The Blog

'For Your Freedom and Ours'

Remembering Polish Heroes of the Battle of Britain, and pondering the course of U.S.-Polish relations in the Age of Obama.

12:00 AM, Sep 16, 2009 • By STUART KOEHL
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The Poles' success continued to the end of the Battle of Britain and throughout the remainder of the war. In the air, they were noted for their fierce concentration and almost pathological hatred of the enemy who had overrun and destroyed their country. While other British pilots tended to open fire from as much as 250 yards, the Poles closed to point-blank range, practically colliding with the enemy to ensure getting a kill. Over the course of the war, many of them paid with their lives for their all-out approach to air combat.

After the war, it is very sad to relate, these heroes who contributed so much to victory in the Battle of Britain were rapidly discarded by the country for whom they had fought so well. They went overnight from being the darlings of English society to being unwanted interlopers who ought to go home--something the Soviet occupation of Poland made impossible. Only a handful were allowed to remain in the RAF. Most had to take menial jobs, or had to emigrate to Canada, Australia or South Africa. A number did in fact return to Poland, where all were harassed by the Communists, many imprisoned, and a substantial number executed for "espionage". Not until the fall of communism in 1989 were they able to take their rightful place in Polish society, their exploits (long suppressed by the Communist government) finally discussed in the open. By 1991, the aging remnant of the Kosciuszko and Poznan veterans who had stayed in Britain were finally able to visit their native land, bringing with them the banner of the Polish Air Force with which they had paraded in 1940, a banner marked with the Virgin Mary and bearing the motto, "Love Requires Sacrifice".

The most remarkable thing about these men--and their brothers in RAF Bomber Command, and those who fought with the Free Polish Army under General Anders in Italy--was their fidelity to the cause for which they were fighting, which did not waver, even after it became apparent that the Allies had sold out the Polish cause, putting that sad country under the control of the Soviet Union. Knowing they could not go home again, they continued to fight, as he ancient Polish battle cry puts it "for your freedom and ours".

In 1997, Poland became a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and shortly thereafter, President Clinton traveled to Warsaw to commemorate this notable event, the fulfillment of many Polish aspirations. Standing in the Castle Square of the Old City (Stare Miastro) of Warsaw, he announced, "Together, we will work to secure the future of an undivided Europe--for your freedom and ours".

The U.S. commitment to the freedom of an independent Poland was reciprocated by that country in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11. No country, with the exception of Great Britain, has been a more steadfast partner in our war against terrorism and Islamic extremism. Poles fought alongside Americans in Iraq, and continue to fight alongside us in Afghanistan, where they have won praise from our troops and commanders for their zeal and professionalism. Indeed, with the exception of Britain, the Poles are the only NATO force in Afghanistan whose government has not placed restrictive "caveats" upon them regarding the types of operations in which they can participate. Where we go, they go--it is that simple. Elsewhere, Polish government officials have worked with the United States, sometimes in the face of domestic political opposition, to provide bases and other facilities for U.S. forces in Poland (much more conveniently located for reaching potential hot spots than our old bases in Germany). And, of course, they risked quite a bit in supporting President Bush's efforts to build a ballistic missile defense system against Iran using interceptor missiles in Poland. In return, the Poles want nothing more than to be considered as a true ally and partner of the United States, on whom they depend for protection against the threat of a resurgent Russia.