While some frenzied protestors call Trump “illiterate,” Polish crowds were impressed at the American president’s depth of historical understanding in the recent speech delivered in Warsaw’s Krasiński Square (July 6, 2017). The place chosen for the speech was remarkable in itself and holds great significance for Poles. Trump chose to speak at the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in the center of Warsaw which commemorates the battle to the death by the Polish underground, bedraggled, outnumbered, and deciding on one last stand against their Nazi oppressors in August 1944. They had little chance of winning and hoped that the Soviet promise to help them would eventuate (it did not). Even more they hoped that the Allies would help them (they did not, apart from a few brave individuals).
Poland faced its death throes as a free nation amidst mostly embarrassed silence. In fact, some of the media did speak in England under the influence of Philby-esque Marxism, and condemned their heroic resistance as they thought Soviet rule would be better for Poland and the entire world. George Orwell, almost a lone voice, defended the Poles.
The rest is history as we know—the Soviets waited for the resistance army to be decimated and for survivors to be taken to German work camps (as was my 16-year-old father) and then marched in with chants of “liberation” to a destroyed Warsaw.
From these dark days arose Karol Wojtyla, now Saint John Paul II, who saw the destruction of his country—and many of its artists, musicians, writers and politicians. He insisted that the final freedom of a human person—spiritual freedom—cannot be destroyed and roused the Poles from the ashes of bitter defeat in spiritual and cultural solidarity against the oppressors.
And here 73 years later, stood an American president, paying tribute to that fight against overwhelming oppression. He said all those things that Poles had hoped would be said in the public realm decades ago—not only in some history books. He captured the apocalyptic sense of the battle. He recalled one of its darkest moments—when the young fighters realized that neither the Red Army nor the West would come to their help. They were on their own.
But then Trump did something even more dramatic in his speech. He linked this battle to the current battle for Western civilization itself. Guardian journalist David Smith found it puzzling that “Trump tried to conflate Poland’s Second World War history with the defense of western traditions.” To many it made perfect sense to make this speech at this precise monument. Especially when he said “Our two countries share a special bond forged by unique histories and national characters. It’s a fellowship that exists only among people who have fought and bled and died for freedom.” In what may well turn out to be the landmark speech of his presidential term, Trump made it clear that in referring to the Warsaw Uprising, he was speaking about the defense of Western civilization in the face of multiple destructive forces. As Charles Lipson stated of Trump:
His defense of the West was eloquent, going beyond prosperity and free markets to emphasize the rule of law, free speech, religious tolerance, and a wide range of cultural achievements.
Thus Trump was not only heralding long-term military and political support from NATO, but broadened his theme, speaking of the West as a community of nations, into which central Europe clearly fits, whose cultural center is its Judeo-Christian roots. Trump recalled the visit of the newly elected Pope John Paul II to Poland in 1979 before a crowd of 5 million, focusing on that moment when the Pope asked what the Poles wanted—they did not want money or privilege but they chanted as one “We want God.” It is surely unique that a political leader recalled this moment as a pivotal one in the nation’s recent history. It was certainly one of many pivotal moments in Trump’s speech and highlighted the fact that the survival of the West is based on its spiritual core, even if the battle seems lost at times. Trump grasped that the true victory of the Warsaw Uprising was 1989, decades later, when Solidarity made its stand in the spirit of the Uprising, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the end the spirit of the bedraggled, outnumbered fighters prevailed. History has a way of twisting apparent defeats into final victories. The Warsaw Uprising fighters, defending the spiritual core of their nation, are an emblem of our times.
Peter Beinart from the The Atlantic tried to denigrate the speech saying that “Donald Trump referred 10 times to ‘the West’ and five times to ‘our civilization,’” finding in this something jingoistic or racist. He contrasted this to Bush’s reference to “democracy” and “the sharing of civilizational values that are universal during the latter’s 2001 visit.” The attempted contrast strains and ultimately fails, as Trump’s comments are no less a broad championing of Western civilization as were Bush’s, in his reference to free speech, religious tolerance and “a wide range of cultural achievements…” What is different is that Trump’s speech has historical depth and a greater delineation of the current battle for the west’s survival. As Miranda Devine stated,
Trump understands that the greatest threat we face is from our own postmodern elites who want to erase the history, tradition and faith of Western civilisation, which they find shameful and inconvenient.
For the Poles here was a person who “got it.” More than any current leader Trump grasped the essence and scale of the conflicts in question. And if some complain that he consulted Polish-American historians, such as Marek Chodakiewicz, in the writing of it, then he must be accorded the wisdom of having made such a choice. After all, he did not have to give this speech. Trump chose to do it and ultimately selected what he wanted to say.
The timing and location of the speech was nothing short of inspired. Trump ended by saying: “let us all fight like the Poles—for family, for freedom, for country, and for God” saying the battlefield is now the mind, the heart and the will. The new Warsaw Uprising is the battle from within for Western civilization needing cultural and spiritual solidarity. And most of all, he says we can learn much from studying the Warsaw Uprising—most of all, never to give in.