Air University Review, July-August 1982
Major John Hasek, The Royal Canadian Regiment
The absence of Russian armor in the streets of Warsaw and the dearth of film coverage from Poland since the military takeover bear witness to the great sophistication and refinement achieved by the Russians in their methods of control since the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the 1968.1 This time there were to be no dramatic images of indigenous youth crying defiance at invading tanks.
There was not the slightest chance that the Russians would permit any real measure of freedom in Poland. The name of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the location of the Headquarters in Warsaw are no mere happenstance. The command and control of the Pact forces are integrated to a degree unknown in the West, and, in effect, the Russians would fight their war in Europe from Warsaw. To them, the security and control of Poland are therefore of paramount importance. Their faith in the Polish military and in General Wojciech Jaruzelskis ability to reestablish control must indeed have been great.
An examination of Jaruzelski, and of Poland in his lifetime, should provide some essential clues as to why the Kremlins card for invasion has not been played and may not have to be. On 9 February 1981, when General Jaruzelski became the Prime Minister of Poland, he was the first professional officer to assume the top governmental position in a Warsaw Pact country since the consolidation of Moscows hold on its satellites. He also retained the post of Defense Minister, and thus combined control of the bureaucratic apparatus with that of the defense establishment.2 From this firm base he was in an ideal position to execute the smooth and rapid military takeover in the waning days of 1981. When the mans background is examined together with the manipulation of Polish affairs by Moscow sine 1939, the chances of all this being mere coincidence are simply too slim to be seriously regarded.
Although the future of Poland after World War II was probably sealed by the Yalta agreement, armed resistance, nevertheless, reached civil war proportions in the period after 1945, before the Communists managed to consolidate their hold on Poland.3 Immediately after this, at a time when other satellite armies were undergoing Sovietization and Stalinization under the leadership of indigenous officers, a Russian, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky4 was installed as Commander in Chief and Minister of Defense in Poland.5 Under the Soviet overseer many of the officers who fought against the Germans were purged, tried, and sentenced to long prison terms. When Rokossovsky left after half a decade, although it was a time of de-Sovietization as well as de-Stalinization, it may be taken for granted that he left the Polish military safe for Soviet interests. It was then, in 1956, that the 33-year-old Jaruzelski became the youngest general officer in the Polish army. Clearly, his perceived suitability to the regime as well as to Moscows grand designs must have been truly outstanding for him to reach general officer rank at an age rare in wartime armies and unprecedented in advanced, peacetime forces.
Wojciech Jaruzelski was born into a family of provincial landed gentry in 1923. He attended a Jesuit boarding school, where he remained until his part of Poland was occupied by the Red Army as a result of the Russo-German nonaggression agreement of 1939. The official résumé is blank about his next four years, but they were almost certainly spent in the Soviet Union. When his official biography resumes, the 20-year-old youth is the U.S.S.R. as an officer cadet in the embryo Soviet-sponsored Polish army.
The first Polish army formed on Soviet soil was eventually called the "Anders Army," after General Wladyslaw Anders, a prewar solider and originally an officer in the Imperial Russian Army.6 This army consisted mainly of troops who had served in the Polish army before the war. Stalin attempted to deploy it in penny packets so as to minimize its future political impact. Eventually, the Anders Army ended up fighting under the British in the Middle East, physically preserved but effectively removed from a position where it could directly influence matters in Poland. After the war those Poles who had fought alongside the Western allies were not permitted to rejoin the army.7 Meanwhile, the Russians had massacred great numbers of the old Polish officer corps. The discovery of the corpses of over four thousand officers in the Katyn Forest8 by the Germans led to the Polish Government-in-Exile demanding an International Red Cross investigation. This provided the Soviet Union with the excuse that it had been looking for to break off relations with the London-based Government-in-Exile. Now Moscow was ready to form a new army, led for the most part by Red Army officers, which Stalin intended to be his tool for the eventual domination of Poland.9 This army also took its name from its commander, General Zygmunt Berling, and became the "Berling Army." It was into this army that Jaruzelski was commissioned.
The Berling Army fought on the eastern front as part of Rokossovskys Army Group. It was Rokossovsky who encouraged the Polish Home Army, consisting of those Poles who remained in Poland to continue the resistance against the Germans on the home front, to start the Warsaw uprising. And it was Rokossovskys Army Group which sat for five weeks on the eastern bank of the Vistula while the home army, containing yet more of the bravest of the Polish patriots, bled to death, waiting vainly for support from the Red Army.
In the immediate postwar period, Jaruzelski fought against fellow Polish soldiers of the anti-Communist partisan forces. In the middle of this period of internecine strife, which lasted into 1948, he formally joined the Polish Communist Party. In the following few years, while the majority of the Polish officers who had fought against the Germans were being purged, Jaruzelskis career blossomed. He was selected for the Higher Infantry School and then for the General Staff Academy, a must for those destined for very senior rank. He graduated from the latter institution with honors in 1955.
The year of Jaruzelskis promotion to general officer rank, in 1956, was also the year that the Polish army was de-Stalinized. His elevation at this time tends to identify him with the liberal winds blowing through Poland and the army. Some of the "liberal" officers may well have been anti-Soviet, and there were even rumors to the effect that some of the elements of the Polish army, together with some workers, were preparing to resist a possible Soviet invasion. However, it must be remembered that this new, gentler breeze had started blowing from the same old easterly direction.
In 1957 Jaruzelski was given command of a mechanized division and then in 1960 appointed as the head of the Main Political Administration of the Polish Armed Forces. In 1962, in addition to retaining the post of Chief Political Commissar, he also became the Deputy Minister of Defense. In 1964 he became Chief of the General Staff while retaining the post of Deputy Minister. In 1968 he became the Minister of National Defense, a post which he has retained ever since. His rise in the party has kept pace with his military promotions: he became a member of the Central Committee in 1964, a Candidate Member of the Polish Politburo in late 1970, and finally a full member in December of 1971. The latter post he holds to this day.
Jaruzelski is most likely not simply a puppet of the Kremlin, a mole whose sole motivation is that of Soviet hegemony; it is undoubtedly much more subtle and complicated than that. He must, to begin with, be a superb politician of the bureaucratic kind. There are, for instance, examples of his behavior which can be used as evidence of either a late blossoming of an independent spirit or of the independence given by the certainty of higher protection. During the mass strikes on the Baltic coast in December of 1970, it is reported that Jaruzelski refused to comply with Wladyslaw Gomulkas orders to deploy regular army troops against the striking workers. The troops were deployed by General Korczynski, one of the partisan faction, a strongly nationalist group. This group was quickly swept away, and Gomulka fell from power, to be replaced by Edward Gierek and his administration. Jaruzelski was once again on the winning side and was rewarded with the two political promotions that brought him to full membership in the Polish Politburo.
The summer of 1976 and the food riots again saw Jaruzelski insisting that the army not be used in suppressing the Polish workers. The popularity of the army and of General Jaruzelski grew, while that of the rest of the party leadership, whose corruption was becoming increasingly widely known, kept decreasing. In the late summer of 1980 it was again Jaruzelski, this time with the support of Stanislaw Kania, the General Secretary of the Central Committee, who insisted on a political solution, instead of sending in the troops. Gierek was replaced by Kania a few days later.
Jaruzelski was resented by the hardliners in the Polish communist establishment. There were even attacks on Jaruzelski and Kania in the Soviet press during early 1981. All this helped add to the popularity that Jaruzelski had built up with the Polish people and made the imposition of martial law that much easier later in the year. The widely publicized Warsaw Pact exercises, heralded by the Western press as the prelude to an invasion, were also a part of this psychological preparation.
The military takeover has effectively shut off the great majority of resistance in Poland, or at least appears to have done so. There still is resistance, but it does not receive the nourishment of universal condemnation of the military regime or of much Western protest. This is partly because the Soviet hand has been concealed, but more than that, it is because of the effectiveness of the censorship imposed by the regime. The modern public has become conditioned to television as the prime carrier of "evidence." Seeing is believing to such an extent that written news alone cannot carry a story for any length of time, or with any great influence. The cameras have been stilled by sophisticated Polish censors, and Solidaritys great fight has disappeared from the front pages and TV screens alike.
For the time being, Soviet strategists appear to have achieved their aims, but before Solidarity there was the Catholic Church. The long-term struggle in Poland is not for democracy or for freer trade unions; it is between the Roman Catholic Church and the secular church of Russian communism, and ultimately it is for the survival of the Poles as a nation.10
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1. Poland and Czechoslovakia, of course, present different cases. Their differing commitment to democracy, their degree of nationalism, and their approach to religion as well as their relative proximity to the U.S.S.R. all serve to add to the difference.
2. By the late summer of 1981, in addition to the Defense Ministry, the key departments of Interior, Local Government, and Mining were all headed by military officers. Also, the military representation on the Central Committee elected in July of 1981 was double that of the Congress in February 1980. (Much of the data on Jaruzelski in this essay is from an article by Andrzej Korbonski, "The Dilemmas of Civil-Military Relations in Contemporary Poland: 1945-1981," Armed Forces and Society, Fall 1981. Professor Korbonski comes to rather different conclusions than I do, but he did not have the benefit of hindsight after the military takeover.)
3. The security forces fighting against the various resistance movements numbered between three and four hundred thousand. Wholesale executions were frequent, and tens of thousands were imprisoned. Richard Hiscocks, Poland, Bridge for the Abyss? An Interpretation of Developments in Post-War Poland (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 102.
4. Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky was a Russian of Polish descent. His role in modern Poland is reminiscent of another Polish Russian, Count Novosiltsov or Nowosiltsow, who ruled Poland on Russias behalf during the early nineteenth century and "who was the incarnation of all the hostility of the Tsarist bureaucracy against the constitutional, liberties of the kingdom." Oskar Halecki, A History of Poland (New York: Roy Publishers, 1943), p. 230. The traffic in terror was not only one way, for it was a Polish communist, Feliks Dzierzynski, who organized the first, and still unsurpassed for savagery, Soviet secret police for Lenin. In recognition of this, the Feliks Dzierzynski Military Academy was founded in 1951 by Rokossovsky to make the Polish army "a politically reliable instrument." See Hans Roos, A History of Modern Poland (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1966), p. 234.
5. Rokossovsky "had Polish officers of the pre-war army removed from all high commands and once again replaced by Soviet ones; four [Polish] generals. . . were prosecuted in a show trial." Roos, p. 234.
6. Ibid, p. 49.
7. Area Handbook for Poland (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973).
8. Louis FitzGibbon, Katyn Massacre (London: Corgi Books, 1971).
9. To what extent these soldiers of Stalin still permeate the senior ranks of the Polish army would be interesting to know. In 1973, when I was serving with the Canadian contingent of the International Commission for the Control and Supervision of the Ceasefire in Vietnam, the colonel commanding the Polish contingent in my region boasted of having been an infantryman at the fall of Berlin.
10. As a result of the genocide by the Germans and the Russians during the Second World War and the shift westward of Polands borders, "the population was more homogeneous both racially and in religious faith. Between the Wars about 10 million of the inhabitants of Poland were not Poles, including 5 to 6 million Ukrainians and some 3 million Jews, while the ethnic minorities now number. . . only slightly over half a million. Whereas in 1931 about 75% of Polish citizens were Catholics. . . after the War nearly 98%." Hiscocks, p. 94.
Major John Hasek, The Royal Canadian Regiment (B.A., University of Ottawa; M.A., University of New Brunswick), is serving with the Central Regional Operations Staff in Toronto after a tour of duty as a member of The Skyhawks, the Canadian Forces parachute team. He has published articles on strategy, psychology of war, and perception. Major Hasek is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, an Honor Foreign Graduate of the U.S. Army Special Forces Officers Course, and a Distinguished Graduate of the Canadian Forces Staff College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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