The Politics of Global War: The Polish Powder Keg


After eight days of war the Polish People’s Republic was beginning to show signs of uneasiness. Though the evidence was generally unnoticed by a world preoccupied by the war raging, it was nevertheless present, and smoldering. The direct effects of the war were being felt more by Poland than any other Warsaw Pact member-state, with the notable exception of East Germany. Martial law was in effect, along with curfews, and strict rationing. NATO fighter-bombers struck airbases, railheads, highways, and other military targets in Poland every night, while US Special Forces A-Teams were active on the ground guiding air-delivered smart bombs to their targets, committing acts of sabotage, and working to train, arm, and organize anti-Soviet elements in Polish society to rise up against their Communist overseers.

On the surface, Poland appeared to be managing the difficult circumstances well.  Citizens were getting by and voicing few complaints. People were mainly concerned with the safety and survival of their families. Animosity towards the Soviets was set aside for the moment. In light of the acceptable behavior displayed by the population, the Polish government, and its security apparatus did not clamp down any more than was necessary. They were, of course, closely monitoring potential troublemakers. But, so long as the Polish people remained complacent, Warsaw was happy. It went without saying that a quiet Poland kept Moscow satisfied as well.

The Polish government was walking on eggshells in an attempt to keep its people, and the Soviets satisfied, but the effort was in vain. Poland had long been the powder keg of the Warsaw Pact. The ‘Gandhi Satellite,’ historically a bastion of non-violent demonstration, and peaceful resistance aimed at Moscow was now more vulnerable than ever to succumbing to an errant spark. All which remained to be seen was when the spark would come, and what form it would take.

The smart money was on Solidarity being that spark. When Jaruzelski declared martial law in late 1981 Solidarity went underground and remained there into the early days of the Third World War. In spite of its status, Solidarity was still quite present in many sectors of Polish society. There were signs of a Solidarity emergence in early 1987, but the Moscow coup, and the subsequent rise in world tensions enticed Walesa into keeping Solidarity in the shadows for the moment. It wasn’t clear for how much longer that moment would last, however.

News of the uprising in the Polish mechanized infantry division in West Germany had not spread beyond the highest echelon of power in the Polish government. Poles at home knew nothing of the drama unfolding to the west, and Warsaw was intent to keep it that way. Polish Army units at home were quietly being kept under close scrutiny by security services, civilian and military. Officers who demonstrated even the slightest anti-socialist sentiment, real or imagined, were quietly arrested and taken away.

There was a debate going on in Warsaw regarding Lech Walesa’s freedom. Given the turn of events, an influential grouping of military and security leaders wanted to arrest Walesa, and the other leaders of Solidarity immediately, before they learned of the uprising. It was assumed that sooner or later the news would reach Walesa and his gang, and when that happened, the consequences for the government were going to be severe. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s head of state and senior military officer, resisted the calls for Walesa’s arrest, pointing out that such an event could end up being a catalyst for a nationwide work stoppage, and demonstrations, spurring a Soviet takeover of the government. Jaruzelski wanted to prevent that from happening at any cost.

Despite his desires, though, more and more sparks were popping up in a dangerously close proximity to the powder keg. It truly seemed to be only a matter of time before the keg was ignited.

10 Replies to “The Politics of Global War: The Polish Powder Keg”

    1. Poland is a key in this timeline, just as it was in real life. When things started to unravel in Europe in ’89 it all started in Poland.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Man I can’t wait for the Poles to turn on the Soviets like a pack of wild dogs beaten for too long. Then maybe the Germans will revolt as well. That’ll be the end of the (conventional) war.

    The emphasis is on “conventional” because as we all know, Soviet war plans did not include taking their ball and going home should they start to lose.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well…
    5 cents from the Polish point of view (as I was born in 1975 and lived in Plock, the seat of main Polish refinery complex, and my father served in Polish security service – not something to be very much proud of, currently, but had a lot of interesting inside views and infos about the situation and the look on it from the government perspective):

    1. Solidarity as a massive movement was effectively crushed – what was clearly shown in real time strikes in 1988. That’s why the govt decided to make a “round table talks” in 1989 – the idea was “to let Solidarity leaders into the govt and provide the govt more credibility, while involvement of Solidarity into the govt would erase its “antiestablishment” policy. This idea failed (also due to the effects of Gorbachev’s policy) yet in 1987 the Solidarity was struggling to survive, not to take power. And the security service officers were orgainising fake “Solidarity cells” to be sought for and then arrested, in order to obtain prizes and honours for “efforts to suppress enemies of the state”.
    Elections’ results in 1989 and then the Mazowiecki’s govt was a compete surprise to BOTH sides.

    2. Do NOT expect anything special from “|A-teams training sabotage groups in Poland” – although there were the remnants of anti-communist resistance hiding in wods well into 1950s (the last one was Józef Franczak “Lalek”, killed in 1963), the overall view was that the communist govt was too strong to make any armed resistance against it. Solidarity was a peaceful movement, and people remembered the Gdansk riots in 1970 when dozens of people were killed, or the tragedy in “Wujek” coal mine in 1982.

    Andy any sign of any Solidarity members being involved into such activities would be suicidal to Solidarity leaders – being accused of “high treason and support to enemy during lasting war” would give them a short trial by martial court and execution.

    From the memories of ex-Solidarity members, there’s an interesting story about a group of young people, who decided to blow up Jaruzelski (in winter 1982).
    Fortunately enough, the higher members of underground Solidarity (Zbigniew Bujak, himself a former paratrooper) found out about the plan and made it to be stopped: NOBODY wanted to make Solidarity an ARMED RESISTANCE organisation.
    Here’s the material (text in Polish, use a translator):,nId,421452

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After Martial Law was imposed I know Solidarity went underground for a long time. Are there any books or papers about the movement during that time?


  3. There’s a book “Solidarność podziemna 1981–1989” (“Underground Solidarity”) under edition by prof. Andrzej Friszke, published in 2006, but, I’m afraid, in Polish only.
    Anyway, if anyone is interested, may look for books by Andrzej Friszke:
    or prof. Andrzej Paczkowski:
    See, for example,
    “Wojna polsko-jaruzelska. Stan wojenny w Polsce 13 XII 1981 – 22 VII 1983” (“Polish-Jaruzelski War. Martial Law in Poland”), Warszawa 2006.
    There were also many minor publications related to that subject in details, but I’ve never was so mucj interested in that field. Unfortunately, I believe that most of them is in Polish only.

    Liked by 1 person

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