During the Wednesday, 13 February, Intermarium lecture, Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz discussed and compared three recent works on twentieth-century Polish history:
- Peter Hetherington, Unvanquished: Joseph Pilsudski, Resurrected Poland, and the Struggle for Eastern Europe (Pingora Press, 2011).
- Mikołaj Kunicki, Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland (Athens, OH: University of Ohio Press, 2012).
- Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (Doubleday, 2012).
Hetherington’s book is a labor of love by a geologist-turned-amateur-historian. Kunicki’s book on Bolesław Piasecki is just the opposite. The object of Hetherington’s admiration is interwar Poland’s strongman, Józef Piłsudski. Originally a patriotic socialist revolutionary with an eighteenth-century Grand Duchy of Lithuanian noble mentality, Piłsudski moved somewhat to the right after seizing power in Warsaw in a coup (May 1926).
Kunicki’s “whipping boy,” in turn, was a radical nationalist leader in interwar Poland and an anti-Nazi, anti-Soviet underground resistance commander during the war. Following his arrest by the newly-imposed communist regime, Piasecki chose to collaborate with his captors. Until his death, he ran a “progressive Catholic” organization/publishing house known as PAX.
Hetherington is sometimes apologetic towards his hero and unfair towards Piłsudski’s detractors, but his book is generally useful, particularly for the English-speaking audience. Kunicki’s work, on the other hand, was originally written as a doctoral dissertation almost a decade ago and hasn’t been updated by the author since. It contains no original scholarship and falls into the category of the “blame nationalism for communism’s sins” genre.
Like Hetherington’s biography, Anne Applebaum’s study of the Sovietization of Central and Eastern Europe after the Second World War is a step in the right direction. Unlike many postmodern scholars in the world of academia, who deny that communism was totalitarian, Applebaum has no qualms about calling a spade a spade. Overall, she understands that the entry of the Red Army into Central Europe in the wake of the retreating Wehrmacht was by no means a “liberation,” but a swap of occupations. She is also fair to usually vilified segments of the Polish anti-communist underground. Applebaum also emphasizes that communism destroyed the spirit of cooperation and charity.
It is a pathetic reflection of the state of the historical profession in the era of postmodernism that a journalist and a geologist are capable of more insightful and objective work on the history of Poland than a professional historian.