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News ::
Thank You, America (english)
10 Mar 2003
This July 4, many Americans may feel baffled and disappointed by the waves of anti-Americanism sweeping through countries that, not too long ago, were either saved or helped by the United States. Allies such as France and Great Britain and former enemies such as Germany and Japan benefited greatly from America's generosity and support in their time of need, as did Belgium, Holland, Italy, Russia, Poland, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and others. Without the United States, some of these countries might no longer exist.
Those of us who remember and remain grateful should no longer remain silent. For people like me -- and there are millions of us -- this Fourth of July is a good opportunity to say, "Thank you, America."



My old country, Poland, is a good example. I was born 89 years ago on the eve of World War I in Warsaw, when Poles were forced to live under the despotic rule of the Russian czars. In 1917 Woodrow Wilson made the restoration of Polish independence one of his 14 conditions for peace. If it had not been for Wilson, Poland might have disappeared forever from the map of Europe. The United States did not have any strategic or economic interests in this remote eastern part of the European continent. But thanks to America, the ambitions of the Hohenzollern empire to dominate all of Europe were thwarted.



The war in Poland did not end in 1918, however. For six more years, the wheels of war rolled over the Polish countryside as Poles fought to repel the invasions of the Red Army. The country was left in ruins. Food was scarce. The undernourished population was hit by epidemics of typhoid and Spanish flu.



I belong to the generation of children of this era, the early 1920s, who were saved by the benevolent intervention of the United States, in the person of the future president Herbert Hoover. As a private citizen, Hoover organized the emergency supplies of food, medicine and clothing that saved a starving and sick nation. I still remember the tin boxes inscribed "American Relief Committee for Poland."



The Polish state survived, but with no economic resources, no reserves of gold or foreign currencies. Roaring inflation had brought the country to the verge of collapse. The United States came forward once again, providing the Dillon loans, which helped stabilize the Polish economy.



Following the surrender of France in 1940, Hitler was only one step from victory. The United States, by joining Great Britain as it faced alone the greater might of Nazi Germany, and at enormous sacrifice of young American lives, saved European civilization and its values. It is known that Hitler's postwar plans called for elimination of Poland's educated classes, while the rest of the population was to become slave workers. Once again, the United States saved the lives of millions. I am grateful to have been one of them.



Tragically, the defeat of Nazi Germany did not bring freedom to the nations of east and central Europe. Hitler's tyranny was replaced by Stalin's terror. It was the United States that contained the Soviet Union's drive for domination of Europe. It understood before others that the Cold War would be a struggle for human minds.



One of its major weapons in this war was the skillful use of radio. As a former radio operator with the Polish underground and later a broadcaster with the BBC foreign service, I was recruited in the early 1950s to start the Polish service of Radio Free Europe (RFE). No country but the United States would launch or could have launched such an ambitious undertaking, broadcasting from dawn to midnight.



RFE destroyed the monopoly of the Communist public media and frustrated the efforts of the Soviet Union to isolate the satellite countries from the outside world. Citizens of these countries had only to tune in to the RFE frequency to learn what their governments were attempting to hide from them. People were able to get the information they needed to form their own views, even if they could not speak them. Their minds remained free.



Workers' strikes were banned under communism. So when Polish shipyard workers in Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, defiantly called a strike in August 1980, the government immediately ordered a news blackout. But within hours, the whole country knew of the workers' resistance and related developments from RFE broadcasts. Because the Communists feared a general strike might follow, they quickly agreed to a compromise settlement with the shipyard workers. Solidarity was born.



The following year, however, the Communist leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, sought to destroy the movement by imposing martial law. The United States responded by applying a sophisticated carrot-and-stick policy in which Jaruzelski was never forced into a position where he had nothing to lose and nothing to gain. Economic sanctions were imposed, but economic assistance was promised. The patient and consistent application of this policy over the next eight years resulted in the survival of Solidarity, which emerged triumphant in 1989.



News of this victory spread rapidly to East Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia, as well as Moscow, through the broadcasts of RFE, Radio Liberty, RIAS (Radio in the American Sector, Berlin) and the Voice of America. The overthrow of Poland's Communist dictatorship inspired millions throughout the Soviet orbit, unleashing an avalanche that brought down the Berlin Wall and led to the reunification of Germany, the self-liberation of the nations of east-central Europe and eventually the disintegration of the Soviet Union.



Poland formed the first non-communist government in the former Soviet empire. But the nation's economy remained a disaster area. Again the United States came to the rescue. Poland's first democratic government and the nation's economy were saved by U.S. leadership in proposing and aggressively promoting an emergency international financial assistance package.



In the spring of 1998, I watched from the public gallery of the U.S. Senate as it ratified the admission into NATO of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. For the first time in its history, my old country was not only free but also secure.



Thank you, America.



The writer directed the Polish service of Radio Free Europe for 25 years.

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