The German factor

By

If Moscow now preceeds to spoil the victory Poland's workers think they have won for free trade unions -- do not be surprised. It can happen at any moment and may have happened even before this edition of this newspaper can reach its readers.

The reason is that the rebellion of the Polish workers against what those workers think of as tyranny, incompetence, and the rising price of meat is something quite different in the minds of the leaders of the Soviet state inside the Kremlin in Moscow.

To any Soviet leader with any memory at all this is an attempt to undermine and destroy the one thing the Soviet state values most out of the great victory of allied arms in 1945. That one great prize of 1945 was the breakup of Bismark's German empire and a firm Soviet grip on a part of it -- enough to protect the western frontiers of the Soviet state against revival of German military power.

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To a Russian, the danger is not from Polish workers, who are incidental. The danger is that East Germany might break out from under Soviet control, reunite with West Germany, and form once more a powerful German state capable of challenging Moscow for control of Eastern Europe.

To understand the importance of this German factor in Soviet thinking, it is necessary to realize that not just once under Hitler but three times in modern history large numbers of Germans have surged eastward across the frontiers of the Russian or Soviet state and thrice threatened its destruction.

The first time was under Napoleon. The armies which Napoleon led into Russia in 1812 were composed as much as Germans as of Frenchmen. At that moment in history Napoleon was the "Protector" of the Confederation of the Rhine which included most of what is today West Germany. It also included Saxony and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Napoleon was the sovereign of most of Germany and in command of its armed forces. Prussia and Austria were still nominally independent, but allied with Napoleon. All these contributed substantial forces to that Grande Armeem of half a million men which Napoleon led to Moscow. Kaiser's forces defeated Russian armies in almost every battle, drove them back out of the western provinces of the Russian empire, liberated the Baltic Coast, could probably have reached and taken both Leningrad and Moscow had they chosen to do so. Instead, at Brest-Litovsk they imposed a humiliating peace on the new Soviet leadership.

The third time was during World War II when Hitler's Wehrmacht overran the western part of the Soviet Union up to Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. Had those three cities fallen it it highly doubtful that there would be a Russian or Soviet state of world importance today. Soviet loss in human life from the German invasion is sometimes estimated as high as 20 million persons. No one knows exactly what was the total damage.

The logical result is that on the subject of Germans and Germany, Russians are paranoid. They fear a German revival above all else. There is no natural barrier between themselves and the Germans -- nothing like an English channel or a range of mountains, or even a broad river difficult to cross. Armies have always moved freely and easily across the North German plain, across the farmlands of Poland, across what once was East Prussia, across the Baltic coast and along the western approaches to Moscow.

Today's Soviet leaders talk of the Polish problem in terms of "socialism," but what they mean is total control of their military forefield in Poland and East Germany. They maintain a field army of 31 divisions in East Germany, but they can only supply and reinforce that army through Poland. They expect the Polish government to protect that line of supply. If at any time they doubt the ability of the Polish government to serve them in the name (of course) of "socialism," they will either get a new Polish government more to their liking or suppress it entirely and occupy the whole of Poland with Soviet troops even though that would almost certainly mean fighting in Poland.

In the Soviet system "socialism" is a code word meaning control from Moscow -- both inside the Soviet Union and in the dependencies. The Polish workers have challenged that control. The desire for free trade unions in Poland is a challenge to that control over the people of Poland. Loss of that control would be a real danger to the Soviet military system in Eastern Europe. It might also infect the political system at home. It is inconceivable that Moscow will long allow any truly independent politcal force to challenge Soviet control along the supply line to the Soviet armies of occupation in East Germany.

Under such circumstances any encouragement of the Polish workers from the West provides Moscow with amunition to do what the Soviets probably will do -- suppress the Polish workers one way or another.

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