If my country had become the People’s Republic of Britain and been subordinate to the Soviet Union for 45 years I would be asking how did this happen and be looking for someone to blame as a way of putting it behind me. So I’ve been asking myself and others “Who is to blame for Poland’s time as a communist satellite?”.

Please note that I’m no historian, as I’m about to prove, this is just one of my mini explorations into a subject that interests me.

Many I talked to blame Yalta, and singled out Churchill and Britain. For someone who grew up with Britain’s version of history, this comes as a shock and whilst I am accustomed to Britain being blamed for just about everything that went wrong in the world, this particular accusation just didn’t sound “fair” to me. Others had no opinion, or a scattered blame approach and a few shared the conclusion that I come to, that it all started to go wrong with the Treaties of Versailles (1919) and Brest-Litovsk (1918). As soon as you focus on one possible solution it grows branches that lead elsewhere leading you deeper and deeper into the maze of history. So, here’s an almost unbiased opinion of what might have happened.

For more than 200 years before the first world war both Russia and Germany (along with Austria) occupied Poland. At the end of the first war two peace treaties were drawn up, the first (Brest-Litovsk) effectively ceded all of Poland from the Bolshevik’s to the German Empire. The second (Versailles), only a year later, took it away from the German Empire and made it independent. Versailles not only made Poland independent but also moved considerable chunks of territory from Germany to the new Poland. We’ll not delve into the original “ownership” of this territory in this article but it had been effectively German for a very long time. The key issue coming out of the first world war is that the Germans and Soviets lost and Poland gained, big time.

This outcome was the breeding ground for very considerable resentment, particularly in Germany and ultimately led to the rise of the Nazi movement led by Hitler. “It was this treaty which caused a chain reaction leading to World War II” claimed historian Dan Rowling (1951). So, it comes as no big surprise that Hitler invaded Poland and that immediately prior to doing so he was able to conclude a pact with Stalin (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, August 1939) such that both powers could, in their minds, get back what had been wrongfully taken from them only 20 years earlier.

A few extracts from Hitler’s speech to the citizens of Gdansk (then Danzig) made on Tuesday 19th September, 1939 says it all really:

“At Versailles this peace was not put before our nation as a matter for free negotiation, but was forced upon us as a brutal dictate. The progenitors of this peace visualized in it the end of the German nation. There may have been many people who believed that this peace would mean the end of all distress, yet it was only the beginning of new entanglements.”

“(At Versailles) Regulations were arrived at which actually force one to doubt whether the men who perpetrated them were really in their right mind. Devoid of all knowledge of the historical development of these districts, devoid even of all economic understanding, these people juggled about with Europe, tore States apart, divided up countries, suppressed and handed over nations, destroyed culture. This land, too, was a victim of that madness and the Polish State itself a product of this folly. What Germany had to sacrifice for this Polish State the world probably does not know. One thing only I should like to declare here: The development of all the territories which were at that time incorporated into Poland is entirely due to German energy, German industry, and German creative work. They owe their cultural importance exclusively to the German nation.”

So, in my opinion and without going back so far in history as for this to be a book instead of a short article, to blame Yalta for communism in Poland is the wrong conclusion. Yalta is simply the nearest, and last, point at which people thought there might be some hope left, but were bitterly disappointed by the outcome. By the time of Yalta it was pretty much all over, but let’s take a look at it anyway.

Probably known at the time by its codename “The Argonaut Conference”, held between Feb 4th-11th in the city of Yalta on the Crimean peninsular. Keynote speakers – Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, collectively, “The Big Three”. What happened at Yalta has been a hot topic ever since. Most recently used by President Bush in his first European address (2001) saying “no more Yaltas!” and then raising the topic again in his European tour of 2005.

I think the key to understanding what happened at Yalta, and why, is to look at who was in the best negotiating position, what the on-the-ground realities were at the time and also what the various parties wanted to (had to) get out of the conference.

To judge their relative influence at the time, I think you need look no further than the venue. Stalin refused to travel any further than the Black Sea for the conference so, at a time when travel cannot have been easy, or safe, the other two went out of their way to meet Stalin at his chosen venue. If that doesn’t tell you who was holding all the cards, then what does?

Stalin’s position becomes even stronger when you look at what the other two, primarily the USA, wanted him to agree to. Top of the US agenda were two points; for the Soviet Union to join the United Nations and for them to go to war with Japan. The importance of these two points being emphasized by the fact that they topped and tailed the written Yalta agreement. As for Japan, a war was still raging and estimates of American deaths from an invasion of Japan ranged between 600,000-1 million. Although the atomic bomb was being worked on, there was no certainty that it would ever be completed, or work. Getting the Soviet Union to agree to go to war with Japan was therefore extremely important for the USA.

With a few conditions, the Soviet Union agreed to both of these primary US demands and did, as promised, declare war on Japan three months after the end of war in Europe. Of course, as we now know, the atomic bomb was finished, and used, which made this agreement rather less valuable in the end than it seemed to be at the time of Yalta.

What Britain wanted from the conference is not so clear and frankly, although Churchill was perhaps the only one who really understood the nature of Stalin, he was in the worst position of them all to be making many demands. Certainly, I can’t see any outcome of Yalta that was specifically to Britain’s direct advantage. Churchill instead concentrated on looking after others, he concentrated on two issues:

1/ Being nice to France. Due to demands by the US and Britain, France were granted a “zone of occupation” in Germany and invited to be members of the “Allied Control Council”.

2/ Looking after Greece. The Soviet Union would have Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria but not Greece. Control of Greece was left to Britain, this being agreed between Churchill and Stalin privately, without Roosevelt’s participation.

Whenever Churchill complained about Stalin after Yalta the response was always “I kept my word on Greece!” It seems from this therefore that Churchill had used all his limited individual influence for the good of Greece.

So, we have an idea what the US and Britain wanted from Yalta. What about the Soviet Union? By this time, they had played a huge part in defeating Hitler. In terms of loss of life alone, the Soviets had lost roughly double that lost by Poland, Germany, Britain and the US combined. They had paid a big price, the question was what were they looking for in return? As far as I can see, Stalin had three main wishes;

1/ The forced repatriation of all soldiers, refugees and other escapees of the Soviet Gulag (revenge)

2/ Territory – primarily that which its troops already occupied (and probably thought it was entitled to recover – see above), this included at the time, or a matter of weeks later, all of Poland.

3/ Money – in the Yalta text there is a suggestion that the Soviets should get 50% of $22 billion (worth over $500 billion today).

It seems therefore that everyone with a seat at the table came away from Yalta with their main demands satisfied. On the question of Poland the actual words in the agreement do not read like a betrayal. On the other hand, it conspicuously does not say “The Soviet Union will withdraw from Poland, the government in exile will return and establish Poland as a free and independent nation” and I suppose, in theory, it could have done. It does talk about a “Polish Provisional Government of National Unity” but was it known that Stalin had already murdered or kidnapped anyone fighting for an independent Poland and replaced them with his puppets, or not?

I think the Allies were between a rock and hard place at Yalta. Whatever the outcome there would be people claiming they were betrayed. The eventual agreement does seem to have saved the most lives possible and to have brought about the end of a disgusting war. Even if the Allies had felt the issue of Poland should come above all others what would have happened next? General Patton would have been granted his request to keep going and push back the Soviets and, given the eventual actions of the USA to end the war, perhaps an atomic bomb dropped on Moscow as well as Hiroshima? Millions more dead?

Was the verdict of Yalta that this was too high a price or that an independent Poland was by that stage impossible to achieve anyway?


29 thoughts on “Yalta

  1. Of course, Yalta’s not to be blamed for Communism in Poland. Marx, Engels, Industrial Revolution, who knows what else, Lenin, are. The Yalta thing is about being fair, and although ‘fairness’ is not a political term, it’s still in use at times. Or should be. Hitler was fair: “I hate Poland, will destroy it”. The allies were not fair. Say what’s harsher: to know your overt enemies, or to wrongly take your covert enemies as friends – I can’t say. Wait, I can.

  2. In what way do you think the allies were “not fair” to Poland? I am quite fascinated by this attitude, especially when aimed at the Brits. What is it that you think should have happened for the allies to have been “fair”?

    It strikes me that sometimes, trying to do the right thing brings more criticism than just saying “screw you!”.

  3. The dying Roosevelt was the unwitting dupe who let Stalin get his way. Churchill had no illusions as to what the Soviet Union was about; he knew damned well that Stalin would march to Paris and beyond given half the chance. Roosevelt was prepared to give ground to Stalin. The USA did not enter WW2 on Poland’s behalf, as Britain did.

  4. Well, knowing the limits of a blog comment, I’d equate “fair = true, sincere”. I did’t aim anything at the Brits. I wrote ‘the allies’, of whom — if I were, hindsighted 20-20, to judge non-historianly: Brits were least unfair. (Unless / till their yet top secret war files prove otherwise, naturally.)

    Btw, the argument “Millions more dead” is kind of flat. Warring, you count your casualties and you count your allies’ casualties. Enemy’s bodybags, however, count for zero. It does make a difference whom you nuke. Anyway, had the allies really wished the death toll to be lower, they would have wanted to help Poland in September 1939, before Hitler gained momentum. Or they could have said: “screw you, we’re not gonna die for you”. (Yes, it would’ve been fair.)

    [All in all, it’s almost the Sith / Jedi thing. The Sith can hate and kill in hate. The Jedi pretend playing cool, nice, democratic, polite, smart — but at the end of the day they draw lightsabers, abandon friends and do nasty things they’d just accuse the Sith of.]

  5. After WWII there was a chance to isolate Stalin and to treat him like Adolf Hitler II (who he was).
    It was the western europe’s and USA’s ignorance ,what made Stalin strong right after WWII.
    50 yrs cold war ,millions of death people in gulags ,hundereds of thousends stolen art works ,machines and so on. is the result of western weakness and ignorance after 45.
    Now we can see something similar. In Brussel we discuss about energy solidarity and Putin acts and strengthens his monopol….because the western europe again ignores polish arguments.

    ps. sorry for my bad english.

  6. After all the attempts, or shall we say non-attempts, by the victors of WWI to stop German militarisation, after repeated attempts by Poland to resolve conflicts by negotiation, Chamberlain formalised a pact with Poland assuring mutal assistance – that treaty was there to try and disuade Germany from starting a war which looked inevitably to draw in Europe anyway. It also served as a ‘guarantee’ to those Poles fighting for the freedom of their country that they were not doing so in vain should they be on the winning side.
    Despite warning the British Government and the Allies of the treachery of the Russians, who indeed had enormous losses yet were still guilty of partitioning Poland for thier own ends rather than for Poland’s freedom (they could have helped Poland and not assisted the German Dictator), Poland was effectively excluded from final negotitions because its strongest leader Sikorski was assasinated (it is also suspected this was done by the British who did not want further armed conflict with anyone).
    As a result everyone in the west of Europe went on to assist in rebuilding Germany whilst the victims Poland and its neighbours were handed over to the other original perpetrator of aggression.
    When I was growing up in England to Polish parents, one of whom had survived Warsaw as a twelve year old girl, the second who had been sent to the gulags to die, some English people had the temerity to suggest that Britain had fought the war ‘us’ Poles.
    Yeah right.

  7. @adthelad agreed.

    Scatts makes the same mistake here if he compares the death russians to the death jews or brits or poles.
    The russians and the germans were BOTH agressors. And you can not compere them to the victims of russian/german occupation.

    BTW most of the russians died 41-45 because of Stalins policy (starvation) and not because of the war bullets…

  8. I had a feeling this might be the reaction.

    As for the deaths, don’t you think that by that stage of the war people had pretty much seen enough death, of whatever nationality? You can’t just write off 25 million Russian & German deaths as being unimportant because they were ‘the enemy’ or ‘the aggressor’, it’s inhuman. Every one of those soldiers had a family and I expect there were not many who were real big chums of Stalin or Hitler on a personal level.

    You fight and you fight and at some point you have to say, enough is enough! The original trouble-maker is vanquished so lets see where we stand now.

    I know Stalin was an evil bastard, from what I can see far worse than Hitler, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and who knows exactly what people knew and didn’t know at the time. At the time of Yalta, what is it you guys are suggesting should have happened? You had been overrun by Germany and without anyone’s help we’d all be speaking German in Warsaw today but they were removed. It sounds like your view is that everyone should have kept fighting until the Russians were back in Russia, right?

    Ad, are you seriously suggesting the Brits killed Sikorski?

  9. You are right Scatts ,the people in europe have seen enough death in 1945 and thats why the governments in europe should have said to Stalin STOP and not ignore his terror policy which continued in Poland after 45.

    just look how many Polish soldiers were killed in pawiak after 1945 or what happened to polish generals like


    after 1945… or what happened to the baltic states…

    And to be clear. It was of course NOT Churchill who made a mistake in Yalta but it was the whole western europe and USA.
    You just can not accept ,Stalin ,Bin Laden or Hussain no matter how good they fought against germany ,russia or iran…

  10. Sikorski – read about it – there are a few scenarios. I Don’t know the truth but I do know the Brits are hiding something (but not neccessarily incriminating them). The UK did not allow all information to be presented at inquiry – three
    boxes of documents were marked top secret – not to be opened for 200 years. What does your nose tell you?

    Earlier you asked “In what way do you think the allies were “not fair” to Poland?”
    Can you imagine two murdurers breaking into your neighbours, raping and murdering many of them, preparing to murder you and your family. One attacker turns on the second so you help him together with your remaining neighbours and stop the former from killing your remaining family. Now that you and your family is safe, you and your nearest neighbours can let the second killer carry on killing and raping your further neighbours. What’s not fair about that?

    True, the ‘hindsight’ manoeuver is a wonderful thing. Means you can feed lies and hide information and claim to new generations you didn’t know about Stalin. Total bollocks of course.

    Who can say whether Britain or the US would have joined in the war if not for the pact between the UK and Poland? The chances are war on a european scale was inevitable – unless you can imagine the UK and Russia coming to an arrangement with the Fuhrer whilst being aware of the slaughter of millions of Poles, , Lithuanians, Estonians, czechoslovakians, Jews of all nationalities, gypsies etc etc throughout conquered Europe. The millions of dead do count for something but when England was carpet bombing German cities or when the US dropped its atom bomb numbers didn’t matter, defeating the enemy did (Russia and Germany). The Poles thought that too.

    Which is why the Poles fought for every scrap of their country along with their Slav neighbours and prayed they wouldn’t be shafted by their allies. They gave their lives in defence of the liberty of the UK, of France, of Italy, etc etc, they constantly informed the Allies as to Stalin’s treachery and their valour was not in vain. Without the Poles stealing the enigma for example, deciphering it and passing all the info to the UK (for development of first computer assisted decription) how would the Allies have won the battle of Britain let alone the war?

    However all is fair in love and war they say and I can’t claim I would have acted any differently had I been in Churchill’s position.

  11. Sorry – re my Battle of Britain comment – I don’t wish to detract from the crucial roll played by radar in that conflict.
    Ian darling, if I sound a bit biased it’s because I am – this is one delicate matter and I reckon a meet in town with Michał and you for a beer and a chinwag is definitely called for :)

  12. Scats,

    This is Holly’s SO, and I have to jump into this one with more questions than answers. First, based on the Polish experience and aftermath of WWII, I’m both astonished and glad that Poland joined NATO and has been greatly involved with both the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan which I believe occured as a result of the Polish experience of history. WWII began with the opening shots at Westerplatte, and should have resulted in a massive response from Poland’s treaty partners, that didn’t quite happen, as history shows. Then when you look at the dirty end of the stick that the Polish Forces were handed throughout the war, I have to ask, was there a deliberate effort by the allies to blunt the Polish Army’s ability to got back to the homeland and toss out the invaders both German and Russian? The Battle of Britain didn’t tear up the Polish Air Force, as it then existed. Monte Casino didn’t grind up the Polish troops thrown at the hill as it did the previous allied divisions thrown at it. Market-Garden, the para drop on Holland did blunt the ability of the Polish Government-in-Exile of having an airborne reinforcement ability to drop into Warsaw. And the refusal of the Russian’s to allow allied aircraft to land on their territory blunted the ability to get supplies air-dropped into Warsaw in ’44. Maybe those experiences should have been looked at in whole by the then Government of Poland to see what was in the future.
    What I would like to see at this point in history, no matter what the outcome, is what is in the sealed records of the allies from WWII. It’s pretty clear that the secrets of the 1940’s are well beyond their
    expiration date. The leaders of the time are gone, as are most of the veterans and survivors. What is there to keep secret?

  13. Scatts,

    Re “the war people have seen enough death”

    This argument is — at least can be — wrong. First, you don’t take the Cold War for a death-bringing war. Secondly, you assume it’s better to live than to die. Why, always? (Think death in Warsaw Uprising 1944 and life in Poland 1945-1989.) Who makes such choices? On behalf of who?

    Re: hindsight

    Foresight and insight could work fine. Ronald Harwood wrote [Taking] Tea With Stalin [Polish: Herbatka u Stalina], a fine picture of how it works: you don’t ask questions lest you get answers. And, only for starters, Ukrainians weren’t dying so silent that the West should not hear them, know about them (and thus about Stalin).

    Re: Sikorski

    Ask me for my guess: The assassins were Soviets to whom Brits had turned their blind eye for a convenient moment. But it doesn’t matter what we guess. It matters what we learn. Let’s have all London files of relevance on the subject declassified and published. (In other words, let’s not wait for wartime people to die, let’s not wait for the files to get accidentally damaged or mishaply burnt in some most unfortunate fire.)

    Re: evil bastards and such

    With “fair”, I have not wanted to usher more morality into real world, no. It’d be politics still: Had the Brits, French and Co. said “screw you” in Sept 1939, Poles might have replied with “and screw you too” instead of battling for London and Co. (Fair tit for fair tat.)

  14. A big hello to Holly’s SO! Hope you’re doing well?

    I await the opening of the secret files with interest. I shall pass this information onto my offspring so they can keep track of it and come to my grave and tell me whether James Bond killed Sikorski or not!

    As for the rest. I suppose, with the exception of Hitler, Stalin and their mates, I’m prepared to naively believe they did the best they could under the circumstances at the time. The exception being Neville Chamberlain who in my opinion made matters far worse by his typical British procrastination in the face of overwhelming evidence that tough and decisive action was required. Even with him, sending a country to war can’t have been as easy a decision back then as it appears to be nowadays given that WWI was all they had as a role model!

    I think the problem here is that anyone with a Polish heart feels that Poland should have been a ‘special case’, looked at in isolation of the chaos surrounding it and all actions possible taken with the single aim of leaving Poland in a better position that it turned out to be in. I don’t think that’s fair, not only on the allies but also on many of the other countries involved. But hey, who cares about them! :)

  15. So, was Yalta an act of world-shaping, or wasn’t it? Didn’t the Great Three look in isolation at Greece, Japan, Poland and so on, country-wise, interest-by-interest? Why should “Polish hearts” have to embrace some greater whole?

    That’s why:

    When X becomes Y’s ally, then X’s interests and aims mustn’t differ from Y’s interests and aims within the scope of their alliance. The wartime alliance with the West, as I think Poles had taken it, was not to defeat Hitler, and certainly not to defeat Japan — but to defeat Hitler and Stalin (for Poland to re-emerge on maps). To that end, Poles were willing to fight worldwide.

    So, anytime you write “did their best”, Scatts, you’re expected to add “best for who”? For Britain? yes. For the Alliance? No. (Says Poland.)

  16. So, anytime you write “did their best”, Scatts, you’re expected to add “best for who”? For Britain? yes. For the Alliance? No. (Says Poland.)


  17. Oh, interesting discussion. All arguments I could have raised were already verbalised by other Poles here.

    I’m glad to have read that, as it shows the basics of British mainstream remembrance.
    Remembrance that has many white spots. And lets the British think they have won the war gracefully, and have been ‘OK’.
    (Why is so little known about the Polish war effort in the west, and especially in the Battle for Britain? No reason?)

    The British have won the war. We have lost the war. We had little to celebrate when Germany surrendered.

    And yes, we think Britain betrayed us.

    You wrote “Versailles not only made Poland independent but also moved considerable chunks of territory from Germany to the new Poland. We’ll not delve into the original “ownership” of this territory in this article but it had been effectively German for a very long time. The key issue coming out of the first world war is that the Germans and Soviets lost and Poland gained, big time.”
    NEW Poland? Have a look at Poland on history maps through the last 1000 years. Many British are not aware of the history in Central Europe.
    Wasn’t that territory previously stolen from Poland? Carefully settled with German settlers? Wasn’t the local Polish community oppressed (by Germans and Russians? Wasn’t Polish language and culture banned? (like Welsh in Wales?) Weren’t the Polish being discriminated against in their own land?

    We are British, what we don’t know can’t hurt us;)

    PS. Would history be different if Chamberlain didn’t force Czechoslovakia to give Germany half of their country? (giving them access to Poland from yet another side?) I don’t know. Would history be different if Britain strongly supported Polish independence after WW2? I don’t know.

  18. I just HAVE to wade in here (Scatts: a post about the war – you cunning devil).

    As a Brit I too have frequently been astonished and, occasionally, outraged at the ‘Britain failed us in the war’ argument. It seems to me that the whole idea flows from propaganda that was presumably taught in schools during the communist era. The reflex response to questions about the war seems to be ‘Britain let us down’ – no mention of the fact that the Russians let Poland down rather badly by invading it at the same time as the Germans. People are aware of this but, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother them.

    What I never understand is exactly what we were supposed to have done in response to the German attack on Poland. People seem to think that, somehow, the entire British army (outmoded and unprepared for war as it was) could have been magically transported a thousand miles across Europe to defend Poland’s borders. We declared war on Germany (this is NOT a trivial step people) and blockaded her ports, as far as we were able. Perhaps we should have sent as wire to Berlin asking if they would mind letting us transport our armed forces across German territory into Poland so that we could be facing the right way? Perhaps we should have asked the French government if they would mind playing host to the entire British Army while we launched a completely doomed and impossible invasion of Germany from their territory, I’m sure the Frenchies would have loved that idea.

    Not only did Britain declare war on Germany because of her invasion of Poland (and I stress again, this was a very risky and dangerous thing to do that almost led to our own defeat) we also played host to and equipped a significant proportion of those Polish forces who escaped. Did Polish pilots contribute to the Battle of Britain? Yes, of course they did and very effectively too. Would the battle have been lost if it wasn’t for them – fanciful. Was the Polish parachute regiment devastated in Market Garden? Yes, it was and the British Paras didn’t exactly get off lightly either.

    My point, if I have one, is that it’s insulting to suggest to British people that we somehow ‘failed’ Poland in the war and I really don’t understand where this idea came from in the first place. As far as post-war/Yalta questions are concerned the idea that Britain had ANY meaningful influence over the outcome of these events is absurd. Europe was divided between the Americans and the Russians along lines that both found acceptable for what they already knew would be the commencement of hostilities between them. Individual European nations were of little concern (ours or yours) and we’re damn lucky that Battlefield Europe never happened.

  19. Island, you had it coming. [Mind, what follows is not about me, although my kins died here, there, various armies. I don’t give a buck about Poland — ’cause that’s how I see patriotism.]

    1. You use words “we”, “British people” — are they “the then we / Brits” or “the now we / Brits”, or?
    2. You write about “hosting and equipping the escaping soldiers”. Hm. Looks Britain did poor homeless chaps from Poland a favor letting them fight for London. Thinking this way, Poles owe you one for lodging them in the Bletchey Park.
    3. Do you start a war of figures (who’s devastated more), one Britain can’t win against Poland — why?
    4. Poles didn’t make that phrase.
    5. Britain partaking in Yalta and all other summits and conferences: had little influence? British army outmoded – compared to Polish army 1939 or what? To Warsaw Insurgents 1944? Even if your impotence should be actual, you had your parade at least. Instead of Communism.
    6. To top it, you use the word “insulting” and Poles should, what, apologize for feeling the way the do [betrayed]? Hm.

    In short: If answers suck, why ask?

  20. @island1

    1.We talk about the POST war failure here. During the war the Brits did ENOUGH ,and you will NOT find many Poles who disagree ;)

    2.It was not a “british” failure ,but the “western europe” failure. Stalin had NO RIGHT to create an eastern block after the war and he had no right to take away Polish land after 45 and to invade Poland for the nex t 50yrs. It was the western ignorance which made it possible.

    Just go to the museums in Krakow or Warsaw and you will find maybe 10 or 20 really famous art works there. And do you know where the rest is ?
    The rest is in St. Petersburg for example.


    And millions of tourists pay the Russians to see stolen Polish paintings…

  21. Re: Soviets in communist era schoolbooks

    I was told the Soviets invaded Poland two weeks+ after Hitler — and not on Sept 1 — as Stalin had been waiting to see whether Poland’s Western Allies would do anything more than declaring “ink on a page”, as Lord Refa might put it.

  22. Pingback: [Mov of the Day: Polish Pride] « Darth Sida

  23. Darth: For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t just ‘ink on a page’ we declared war! We committed ourselves to what was certain to be a devastating and long conflict with a powerful and wealthy European nation. Britain came close to defeat and the war left us a broken power. We didn’t have to do this, Hitler didn’t want to fight Britain too (at least not then). I ask again, exactly what do you think we could have done?

  24. Jamie, I nearly spilled my tea:)

    Britain could have done anything really. Anything in September 1939. “Declaring” war was just as Darth said: ink on paper.

    I hereby declare I half of lower Manhattan belongs to me! LOL:)

  25. Island, my reply to you was longer — the “ink on a page” thing being sort of just a PS. The message, with some urls, is held for Scatts’ moderation.

    PS Our heads are cool, anyway, aren’t they. I repeat: the betrayal thing is the general feeling, not my personal feeling. Even if it were mine, I’d willingly admit that Britain was best among the traitors. (Till the files get declassified etc.)

  26. Although the spilling of tea is not a matter to be taken lightly, I cannot let this lie.

    I cannot understand why two otherwise smart human beings are having such trouble understanding that declaring war on Germany in 1939 was not a trivial or meaningless act. It is the job of a government first and foremost to look out for the interests of its people. The declaration of war in a situation where it was certain to lead to great loss of life and suffering for those people is never to be taken lightly, and the declaration of war because of an act of aggression against another country was widely criticized at the time as sheer folly. Nevertheless, that is what Britain did. We very nearly didn’t, and the prevailing political opinion at the time was that we should sit back and wait to see what happened. It is a matter of some pride in Britain, not entirely misplaced I think, that we stood up and voiced our disapproval in the strongest possible manner when the safer thing would have been to keep quiet. A declaration of war is not something you can change your mind about. We couldn’t wait a couple of weeks then phone Hitler and tell him we were just joking. We publicly stated on the international stage that we would militarily oppose Germany until she voluntarily quit Polish territory or was forced to do so, and that is what we did.

    Now, was it physically possible for us to instantly bomb Germany into submission or invade it? Of course not! British forces were nowhere near ready for that kind of thing. Our Army was scattered around the globe and completely incapable of taking that kind of action anyway. Our airforce was tiny and the number of planes that could actually reach Germany at that time, let alone bomb it, was smaller still. It was obvious from the very first that it was going to be a very long war, and it was equally obvious that Poland was going to suffer under occupation for a long time; but that wasn’t our doing.

    There are, of course, all kinds of side issues and ulterior motives that can be referenced ad infinitum, but the bald fact remains that Britain put its hand up and said ‘this is wrong and we are going to do something about it.’ As Darth said, this is more about general feeling than carefully researched individual opinions, and I think it is a shame and unfair that the general feeling in Poland is that Britain let her down. Not only is this untrue is a gross distortion of an act we are rightly proud of. If you were Czech, I might have more sympathy. Or if Poland intervened militarily to sort out Darfur.

    Pawel: Exactly what else could Britain have done in Sep 1939, be specific?

    Darth: Never fear, I remain cucumber-like. But I really do think it’s a shame that Poles believe this and it seems to be an unnecessary encumbrance.

  27. Island:

    The Polish mind thinks /feels: “The West betrayed us!”. The British mind thinks /feels: “That’s a lie!”.

    The two things are not mutually exclusive. Much depends on what kind of logic, and meanings you employ. You can accept the Polish thinking by admitting the existence of some metaphysical mental gap, if you can’t otherwise. (I mean, what should make the British mind’s opinion more important, more valid? Why should the Polish feeling be ashamed of itself, not the British?)

    “You” want to apply thinking: ‘we declared a war’. “We” want to apply thinking: ‘you didn’t actually fight’. And the Polish thinking adds: “If you, France, Britain – hadn’t decided to sit back (the declaration of war merely changed the place of your sitting) but joined Poland right away in 1939 – the Allies, would have beaten Hitler. And Stalin wouldn’t have invaded Poland in 1939. Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, WW2 would have ended pretty soon after it began”.

    That’s just historical fiction now. So, facts. Let’s google out other nation, maybe it’ll be better not to talk about Poles? A surface mention of, say, Cossacks: “Agent 006” (yes, the Bond series: why was Alec Trevelyan angry?) Or some history:
    = “The NKVD or the Gestapo would have slain us with truncheons, the British did it with their word of honor”.
    Use keywords such as:
    = Operation Keelhaul
    = Helmuth von Pannwitz (btw, to think of it! A German national, born near my now-Polish birth town, stayed with his Cossacks who were betrayed into the Soviet hands by the West.)

    If you don’t feel easy talking about Britain, we can follow some more American path. Yalta aside, there are smaller stains but spoiling the view: POW riot in Fort Dix, 1945. For example.

    [And yes, there are examples of “Polish betrayal”, too. You’ll just to have other post to discuss them.]

  28. Well, at least you can see why this topic interests me and as we have no real answers, or progress beyond already firmly held views on both sides, I suppose it will continue to do so! :)

  29. Pingback: [Mov of the Day: American Churchill « Darth Sida

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