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Let us remember their sacrifice a century ago

Because if we don’t, who will? I consider myself quite well versed in history, and I am certainly disposed to honour those killed while fighting Communism, yet even I had barely heard of the Soviet-Polish war of 1920. I had not thought of it for years until reminded by a post by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit:

The war that saved Europe from Communism

17 comments to Let us remember their sacrifice a century ago

  • Snorri Godhi

    The Poles saved Western civilization not once but at least twice. The first time was at the Battle of Vienna (1683).

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Snorri Godhi, indeed.

    By the way, people should not take my saying “Because if we don’t, who will?” too literally. The Poles themselves are known for their historical memory. It is telling that their national anthem is “Poland Is Not Yet Lost”. But the leading opinion-formers of the Anglosphere and Western Europe since World War II preferred to relegate the Soviet-Polish war to being some sort of last flare-up of the failed attempt by the Whites to unseat the Bolsheviks.

  • Jacob

    Seems the war started as a Polish aggression. The Soviet Red Army (communist army) was engaged in a hard fight to win the civil war in Russia against the White Army (anti communist Russian nationalists).
    The Poles sensed Russian weakness and tried, opportunistically, together with Ukrainian nationalists, to expand their territory and hit the rightly hated Russians.
    As far as I know, the Red Russians were in up to their neck in the civil war, and had neither the intention nor the ability to invade Western Europe at that time.
    So, the claim that Poland saved Western Europe at the battle of Warsaw in 1920 seems highly exaggerated.

  • Jacob

    The Poles saved mainly their own hides, and barely.

  • Jacob (January 10, 2020 at 4:18 pm), in relation to the Russian communists, “Polish aggression” is a fairly absurd suggestion. Are you unaware that Poland did not exist in 1914, having been partitioned between Russia, Germany (Prussia) and Austria long before? To her relative credit, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria argued with her advisers and only grudgingly accepted that since the other two powers were grabbing bits of Poland, Austria could not risk being left out. By contrast, Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia was only too eager to end Poland’s existence – and Russia ended up with most of Poland.

    At the end of WWI, Poland was well aware that a unique situation had arisen: with all the eastern European great powers defeated (Austria exhausted by the war and Russia defeated by Germany whom the western powers then defeated), the smaller peoples of the area (such as the Poles) had their one chance to regain freedom – and had to seize it. The communists reimposed Russia’s imperial rule over all the peoples that they could – over Ukraine, Georgia. etc. They fully intended to do the same to Poland, as the Poles were well aware. The slogans were different but the intent to rule was the same, as was easy to see even then, and it was also easy to see even then that the rule itself would be crueller.

    The Ukraine tried hard to be free but the communists were too strong for them and reconquered the country by main force.

  • Natalie, as it happens, I was well aware of the Polish-Russian war but first learnt of it indirectly through studying the military side of the great purge of the 30s. Stalin’s diversion from supporting the direct drive on Warsaw was blamed for the communists’ defeat – by senior military communists who all perished in the purge, while the history was rewritten to show Stalin’s push as a strategically sound maneouvre sabotaged by the purgees.

    IMNSHO the article Glen linked to overstates the danger a little. While Poland, and all ruled by her, had a much pleasanter interwar government than if the communists had won, the Reds dared not encounter western forces in that early period. On one occasion, Lenin was (mis)informed that just two British divisions had landed at Archangel – and assumed that all was lost. The “hands off Russia” movement organised by British trade union leaders in 1920 that refused to load military ships bound for Russia was a matter of life and death for the communist regime.

  • Jacob

    Niall, of course, of course, all parties would claim that they only wanted to redress past injustice, and only to take hold of what was rightly their’s in the first place, etc. etc.
    Still, it seems to me the Poles started the 1919-1920 war with Russia.

  • pst314

    Jacob is correct: If the Poles had been peaceful they would have passively submitted to the new murderous tyranny.

  • pst314

    They fully intended to do the same to Poland, as the Poles were well aware.

    If I recall correctly, Leszek Kolakowski quoted Trotsky to exactly that point in “Main Currents of Marxism”.

  • it seems to me the Poles started the 1919-1920 war with Russia. (Jacob, January 10, 2020 at 5:12 pm)

    And we started WWII instead of waiting patiently to be attacked after Hitler had added Poland to the areas he controlled. (In the event, the phoney war meant he could in part keep following his one-war-at-a-time scheme, but at least we were blockading him and increasing our forces.)

    The communists would have liked each breakaway bit of the former empire of the Tsars to wait patiently its turn to be attacked so they could reconquer the whole bit by bit. I do not see it as ‘aggressive’ of the Poles not patiently to await their fate.

    The newly-independent formerly-Russian-ruled eastern European states, including the Poles, were quite capable of pushing boundary claims aggressively against each other during the interwar years, but they were merely being sensible in anticipating what the Reds planned for them.

  • Lee Moore

    Jacob is correct. But the dumbest move the Poles made wasn’t starting a fight with the Bolshies in 1920, but refusing to support the Whites in 1919. If the Whites had, with Polish support, beaten the Reds in 1919, then the Poles would not have been in the position of facing the Bolsheviks on their own in 1920. The argument that they were sensible to attack the Reds in 1920, as the Bolshevik regime was a ravening beast that would attack the Poles soon anyway, crumbles in the face of the obvious retort that if it was sensible for the Poles to attack in 1920, it would have been way more sensible to attack in 1919, when they could have had some serious allies.

    The Poles feared the devil they knew – a resurgent Russian Empire – and so allowed the devil they didn’t know to survive in 1919. They chose poorly.

  • Chester Draws

    Lee Moore is right. Towards the middle of 1919 as the Whites drove on Moscow from the south and on St Petersburg from Estonia, if Poland had attacked Russia the Bolsheviks would have been defeated. Pilsuski knew that at the time, and chose to have the Bolsheviks over the Whites in Russia.

    I have some issues with Polish aims in the war 1919/1920 — basically they claimed all the lands of the historical Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, regardless of how few Poles lived in those regions — they most certainly were not the “aggressors”. Were Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan also aggressors? Because they took lands that in many cases had never had a separate existence, unlike Poland. There had never been an independent Finland or Latvia previously, for example. And yet the Finns don’t get chided for wanting to have an independent Finland. Indeed people usually laud their resistance to incorporation into the USSR.

  • Lee Moore (January 10, 2020 at 5:52 pm), Jacob cannot be correct in accusing the Poles of aggression if you are also correct in complaining they were not aggressive enough early enough.

    One issue for the Poles was that the initial White leaders were officially Russian imperialists, making them difficult bedfellows for groups who aimed to break away from the Russian empire. It was easier for the Poles to make common cause with e.g. the Ukrainians than with some of the White Russian leaders. (The communists consciously intended to exploit local nationalist movements against the Whites and then discard them – which was not hard to see, but they tried what lies could do.)

    There is also the practical point that Poland had just come into existence and the situation was rapidly changing. There were moments in 1919 when the Whites looked like potential winners.

    Knowing what we know now, the idea of Poland attacking the Reds earlier has much to be said for it. But their not doing so hardly proves Polish aggression.

  • Bogdan Jodkowski

    Dear Niall, the main reason that the Poles refused to back Whites was that the Whites have categorically rejected the idea of Poland’s independence and were determined to subdue Poland and incorporate Poland back into the Russian empire they hoped to regain and rebuild. In that situation, Poland chose the least bad option by giving her support to Ukraine. Let’s remind those like Jacobs who accuse Poland of attempting to grab the territories that allegedly didn’t belong to Poland that Lviv (formerly Lvov in Poland, the surrounding area and the regions towards the West were 70% Polish. Grodno and surrounds, now in Belarus where my father was born and lived before having been expelled to the newly acquired Western Poland, was 90% Polish and Vilnius was practically 100% Polish. Poland was in her full right trying to recover land stolen from her during 130 years of occupation and partition.
    Greetings from Aussie

  • Jacob

    There is also the practical point that Poland had just come into existence and the situation was rapidly changing.

    This is true. And many saw it as a perfect time to grab more land. Of course, only land that was “rightly” theirs, or populated by people of their ethnic group.
    For example: Romania grabbed and annexed Transilvania in December 1918. (they were in a hurry).
    It is still a fact that the Poles started the 1919-20 war.
    It can be claimed that this was a preemptive strike, as the Russians were going to attack Poland and try to reestablish Russian Imperial rule in Poland. I don’t think this was the case.
    The first claim – that the Poles saved Europe in 1920 – this is – as far as I know, plainly false.

  • Jacob

    Bogdan, thanks for your informative post.
    I’m not saying that the Poles did not have good reasons in trying to grab or recover territory that was Polish 130 years before (they having grabbed it even earlier).
    All I’m saying is that Poland started the war in 1919 in order to move the eastern border – a border that was not well defined at the time.
    I’m not saying they were not justified.
    All I’m saying is that Poland started her move eastward. It was not the Bolsheviks who started the Polish-Soviet war in 1919 in order to expand westward.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri is correct (although his statement about 1683 would be denounced as Islamophobia by certain people) – and many of the other comments are also good.

    The struggle of the Poles to save civilisation from the Marxists was well known at the time – indeed American volunteer pilots came to help.

    And the savage crimes, the vast numbers of murders, of the Marxists from the 1917 onwards were also well known – for example my own father (an uneducated Jewish boy in the East End of London) knew all about the Terror Famines (famine is one thing – stealing food and preventing people leaving is deliberate murder) and about the bullet in the back of the head for so many innocent people. Those Manchester Guardian types in Britain and “New Dealers” in the United States who claimed that they did not know about the murder of millions by the Soviets (with “Stalin” just carrying on the work of “Lenin” and both just carrying out the tyranny that Karl Marx himself supported) were LYING.

    The Western leftists were LYING – they did know about the mass murder in the Soviet Union, but they did not allow the truth to appear in their despicable publications. For example Malcolm Muggeridge was dismissed by the Manchester Guardian for the “crime” of speaking the truth about what was happening in the Soviet Union – what he had seen. And the New York Times ran a campaign of LIES to defend the Soviet Union in the 1930s (and the despicable friends of the Soviet Union in the United States – such as Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, a beast who is held up as a moral hero in American schools and universities). Just it later ran a campaign of lies to help bring Mao to power in China in the 1940s (supporting the State Department demands that the Nationalist Chinese government stop the Manchurian Offensive of 1946 – and have “talks” with the Marxists), and to bring Castro to power in Cuba in the 1950s.

    The idea that the left have only just become evil is a mistake – they have always been evil. And, if they could, they would do in the West what their friends “Uncle” Joe “Stalin”, Mao, Castro and so on have done in other places. The “nice” people (called “liberals”, of all things, in the United States) would, if they had the opportunity, murder millions of human beings in the West.

    There are two reasons for this. Firstly the left believe that Western Civilisation (which they call “capitalism”) is evil – they believe it is based on “oppression” and “exploitation” and must, therefore, be destroyed.

    But the left also believe that if Civilisation was destroyed a wonderful new civilisation would take its place – rising from the ashes of the evil civilisation that they had destroyed.

    As “Lenin” put it – “if, for the purposes of building Communism, it was necessary to eliminate nine tenths of the population – we should not recoil from these sacrifices” – he did NOT believe it would be necessary to eliminate 90% of the population (and I am not claiming that he did believe that), but he was making the point that IF he “had to” to eliminate nine tenths of the population in order to create the perfect society he-would-do-that.

    So would the “nice” people who have such influence in the education system and the media (and the general culture) of the modern West.

    Never forget – there is nothing, nothing, they would not do in order to destroy the West.

    The left are wrong – the West is NOT based upon “exploitation” and “oppression”, not now and NOT when “Das Kapital” was published, a 150 years ago, either (bad things exist – but they are NOT the basis of our civilisation), and the wonderful “new society” the left dream of is a phantom – in reality there would be no “new civilisation”, just ashes and dried blood.

    Lastly on the “Social Reformers” – those people who believe, or half believe, what the left say about Western Civilisation but seek to use “Social Reform” (state intervention) to “fix things” in order to avoid breakdown and Revolution.

    You, the “Social Reformers”, are exactly WRONG – your President Johnson “Great Society” stuff (and all the rest of it – for example “conservative” “social reformers” such as Disraeli and Balfour and Harold Macmillan in Britain, what Americans would call “me to Republicans”) do not make things better than they otherwise would be – your “Social Reforms” make things WORSE than they otherwise would be, your endless government spending, taxes and regulations HOLDS BACK progress, or even reverses it.

    Yes the taxes of a Disraeli or a Bismark were actually SMALL (progress continued in spite of them – but not because of them) – but in modern times the “Social Reform” has reached such as stage of government spending, taxes and regulations that it is PLAYING INTO THE HANDS OF THE MARXISTS.

    For example the nightmares that are many American cities are the direct result of out of control “Social Reform” – endless taxes, government spending and regulations. And, at the same time, a refusal to enforce traditional laws against such things as vagrancy, littering (including potentially lethal litter such as leaving disease soaked drug needles about) and so called “petty” theft.

    Things are going to get worse – much worse. And “capitalism” will be blamed – when, in reality, it is “Social Reform” (including the “Progressive” Keynesian Credit Bubble policies of the various Central Banks of the Western world) that is to blame.

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