Monthly Archives: January 2011

Henryk Sienkiewicz Nobel Acceptance speech

I recently read a 2006 article about Polish troops in Iraq wherein an American General quotes Polish Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz:

“General Chiarelli also cited the acceptance speech Henryk Sienkiewicz gave in 1905 when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature: “‘She was pronounced dead, yet here is proof that she lives on. She was declared incapable to think and to work, and here is proof to the contrary. She was pronounced defeated, yet here is proof that she was victorious.’ Of course, in 1905, he was talking about his native Poland. But his words ring true of Iraq today.'”

This is from an article in the New York Sun written by Alex Storozynski, who runs the Kosciuszko Foundation.  Sienkiewicz won the 1905 Nobel Prize for Literature because of his “outstanding merits as an epic writer.” Read more here.

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Poland will get visa waivers?

According to Foreign Policy magazine’s article last month on the Komorowski-Obama meeting:

“Score one for Warsaw. President Barack Obama promised Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on Wednesday that Poland would be admitted to the State Department’s visa waiver program, a concession to Poland that also fulfills a key GOP senator’s demand for his vote to ratify the New START treaty.”

Obama’s exact words were certainly the strongest commitment from any administration yet:

“‘I am going to make this a priority,’ Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. ‘And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency.'”

Currently Poles are still required to pay a fee and apply for a visa from the State Department to travel to the United States for any reason. Many much smaller countries (Estonia, Latvia, etc) have secured participation in the visa-waiver program allowing them to travel freely back and forth to the U.S. (to much Polish chagrin).

Presidential meeting

In case you missed it, here is the video of the Polish president’s visit to the Oval office last month. One of the first things President Obama says is:

“Something that the Polish people and the American people have long shared is not only a love of freedom but also a deep faith and resilience in the face of hardship.”

I think the best way to account for President Obama’s excessive amount of smiling and furrowed-brow nodding during President Komorowski’s remarks (minute 15), is to conclude that he is trying to atone for his earlier aside to the American media in the room regarding the tax agreement he struck with Republicans in Congress – it certainly seemed out of place.

Video of Polish Troops

I recently came across some videos of Polish troops in Afghanistan, and what struck me is that if you didn’t know any better – you might think these are American troops. Their uniforms, gear, equipment and guns all look to be at the same exacting standard as the Americans’ — not to mention the fact that they are actually fighting and firing their weapons. This video is very well put together:

Congratulations to Zolnierz007 for a compelling series of videos about the Polish troops in Afghanistan.

Picture of the alliance in action

This is a great picture of American and Polish EOD units (explosive ordinance disposal – they  remove roadside bombs, clearly) working side by side:

I especially like that this picture captures the flags of the two nations, and the Polish flag has what looks like a Ranger tab underneath it. Courtesy of the Polish Contingent in Afghanistan’s (PKW) website.

My interview on Polish radio

On Christmas Day, Mark Rzepkowski of Polish Radio interviewed me about my project and my career on his show (broadcast in Chicago and New York City).

You can listen to the broadcast here by clicking on the December 25th show (25 Grudnia). The interview was conducted in Polish, but I’m working on getting the audio files edited so I can post a shorter version of the interview here without the songs and commercials, and hopefully along with an English transcript as well.

Mr. Rzepkowski was very kind, and we spoke at length about my project and why I am interested in writing about the Polish military.

Here’s his official bio:  Autor bardzo popularnej sobotniej audycji radiowej “Ameryka bez różowych okularów“, w której od wielu lat porusza bieżące tematy polityczne, ekonomiczno-społeczne i kulturowe dotyczące amerykańskich realiów. Przeprowadza wywiady z wybitnymi osobami z różnych dziedzin życia, dyskutuje ze słuchaczami na kontrowersyjne tematy. Były współpracownik radia Wolna Europa. W USA od 1975 roku

Translation:  The author of the popular Saturday talk show “America without rose-colored glasses,” which has for many years been a platform for discussing  a wide range of issues covering politics, economics, and culture in American society. He interviews prominent figures from different areas of expertise, using the opportunities to discuss controversial topics with his listeners. He formerly worked with Radio Free Europe and has been in the USA since 1975.

General Petraeus on Polish troops

Many people heard of last month’s article in Time magazine, citing several unnamed sources who were critical of Polish troops in Afghanistan. It caused quite a stir in Poland (the Polish Defense Minister called it “scandalous“), as well as among the American military, who consider Poland a strong ally.

General Petraeus  was quick to counter the criticism in an official statement:

“I have been privileged to command coalition efforts in Iraq and, now, in Afghanistan.  In each case, Polish forces were very important members of the coalition and demonstrated impressive courage, professional expertise, and commitment. In each mission, I spent considerable time with Polish forces and valued highly what our Polish partners brought to the fight. Indeed, given my experiences serving with Polish forces during some 5-1/2 years in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2001, I believe I am uniquely qualified to comment on the enormous contributions Polish forces made in those countries – and that very much includes the contributions they are currently making in Afghanistan.”

He continued:

“Most recently, I visited Polish forces last week in Ghazni, and as in the past, I was very impressed by the excellent work of the Polish contingent. Brigadier General Reudowicz and the Polish conventional, special operations, and mentoring forces have established superb relationships with their Afghan counterparts. They are carrying out a comprehensive campaign in a very challenging part of Afghanistan, and doing it in outstanding fashion. They have, as they did in Iraq, sustained tough casualties over the years, but they have never wavered.”

General John Campbell, Commander of the Afghan region where Polish troops are currently stationed also issued a statement saying:

“I was dismayed at reported comments made by unnamed US senior leaders and some unnamed members of my command. I can assure you I will personally address the issue of disparaging comments to the press made about our Coalition partners.”

When I speak with American military personnel who have worked with the Poles in theater they almost universally praise their Polish allies.  Because the Time article used unnamed sources in all but one instance (it cites a local Afghan police chief), it’s difficult to judge whether these anecdotes genuinely reflect the reality on the ground, or whether this reporter dug up the most damaging quotes he could find and painted the entire picture with that brush. I hope that in my future trip to Afghanistan I can find out more.