Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Dale: Winding Down the Norway Thing, for Bjorn and Matthew. Part I

I have to finish this up, before Heather kills me. First, thanks to Matthew and Bjorn for their fair-minded replies. Especially for recognizing the exaggeration in the first post. Not everybody picked up on that.

Second, I need to relate a couple of stories to give you a little perspective on where I came from on this. The first comes from one of my best friends, a painfully fair and honest man who should trademark the title "America's Only Liberal Marine." He told me about his experience during Arctic warfare training in the Kingdom. He and his unit were shipped up north of the Arctic Circle [Bodo, I think--can't do the slivered-o character]. He said that the only thing colder than the climate was the reception from the locals, who repeatedly berated the Marines. The main gripe he heard was with the "militarism" of the Marines, some of whom had painted skulls on their equipment. This seems to be an awfully "Emily Post-ish" bitch for people who at that time lived within a couple hours drive from Russian forces who would have been much ruder "guests", but for the presence of American forces like the USMC. Indeed, one of the locals advised that the Russians would have been better behaved. Why, of course they would have.

On the positive side, my friend said the beer was excellent.

The second story comes from when I was 9 or 10. My friends and I frequently played "war," running around the neighborhood with toy guns, whipping up on either the Russians or Germans, depending on how "modern" we wanted the war to be. During one of these games, we almost literally ran into one of the neighbors, an old man with a heavy accent. The man, who introduced himself to us as Mr. Szastik, smiled sadly and asked to talk to us. We did, and he pulled out a worn black and white picture, which he said he always kept with him. Mr. Szastik showed us boys the picture, which had seventy serious-looking young men staring out from the photo, in military uniform. He pointed himself out, a determined, handsome black-haired man of about 20 or so. You see, Mr. Szastik was a Polish cavalryman, and the picture was taken in mid-1939, just before the start of the war. He paused, and then said that of the seventy--friends, brothers all--exactly seven survived the war. But they had fought bravely, which he said with understandable pride. He then let us go, telling us to remember that when we "played" at war. I did, but perhaps not exactly in the sense he intended. [I later found out that he had met his future wife at a German prison camp, and promised to marry her if they survived. At least his war had something of a happy ending.]

Ever since then, my benchmark for resistance to the Nazis is Poland. Carrying on a hopeless fight, with no help, against both the Nazis and the Soviets. After the surrender, the Poles didn't get a home-grown lackey puppet to govern them--they got the butcher Hans Frank. Pretty much everywhere there were Nazis to fight, you found Poles. I think of the remnants of the Polish forces escaping under long odds to re-form their shredded forces in the West. I think of the fact that at one point in the Battle of Britain, more than 10% of the RAF's pilots were Polish. I think of the Polish destroyer Piorun, in a real mouse-vs.-python moment, charging at the Bismarck, firing away. I think of the Polish troops who successfully stormed Monte Cassino, after American and British attempts had failed. I think of the Polish First Armored Division, coming ashore on D-Day, and then closing the Gap at Falaise. I think of the courage of the Polish Airborne Brigade at Arnhem. Then there's the 100,000 men of the Polish Red Army who defeated the Nazis in battle after battle on the Eastern Front. And, lest we forget, there's the 400,000 strong Polish resistance--the KA (Home Army), and the heroic doomed rebellions of Mordechai Anielewicz and Tadeusz Komorowski. The cost of the War to Poland? One in every six Poles alive in 1939 was dead in 1945.

Despite this cost, Poland's fighting spirit lived on, refusing to submit to the Soviet occupation, finally culminating in liberation in 1989.

Perhaps this is not a fair comparator for Norway--indeed, the two countries' situations were markedly different. Perhaps it's not a fair comparator for any other occupied country, but it has become the standard.

More in Part II.

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