People of Polish descent know that when it comes to survival, only those who believe in America and American values stand the chance to protect them both at home and abroad — “peace through strength” makes a difference.
By Maria Juczewska l November 7, 2016
When all the Americans are wondering about the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, I would like to focus on a group that has chosen to endorse Donald Trump. An initiative of American Poles, the Polish American Advisory Council, is a body that represents those among American Poles who support the candidate contesting the present U.S. immigration policy. At first glance, the very existence of such a body may seem paradoxical. Shouldn’t Donald Trump’s strong stance on immigration discourage rather than encourage support of those Americans who still cultivate the bonds with their own or their ancestors’ old country?
Many of Trump’s Polish American supporters can be compared to the so-called Reagan Democrats of the 1980s. Their support for Trump is driven by the economic concerns and worsening situation on the market. They are often owners of small, family-owned businesses whose material situation has been severely impacted by the economic decisions of the present administration. They are willing to work hard, but they want to have the right to reap the fruit of their labor too. However, when we examine the opinions of the members of the Polish American Advisory Council, we will see that they also focus on what has often been overlooked by many other American citizens during the presidential race. Namely – U.S. foreign policy and the position of the United States in the world. This perspective is deeply rooted both in history and the contemporary cooperation between the two countries.
Coming from the country of long republican and democratic tradition, Poles have traditionally sympathized with America from its very beginning. Two Poles, Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski greatly contributed to the American War of Independence. Even today, American cavalry soldiers still use Polish sabers, the symbol of independence and pride in Polish culture. The American War of Independence itself is akin to the uprisings in Poland in that period – albeit the American War ended in a success, which also contributes to America’s popularity with the Poles. In modern times, in many turning points of history, America influenced the fate of Poland and the other way around. Poland regained its independence after World War I due to the advocacy of President Wilson. During World War II, Poles provided 95% of all intelligence from the European continent available to the allies due to an exceptionally large and exceptionally well-organized underground army. In the Cold War period, 35,000 pages of intelligence on the Warsaw Pact military plans provided by a Polish volunteer agent, code-name Jack Strong, changed the approach of the United States towards the USSR and ultimately led to the fall of the evil empire. Ever since 1989, Poland has been America’s steadfast ally. Not only has Poland been one of the few NATO members regularly contributing 2% of its GDP to the common NATO defense budget but also supported American troops in their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Members of the Polish American Advisory Council focus their attention on matters related to international security. They point to the significance of NATO as a peacekeeping and stabilizing force. They realize that American involvement in international affairs signifies “peace through strength.” Theirs is the perspective of a nation that has not been blessed with peaceful neighbors to the north and south and two oceans, one on the eastern and the other on the western border. For one thousand years Poles have lived in that part of Europe which had the misfortune of becoming the battlefield of world powers. Polish Americans realize that there is no possibility of “leading from behind.” In international affairs the void is always filled by those who dream about power. For many years, America stood for different values than other powers. While its idea was to promote positive values, such as personal freedom and the right to self-governance, others wanted to conquer and subjugate. We may wonder whether American good intentions have always given good results. Nevertheless, the idea behind American expansion or military activities has never been nefarious.
Whether Donald Trump is the right person to grasp that difference is probably open to speculation. The United States has surely seen presidential candidates who were better prepared for the most powerful office in the world. However, the support of Polish Americans for this presidential candidate is an interesting indicator. Poles, who have always fought for freedom and independence, have political instinct trained for a millennium of troubled relations with nations hostile to freedom and individual rights. They focus on matters that are essential to a country’s stability and international security. Even though most of them have long become American Citizens and love America dearly, their perspective is richer with experience that most Americans do not possess. I would say that American Poles are painfully realistic because they have been through much more than the average American having been invaded from the East by the Soviet Union and from the West by Nazi Germany. Under Soviet occupation during the Cold War, many have seen much harder times. Accordingly, they decide to support the candidate who seems to be more down to earth with his rhetoric and – for all his faults – more patriotic. Because people of Polish descent know that when it comes to survival, only those who believe in America and American values stand the chance to protect them both at home and abroad — “peace through strength” makes a difference.
Maria Juczewska is an MA candidate in International Affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC where she is a research assistant to the the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Ms. Juczewska is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.