The Polish Challenge

The resort to arms in Poland to crush Solidarity poses a challenge not only to the governments of the West, but to the international peace movement as well. The bravery of the Polish experiment and the honesty of its leaders make the imposition of martial law there seem all the more brutal. Whether the Soviet Union directed the entire operation, as President Reagan has charged, or whether the Polish Communist elite believing themselves to be patriots moved to pre-empt Soviet military intervention is, morally speaking, beside the point. In either case it must be concluded that the Soviet Union could not tolerate an uncontrollable experiment in its backyard, and its displeasure caused the experiment to be ended.

For President Reagan, Poland offered a cheap Cold War victory. It provided a pretext for squeezing the Soviets with symbolic sanctions that neither anger the farm vote or bankers nor offer any hope whatsoever of turning the Kremlin leaders into kindly democrats. Ideological points could be scored: The tragedy in Warsaw signified that communism in Poland was bankrupt--and not just financially.

To hear Ronald Reagan lament the fate of Polish workers on the international airwaves while rolling back the rights and privileges of workers at home in the United States must be particularly infuriating to the Soviets. But making the adversary sputter helplessly is one of the well-established rewards of Cold War diplomacy. Indeed, there is a long history of enlisting the plight of Poland in the service of official hypocrisy. The Cold War began 35 years ago when Secretary of State James Byrnes denounced Soviet violations of the promise to conduct free elections in Poland--even as the entire black population in his native state of South Carolina was being systematically disenfranchised.

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