FOR many East Europeans, the American debate over whether to send troops to Bosnia is no idle matter: Their governments want US help if they face a military threat.
Poland, battered for centuries by hostile neighbors, especially wants a security guarantee from US-led NATO. Poles remember well the West's abandoning them in World War II and remain skeptical that the West will actually expand NATO eastward. They see a danger from Russia, which objects to Poland joining NATO and keeps hold of the highly militarized enclave of Kaliningrad on Poland's border.
Poles in Krakow were asked by the Monitor whether they expect America to come to Poland's rescue. Their responses follow:
Maciej Koruc, doctoral candidate in political science and an Army reservist:
Of course when Poland is in NATO the United States will defend Poland. This is a two-sided agreement and then Poland will have to defend the US. We are counting on the US to defend Poland because we need that defensive umbrella. We don't know what will happen in Russia in 5, 10, or 20 years....
If we join NATO, we are a part of that Western world and aggression against us will be against the alliance because NATO's security interests will be from the Bug River [on Poland's eastern border] to the West Coast of the US.
Marek Kawa, artist, writer, and singer:
I don't think that America wants to or will fight for Poland.
As history shows us, America only reacts when it has a knife at its throat or its back against the wall.... Generally, I like the US because they have and are helping us spiritually and morally. But we must remember what happened in Poland before World War II.
Wladzimierz Pietrus, marketing analyst:
Poles are deceiving themselves if they think that the US will defend Poland in any kind of destabilization in this part of the world. Now, with upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia and the fear of what they may bring, the United States will be concerned with global affairs and appeasing Russia instead of affairs in Central Europe and Poland.
But if Poland enters NATO, the US must remember that Poland is not an aggressive nation and has fought in defense of common values.
Kaja Hiensa, high school student:
The United States will defend us because they like us. The US will defend us, and Poland will also defend the US. We need the Americans to help us with any trouble we may have with the Russians. They are our protectors.
Jan Kornblit, market speculator, sales director of financial software, and pub owner:
The US will not defend the interests of Poland, because Poland has never been important for the US. Poland has always had to depend on itself. The only way for Poland is neutrality. Before the war, France and Britain did not care for us because we were on the border of Europe.
Kamil Skoda, nurse:
I don't think the United States will defend Poland's independence. This is because of the difference of mentality between the West and Poland. We have experience in abandonment.
In 1939, the French said they would not die for Gdansk. But the Poles fought all over Europe for independence with all the other Allied nations. History has taught us we should not depend on other people but rely on ourselves. If I am wrong about America, then I will be disappointed in a positive way.
Tomasz Cwiok, editor of a Krakow cultural magazine:
America is perceived in Poland as a country that has guarded democracy all over the world. But beyond this perception, there are politics. I see it this way: If there is a political interest, then America will take some action.
If there isn't a political interest, then they will think twice.... The Polish nation respects America as a great power and hopes that if we are in trouble, then American troops will come to Poland. But these are only hopes.
Aneta Piansecka, university student:
Most Americans do not even know where Poland is on the map. They won't help us because they are too concerned about their own domestic problems to get involved in any conflicts, unless they are forced to in their own role as the world's policeman. If the US had a direct geopolitical interest, like oil, then they would defend Poland.