The Polish Perspective of American Foreign Policy: Selected Moments from the Cold War Era

HomeArticlesThe Polish Perspective of American Foreign Policy: Selected Moments from the Cold War Era


Bipolarity in international relations was the main characteristic of the Cold War Era. The world was divided between two opposing political, economic and military blocs. The Soviet Union installed communist regimes in most of the European countries during the Second World War in Central and Eastern Europe. This process was condemned by the United States and its Western European allies, but little was done to oppose the process of installment of pro-Soviet governments. Eventually, in 1947, President Harry Truman initiated the policy of containment which aimed at preventing Greece and Turkey from falling into the sphere of Soviet influence. This policy also included a significant financial contribution for the reconstruction of a destroyed Europe. Though the range of the Marshall Plan was intended to include Poland and Czechoslovakia, these two countries rejected the offer. In this decision they had been strongly influenced by Moscow which offered financial and material contributions for the reconstruction of countries from Central Europe. Steadily the world was splitting into two parts, divided by different political, ideological, economic and social approaches.

Who rules in Poland? or, How the Country Became a Soviet Satellite

During the process of formation of the post World War II order, Poland’s destiny became one of the elements in the geopolitical puzzle. The situation on the battlefield in Europe directly influenced the negotiations between the allies. Although the Third Reich was defeated on all fronts, it appeared that even the issue of who would enter Berlin first became an important strategic goal. It was perceived as an argument for stronger claims concerning Europe’s future.

The Soviet army went through Poland on its way to Berlin. In July 1944 Joseph Stalin promoted the installment of the Polish Committee of National Liberation.[1] The structure of this self-appointed provisional government was created in Moscow. Stalin’s idea was to establish a new status quo, one which would weaken the position of the Polish government in exile (in London) and give Moscow a stronger position during the negotiations on the future of Europe. On August 1, 1944, the Warsaw uprising led by the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) began.[2] Its aim was to liberate the Polish capital from German forces before the arrival of the Soviet army. In order to prevent its success, Stalin ordered the Red Army to stop on the right bank of the Vistula River and to wait until the defeat of the last Home Army units. The consequences for the city and its inhabitants were terrifying. The Germans ruined approximately 90% of the city and the casualties are estimated at around 150,000–200,000.

During the “Big Three” meeting in Yalta, the Polish question was one of the important issues concerning the postwar future.[3] The final declaration revealed the compromise made between Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin on that matter. The provisions of the declaration concerning Poland started with the statement that Poland was liberated by the Red Army, but also required the establishment of a Polish provisional government broader in its scope than the already existing Polish Committee of National Liberation.[4] The Commission of Good Services (as W. Roszkowski calls it), consisting of representatives from the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain (Viacheslav Molotov, Averell Harriman and Sir Archibald Clark Kerr), was supposed to oversee the changes in the PCNL such that the provisional government would include Poles in exile and those from the territories to be liberated. Stalin agreed to free elections (which were never held).[5] Upon Soviet request it was decided that only democratic and anti-Nazi parties could participate. This vague description later allowed the Soviets to manipulate the political situation in Poland.[6]

These arbitrary decisions were in clear violation of the principles of the Atlantic charter, signed by W. Churchill and F. D. Roosevelt on August 12, 1941, two of which directly concerned the situation of countries like Poland.[7] The provisions stated that no territorial changes were to be made without the consent of the countries concerned and that the rights to self-determination and form of government should be respected.[8] This idealistic approach was subsequently replaced by the Western allies with a much more pragmatic stance.

The idea behind the establishment of the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was that it would receive the recognition of all the members of the “Big Three”. Although all the participants at Yalta agreed to this, each interpreted the conclusions in its own way. The Soviet Union had achieved de facto control over Poland by diminishing the role of the Polish government in exile. The relations between them were cold since the discovery of the mass graves of Polish police and army members in the Katyn Forest in 1943. The Polish government-in-exile requested an international commission of the Red Cross to examine the case. The final report suggested that the mass murder was committed by the Soviet NKVD (Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Bearing in mind the importance of relations with Moscow at the time, Washington and London estimated that it was more important to decrease the level of support for the Polish government in London than to confront Stalin on that particular matter. Since a new effective power appeared in Poland with the introduction in 1944 of the PCNL, the Soviet Union managed to decrease further the role of the Polish government in exile—even in the eyes of the Western allies. The fact that the PCNL was created in Moscow was less important.

With the recognition of the fait accompli in Eastern Europe, Washington and London paid the price for the involvement of the Red army in the war with Japan.[9] Yalta became the symbol of the new world order. It was based on the tacit consent of the establishment in spheres of influence around the world. The lack of clarity in the Yalta decisions was useful for the Soviet Union, which interpreted the agreements instrumentally.[10]

The Territorial Issue or the Milestone of Polish Dependence

Slightly over two weeks after the beginning of the Second World War with the invasion by Germany of Poland in accordance with the agreements of the secret German–Russian pact (Ribentrop–Molotov) on September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East. The Polish troops were ordered not to fight against the Soviet Army. Still, random clashes between Polish and Soviet forces took place. With the end of the war activities Poland was de facto divided between Hitler and Stalin. The German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 invalidated the German–Soviet agreement on Poland.

In the course of the war in Europe it became clear that the shape of Poland after the war would be an open issue. Again the principles laid in the Atlantic Charter were left aside. During the conference in Teheran (28.11–1.12.1943) “the big three” decided the shape of the Eastern Polish border on the so called Curzon line without the consent of the Polish government in exile.[11]

This concession to Stalin’s demands was the price paid for his commitment in other parts of the world and his obligation to support Turkey against possible Bulgarian attack. Stalin was aware that the results of the war on the Eastern front strengthened his position during the meetings with the western allies. In October 1944 Stalin proposed that the influence of the great powers in Central Europe be shared among the big three in percentage. The Soviet Union was supposed to obtain 90 % in Romania, 75 % in Bulgaria, 50 % in Yugoslavia and Hungary. As Wojciech Roszkowski points out rightly “…the future of Eastern Europe was determined long before Yalta . . .” The words of Churchill “…we need to remember that on the occupied territories the Soviets will do more or less what they want . . .” are the most clear example of the awareness of the western allies of the real Soviet intensions.[12]

During the Potsdam Conference in 1945 the post war status quo in Europe was settled. Among the priorities were two issues: the future of Germany and the shape of the post war Polish state. In first place The Soviet Union, United States and Great Britain recognized the existing Polish Provisional Government of National Unity, though it was already controlled by the communists. Thus the Polish government in exile was passed over. Stalin proposed establishment of the western Polish border on Oder–Neisse line and was supported by the Polish government, which argued that this acquisition is needed compensation for the eastern territorial losses and was an indispensable area for the resettlement of 4,000,000 Poles from the territories gained by the Soviet Union.

Throughout 1945 the United States and Great Britain started to recognize the danger of Stalin’s actions. Although Soviet involvement in the war against Japan was needed, Truman and Churchill and later Clement Atlee steadily decided to decrease the amount of concessions to Stalin. Thus, Poland’s western border issue became one of the first omens of the cold war. The Brits, in agreement with the Polish government in exile, conditioned the recognition of the border on two issues: free elections in Poland and safe return for the Polish soldiers from the Western front. The Soviet Union adhered to these conditions aware of its full control over the situation in Poland. Truman though, saw Germany as the dike that could stop the Soviet invasion in Europe. From his point of view too weak Germany would not be able to hold the line. Therefore, the U.S. delegation refused to recognize the Polish–German border.

Eventually, it was decided that the final shape of the Polish–German border be settled in the peace treaty between the two countries. This decision pushed Poland into the sphere of Soviet influence due to the fact that the only guarantee of Polish territorial integrity was Stalin and his communist principles. It also determined the negative attitude of the new Polish authorities toward the United States. Probably the most permanent priority of Warsaw for the next over forty years was to achieve irrefutable international recognition of its western border. This became an inseparable element of the Polish foreign policy until 1989.

It would be naïve to believe that the territorial uncertainty was the only matter to push Poland into the arms of Stalin. The Polish communists needed more than three years to stabilize the power in their hands. They used all the methods of repression already tested in the Soviet Union to defeat the political opposition. In 1946 a referendum was held with three questions constructed by the communists in a manner that would request approval of all three issues. The questions considered the abolition of the Senate (higher chamber of the Polish parliament), consolidation in the future constitution of the economic system through agricultural reform and nationalization and the consolidation of the western border. The communists promoted the answer yes to all three questions.[13] The referendum was held on June 30, 1946. The results were falsified by the communists who by that time already controlled most of the government structures and had the support of the Polish Army and the Red Army on Polish territory. The government announced the official results which gave legal basis for structural and ideological changes in Polish society.

A year later parliamentary elections were held. The elections can hardly be called fair and democratic since the right–wing political parties were banned from participation under the accusation of being pro Nazi. This rule was in accordance with the provisions of the “big three” conferences in Yalta and Potsdam. The various parties were gathered in the so called “Democratic bloc” controlled by the communists. According to the official results more than 80% voted for that bloc. In 1948 the communists completed the process of elimination of all political opposition with the composition of the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) which ruled the country until 1989. Only two other parties United Agrarian Party (Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe) and Democratic Party (Stronnictwo Demokratyczne) were allowed to exist as a screen for the preservation of the slogan of democracy. Though different in name they unanimously supported the line of PUWP.

In the peak of the Stalinism new Polish constitution was passed on July 22, 1952 and the People’s Republic of Poland was established. The constitution was based on the Soviet Constitution of 1936 and introduced totally new political, social and economic principles in accordance with the communist ideology. The constitution of 1952 was only confirmation of the status quo established by the communists from 1945. With the third biggest army in Europe, Poland was one of the closest Soviet satellites and important factor in the Eastern bloc.

Apart from the question about the ideological orientation of Poland the post war shape of the country became the primary topic of concern for the Polish authorities. No other Eastern European country suffered so strongly the consequences of Stalin’s aspirations for territorial gains. As a result of the II world war Poland lost approximately one fourth of its territory to the Soviet Union and was moved westwards without any international recognition.[14]

Polish–American Relations as Derivative of the Cold War

As it was previously mentioned, the bilateral relations between Warsaw and Washington during the cold war were directly linked to the climate in the relations between the East and the West. The apogee of the cold war led to the most difficult and gloomy relations between the United States and Poland in their history.[15]

Although on April 24, 1946, Poland and United States signed an agreement of economic and financial cooperation, the bilateral relations were deteriorating. In September of the same year, Secretary of State James Byrnes declared that the German borders were still to be settled and represented the view that the territory east of the Oder–Neisse line was only temporarily under Polish administration.[16]

The process of eliminating the opposition in Poland was officially condemned in the United States. Neither the referendum of 1946 nor the elections of 1947 results were recognized. In response, the government in Warsaw used every occasion to emphasize the attempts to interfere in the Poland’s internal matters. During the conviction of members of the Home Army and other anti-communist underground movements, one of the often used accusations was subversive activity and cooperation with Western imperialism. As a result, the economic cooperation between Poland and the U.S. almost disappeared. In 1951, Washington broke off the treaty on the basis that Warsaw had obtained the Most Favored Nation clause in 1931.

Probably the most remarkable international initiative in which Poland was involved during the period of Stalin’s rule was the selection of Poland (together with Czechoslovakia) to participate in the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission established on the basis of the Korean Armistice Agreement in July 1953. Since the sides in the Korean War had the right to nominate two neutral states, the Korean People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteers chose the People’s Republic of Poland. Obviously, the notion of neutrality was sifted through the sieve of ideological similarity.

Stalin’s death in 1953 led to the beginning of a new era. After few years of internal fights Nikita Khrushchev gained absolute control over the Soviet empire. After the twentieth Congress of the Soviet Union Communist Party which started the process of destalinization and the thaw between the U.S. and the USSR, Poland proposed at the United Nations the establishment of a denuclearized zone in Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, DDR and FRG). This initiative, though idealistic, also had a practical propaganda application. If accepted by the West, NATO would not be able to deploy nuclear weapons in Germany. Since the West refused to comply, the communists underlined one more time the militarist and aggressive attitude of NATO.

The thaw in the relations between the East and the West created the needed background for dialog between Warsaw and Washington DC. Nevertheless, communist propaganda continued to explain every action of the United States in conformity with the Soviet interpretation. The novum was that the Soviet bloc substituted the concept of confrontation with the concept of peaceful coexistence. This boosted the bilateral relations which led to a new era in the seventies. In general, the seventies were the détente decade and this led to an intensification of the contacts between Warsaw and Washington. Nixon’s visit to Poland in 1972 resulted in enhancement of economic, cultural, scientific and technological cooperation. The subsequent visits of high level officials (Edward Gierek to United States in 1974, Jimmy Carter to Poland in 1977) were unprecedented examples of the realization of the policy of peaceful coexistence.[17] Although Poland did not miss a chance to declare its devotion to Moscow, the financial difficulties of the Soviet Union were interpreted in Warsaw (and also in other satellite capitals) as permission to search for other possibilities to overcome the economic disturbances. The Soviet invasion in Afghanistan interrupted the trend and stiffened the positions of both sides.

The implementation of martial law in Poland in December 1981 and the condemnation of this act by the Reagan administration led to the end of the process of cooperation. During the eighties, Washington applied the dual track approach toward Poland. On the one side the U.S. condemned the introduction of martial law and announced an embargo on PRP. The other supported the repressed and prosecuted opposition and sympathized with the Poles. This policy was changed only after the end of communism and the creation of the first non-communist government with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister.

The Meaning of the Words

According to communist propaganda, the defeat of the West in the ideological clash was dependent on the solution of the eternal fight of good and evil. All initiatives of the Soviet bloc were described in bright, friendly and trustful words leading to a conviction that the good had finally ruled part of the world. Though optimistic, the propaganda constantly emphasized that there was still an enemy to defeat, an enemy who wished to destroy and annihilate the achievements of the quest for equal rights and a brighter future. In the words of the famous Soviet newspaper Izwestija from June 22, 1972 “…Between the Soviet Union and the United States as between socialist and capitalist states, even if best international relations exist, axiomatic ideological war will be held.… Between the USSR and the U.S. just like between socialism and capitalism, there is an unavoidable rivalry in many fields—in economy, science and technology etc.”[18]

In order to understand the perception and interpretations of American foreign policy by the communist regime in Poland, it needs to be emphasized that the regime used specific vocabulary. The notion of the external enemy played a pivotal role in “communist slang,” which was an indispensable element of the communist perception of the world. Mariusz Mazur enumerates the imperialism, the Western German threat, Zionism, the hostile Western mass media (Radio Free Europe, Voice of America etc) and the anti–democratic, anti–socialist and anti–peace forces.[19] The ideological threat of American imperialism was present constantly in communist propaganda.[20] As Mazur accurately points out, “…the imperialism was often used together with the notions of revenge–seeking and Zionism.” During the apogee of the cold war, imperialism was the key motive to explain all kinds of failures and defeats in the socialist system.

In the Polish mass media campaigns of the sixties, imperialism occurred separately only as an explanation of distant events (i.e. the War in Vietnam). Nevertheless, the sole appearance of this concept was supposed to evoke the impression of an extremely dangerous situation, threatening the sole existence of statehood and requiring immediate and radical reaction.[21] Still though, imperialism was excessively vague and abstract for Polish society. Furthermore, it was associated with the United States, which despite the efforts of the propaganda not necessarily had to evoke unequivocally negative emotions.[22] This statement receives support in the research of Piotr Ostaszewski, who in the last decade of the twentieth century examined the opinions of two generations of Poles on the Vietnam War.[23]

According to him, although the Polish communist propaganda tried to create positive perceptions of the Vietnamese communists, the reverse result was achieved. “…the perception of the Vietnamese communists was rather negative and the research data show that most of the Polish society was impervious to the model promoted by the official communist propaganda.… The ultimate conclusion of Ostaszewski is that regardless of official communist propaganda Polish society preserved pro-American attitude.[24]

Another example of the unclear meaning of official propaganda was the depiction of the rising German revisionism. On the basis of the concrete unsolved question of the Polish western border, the propaganda created the myth of the new alliance between Hitlerism and American imperialism. Yet, this was not an achievement of the Polish communists. It was only an adjusted version of Joseph Stalin’s words during the early days of the anti-West campaign in 1946 when he said “Imperialism is the second next to fascism enemy of the progressive humanity.…”[25] Though the notion of German revisionism was difficult to define, the communists didn’t have to look far for delivering examples of that threat. It was enough just to quote every speech from the West undermining the shape of the Polish western border. Also the meaning of the word “West” was not unambiguous. This vast term often meant contradictory things. Sometimes it meant the whole “West” in terms of Western Europe and the United States or NATO, but other times it meant only the United States. This was made with the hope that the countries around the world and from Western Europe not supporting American policies would take the chance to distinguish themselves and join the “progressive world.”[26]

The language used by communist propaganda was specific in terms of meaning and in terms of usage. Once it could describe a particular example, case or story, another time it could reflect an unclear, vague and difficult to locate threat. Although dubious, it became the most efficient tool in the process of the creation of an atmosphere of constant threat and emergency.

The Priorities of Polish Foreign Policy

The emergence of the cold war left Warsaw and Washington on both sides of the iron curtain. Since the announcement of the policy of containment, the main priority for the United States was active involvement around the globe in order to prevent the spread of communism. Thus, the bilateral relations between Poland and United States became derivative of the main stream tensions between Moscow and Washington. As Anna Mazurkiewicz mentioned “…undoubtedly, between 1947 and 1989 the relations between Warsaw and Washington in general perspective remained a function of the American–Soviet relations. . . .”[27]

Polish foreign policy had its specifics during the cold war. Although completely dependent on the priorities set up in Moscow, Warsaw’s foreign policy was in accordance with “the spirit of the time”. The main aim, according to L. Pastusiak was “…to fight in order to prevent the eruption of a new war. . .” The rest of the priorities concerned the recognition of the Polish western border as definitive; prevention of the rebuilding of the German revisionism, the remilitarization of Germany and settlement of the German issue in accordance with the interests of the European security; prevention of the deterioration of the relations with western countries; protection of Polish economic interests in its relations with the West; and, last but not least, protection of the citizens of Polish descent in the West who became victims of political repressions.[28] The priorities enumerated by Pastusiak reveal not only the stated issues of concern but also the ideological background. The American perception of Polish priorities was reduced to collaboration with the Soviet bloc, maintenance of present borders (i.e. along the Oder Neisse rivers in the West), and weakening the influence of the United States and its allies.[29]

The developments of the fifties brought the Soviet bloc to the conviction that the evil West would not be defeated easily. Therefore, the priorities were slightly modified. Richard Staar quotes Adam Rapacki’s article from 1960 “Three principles of Foreign Policy” where the proletarian internationalism and unity in relations with countries of the Socialist camp has been reconfirmed. Simultaneously, bearing in mind the process of decolonization Poland declared “solidarity with liberation and emancipation movements of nations striving to free themselves from colonial dependence.…” This “friendly” position was directly linked with the fact that the process of decolonization meant decrease of the western control over vast territories in the Third world. Finally, Rapacki underlined the “constructive struggle for peaceful coexistence in relations with all countries having different system. . .”[30] Leaving aside the logical contradiction in this sentence, it depicts the tendency to accept the achieved status quo in international relations and to search out possibilities for cooperation, where available, with the West.

The idea of cooperation had two elements: real and propaganda. The real intention was to obtain financial support for the inefficient and often utopian efforts to continue the idea of a planned economy. Whereas the propaganda element was to underline the good will and open spirit of the Communist regimes in comparison to the negative and hostile approach of the West, the communist regime in Poland quickly learned how to make use of its official propaganda from all the contacts with the United States.

The peaceful communist propaganda was not altruistic. Behind the slogans of peace, friendship, help, brotherhood and solidarity, practical goals were expected to be achieved. Władysław Gomulka’s words from 1960 reveal that:

“The strategic goal of peaceful coexistence is the victory of socialism over capitalism on a world scale. Socialism can defeat capitalism without the catastrophe of a world war. Ten to fifteen years of peace will be sufficient for socialist states to overtake the highly industrialized and economically developed capitalist states. . . . “[31]

Thus, the communists reached the conclusion that open war is not a possible solution of the ideological confrontation, whereas peaceful coexistence will eventually lead also to victory over capitalism. After another decade the voice of the official Polish propaganda was even milder. During President Richard Nixon’s visit to Warsaw in 1972 Polish official publications interpreted the visit as the most convincing proof for the acceptance of the status quo by the West.[32]

The 1960s brought about a visible improvement in Polish–American relations based on the principle of coexistence of states with different socio-economic systems.[33] The idea of the final victory of the communism was replaced by the notion that even official recognition of the status quo (the Polish western border and the communism in Poland) was sufficient achievement of communism. From the official statements one can easily get the impression that the cold war was over. “But as the international tension decreased and the cold war died down, the cooperation gradually began to be extended.…”[34] Also, the words of the Polish Ambassador in Washington, published in the same brochure were in the same style: “President Nixon’s visit to Poland was a demonstration of the practical implementation of the principle of peaceful coexistence between states with different socio–political systems, which is the basis of Polish foreign policy. . .[35] However, the priorities remained the same and they were constantly repeated by the official propaganda with the hope that this would make the status quo stronger.

The postwar period has given Poland a new image. Poland is now a state with fixed and inviolable frontiers and an ethnically homogeneous population—a state with an active foreign policy whose voice is reckoned with in the international arena.[36] During Nixon’s visit in Warsaw a number of bilateral agreements concerning economic, scientific and cultural cooperation were signed. The establishment of new Consulates in Krakow and New York was agreed upon and a direct airline was opened from Warsaw to New York. The improvement of the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Poland was possible due to the general improvement in the atmosphere between the East and the West. The intensification of the contacts between Warsaw and Washington led to the visit of Edward Gierek to the United States in October 1974.[37] Prior to the visit the official newspaper of the Polish United Workers Party People’s Tribune (Trybuna Ludu) emphasized that:

“This visit is a part of the larger process of relaxation, which became dominant tendency of the contemporary world. This process was initialized by the Soviet Union, Poland and other countries from the socialist commonwealth. It is simultaneously integral part and result of the policy of peaceful coexistence. In this policy the Soviet Union plays a leading role . . .Over the ocean the leader of our party will represent socialist Poland, bound by inseparable alliance with the Soviet Union, important cell of the socialist commonwealth, state with dynamic economic growth, active and respected on the international arena.”[38]

The constant confirmation of the close relations with the Soviet Union was needed not only in order to emphasize the strength of the Eastern bloc but also to preventively calm down Moscow. In that respect Edward Gierek’s interview for Time Magazine delivered irrefutable arguments. First of all “. . . the only country that helped us [Poland–S.D.] after WWII was the Soviet Union. . . .” However, in the context of the CSCE conference and the East–West relations, the Polish leader emphasized that “. . . we are not afraid of anything that will come from the West with the exception of some moral phenomenon like drug addiction etc. . . .”[39]

The Polish priorities in bilateral relations seemed unchanged. Poland was pressuring for closer economic cooperation. Under the cover of the American fascination with Polish achievements, Gierek hoped to receive strong financial support.[40] The propaganda emphasized that Poland was the second biggest economic partner to the U.S. after the Soviet Union from the Eastern bloc and the only country from the bloc to obtain the most preferable nation clause in trade with the U.S. The Polish delegation constantly underlined the predictions that trade turnover would reach two billion dollars until 1980.[41]

Yet, the improvement of bilateral relations did not mean any concessions in the sphere of the ideological clash. Poland was a staunch ally of the Soviet Union and Gierek did not skip the occasion to make it clear during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly. While ascribing to the socialist countries the success for the CSCE conference, Gierek repeated the principle of peaceful coexistence among countries with different political systems. The aim of that principle was “making the détente irreversible in order to defeat the imposed by the imperialist forces political and military confrontation, which is the main reason for the arms race, tensions and threats to the international peace.…”[42] Simultaneously, Poland continued the policy of open criticism toward U.S. actions in Vietnam, Palestine, Cyprus and Chile in accordance with the Soviet position.

Poland and the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was another possibility to accent the unity of the socialist world and the decisive stand in international affairs. In Poland, as in other socialist countries, the war was depicted as:

” . . . part of their [United States–S.D.] struggle to continue their influences in South East Asia and on the whole Far East. It is also an important element of the resistance against the national-liberating movements fighting against the neocolonial forms of imperialist ruling in Asia and other parts of the world.”[43]

Additionally, the war attempted to destroy the socialist achievements of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) or also was a holy war against the American imperialism.[44]

Such a picture of the War delivered justification for the direct involvement of the Eastern bloc. It would be impossible to quote all the documents and statements of Moscow and its satellites on that matter, but some examples clearly unveil the intentions. In the declaration of the Warsaw Pact from July 6, 1966 condemning the ongoing bombardment and other acts of aggression by the U.S. in Vietnam we read:

” . . . to provide and will continue to provide DRV constantly growing moral-political support and various help, i.e. material and defense related means, materials, technical and specialists indispensable for the victorious repulse of the American aggression, taking into consideration the needs stemming from the new phase of the War in Vietnam.”[45]

The final declaration of the 1967 European meeting of the European communist parties in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia included an Appeal of support for the Vietnamese nation.[46] A year later during their meeting in Budapest, representatives of sixty seven communist parties declared among others:

“We, the communists, consider the solidarity with the fighting Vietnam for our most viable internationalist responsibility. On behalf of our parties, on behalf of millions of our supporters, once again we firmly declare our will to give our indispensable support to the Vietnamese nation, which stands on the frontline of the armed fight with the imperialism.”[47]

The American atrocities in Vietnam became a constant element in communist propaganda. The publications on that subject in Poland from the late sixties and early seventies as one mention the fact that United States dropped over four times more bombs than during the air raids over Germany during World War II.[48] American actions were described as “ . . . village pacification and penal expeditions on daily basis and use of guns against demonstrators.[49] The existence of concentration camps, thousands of prisons and the commission of such acts as rapes, deliberate murders and were inseparable elements of every analysis. The South Vietnamese leaders were protégés to Washington and were presented as cruel and vicious.

Leaders of the hunta in Southern Vietnam from the early 60s—Nguyen Cao Ky whose best hero is Hitler and slightly more moderate Nguyen Van Thieu were perpetrators of . . . political repressions against not only communists, but every progressive person and even against the “neutralists.”[50] In the aftermath of the Paris accords defeat of the United States was announced: “In the Vietnam war winning were not only the interests of the Vietnamese nation and its heroism, but triumphant were also the basic rules of political logic, strategy and justice. Those who stubbornly broke these rules—had to loose . . . ” and further . . . “The [American–S.D.] mistakes grew from the strong imperialistic ambitions, neocolonialist intentions and the doctrines of the police kind of style of subordinating the world.”[51]

This defeat had far-reaching consequences which the Communist propaganda could not miss to emphasize. Stanisław Wilkosz delivered a brilliant example:

“By signing the Paris accord USA recognized their defeat in Vietnam and understood the mistakes that have been made. However, there were also other reasons for signing the treaty. During these 8 years when the war lasted the political situation around the world has changed radically. There is a new arrangement in the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, in Asia a new situation has been established, the position of the Third world countries has been strengthened and the American doctrines ceased to be in force. Neither help nor the size of American investments decided anymore about the policies of the young Asian and African countries. The ice age of the cold war was over. United States had to adjust its global policy concepts with the new proportions of power, they had to agree to thaw, to relaxation, to détente.”[52]

In other words, it was the United States that faced total defeat. This defeat was possible because of the continuous efforts for peace of the Eastern bloc. The defeat also forced the United States to accept the new reality. Whatever happened for good was achieved by the Eastern bloc. Remarkably, although prepared only two years after the Helsinki accords, the need for financial support and credits from the West were passed over in this analysis.


Although highly selective and incomplete, this paper aimed at emphasizing some important and lesser known elements of Polish–American relations which must be taken into consideration in the process of evaluating the developments during the cold war.

Poland became part of the Soviet bloc as a consequence of mainstream international politics and in defiance with its own willingness. From the moment when the communists obtained absolute control over the country, Warsaw became a faithful ally of the Soviet Union who constantly supported and executed the dispositions from Moscow. This paper does not analyze the role of Polish society, its attitude toward the communists and the internal developments. There were many examples in Polish history during the cold war (1956, 1968, 1970, 1980) when the western world received signals of dissatisfaction and protests against the system. However, until 1981 this was not an issue seriously considered in Washington. Despite the disappointment among the Poles from the fact that they had been left behind the iron curtain, the society preserved its pro–American attitude.

Until the late seventies the Polish government’s perception of American foreign policy was based on two pillars. The first one was the ideological struggle in which Poland was a constant propagator of socialist principles which led to the inevitable clash with Western values. The second one was the need for financial support which forced the countries from the Soviet bloc to seek cooperation with the West. They implemented at the beginning of the sixties a theory of peaceful coexistence which was the practical attempt to incorporate these two contradicting pillars.

In conclusion, the Polish perspective of American foreign policy was derivative of the East–West mainstream relations. At the same time, it did not take into consideration the opinion and sympathy of Polish society. Therefore, from the end of World War II until the establishment of Solidarity, Polish–American relations were inconsistent because of ideological differences.



[1] The first official headquarters of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PCNL) was established in Lublin on August 1, 1944. The PCNL claimed to be the only legal representative of the Poles and proposed radical social, economic and political changes.

[2] More information about the Home Army and the Warsaw uprising can be found at: (accessed March 3, 2009).

[3] Wojciech Roszkowski, Półwiecze, Historia polityczna świata po 1945 r. ( Warszawa: Wydawnictwo naukowe PWN, 2002) 14.

[4] Provision VII of the Yalta Conference Declaration. The whole text is available at: (accessed March 3, 2009).

[5] In 1947, parliamentary elections were held in Poland, but they were never recognized as free and fair by the United States and Great Britain. More on this issue below in text.

[6] Marek Kazimierz Kamiński, W obliczu sowieckiego ekspansjonizmu. Polityka Stanów Zjednoczonych i Wielskiej Brytanii wobec Polski i Czechosłowacji 1945–1948. (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Neriton, 2005) 34.

[7]Wojciech Roszkowski, Półwiecze, Historia polityczna świata po 1945 r. (Warszwa:Wydawnictwo naukowe PWN, 2002), 14.

[8] Articles. 2 and 3 of the Atlantic Charter. Text of the document can be found at: (accessed August 3, 2008).

[9] Wojciech Roszkowski, Półwiecze, Historia polityczna świata po 1945 r. (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo naukowe PWN, 2002), 14.

[10] Ibid., 15.

[11] The map is reprinted from Wikipedia: (accessed August 3, 2008).

[12] J.F. Burnes, Roosevelt, Truman and the Origin of the Cold War. (Chapel Hill: 1982), 42.

[13] The referendum is known in Polish history as 3xYES

[14] In comparison to 1938 Poland lost 77,700 sq. km. Włodzimierz Bonusiak, Historia Polski 1944-1989.         (Rzeszów: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, 2007) 15.

[15] Longin Pastusiak, Stosunki polsko–amerykańskie 1945–1955. (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek, 2004), 12.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Edward Gierek was the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party 1970–1980.

[18] Wizyta Nixona w Moskwie i Warszawie, Centralny ośrodek dokumentacji prasowej PAP, Rok 7. (Warszawa: Sierpień, 1972) 61-64.

[19] Mariusz Mazur, Propagandowy obraz świata. Polityczne kampanie prasowe w PRL 1956–1980. (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Trio, 2003), 176.

[20] Mariusz Mazur writes that the ideological threat of the American imperialism was present only during the strong anti Zionist campaign in Poland in 1968. My research on different speeches of communist leaders in the context of the Vietnam War indicates continuous reach for this argument. See: O pokój i bezpieczeństwo w Europie, Dokumenty narady partii komunistycznych i robotniczych Europy w Karlowych Warach, kwiecień 1967. (Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1967) or Władysław Góralski, Aktualne problemy konfliktu wietnamskiego. Problemy i wydarzenia Nr. 43, Komitet Warszawski PZPR. Wydział propagandy i agitacji, (Czerwiec 1969).

[21] Mariusz Mazur, Propagandowy obraz świata. Polityczne kampanie prasowe w PRL 1956–1980, (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Trio, 2003), 177-178

[22] Ibid.

[23] The research focused on two groups. The first one consisted of people, who were already adults during the Vietnam War and the second was consisted of people in their twenties during the time of the research. The results are published in: Piotr Ostaszewski, Amerykańska wojna w Wietnamie 196–1973, w opinii dwóch pokoleń społeczeństwa polskiego, Vol. 5 Rozprawy i Materiały Ośrodka Studiów. (Warszawa: Amerykańskich Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego), Warszawa 1999.

[24] Piotr Ostaszewski, Amerykańska wojna w Wietnamie 1965–1973, w opinii dwóch pokoleń społeczeństwa polskiego, Vol. 5 Rozprawy i Materiały Ośrodka Studiów Amerykańskich Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, (Warszawa: 1999), 29.

[25] Wojciech Roszkowski, Półwiecze, Historia polityczna świata po 1945 r. (Wawszawa: Wydawnictwo naukowe PWN, 2002), 32.

[26] The final declaration of the meeting of the communist and working parties in Europe at Karlovy Vary (Czechoslowakia) in 1967 it was declared: The European allies of the United States no longer accept the contradictory to their national interests and national dignity, role of a satellite to the American imperialist gendarme, which attempts to stop the course of history and tries to stifle the independence movements around the world. The American allies see clearly that the American policy does not take into account their national interests. That Washington by making dangerous decisions about aggressions and interventions puts them at fait accompli. This creates the threat of drawing them to rows in the name of alien interests. O pokój i bezpieczeństwo w Europie, Dokumenty narady partii komunistycznych i robotniczych Europy w Karlowych Warach, kwiecień 1967. (Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1967) 12 – 13.

[27] Anna Mazurkiewicz, Dyplomacja Stanów Zjednoczonych wobec wyborów w Polsce w latach 1947 i 1989. (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Neriton, 2007), 282. Also Longin Pastusiak, Stosunki polsko–amerykańskie 1945–1955. (Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek, 2004), 13.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Richard F. Staar, Poland 1944–1962 The Sovietization of a Captive People. (Louisiana State University Press, 1962), 107.

[30] Ibid., 108.

[31] Gomulka was the First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party 1943–1948 and of the Polish United Workers Party 1956–1970. Władysław Gomulka’s speech at Katowice on July 6, 1960 in: Richard F. Staar, Poland 1944–1962 The Sovietization of a Captive People (Louisiana State University Press, 1962), 65.

[32] President Nixon’s 24 hours in Warsaw. (Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1972), 16.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., 21-22.

[36] Ibid., 17.

[37] Edward Gierek was the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party 1970–1980.

[38] Gierek’s visit to US, Centralny ośrodek dokumentacji prasowej przy PAP, Rok 14. (Warszawa: 1974), 7/100 15.

[39] Ibid., 19-23.

[40] In this respect the Polish Information Agency (PAP) quoted the NBC program „Today”: “… In times when we are facing difficulties caused by the inflation, Poland under E. Gierek’s rule experiences unusual development. E. Gierek was depicted as “the architect of Poland’s recent development.” GDP in Poland rises 11% per year”…the striking modernity of Warsaw, which was almost totally demolished during WWII. Well dressed Poles, compliments about the Polish girls. Pictures of growing industry (shipyards), motor industry and the willingness to posses own car by most of the Poles, youth disco clubs, Mentioning about the policy of raising salaries and simultaneously keeping the prices low. It is a fascinating country!… Vast possibilities for the Poles to travel abroad! Underlying the democratic character of Poland by constant mentioning about the fact that Gierek is supported by the almost full majority of Poles and the close relations with Moscow.…” Gierek’s visit to U.S., Centralny ośrodek dokumentacji prasowej przy PAP, Rok 14. (Warszawa: 1974), 7/100 p. 7.

[41] Gierek’s visit to U.S., Centralny ośrodek dokumentacji prasowej przy PAP, Rok 14. (Warszawa: 1974), 7/100 37.

[42] Gierek’s visit to U.S., Centralny ośrodek dokumentacji prasowej przy PAP, Rok 14. (Warszawa: 1974), 7/100 46–49.

[43] Władysław Góralski, Aktualne problemy konfliktu wietnamskiego. Problemy i wydarzenia Nr. 43, Komitet Warszawski PZPR, Wydział propagandy i agitacji, Czerwiec 1969, 4.

[44] B. Kołodziejczak, E. Wójcik, Wojna USA w Wietnamie. (Warszawa: 1979), 55. This is exerpt from the Ho Chi Minh statement in B. Kołodziejczak, E. Wójcik, Wojna USA w Wietnamie, (Warszawa: 1979), 61.

[45] Władysław Góralski, Aktualne problemy konfliktu wietnamskiego. Problemy i wydarzenia Nr. 43, Komitet Warszawski PZPR, Wydział propagandy i agitacji. (Czerwiec 1969), 27.

[46] The text of the final declaration of the 1967 European meeting of the European communist parties in Karlovy Vary is available in English at (accessed March 14, 2009) The text of the appeal was published in the Polish version of that document. O pokój i bezpieczeństwo w Europie, Dokumenty narady partii komunistycznych i robotniczych Europy w Karlowych Warach, kwiecień 1967. (Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1967), 35–37.

[47] Władysław Góralski, Aktualne problemy konfliktu wietnamskiego. Problemy i wydarzenia Nr. 43, Komitet Warszawski PZPR, Wydział propagandy i agitacji. (Czerwiec 1969), 28.

[48] See Góralski p. 56, as well as Stanisław Wilkosz, Wietnam–anatomia zwycięstwa i klęski. (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1977), 309.

[49] Władysław Góralski, Aktualne problemy konfliktu wietnamskiego. Problemy i wydarzenia Nr. 43, Komitet Warszawski PZPR, Wydział propagandy i agitacji. (Czerwiec 1969), 5-8.

[50] Ibid., 38.

[51] Stanisław Wilkosz, Wietnam–anatomia zwycięstwa i klęski. (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1977), 311; 231-232.

[52] Ibid., 307.


Also available are “Enemy Images, Evidence, and Cognitive Dissonance: The Cold War As Recalled by Michiganders”; “The American Perspective of the Cold War: The Southern Approach (North Carolina)”; “Soviet Perspective on the Cold War and American Foreign Policy“; “The Netherlands During the Cold War: An Ambivalent Friendship and a Firm Enmity”; “The Special Relationship: United States-Russia“; “The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment’s Perception of Poland (1980-1981)“; “Soviet Attitudes Towards Poland’s Solidarity Movement“; and “After the Cold War: U.S.-Ukrainian Relations (1991-2000).”

This was originally published with the same title in Comparative Perspectives on the Cold War,  Lee Trepanier, Spasimir Domaradzki, and Jaclyn Stanke, ed. (Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University Press, 2010).

Spasimir Domaradski

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Spasimir Domaradzki is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and Lecturer on Politics and International Relations and chairs the Department of Government Studies at the Lazarski University in Poland. He is also an organizer for Security and Cooperation in Europe, election observer in Ukraine, and a member of Team Europe Poland with the Representation of the European Commission in Poland.