Alex Massie

Clinton and Katyn

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It's an election,  of course, so no card must be left un-played. Nonetheless, there's something a little unseemly about trying to exploit war crimes and massacres for personal, political gain. In fact it's grotesque. I assume this press release* was supposed to appeal to Polish-Americans in Ohio.

Statement from Senator Hillary Clinton

“We will soon mark the 68th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners during World War II.

“This is a time to remember the victims of the Katyn massacre and also to reflect on the importance of remembrance itself.  Only by preserving the memory of past inhumanities can we hope to avoid inhumanity in the future. Only by seeking the truth about the past can we be confident about our pursuit of peace and justice today.

“On March 5, 1940, Stalin's Politburo gave the order for the Soviet secret police to execute more than 22,000 Polish POWs in cold blood.  This horrific mass murder was covered up by the Soviet authorities and denied for decades until Mikhail Gorbachev finally admitted the truth and Boris Yeltsin aided the international investigations by opening the Russian archives.

“I am concerned that the pace of Russian cooperation has slowed drastically under President Putin.  The Russian government, which had promised to hand over personal records of the victims and other information about Katyn, has been dragging its feet and has reclassified many of the files.  All the relevant archives should be opened up in the interest of establishing the full truth about Katyn.

“The crimes were committed long ago, but we cannot and we shall not forget.

“I believe that it is highly fitting that a historical film about the massacre titled "Katyn" and created by the acclaimed Polish director Andrej Wajda was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film in 2008.  Mr. Wajda's father was himself a victim of the Katyn massacre.

“I have profound respect for the Polish nation and for all the peoples of Eastern Europe who have emerged from the darkness of the 20th century.  I am proud that in our time the United States has been their partner and ally.”

I mean, really, what does Hillary Clinton know about Katyn? Does anyone really believe this release oozes sincerity? It's cheap and it's exploitative.

It's also stupid. Does Clinton not realise that the Russians aren't the only people who covered-up the massacres?  On at least three occasions the United States denied Soviet guilt, attributing the killings to the Nazis. Of course, there were plenty of good, even unstoppable, reasons for holding to that line. But we knew the truth as early as 1943 and continued to deny it for years. At least Churchill had the grace to feel guilty about this.

As much as any other event in the war, Katyn reminds us that, contrary to the feel-good depictions of the "Greatest Generation" and all the rest of it, the Second World War was not anything like as clear-cut a moral case of Good vs Evil as we like to remember. Germany needed to be defeated, but the price paid to defeat Nazism included sacrificing Poland - the very country whose independence we (Britain, that is) had gone to war to defend in the first place. This irony was not lost on British officers in Germany in 1945. That there were few, if any, alternatives to this gruesome outcome does nothing to diminish the Faustian pact we made with the Soviet Union.

However justifiably - in the pitiless frame of reference sanctioned by the war -  the United States was not Poland's "partner and ally" in 1945. I'm not quite sure why Hillary Clinton wants to remind Polish-Americans of this.

So, there you have it: a stupid and an unseemly campaign, trying to cash in on the memory of some of the grimmest events of the War. Classy stuff..

(If Obama issued a press release of this sort, I haven't seen it.)

*Thanks to reader MC for the tip.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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