loss may well have also rekindled the fires of German claims to Silesia. Here, Cat lectures his countrymen on the fundamentals of political science. Cat notes that national interest in foreign policy cannot be pursued by a nation-state with a weak army. No foreign policy is really possible without military strength. Poland could not defeat Germany in war, but Hitler himself knew that confronting Poland would carry both cost and risk with it far above the cost and risk of confronting Czechoslovakia. Poland could have negotiated a settlement with Germany that spared Germany the cost and risk of war while sparing Poland the cost and risk of annihilation.
Cat holds that even when war is morally justifiable in defense of some national good or interest, it cannot be undertaken unless there is sufficient evidence to hold out the possibility for victory. In 1938, Hitler was planning an attack against England and France and securing as much of his eastern flank as possible. Unlike 1914, Germany did not share an immediate border with Russia, and the nation-states to her east were for the most part apprehensive of Soviet communism. It was in the interests of these nations to appease Hitler or join Hitler because Hitler had no immediate designs on their sovereignty. Thus Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Austria bowed before German power. Cat teaches that it is wrong to believe that these nation-states “gave up without a fight.” Real power is measured in the strength of armies. Hungary, Romania, Austria and Italy could only spend their military to at best rattle Germany at the cost of their political life and physical existence. Futility is not war. Relying on their own arms, they made the correct choice and bowed to German demands in order to survive and await future developments that might be more promising. In point of fact, Hitler’s military superiority was a function of Western hopes that Germany would shoulder the burden of defending Europe against potential Soviet aggression. The British were playing a delicate game: let Germany become strong enough to destroy Russia but do not let Germany threaten the British Empire. Cat argues that everyone in Europe understood this except Poles.
That Hitler wanted war against the West in 1938 is not in doubt. That he wanted war with Poland first is utter myth. Hitler attempted to resolve the Polish question with brutal diplomacy. This brutality was made evident when, as Cat notes, Hitler began to publically acknowledge and greet the Soviet ambassador in Berlin while at the same time feting Polish foreign minister and de facto ruler Józef Beck. Hitler was clearly pressuring Beck: agree to my terms, or I will conclude a separate treaty with the Soviet Union to secure Germany’s eastern flank. The prospect of a German-Soviet pact seemed remote because of Hitlers vehement anti-communist rhetoric, but the benefits of such a pact to both powers slowly became clear. Poland had two choices: join Hitler, or refuse and force Hitler into a pact with the Soviet Union. The Soviets, on the other hand, wished to avoid a direct confrontation with Hitler while facilitating a war between Hitler and the West. A German-Soviet alliance was in their interest if Hitler would have it.
During this period of intense Nazi diplomacy, Great Britain was not idle. Britain wanted war as much as Hitler did, but (as Cat pounds into his reader’s mind at every step), Great Britain never fought European wars outside of a coalition and never fought first. Britain had a delicate gambit to play: how to force a war on the Continent to weaken Hitler but make sure that war broke out as far from England as possible? Ideally, Britain hoped for a Soviet-Nazi war. Germany was to be exhausted fighting Russia in the east and then made easy prey in the west, just as had been the case during World War I. This time, however, there was one obstacle in Great Britain’s way: the II Republic of Poland. Polish national interest was rooted in maintaining peace with Germany and Russia. But Polish history was ripe with examples of Western powers, including England, taking advantage of deep antagonisms amongst the three nations in order to bring about conflict. Thus Poland was at once a hindrance to the British goal of bringing about a Nazi-Soviet war and an opportunity to further this goal.
Great Britain had already maneuvered Italy into alliance with Germany in order to make war more likely (the myth of fascist Italy being a natural ally of Germany is exploded by Cat who demonstrates how Italy, which had fought with Britain against Germany, attempted to position itself as a friend to England again only to be rebuked by British attempts to organize an international coalition to wage war against Italy). As for Poland, Polish foreign policy attempted to create a coalition of central and eastern European states alarmed by both Germany and Russia. This attempt, Cat tells his countrymen, was conceptually flawed from the outset and impossible for reasons that should be obvious to any student of history. Poland’s only chance for survival in 1939 was to bow to German demands, lose Danzig, gain a highway and lucrative commercial route and await further developments while building its military strength. Since a Polish-German alliance would have precluded a German attack, and the Soviet Union was at the time too weak to threaten Poland alone (if for no reason than the potential for a German counter-attack in defense of Poland), Poland would have been saved from ruin and the full force of Hitler’s first strike would have been aimed at France. Cat believes Poland should not have been the Christ of Europe and instead allowed France and England to have reaped the whirlwind that they sowed when humiliating Germany in World War I. Poland might have even avoided overtly antagonizing the Soviet Union had it accepted German demands but stayed out of any explicitly anti-Communist coalition.
It was the unexpected declaration of a security guarantee for Poland on the part of the British government which shattered this calculus. The British security guarantee inflated the egos of Polish romanticists like Beck and Rydz. It offered them a political argument with which to counter the realists: Poland is not alone, Poland has the largest Empire on Earth as her immediate ally. British destroyers will deploy to guarantee that Danzig will remain Polish! British airmen will swoop in to knock the Luftwaffe out of the sky! British and French forces will swarm across Germany’s western border to save Warsaw! The realists of Polish political life, who had been fighting an uphill battle to avoid a devastating war with Germany prior to the British war guarantee, now faced total marginalization as Beck spoke with confidence about Polish honor and Rydz proclaimed the Polish army capable of withstanding German attack for 2 weeks as stipulated by the British-Polish treaty in order to give England time to mobilize and attack from the west. Rydz was right about the Polish army, but stupid to think England would come to Poland’s aid.
Yet Polish honor was a double edged sword. The Poles believed England would come to their aid, but their honor also cemented a Polish attack against Germany should Hitler invade France or England. Hitler, who understood Polish psychology, knew that the British war guarantee to Poland meant one thing: a Polish attack against Germany should Germany strike the West. Simple calculus led him to the logical conclusion: war with Poland is unavoidable, but it was also easier in 1939 than war with France or England. Hitler concluded the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and the fate of Poland was sealed. Stalin undertook the pact to lessen the chance of war against the Soviet Union. Every country in Europe, writes Cat, feverishly attempted to avoid being the first to fight Hitler. Poland, due to her virgin honor, Catholic culture and military hubris, did the opposite—she rashly provoked the Germans to attack her. If not for Hitler’s Hungarian ally refusing to allow a German invasion through the Polish-Hungarian border due to longstanding moral and political ties between Hungary and Poland, Poland’s fate would have been even worse.
Not long after the Nazi invasion, as Cat predicted, England and France agreed in Abbeville, following the German invasion, not to help Poland. In fact, the British were delighted by the destruction of Poland because it created a German-Soviet border, which made the eruption of a German-Soviet war more likely. Cat understood that no British aid would ever arrive and that the British war guarantee to Poland would never be fulfilled on the basis of two factors: logic and finances. Cat recognized how the British Empire functioned, and he noted that England gave not one pence of financial support to Poland for the purpose of expanding munitions production. Cat notes that England, while giving nothing to Poland, invested millions in China. It was clear to him that Great Britain wanted war against Germany, waged with Slavic blood. The key to starting the war was a firm reliance on the Catholic honor and political naivety of Poland’s rulers. Cat pleaded with his countrymen for reason: “Do you imagine that the French government, which has spent millions building the Maginot Line to protect her soldiers will give the order to put those soldiers out on a field to face Germany in order to defend Warsaw?” No one listened to Poland’s best conservative Statesman. Poland was destroyed.
England did indeed declare war against Germany, but this was not a declaration made in the defense of Poland, but a hostile declaration of a war that England had intended to begin from the outset. Proof of this can be found in Churchill’s speech in which he praises Poland, calling it a rock which shall persevere no matter what tides may strike it, and then casually announced to the world his full understanding for Marshal Stalin’s occupation of 48% of Poland’s territory as necessary for Russian security interests. Having destroyed the Polish nation-state by maneuvering it into a war with Germany, Churchill began to lay the groundwork for future British-Soviet alliance against the Nazis. This groundwork, contrary to the popular myth that Winston Churchill was a heroic man who never appeased evil, was rooted in the tried and tested British policy of selective appeasement. Churchill would win the war against Germany by appeasing the Soviet Union.
Writing about the fate of the Polish government in exile in Paris, Cat poses a question which should be asked to every Pole from elementary school through university: “How did we go from ruling our nation from our palaces in Warsaw to conducting our government from a student hostel in Paris?” Sadly, in 1940, as France bowed to German superiority, Cat’s fellow citizens in the Polish government in exile would still not listen to him. Despite the fact that England had not only reneged on its commitments to Poland, despite the French folding, the Poles still endeavored to honor their commitments to the Allies. Cat was opposed to sending the remains of the Polish army to fight for England. He pressed Polish President Rackiewicz to begin negotiations with Hitler towards the goal of restoring a Polish state with a government organized along the lines of Vichy France.
Cat viewed the French as a model for prudent political comportment. Marshal Petain, in Cat’s view, was not a Nazi collaborator, but secured France from falling under the control of those political factions in Paris which were in fact fully supportive of Hitler’s ideology. Cat argued that the principle goal of Marshal Petain was “to avoid the Polonization of France”, by which he meant to save France from the fate of Poland: total physical destruction, total political subservience to the British and total war. Cat lavishes equal praise on General deGaulle for his reluctance to bow to every British demand. He notes the callousness of English war policy, such as the murder of over 1,000 French sailors by the British fleet within a period of 13 minutes when England, determined that the Vichy government not have access to the French fleet, fired on and sank it. To Cat, this is a perfect example of what he called the fundamental national characteristic of the Englishman: sadism.
The picture Cat paints of the years 1940-1945 are a bleak but realistic assessment of Polish stupidity and Polish naivety which ended with Polish airmen dying to defend England, Polish infantry dying to free Western Europe, and a Victory Day parade in London during which not one Polish soldier was invited to take part or paid any honor. Cat tells his people flatly that the Polish soldiers who died in Monte Casino believing they were dying to free Poland were utterly wrong: they died for nothing. Following the war, Cat wrote that those Poles who believed that with the defeat of Hitler, the West would turn its guns on Stalin, were absurdly wrong. Judging correctly that Anglo-American interests had been secured with the defeat of Hitler, and that Poland was never important to the allies, Cat used what little authority he had to try and secure Poland from the prospect of atomic warfare. He endeavored, by quoting page after page of Churchill’s memoires where the British statesman bellittled Poles and spoke callously of them, to convince his anglophile countrymen to accept geopolitical reality and find common cause with Russia. In the end, alone in London, he decided to return to his fatherland. “We are a farming people,” Cat proclaimed following 17 years in London, “we are not a people who are at home where ever in the world we find comfort, we are tied to our land, and as a people tied to our land we must share the joys and sorrows of our land.” Cat’s final political act was to sign the Letter of 34, a public protest letter concieved by Henryk Krzeczkowski in favor of cultural liberties. Brought to trial by the Communists for being a party to the letter, Cat eluded persecution by dying. In retrospect, there is poetic justice to the fact that Polands pre-eminent interbellum conservative died signing his name to a political project conceptualized in part by Poland’s pre-eminent post-war conservative.
American readers may shake their heads and even frown upon some of the arguments put forward in this short review of Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz’s Londonihilists and Green Eyes, not least because if Cat is right, then just as Polish deaths at Monte Casino were pointless, so too were American deaths on the beaches at Normandy. Yet in point of fact, Cat writes in the American tradition precisely because he writes against the British. The United States of America were born in revolution against the British Empire, an Empire which returned to burn down the White House in the war of 1812, and which was the target of American ire and scorn throughout the XIXth century. Americas founders warned against imperial intrigue, and were well aware of the vices of the British Empire which they abandoned in favor of an American republic. With Americas entry into World War I and achievement of dominance in World War II, the United States has effectively taken the place of the British Empire. For this she has suffered greatly; first in Korea, then Vietnam, now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz’s books are the height of anti-Atlanticism in Polish conservative thought no doubt the principle reason why no one knows they exist and everyone who does know pretends they dont, or attributes them to Cats being a traitor and communist collaborator. But if General George Washington were to step down from the Heavens, learn Polish, and read these books, he would recognize the guile and cruelty of a familiar enemy in the Empire of Churchill that Polands conservative Statesman blamed for the woes his country endured between 1939 to 1945.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
 Quoted from Bogusław Wołoszański, We Only Know a Warped View of September 1939