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“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.”[1]
-Adolf Hitler, 22 August 1939 Berchtesgaden officers conference

world war iiNo 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 government’s 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.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

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 Poland’s 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.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler

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.


Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz

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 Hitler’s 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.

80487Not 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.

wwIIThe 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 Poland’s 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. America’s 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 America’s 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 don’t, or attributes them to Cat’s 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 Poland’s 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


[1] Quoted from Bogusław Wołoszański, We Only Know a Warped View of September 1939

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21 replies to this post
  1. The obvious flaw in this thesis is that Churchill was not in power during the time such policies would have been effected. And Neville Chamberlain we doing everything in his power to avoid war.

  2. “Perfidious Albion” is the great-grandmother of clichés, yet there is always a core of truth, else the cliché is void.
    Burt so far as Hitler’s not having vast designs on Poland — here I think Mackiewicz is on very thin ice.

  3. Well, Hitler’s vision and goal of expansion to the EAST at the cost of all Slavic peoples, was well know. Yes he always wanted to leave Britain alone, even so far as sparing the Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk from annihilation.

    Yes you can fault the hypocritical British liberalism as they brutally crushed native aspirations for example in in South Africa in 1901 and Kenya and Malaya in the 1950’s. But the fact that Churchill would have none of Hitler’s “divide and conquer” plans, seems truly to have brought a “just war” if there ever was such a thing.

  4. The notion that Hitler was more interested in defeating Britain and France than in expanding eastwards is dubious to say the least. Hitler understood Germany as a continental power in need of more territory, and that territory wasn’t (primarily) going to come from the west. Hitler would have preferred to *ally* with Britain if possible, since he saw the UK’s imperial and colonial interests as complementary with Germany as a dominant land power. That’s to say nothing of the profound Nazi animus against Bolshevism as the primary enemy of the German people. There’s a reason Hitler recklessly attacked the USSR at a time when Europe was already at his feet: smashing the Soviets had been the chief goal all along. Britain and France were impediments to that end, not the primary targets.

    • Exactly– Hitler never could understand why Britain would not shake his hand and just let him go at the Bolsheviks. You can argue that the war was not in Britain’s interest, but the idea that a reduced Poland could have preserved its independence in a Nazi-dominated Europe, is just plain crazy. I get apalled at British-American hypocrisy as much as the next guy, but how could a Polish patriot, no matter how much he hated Stalin, fail to remember that Hitlers viewed all Slavs as undermensches?

  5. We miss proof – where was the UK itching for war during Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” speech? Documents? All are declassified. How could Britain have saved Poland when she needed (welcomed and sheltered) Polish refugee pilots to fly Spitfires in the Blitz? Cat’s thought is, sadly, ideology – the rationalised conspiracy theories of a man with no proof, who loved his country but who saw a world war only through a Polish lens. Not all of his suspicions can be equally valued.

  6. The author of this seems overly defensive of Stanisław Cat Mackiewicz. Bordering on an attitude of “He is right, or at least plausible, because he is Stanislaw freaking Mackiewicz!” But it’s likely most of us aren’t Slavic conservatives and even if we were why should a Slavic conservative automatically be more write than another kind? And it looks like this guy’s brother might have been better known.

    Why would a Polish conservative say these things then? Well some of this seems to be in denial that Nazism was what it said it was. It’s not especially surprising a man of his generation might do that. If Nazism was what it said it was, and what the evidence supports, than it seems irrational and doomed to failure in itself. If you’re viewing things from some kind of Machiavellian or realpolitik perspective what he’s saying “makes sense” for how a German Empire should behave. But Nazism was not simply some German Imperialist movement and it’s wrong, bordering on offensive and yes revisionist, to see it that way.

    Also an Anti-Communist Pole might have plenty of reasons to dislike the British. I’d gather that like many Anti-Communist Poles, and myself a very non-Polish person, he was Catholic. The UK had been a pretty staunch enemy of Catholic nations from its 1707 founding to up to 2 centuries later. Even in the 1930s much of Britain was Anti-Catholic. Although it’s not universal anti-British feelings among conservative or traditional Catholics is far from rare and even somewhat justified.

    But also many Slavic peoples find the influence of English-language cultures more corrosive and insistent than almost any other. There’s a bit of an edge of that Anti-Westernism in the review. But to get to the point of almost making Nazis sound more reasonable than the decadent West is risible, or even offensive, not to mention ridiculous.

    I think if this would make me “shake my head” it would be more at why so many Eastern European conservatives, despite those nations many wonderful qualities, still hold onto strange non-standard “Western conspiracy” views of reality. I don’t find myself shaking my head thinking “what if this is right” because, among other things, it’s so clearly misinformed on what Nazism even is or what it wanted that it being “right” (in the sense of accurate, it might be “right” in the sense of a cultural mood) is borderline impossible.

  7. Thank you to all who read and commented.

    In response to all the comments, it seems I was right that “readers may shake their heads and even frown upon some of the arguments put forward in this short review.” Given the content of Cat’s thought, this is no surprise.

    A principle hinderence to our discussion is the fact that the two books reviewed herein are not available in English. In writing this review, I decided to structure it as a condensation of Cat’s arguments, laid out over the course of two books numbering roughly 400 pages in total. This further complicates our discussion.

    I should like to begin addressing all of the comments with a note about methodology. Cat is not an academic historian and as a journalist he hated the journalism profession (one account of his time at The Word has it that during an interview, he asked a young lady if she had studied journalism, the young lady replied no, to which Cat said “good, you’re hired.”). Cat does not endeavor to write history, let alone political history, as though it were a chronological piece of logic, a story with a clear plot and development. Cat recognizes that politics is fluid, and that war especially is fluid. He writes in the classical tradition, so one does not find a “smoking gun” in his work, and it is not a matter of extracting the “most important points” or quoting the “relevent proof”. Cat’s books on World War II read somewhat like Machiavelli’s accounts of Florentine politics; they are not a precise history, but we would be unwise to refuse to hear them out given who the author was.

    Cat also does not write as a revisionist. He is not out to overturn conventional notions of the war, only to present his own with the express political purpose of opposing the West in the Cold War in favor of Polish national interest. He does not compare and contrast historical works. He understands his place in the world. Historians will study him; he will not study historians. His principle notion in the two books that are the subject of this review is that Poland was lied into cataclysmic conventional war by England in 1939, and is being lied into ultimate atomic war by the United States – heir to British Empire – in the 1950s. His goal is to demonstrate to his countrymen that their continued anglophilism will bring them ruin, and thus his books are not only a criticism of the British role in World War I I, but actually also likely the most scathing critique of British culture in all of modern Polish literature. He does not, of course, deny the virtues of British culture, but just as Tocqueville severely critiques aspects of American democracy, so Cat severely critiques Britain.

    Most of the comments are addressed in the review, albeit briefly. To my mind (not necessarily Cat’s) Chamberlain’s “peace in our time”, to address a specific point, was the equivalent of our “Mission Accomplished”: a fraudulant speech made by a government dedicated in point of fact to war. Adolf Hitler gave numerous speeches in which he argued that he had pursued peace, but the English and the Poles had wanted war. Many Germans believed that the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which was as shocking to German sensibilities as Chamberalains “appeasement” was to English sensibilities, was Hitler’s version of “peace in our time.” Hitler’s speeches are given no credibility because they are considered propaganda. In fact, they were political rhetoric and therefore, like Chamberlain’s speech, half-truths. All sides of the conflict pursued peace, they each had a very different view of what peace entailed. One could also, beyond alluding to Cat, allude to Stalin’s speech of March 10th, 1939 or to Litvinov’s letter to Maisky dated April 4th 1939, in which the Soviet minister writes explicitly (in fact, just the simple fact that Stalin purged the Jewish-Polish Litvinov in favor of Molotov so as not to aggravate Germany is significant): “Chamberlain is counting on us to resist occupation of the Baltic area and expecting that this will lead to the Soviet-German clash he has been hoping for.” Cat’s view is not, therefore, without coroboration in the general history of the war. What makes Cat’s view unique, however, is how penetrating and wholistic it is.

    Cat did not, as one comment suggests, think that an independent Poland was possible under a Nazi controlled Europe, only that Poland would not have been annihilated had she not gone to war against Germany, prodded to do so by the British. Likewise, Cat did not believe that Hitler had no malintent towards Poland, only that the loss of Danzig and the prospect of a highway to East Prussia were a smaller price to pay than the lost of 8 million citizens, statehood and liberty. To this matter, I dedicate a proportionate amount of space, so the confusion on this point is odd. As to the notion that Hitler had malintent towards slavs – this does not hold much weight given the evidence. Hitler had malintent for some slavs, but found others (like Ukrainians) very useful. We should not allow ourelves to let Mein Kamf obscure the political reality of what Hitler did prior to and during the war. It is enough to look to the example of Hungary or Slovakia (which Hitler made into an independent state) to see that he was not ill-disposed to slavs as such. Why, millions of slavs in Ukraine were delighted that Hitler invaded Poland and immediately engaged in combat against Polish forces. Hitler had numerous slavic allies who were anti-Soviet and anti-Semite – or in brief, just anti-Communist. That he was predisposed to a German view of Germanic superiority is another matter. Certainly, by the time he attacked the Soviet Union – which was the home to the world’s largest Slavic population, undermined the government of Hungary and ran roughshod over Romania and Yugoslavia – it became clear that Stalin, not Hitler, was the natural ally of the slavic peoples. But getting to that point took time. There is little doubt that for Ukrainians – Hitler was a liberator, and the Germans were greeted as heroes by slavs there. Ukranian jews and Poles, of course, were another matter although even here the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact served Jewish interests. Many of the units which occupied Poland’s eastern lands were Red Army Ukranian Jews. The Volyn massacre, initiated almost immediately upon the invasion of Poland by the Ukranians, is another example of slavs predisposed to love Hitler.

    But readers need to remember – if we are talking about slavs – the special, and regretable place – that Poles have in the annals of slavic history. Poles are considered, by much of ethnographic, slavic Russian history, to be traitors to the slavic peoples, to be the Judases of the slavic peoples. This is partially due to Poland’s Catholic culture as opposed to the Orthodoxy prevalent amongst most slavs, partially due to the liberalism of Poles towards Jews, against whom most of Slavdom was hostile, and partly to do with the fact that geographically, Poland has always bore a Germanic component in its’ culture, and has been considered the most European of the slav nations (perhaps Hungary is a close second). This made Poland repulsive to many a true Slavophile and later Panslavist. So – just because Hitler was against Poland (eventually) does not mean Hitler was against slavs. A very large share of the slavic world was likewise negatively predisposed to Poles in spite of Poles being slavs. Ultimately, Stalin showed himself to be the master of slavic politics, while Hitler showed himself to be rash and easily frustrated due to a number of factors.

    It should also be noted that Cat’s thesis is not that England or Churchull started the war in the immediate and obvious sense of firing the first shot or holding a secret meeting where they snickered and hee-hawed about plotting to draw Poland into war the next day by way of remote control, only in the intermediate sense of goading Poland to fight Germany which may or may not have worked. If there is one government Cat is more critical of than the British, it is his own. As I expressly noted on several occasions in the review, using words no less harsh than those used by Cat, the Polish government was stupid. Had it not been stupid, war would have been averted. Their stupidity rested not only in their naive belief in Franco-British rescue, they literally believed Polish cavalry would be charging into Berlin. Cat, in a separate work, where he praises English realism and contrasts it to Polish romanticism, writes (to paraphrase):

    “When Germany attacked Poland, the Polish Prime Minister spoke to the nation and said ‘we shall be victorious because Rydz is in command!’. When Germany began to bomb England, the King spoke to the effect that Britain faced its greatest crisis in history.”

    Polish optimism was the culprit; Cat does not fault the British for taking advantage of it – his view of politics allows that if you are stupid or weak, you will be destroyed. The goal of his two books is to make Poles more politically intelligent, since he is incapable of making them stronger. That Polish soldiers and airmen were useful in the battle of Britain is doubtless true – Cat regards Sikorski and his cabinet as imbeciles for facilitating Polish cannon fodder for British war ends. The greatest example of this was the attempted evacuation of the Polish army from Russian soil so it could fight for English interests. Cat despised his government, particularly Beck, and was no less opposed to Sikorski and Mikołajczyk, and it is hard to find fault in him for his hatred. Who would not despise such hubris and incompetence as he describes?

    Finally, as to the accusations that Cat is an ideologue, sees the world war through a Polish lense, and is a conspiracy theorist:

    Cat can be accused of many things, but of being an ideologue? Impossible. Czesław Miłosz, who got his start in publishint writing for Cat’s journal puts that to rest. Miłosz notes that despite the fact that he was a radical socialist critic of Polish traditions, Cat invited him to write a regular column for The Word. Miłosz was given complete freedom and wrote flamingly Marxist screeds in what passed as the most conservative journal of Poland. When the journal’s financial backers complained, Cat defended Miłosz, arguing that genius and beautiful prose trump ideology, and Miłosz is such a high quality thinker that so long as Cat is Editor in Chier, Miłosz will be welcome to write. That is just one story, but it demonstrates a rule: Cat was not an ideologue.

    Did he see the world war through Polish eyes? Yes, but what should we expect of the Prime Minister of Poland? Cat was a Statesman, seeing war through Polish eyes was his duty as a member of Parliament and later as Prime Minister. Certainly this is not a serious accusation. Cat was not an academic historian and he regarded history in the manner of Thucidides, and not as an objective science. Yet he was also a Catholic, and as a Catholic he was duty bound to see the war in human terms, not only Polish terms. I would say he more than lives up to this obligation particularly given his efforts to make sure that the Cold War did not become a third world war. But – even if we were to conceed that Cat is limited by his Polish view of the war, then a very simple question arises:

    Why should the Polish Prime Minister’s memoires of World War II not commamd equal respect as those of the British Prime Minister? Americans are routinely told they fought the war to save Poland, why should Americans not lend ear to what the Polish Prime Minister has to say? And not just any Prime Minister, but the chief conservative thinker of his generation, who was as important for Polish conservatism as Churchill was for Toryism?

    Finally, as to the accusation that Cat is a conspiracy theorist: I think it is extremely risky to level such a charge, given who Cat was and who his brother was. For in point of fact, Cat and his brother in particular were labelled conspiracy theorists by the British during the course of the war when they tried to press the truth uttered by Joseph Goebbels about the Katyn massacre. Cat’s brother wrote what would eventually become the first book on the Katyn massacre (Katyn: ungesühntes Verbrechen) and it was brought before British publishers who refused to allow it to see print. Jozef Mackiewicz, Cat’s brother, would live until 1985, the whole time labelled a conspiracy theorist by both the Soviets and the Anglo American world. People in Poland would be routinely arrested for reading Jozef Mackiewicz’s book in secret, and anyone who believed that Katyn was not the work of the Nazis was routinely labeled a nutjob and conspiracy theorist, no matter how much evidence they presented.

    Four years after Jozef Mackiewicz died, Gorbachev bravely acknowledged that Mackiewicz’s conspiracy theory was actually historical fact. Later Yeltsin released the documents proving that there was in fact a conspiracy which endured for over 50 years. Recently, President Putin graciously allowed a vivid Polish produced movie about this conspiracy to be shown on Russian television. Now, this conspiracy theory is a historical fact about an actual conspiracy between Western democrats and Eastern communists. It may take yet another 50 years for Cat’s thesises about the origins of World War II to earn the esteem they deserve, but that is just life. Cat would likely be satisfied that his books, and particularly his brother’s books, can once again be read in Europe and will no longer get you arrested for mentioning them.

  8. Thank you for that helpful clarification! There is a Continental kind of truth that is metaphorical rather than literal, but I do not know Slavs well enough to say that this is the case with your subject. Hard work you did, but worth the effort I think.

  9. Well, in all seriousness (and I think Cat Mackiewicz would agree), I believe that the first step in crossing the thresh hold between a truth that is literal to a slavic truth which is metaphorical is putting away the gin and picking up the vodka. Historians who do not – for at least a 5 year period – drink liberal amounts of vodka, will never understand the slavic world. All of my deficiencies as a historian of Eastern Europe are the result of having consumed marginal amounts of vodka in the span of my life.

  10. According to Marian Wendorf – a man who served as chief of office of all Polish presidents-in-exile from 45 to 89 , Cat went back because he was a glutton and the Warsaw regime promised to give him as many kluski as he wanted if he returned. This could well be true – if you look at his photos from that era, you’ll see he makes the current presidents wife look slim. In London, he was a penniless nobody, so the idea of returning to Poland with the promise of a degree of liberty (he still published a couple of books through Kultura without unpleasant political repercussions) must have seemed attractive.

  11. Mr. Antoni,

    First, you are, I think, refering to Mr. Bohdan Wendorff, not “Marian”. Bohdan Wendorff was chief of staff for the London government in Exile Presidents begining in 1975 (not 1945).

    Secondly, the argument you bring up is done away with by Cat himself quite nicely:

    Cat was penniless for a reason, and it was not because he was a glutton, but because the II Republic was destroyed, and – as Stalin correctly noted on several occassions – the gold that the Polish government took with it when running away while their people fought the Nazis was never recovered by Poland. In point of fact, Great Britain eventually used it to reimburse the Crown for maintaining the London government in exile. Cat was penniless because he had the bad fortune of being loyal to his government during World War II – a government which he came to see had betrayed the Polish people and was, in effect, a government of cowards. When Cat began accepting money from the Communist Polish secret services, he did it because he came to recognize that for better or worse, Poland was his country, it had lost the war, and it was the duty of Polish citizens to return to Poland and do what they could for their country if the opportunity were made available. The relative post-Stalinist thaw following Gomułka made it possible for men like Cat to return. Upon landing in Warsaw, he announced that he was returning as himself, as an aristocrat, a believer in old Poland, a patriot – not a Communist stooge. He wrote in his old manner; he did not cease to be a conservative. He in fact became an important conservative voice in Communist Poland – a beacon of the old Poland in a new, far darker reality. He compromised on Katyń in the sense that he simply kept silent about it. Silence about Katyń allowed him to speak about conservative principles.

    Secondly, if we are going to level accusations at Cat Mackiewicz for taking money from the Communist security services in Poland, which he did without hiding this fact, we ought to be fair and balanced enough to counter this claim with Cat’s argument that a large portion of the Poles in the London government were on the payroll of the CIA and engaged in Radio Free Europe to propagate American Cold War interests – interests which risked turning Poland into an atomic wasteland – something Cat refused to take part in.

    Cat openly took money from the security services of the Polish state – Communist or not – his country. He did the best he could, under the circumstances, to be a conservative in Poland at a time when deep Communism was the norm. This was brave.

    Sitting around London taking CIA money to propagate a Cold War that risked the annihilation of Poland – as the London government did after the war – was not noble, it was gluttonous and cowardly.

    To my mind, the reasons Cat gave for his return -because Poles are a farming people tied to their land for better or worse – were true and patriotic. As I wrote in a different pieace about emigres like Mr. Giedroyc, it is rather easy to sit around a nice mansion on the outskirts of Paris and “work for Poland” or to sit around an office in London for American money and “work for Poland.”

    Far harder to actually be in the country and do the necessary work. This – to my mind – is one of the major reasons why the Communists succeeded – say what you will about them, but I did not see Marshal Michał Rola Żymierski sitting round Moscow or Paris for the duration of the war. The Communists were willing to fight on the Eastern front where Poland needed soldiers, to do the hard dyplomacy with Stalin that made possible the restoration of the Polish state (not a given – remember that people like Wanda Wasilewska wanted Poland to become a Soviet Republic).

    Mr. Waldorff of course also served in the war, and fought bravely – but for whom? For Poland?

    His commander, General Maczek, after landing at Normandy and liberating numerous Western cities ended up working as a barman. He and his soldiers (Waldorff being one of them) fought valiantly – just for the wrong country. They should have been fighting for Poland, not for England and France.

    This is a point Cat also drives home very well: the fate of most of the Polish offiers, statesmen and soldiers who did so much to fight for their allies (who did nothing to fight for Poland) was to work as bartenders, house cleaners – to be penniless nothings and nobodies.

    Cat thought that this was demeaning – and rightly so. He made the right choice going back to Poland and working to fix the situation there – it was his country, and for better or for worse – he went back to take part in its’ politics; even if that meant accepting the Katyń lie and retaining at least some of his dignity, unlike his former colleagues, who probably were still holding out for Britain to liberate Poland long after the war was over as they swept someone’s carpet or washed dishes in someone’s pub.

    I do not mean to speak this derisively about the London emigres, but sometimes, the way the story is presented, it sounds as if nobody lived in Poland from 1945 to 1989, and nothing was done by anyone in the country to bring things to a head. This is not true. The emigres played a role, an important role, in the political changes that took place during the Cold War and and through 1989 – but their work was balanced by the role played by Poles in Poland itself – some of them Communists, but nevertheless patriots.

    It is high time that people stopped looking down upon those Poles who fought on the Eastern front and who stayed in Poland or returned to Poland after the war, often facing very difficult circumstances, determined to work towards an eventual full restoration of Polish liberty and work to prevent another war from breaking out.

    And before anyone gets the idea that I am demeaning General Maczek or those who fought in Normandy: no – what I am doing is simply protesting the notion that the incompetents in the II Republic who lost the Polish state to Hitler should be treated as heroes. A government which bungles into a war which it is unprepared to fight, which then loses its’ state and then has the audacity to run away while leaving so many of its’ soldiers (not to mention its’ people) behind. This sort of government does not deserve sympathy, it deserves contempt. Little wonder, too, that the Communists felt so hostile towards those in the London government who wished to return to Poland as heroes.

    What kind of heroes? Men who had fought on the Eastern front in horrific warfare to reach Polish cities and liberate them from the Nazis were then to step aside so that a bunch of old bunglers who had run away to Romania and Britain could come back on a pedestal to be fetted as heroes? It makes no sense. The Home Army – yes; the forgotten soldiers who fought against both the Nazis and Communists on Polish soil – understandable. But the naifs who allied with Britain, who saw that Britain did not fulfill her obligations, and yet who continued to fight with Britain? Why should they be considered greater heroes than the men who actually fought to free Poland?

    In short: werethe soldiers of the Poeople’s Army not Poles? What were they supposed to do? Shoot themselves? Jump into the mass graves in Katyn? Would that have satisfied those who – even in 1956 – felt bound by the Polish-British pact to stay in England rather than return to Poland?

    I simply don’t buy it. I understand exile – but no patriot wants to stay far from his country for very long; and if he seeks help or it overseas and that help is not forthcoming – he will, like Cat, go back, because that is what the definition of patriotism is: returning to the land of his fathers. Cat wanted to be buried in his country, to live out his life there. He found a place for his unique form of political activity in Poland and took it.

    Good for him.

  12. I certainly respect the author’s opinions on a matter in which he is certainly more knowledgeable than I am, and Cat Mackiewicz seems a complex character indeed. I do, however, reserve the right to question whether or not Churchill “started” the war-particularly since he was not Prime Minister when war broke out. Perhaps this disagreement was addressed and I missed it (if so, I apologize), but this is the real wrench in the works as far as Mr. Rieth’s argument goes.

    On a different note, I can certainly understand Mackiewicz’s disdain for bourgeois British leftism, particularly in light of reading Joseph Pearce’s biography of Roy Campbell (a must read!). And I also recognize that both Mackiewicz and Churchill were complex individuals whose motivations we can only glean or speculate on in hindsight (which is not always 20/20). Only God knows the truth, and we must be content to admit that we, like Socrates, “know nothing.”

  13. “Hitler had malintent for some slavs, but found others (like Ukrainians) very useful. ”

    Actually no or not really. The Nazis turned many of them into forced laborers and Bandera was even sent to a camp. The Hungarians aren’t Slavs, but Uralic peoples.

    The Croats and Slovakians might be examples of Nazi allies to Slavs, but mostly yeah this is pretty non-standard stuff or just wrong. Sorry.

  14. Hitler’s real goal, which he set forth in “Mein Kampf”, was the annihilation of the Jewish people. This was proven by the fact that he diverted much needed men and railways to bringing Jews to the death camps. Thus, it made sense for him to first attack Poland, which had the highest concentration of Jews in Europe – and, in fact, German soldiers wrote on their tanks “We are going to Poland to smite Jews”.

  15. Mr. R,

    I think it is necessary to always simply stick to historical facts when assessing a question like “Hitler’s view of slavs”, otherwise we will end up trying to guess his sentiments on the basis of our sentiments.

    1) Hitler invaded Poland with a slavic ally; Slovakia, and with a treaty signed with a slavic great power, namely the USSR.

    2) Prior to that, Hitler occupied Chechoslovakia with a slavic participant, namely Poland, and with the enthusiasm of slavic Slovakians who gained their own state.

    3) Germany financed and assisted Ukrainian nationalist insurgents in Poland for many years and in 1939, the Ukrainians in the II Republic turned their guns on Poles. Hitler’s slavic allies in Ukraine were some of his most loyal.

    4) It is a well documented fact that German-Soviet relations for the duration of the Molotov-Ribbentroo pact were not only coordial, but excellent. Both countries vigorously assisted one another and maintained a productive working relationship until Hitler suddenly invaded the Soviet Union. For the Russians, this was the real beginning of the war. From their point of view, Stalin was pursuing isolation from thr war of the imperialists, and this policy seemed to be working, it seemed that pragmatic relations with Nazi Germamy were possible. Only when the Great Patriotic War began did it become clear that it was not.

    One could go on and on. Again, my argument is not about Hitler’s racial, views, nor about his sentiments, but only a recognition of the fact that as Fuhrer, his policy was sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile to slavs, depending on the circumstances and chronology of the war. This in no way denies Nazi crimes, Nazi culpability nor Nazi evil, but is merely an attempt to analyze the politics of the war.

    As a thinker, Cat – the subject of this review – is interested only in political necessity and political action, not in questions of morality. This was Cat’s great weakness, perhaps, but this does not mean there is no truth in his view, nor that there is no moral truth in them.

    In any case, your citation of labor camps and what not in no way disproves my statement that Hitler had malintent for some slavs, but found others useful, you merely prove half of my sentence to be valid.

    As for Hungarians, they are – as they call themselves Magyars, and yes, you are correct about their origins, but far more interesting than the utterly imprecise study of ethnography is the study of political action. Hungary’s policies in World War II including the moment of her surrender and resignation from the Axis preserved the physical existence of the state and her people. Cat concludes that had Poland demonstrated more prudent realism and less romantic idealism, she too would have been preserved.

    Cat’s evolution from a Piłsudzki advocate and anti-Russian into a man who recognized that Poland and Russia must come to terms in their mutual self interest is a fascinating study.

  16. Mr Strzelecki,

    Just to address point 2 in your recent comment. The whole case of Zaolzie is more complex the the Czech viewpoint suggests. Zaolzie was part of Polish territory as both states were created back after World War I. Czechs using the fact that Poland was engaged in a series of wars with bigger neighbours seized the opportunity to take over that territory (which was more Polish than Czech). When Beck knew that the Germans are up to something and attacked the Czech Republic he attacked Zaolzie on the basis of securing a rail network that Germans could use in their attack on Poland. Of course many say that this wasn’t an honourable thing, but on the other side it was a logical move by Poland. Czechs didn’t fight back and allowed the Germans to march in, so that means that the Germans would have taken Zaolzie no matter what. So by taking Zaolzie Poland improved their impoverished defensive system, by making it a little bit harder for Hitler to move his troops around. Of course Poland didn’t manage to defend themselves properly when war broke out.

    I will add, that in terms of the Western forces a major factor which stopped them from marching East was the fact that the British, who probably decided that the Cold War would do them good, decided to “service” their vehicles. If they hadn’t done that, then I’m pretty sure had the Poles attacked the Soviets the war would end with Poland with the help of America (Patton) could have gained more territory.

    As for the communists and your point of them not being a Soviet republic – the true name should be “Soviet Autonomy”, as we had all the symptoms of an occupated country – no independent politics, no influence on foreign relations (with the West), and add to that a few divisions of Russians in the country, just to make sure everything is under control. Though I can agree with you that they were the ones who actually were there to do something, as the government in exile was a bunch of pompous has-beens who were more interested in looking important then actually acting bravely (the only one who tried would be Mikołajczyk).

    Nevertheless it’s an interesting piece you wrote. It’s an interesting point in a debate that will never come to a right conclusion. As for Cat, he is good at defending himself, but he always seemed to think of himself as someone better than others, and had a way of being that allowed him to do stuff others can’t. From a personal story, my gread grandparents travelled with him from Wilno to Warsaw, my great grandfather being a respected educator and scientist in the region was a well known figure out there. My grandparents sat in a compartment with some peasants sitting next to the window, and in comes Cat… for him those peasants were too low born to be allowed to sit there, so he ordered them to leave. They denied, so Cat tried to drag them out of those seats. Only after my great grand father shouted at Cat and told him to calm down, had he sat down, semi offended and left those innocent people alone. This story just shows what kind of a man Cat was – someone who tended to treat himself as someone above others, and someone to whom other laws applied. Of course we can counter each other endlessly, by defending-attacking, it’s always good to talk and learn new things.

    I’m sure Cat has an interesting point, though it’s just an idea and things weren’t as clear as Cat made them look like. Most likely the Polish Vichy state would never happen, as there even was such an idea in the German camp, but it was quickly overthrown.

  17. Mr. Antoni,

    I agree with you that this is a never-ending debate; and I think it is beneficial to have such never ending debates because they sharpen the ability of citizens to think about politics and hopefully prepare them to act.

    Your story about your grandparents is fascinating, and sounds just about right in terms of Cat’s character. It also is another illustration of why the Communists won.

    It was Trotsky, in the war of 1920, who began the propaganda campaign against the “Polish masters” of the impoverished peasants; and Cat unfortunately simply lived up to the Communist’s caricature of an aristocrat who looked down with contempt at the common man. Cat’s behavior, I’m afraid, was not an isolated incident – it was representative of the mentality of an entire class of landed aristocracy who were oblivious to the great poverty of the people, and the impossibility of building a strong republic on the basis of such vast inequality of conditions.

    I am by no means a democrat – I am a republican – but even I recognize that in our day and age, although we have vast wealth ineqality, the inequality in material conditions and access to basic education and instruments of civic life is smaller than it was under ancient aristocratic societies. Those societies, in a state of flux, could have become republics – with all social classes becoming self-governing citizens. That they did not was due to two factors: 1) the Polish nobility were infected with the idea of socialist revolution rather than republicanism (though Cat was not) and 2) there was not Polish middle class, and social inequality (forget material inequality which was also vast) made it rather impossible for any middle class to arise.

    It was the Communist policy, after all, to eliminate the aristocracy, to eliminate the land owners, and to place the peasants, workers and other menial laborers in positions of prestige and power. Miłosz, a typical Polish socialist, described this in 1945 as the lowliest of the low taking over (in his view, socialism should have been built by the enlightened aristocracy I suppose).

    Cat did not understand that you could not have a republic with the majority living in abject poverty – but then again Cat was a monarchist. He wanted Piłsudzki to be crowned king. He was also not very consistent.

    I think that the books he wrote at the end of his life, in which he laid so much blame at the feet of the bafoonish Polish aristocrats who led their nation to ruin, and his coming to terms with Communism, was a big step away from his previous prejudices.

    Finally – I invite you to read Henryk Krzeczkowski’s essay on Cat (and Waugh) in which Krzeczkowski outlines many of his own reservations about Cat Mackiewicz; above all noting that for a conservative, he was terribly impulsive and inconsistent (ideological rigidity is a sin, true, but so is outlandish inconsistency – and Cat, who supported the Intermauraum Promethians, then realized how much trouble this led to and pivoted to pro-Germanism after which he again pivoted to pro-Soviet politics was a man who clearly opened himself up to accusations of both opportunism and inconsistency).

    This does not, however, take away from the strength of his arguments about England and the war, which I find compelling.

    Thanks again for sharing your amazing story.

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