The less now said publicly in the West about Poland the better. It was right that the United States and other Western governments strongly warn the Kremlin about the consequences of a Soviet invasion of Poland. But, that warning once given, it is doubtful that hour-by-hour comments by the secretary of state, the defense secretary, and other high US officials do more than add to an air of tension and crisis. Poles themselves ar reported distressed by so much public rhetoric in the West.
A little silence could be helpful at this point. The news media are pursuing with vigor and interest what is probably the most significant story of the decade -- a veritable popular revolution in a Soviet-bloc country. They are hard on the heels of high US and other leaders for reaction to every twist and turn of Soviet policy. But this does not mean the officials have to respond to every query. They surely know that public warnings become devalued if shouted enough. The problem is probably one of not being able to resist the limelight. One suspect the "collegiality" proclaimed by the White House in the wake of the presidential crisis has not yet eliminated personal rivalries for power and public attention. But any temptation to play to the camera ought to be resisted in the national interest.
The media themselves bear no small responsibility in reporting the Polish developments. They too, if they are not careful, may contribute to a self-fulfilling atmosphere of crisis that exacerbates Soviet fears and prompts military action. The inaccuracies, misjudgments, and confusion which crept into press coverage of the attempted assassination of the President are a pointed lesson in the need for calm, balance, and dispassion whatever the news event.
The Polish issue is difficult to fine-tune because of its complexity. Various aspects need to be understood and taken into account. From the standpoint of the Soviet leadership, for instance, the situation in Poland is so unpredictable that preparations of some sort have to be made in the event of a security threat. The Russians are fully aware of the consequences of a military intervention into Poland and would like to avoid them. But this does not minimize the urgency for them of being ready, if things reach an extreme, to defend what are in effect their westernmost frontiers. Teh dilemma is that military preparations send the temperature up and this tends to generate a momentum which then risks getting out of control.
The Brezhnev presence in Prague looks ominous, to be sure. But it should not go unnoticed that the other Warsaw Pact leaders are not on hand for the Czechoslovak party congress. This would suggest that Mr. Brezhnev, who has not attended such a congress abroad for a long time, wants to make a point --
The Poles, in turn, show they are increasingly determined to bring about a revolution from below -- not against communism per se but against the despotism and hypocrisy in its practice. More than a question of free trade unions is involved; a thorough cleansing of the ruling communist party is now sought. And the astonishing fact is that events are moving in this direction. As a result of the standoff at Bydgoszcz, the Polish leaders have finally agreed to set the date of a party congress and to approve secret balloting. Could Poland become the first communist country to begin evolving democracy -- a genuine not ersatz "dictatorship of the proletariat"? Such a prospect would set the whole world of communism on end. It is no wonder the men in moscow (and a few other places in Eastern Europe) are nervous.
The challenge for Poles, however, is to move forward as carefully as possible without alarming their Soviet protectors. Too swift and abrupt a change rouses the very fears in Moscow that could invite intervention. At every step, at every decision, they tread a dangerous line and must ask themselves: will the Russians tolerate this, however intolerable?
One irony in the situation is that an internally freer, efficient, humane Poland might also mean a stronger Poland and a mre reliable Polish ally in the Warsaw Pact. If the Polish events have demonstrated any one thing, it is the absence of a relationship between the Soviet Union and its satellites which assures the unity of the bloc without the heavy-handed presence of Soviet troops. The present "loyalties" are largely imposed by force. Mr. Brezhnev and his colleagues on the Politburo might reflect onthe advantage to the USSR and the Warsaw Pact of a Polish loyalty built on a sturdier foundation -- a foundation of popular support for the Polish party and government. They may indeed feel the risks are too great and decide to march into Warsaw. But, deep in their bones, they must know that tamping down the fires of liberalization now would not eliminate the embers. It would be only a matter of time before the Polish spirit exploded again.
It would be foolhardy to underestimate the dangers of a Soviet invasion. They exist. And even if this crisis passes, as we pray it will, Poland will likely go on lurching from one taut situation to another. Upheaval, tension, struggle -- these are part of any profound political revolution until, with time , it is fulfilled. But there are also other factors in Poland, such factors as compromise, political common sense, and a deep love of country. The challenge of the West is to do everything possible to encourage the voices of moderation on all sides -- Soviet and Polish -- and to do nothing which would incite fears and anxieties to the breaking point. Restraint can be practiced in Washington, London, and Bonn no less than in Wa rsaw and Moscow.