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Morality in War

LAURENCE REES: What about the question of morality in war?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: I see war really as part of politics, I don’t see war as being a great fight of good against evil, and I think the nature of the German regime somehow makes it easier to see that fight, you know, those who fought against them, in absolute moral terms, and thank God they [the Allies] won, there’s absolutely no doubt about that one. But I think we’ve got to be careful to see it in these moral terms, because it’s an extension of politics.

It’s a fight for survival. One attacks and the other one fights back. One attacks and the other one tries to establish their own sphere of influence or maintain that sphere of influence. I’m quite sure that if we were to consider British colonies and dependences from the perspective of the war you would get a different picture. In the end what were Indian troops hoping for at the end of the war?

LAURENCE REES: They were hoping for independence.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: And were they given that assurance or not? So that’s what I mean, that war is an extension of politics. I see the war as a particularly important point at which there is a need to get a larger degree of consensus than during peace time, because the Home Front and that mobilisation of community requires you to deploy PR techniques to a larger extent. I mean for me as a historian it was fascinating to watch the Falklands War because it was the first time, there have been subsequent wars of course, but for the first time I saw people who never knew where Argentina was, all of a sudden -  a certain type of community in Britain -  up in arms about killing Argentineans. It’s fascinating. Did they know why they wanted to kill an Argentinean? And it worked, it worked extremely well.  That is to me a proof of this point that you do need social consensus, and war and nationalism can be whipped up over a short period of time; you can maintain that sense of togetherness and ‘otherness’.

The Second World War was a long and difficult war in which many communities were threatened, murdered, victims, and, as I say, it’s the nature of those regimes that made it easier to present it as a moral war. It was necessary to actually have propaganda, the Ministry of Information, which disseminated information which created that very positive imagery of war. But at the end of the war, at the point of reckoning, what is happening next, sometimes expectations are not fulfilled. It so happens that the welfare state in Britain is discussed extensively during the war, so many people saw the fulfilment of their aspirations, but there will always be those who’s expectations were either raised, and Poles are an example of that one, beyond what they thought was going to happen.

LAURENCE REES: Nonetheless, I know Poles who do feel they were betrayed by the Western Allies. But maybe the Poles were just naive to think they would get their territory back, intact, at the end of the war?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Well, not the individuals, but I certainly see the government in exile as being very cynical. They played the same game. They effectively grasped at particular propaganda statements and assurances given by the British and then worked on them in order to increase their own political influence, knowing full well that there was nothing underpinning it. But I think I would disagree with you though, and with those Poles, who see it as a sort of betrayal because I think that there is nothing more seductive than the sense of 'look at me I’m such a victim'. The Poles were not always victims. They were just as capable of being oppressive as any other state. To see history as a sort of predetermined pattern, you know first the Germans and then [the Soviets]….well, there was the period in between, in other words as the Germans are defeated, and its very difficult to find out what is going to happen. In other words the establishment of a communist regime in Poland is not a sort of linear progression, there is a period of not knowing quite where the Soviet security border will be established, but there is the Lublin government and there is still a degree of pluralism, so there is a sort of unclear situation.  I don’t see it as a very clear thing that the Russians come in and establish a government and that’s what they’re going to do.  I see the Cold War as being very important in consolidating, finally, that security border, with Poland being incorporated. And then increasing this zone after 1947 within the Soviet Bloc, but I don’t see this as a sort of, ‘we knew they always intended to betray us’.  You see, as a historian I really don’t find that helpful.

LAURENCE REES: Some Poles perceive it as a fact. 'We were betrayed'.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: You see to me the question is why is it that we expected the world was going to save us, why is it that the Poles believed that?

LAURENCE REES: Well, they were told they would be saved?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: But the statements were the restoration of an independent Poland.

LAURENCE REES: Well, they didn’t get that either.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Well, they did in 1945 in so far that they were able to do it.

LAURENCE REES: But the entire infrastructure and the police force were all Soviet dominated.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Well, after 1945 you do see the attempt to establish a Polish internal security, and you see attempts to establish a Polish army. Of course it’s under Soviet control, but don’t forget it’s Poles killing Poles, it’s not Russians always killing Poles.

LAURENCE REES: No, but many of the officers in the Polish units are Soviet.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Yes many, but the Polish Police in fact had serious problems, why do you have pogroms in Poland where Poles killed the remaining surviving Jews? My research shows that during the Kielce pogrom [in July 1946] the police, which you describe as communist controlled, is in fact infiltrated by the ex-Home army and there is a contempt for Jews – it’s a particularly strong clericalist area.  Therefore it is not communists finishing off Jews, it is Poles killing Polish Jews.  So we shouldn’t overstate that everything is done by the communists. The Lublin government is there, the degree of genuine political freedom is debatable, but we do see parties emerging, peasant parties, socialist parties, but not the right wing ones. We see trade unions emerging, so the Poles have got a minimal amount of control over their own affairs, and during that period it’s not as if they are passive.  They are also settling scores amongst themselves, which is why my other book is called ‘Civil War in Poland’.