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"We burn the Poles"


One of my few moments that I have truly enjoyed myself at a political science conference came during the late 1990s on a panel somewhere in Southern California. The topic of the panel was nuclear proliferation, and I seem to recall that I was giving some paper on the effect of Sino-American rapproachment on the Pakistani nuclear program. The chair of the panel took it upon himself to explain pre-emption to the audience (one young scholar gave a very bad paper trying to describe nuclear warfare as a game of Chicken) and got onto the topic of the use of nuclear weapons in Europe in the context of a NATO-Warsaw Pact general war. “In this scenario” he said, with a deep German accent, “we burn the Poles, the Hungarians, and the Germans; well, maybe not the Germans, and they burn the Belgians and the French, and hopefully we do not burn each other.” It occured to me at the time to think about how bizarre this truly was; we were thinking about using American nuclear weapons not just against Russian civilians, who, of course, could hardly be blamed for the behavior of their government, but also against Polish civilians whose only crime had been to be enslaved by the Russians. And the use of the word “burn” really brought the point home. Ethics and nuclear war don’t go well together.

This article reminded me of that panel. It seems that the Polish Defense Minister, irritated in some fashion by the Russians, has gone and decided to publish various Warsaw Pact plans for war against NATO. One plan in particular involved a Russian nuclear attack on Western Europe either in response to or in expectation of a Western nuclear attack on Poland. According to the article, this is supposed to embarass the Russians and cause a further rift in Russo-Polish relations.

I’ll confess that I don’t really see what the fuss is. Of course the Soviets contemplated war plans that would result in the destruction of their allies; so did we. Also, it’s hardly news that the Russians had somewhat less regard for and trust of their Eastern European allies than we did of out Western European friends. Nevertheless, it’s a mildly interesting bit of news, although really a lot less interesting than the revelation a few years ago that the central task of Polish forces in a general war would be the “liberation” of Denmark.

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