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Last week Poland lost its first soldier to a combat death since WWII. Fittingly, he died in Iraq in a war (post-war) where Polish troops have come to the aid of American and British forces. Fitting because the history, especially the military history, of America and Britain is so intertwined over the past two centuries. Polish volunteers--most famously General Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski--came to the Colonies to assist the American fight for Independence. As this book relates, American fliers fought with the newly independent Poland when it was attacked by the Bolshevik regime after WWI. And then Polish fliers, in turn, escaped to France and then Britain after their nation fell to Hitler and Stalin and they became heroes of the Battle of Britain in particular. The ties between America and Poland have been deepened by the immigration of so many Poles to the U.S. and by Poland's adoption of a universalist creed in the 19th Century--"For Your Freedom and Ours"--which, as the authors say, implies "Polish unity with all lovers of liberty." In one of the many fascinating details from the book, the immediate pre-war period of the 1930s finds "Gone with the Wind" a great bestseller in Poland, its people identifying with the portrayal of a culture facing destruction. Meanwhile, there may be no foreign author who was ever more successful in America than the Nobel winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, author of the still popular Quo Vadis. His great trilogy of Polish history was translated (badly) by Teddy Roosevelt's friend Jeremiah Curtin. Retranslated (brilliantly) just a few years ago, it won a new generation of American fans. Finally, the grip that both Pope John Paul II and the Solidarity Movement exercised on the American imagination, as they fought against Communism, often in unison with Ronald Reagan, must surely have been strengthened by our the long and unique relationship between the Poles and us. This background of friendship and the mutual historical obligations between the two nations makes the story that Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud have to tell all the more infuriating.

The book's subtitle, "Forgotten Heroes", aptly describes the Eastern European troops who fought with the Allies after their own countries were defeated. Several years ago there was a bittersweet film, Dark Blue World, about Czech fliers who joined the RAF. A satisfying romantic adventure, it left the viewer longing to know more about its heroes. Come to find out out, beside the 1250 Czechs there were some 8500 Polish airmen (a total of 200,000 Polish soldiers, air force, and navy eventually fought with America and Britain). Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud ably resurrect the memory of the brave Polish pilots here and more than fulfill our curiosity.

The something more may in its own way be more valuable, for they also show us, in depressing detail, just why we chose to forgot such men--and, make no mistake. they were erased from our collective memory just as purposefully as Beria was replaced by Bering Straits in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Thus. although the center of their story concerns first the Americans who fought in Poland, as the Kosciuszko Squadron--including Merian Cooper, in whose great-great-grandfather's arms Pulaski had died, and Cedric Fauntleroy--and then the Poles who in turn formed a Kosciuszko Squadron in the RAF (colorful souls like Jan Zumbach, Miroslaw Feric, and Witold Lokuciewski [known collectively as "The Three Musketeers"]; Zdzislaw "the King" Krasnodebski; Witold Urbanowicz; and even Jozef Frantisek [a Czech])--surrounding this uplifting tale is a history of betrayal by the West, which at the official level ignored Poland's war with the Bolsheviks after WWI, then left it to the depredations of Hitler and Stalin, and then, after WWII, abandoned it to Communist rule and domination by the Soviet Union--all this despite repeated promises to vindicate Polish independence and freedom. If the very nadir of this long history of Western backstabbing comes when the U.S. and Britain recognize the post-war Soviet-puppet government of Poland, the most symbolic moment comes when the British are conducting their Victory Parade, on June 8, 1946, and the Labour government invites Communist Poland to take part but, lest Stalin be offended, bars the Poles who actually fought for England.

Nine men of the Kosciuszko Squadron had become aces in the Battle of Britain, including Urbanowicz, and the squadron had shot down 14 Luftwaffe planes just on the first day of the Blitz. Yet in the haste to cozy up to the Soviets they were abandoned after the war. Even Churchill, whose romantic streak Poland and these Poles in particular appealed to, apparently felt no compunction about bargaining away Polish territory or even freedom in his talks with Stalin. And, once Churchill was gone from power, the British government made it clear that the two hundred thousand Polish refugees were no longer welcome, competing for scarce jobs, and should return posthaste to their homeland, even if it was oppressed. One finishes the book filled with admiration for Poland and her idealistic, resilient people--their motto, "For Your Freedom and Ours"--and deeply ashamed of the Anglosphere, which in its hurry to end WWII left the job undone and an invaluable ally under the jackbooted Soviet heel. Ms Olson and Mr. Cloud have done the Poles and the cause of honest history-telling a great service.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Lynne Olson Links:

    -BOOK SITE: A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: with Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson (Diane Rehm, , September 29, 2003)
    -ARTICLE: The Polish airmen who helped save Britain (DEBRA PICKETT, October 8, 2003, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (Montagu Curzon, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (Florence Waszkelewicz Clowes, Polish American Journal)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (John Whiteclay Chambers II, The Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (WJ Rayment, Conservative Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of A Question of Honor (
    -REVIEW: of Freedom's Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement From 1830 to 1970 By Lynne Olson (Susan Brownmiller, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE MURROW BOYS: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism By Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times Book Review)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Kosciuszko Foundation
    -REVIEW: of Thaddeus Kosciuszko Military Engineer of the American Revolution By Francis Casimir Kajencki (James R. Thompson, Sarmatian Review)
    -REVIEW: of Thaddeus Kosciuszko: the Purest Son of Liberty by James S. Pula (James R. Thompson, Sarmatian Review)
    -Kosciuszko Squadron (USAF Museum)
    -Polish Aviation History Page
    -Home page of Royal Air Force Squadron No. 303 (Polish) "Kosciuszko": We are the first operational Polish squadron in the online simulation game "Warbirds".
    -Witold Urbanowicz (Chaps HQ)