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

NSC Meeting on Grain Aid to Poland—December 1981. An NSC 31—Aid to Poland meeting on December 10, 1981 reviewed options for a provision of $100 million worth of U.S. grain to tide the Poles through the winter and to do so on a business basis, via a bank loan, rather than as aid, in order to expedite the process and to avoid the extra cost of $30 million in shipping such grain on American-owned ships (a “cargo-preference”) provision rather than on non-American ships.

3. The Crisis Erupts: Poland’s Martial Law, Soviet Invasion Threat and Reagan’s Response—December 1981

As Solidarity continued to gain popularity and strength in its demand for freedom, Soviet political and military pressure on Poland increased, and on December 13, Poland’s military government, headed by General Jaruzelski, issued a Declaration of Martial Law. As summarized in the previously cited 1982 U.S. ICA public diplomacy publication on Poland:

With the Party in disarray, the economy in shambles and the Soviets demanding action, Jaruzelski resorted to his last bastion of support, the military and security forces. On December 13, 1981, the martial-law regime plunged Poland into a new round of fear and repression.8

First NSC Meeting after Martial Law: “No Détente,” Not Looking Backward—December 1981. NSC 33—Poland on December 21, 1981 provides a revealing inside view on Presidential-level decision making at a historic moment and should be considered a must read for students of Reagan and the Cold War. Reagan sees the time as comparable to turning points in America’s founding. Readers will note different emphases demonstrated by a cautious Secretary of State Haig, who warns of “U.S. muscle flexing” and “a full court press,” as contrasted with a forward-leaning President Reagan, who was determined to seize the historic revolutionary moment to warn the Soviets of a near total U.S. cut-off of trade, relations, etc. unless the Soviets backed down. Thus:

Secretary Haig: . . . Cardinal/Archbishop Glemp [is making a] plea for moderation and for no bloodshed. . . . The Polish military visited every parish this last week and told the parish priests that there would be no reading on Sunday of a condemnation letter. . . . There are two Papal delegations in Poland. . . . The Soviets are “cooling it.” . . . There is a popular outcry in Britain, in France, and even [West Germany’s] Schmidt has been dragged along, kicking and screaming, by a Bundestag resolution. . . . Yugoslavia has condemned the situation in Poland, while within the Warsaw Pact, Hungary and Romania have been the least enthusiastic in endorsing happenings. . . . RFE [Radio Free Europe] is now being jammed intensively, to a greater extent than in many years. VOA [Voice of America] is getting through somewhat better. . . . Some see this (what is happening in Poland) as a fundamental unraveling of the Soviet empire (with that as the goal to be pursued).

Others see advantages to us in a partial rollback (from what the Poles had achieved). . . . The real question: is some degree of repression tolerable from our standpoint, or do we stand only for total victory and are we prepared to pay the price necessary to achieve total victory? Another question: Are we going to sit still (while events proceed in Poland), or are we going to apply our own pressure on other fronts? For example, Cuba, Afghanistan? However, it seems to me the worst thing we could do at this time would to divert world attention from Poland by U.S. muscle flexing elsewhere. . . . We don’t want to piddle away our resources before we conclude all is lost. . . .

The President: . . . This is the first time in 60 years that we have had this kind of opportunity. There may not be another in our lifetime. Can we afford not to go all out? I’m talking about a total quarantine on the Soviet Union. No détente! We know —and the world knows—that they are behind this. We have backed away so many times! After World War II, we offered Poland the Marshall Plan. They accepted, but the Soviets said no. Let’s look at the International Harvester license. [AFL/CIO leader Lane] Kirkland said in a conversation with him that our unions might refuse to load ships.

How will we look if we say yes (let U.S. exports to the Soviet Union proceed) while our unions—our own “Solidarity”—won’t load the ships? . . . Can we do less now than tell our Allies, “This is the big Casino!” There may never be another chance! It is like the opening lines in our own Declaration of Independence. “When in the course of human events . . . ” This is exactly what they (the Poles) are doing now. The other thing in addition to the Marshall Plan. The Soviets have violated the Helsinki Accords since the day it was signed. They have made mockery of it. We are not going to pretend it is not so. . . .

[Book pg. 465]