Chapter 19 - Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Poland and Eastern Europe

from that visit is Pope Paul’s Address to the Polish People.) The Pope also helped deter a Soviet invasion at a point when it seemed quite likely by sending a letter to Soviet head of state Leonid Brezhnev in December 16, 1980 in defense of Polish sovereignty, and then welcoming a Solidarity delegation at the Vatican from January 15–18, 1981. Both events occurred just before Reagan entered office.

Weigel’s book, in particular, describes the long history of Bishop and Cardinal Wojtyla as a Christian anti-Communist, who then, and as John Paul II, was a special target of Soviet KGB and Politburo attention. On May 13, 1981, he was shot and seriously wounded in a failed assassination attempt by a Bulgarian associated with the KGB. There is no doubt that in Cold War history Pope John Paul II was critical to Poland’s freedom path in his interaction with the Polish Catholic Church, Solidarity leadership and millions of the faithful. Also critical was his special friendship with Ronald Reagan, also an extraordinary anti-Communist leader, who himself survived an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981 and who shared with the Pope a strong faith in Divine Providence.

2. Reagan’s Freedom Strategy and the Mounting Polish Crisis: 1980 Platform, Early NIE and NSC Meetings/Decisions—1980 to December 1981

Reagan’s key speeches and statements on his freedom strategy for the Cold War, cited extensively in Chapter 16 of this book, focused on bringing freedom to the victims of Communist totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, as well as those who struggled against Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan, Poland, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Reagan and his Team. Reviewed below are Reagan’s public words on Poland and Eastern Europe that were vital to his public and private diplomacy in support of his National Security Council directives as the Polish crisis developed up to the point of the Polish Government’s December 13, 1981 declaration of martial law. Weeks later, Reagan took office and the leading voices in support of Reagan’s early core NSC decisions and public statements on Poland, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union were Reagan’s National Security Advisors from 1981 through 1983, Richard Allen and Judge William Clark and the NSC’s senior Soviet expert Richard Pipes. Pipes was a professor of Russian History at Harvard University, a key member of the 1976 “Team B” analysis, and founding member of the bi-partisan Committee of the Present Danger (see Chapter 6 and Chapter 7). His 2003 book, Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger, provides special insights into his youth in and escape from war-time Poland, as well as on formulations of Reagan’s effective strategy in support of freedom in Poland and throughout East Europe.

Reagan’s Election Platform—July 1980. The development and strategic importance of Reagan’s July Republican Campaign Platform—1980 as an authoritative early outline of his Cold War “grand strategy” of peace and freedom through strength is reviewed in Chapter 7. The platform’s focus on freedom is discussed extensively in Chapter 16, and includes the following words on U.S. support for the self-determination and independence of captive nations:

Republicans pledge our continued support for the people of Cuba and the captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe in their hope to achieve self-determination. We stand firmly for the independence of Yugoslavia. We support self-determination and genuine independence for new captive nations of Africa and Latin America threatened by the growing domination of Soviet power.1

At the same time that this platform text was written (in the spring of 1980) and adopted (in the summer), one of the most serious crises of the Cold War reached an explosive point in Poland and drew special attention from Reagan and his national security team.

Solidarity, Strikes, and the Gdansk Agreements—Summer 1980. The Reagan Administration’s U.S. International Communication Agency (ICA) publication of 1982 entitled Poland—A Season of Light, and of Darkness, reviewed in Topic 5 below and cited throughout this chapter, looks back on two inter-related historic events of 1979 and 1980. These were the nine-day visit of Pope John Paul II (June 2–10, 1979), and the 1980s workers’ strike at the Lenin Shipworks in Gdansk (formerly Danzig). The Pope’s visit and the rise of the Solidarity independent labor union in Gdansk revolutionized the political dynamics of Poland, undercut Soviet imperial authority, and sharpened Cold War choices between Communism and freedom. The ICA publication’s section on the “epic days of confrontation and triumph” includes the following description:

[Book pg. 461]