The Washington Times
Chilling chapter from the past
By John O'Sullivan
Published December 4, 2005
Last week in Warsaw the world saw for the first time exactly how the
Soviet Union intended to fight a nuclear war in Europe. A top secret
map for a 1979 Warsaw Pact war game -- titled "Seven Days to the
River Rhine" -- was released at a press conference that marked the
opening of the Poland's heretofore secret communist-era military
It was chilling. The map showed large red mushroom clouds along
a line from the Danish border through Germany and Belgium to the
French border. They blotted out such cities as Hamburg, Frankfurt,
Munich, Antwerp and Brussels. These cities would have been utterly
destroyed by Soviet nuclear warheads that, because of their relative
inaccuracy, had to be much larger than NATO's precise tactical
Not that tactical nuclear weapons would have spared all that
many lives. The map also shows smaller blue mushroom clouds
representing the Soviet guess of where NATO would aim its nuclear
missiles -- along the lines of the River Vistula to block Warsaw
Pact reinforcements from Russia. Warsaw and Prague are among the
cities that would have perished. And according to Radek Sikorski,
defense minister in the new conservative Polish government who
opened the archives, the dead would have included approximately 2
million Polish civilians.
Millions of Poles have died in the past to defend and liberate
their country. They did so in World War II. If Poles had died in a
real version of "Seven Days to the River Rhine," however, almost all
but a handful of Polish communists would have died as unwilling
allies of a Soviet Union brutally occupied their country. They would
have died to maintain their enslavement.
That sensitive point is one reason the Warsaw Pact plan was
presented at the time as "a counterattack" to a NATO invasion. The
armed forces of communist Poland had to be given at least the fig
leaf of an argument they were defending their country against a
militaristic West. But the military-cum-political realities of the
day were of a pessimistic West retreating before Soviet advances on
Massive SS-20 missiles were being planted in Eastern Europe and
aimed at Western cities. (The red mushroom clouds show their
destinations.) "Peace rallies" throughout Western Europe, partly
funded by the KGB, were frightening governments into rejecting
installation of America's deterrent missiles. A world-class Soviet
navy was being built up. The Kremlin, about to invade Afghanistan,
boasted that the international "correlation of forces" was tipping
in its favor. And U.S. President Carter was still bemoaning
our "inordinate fear of communism."
A NATO invasion of Eastern Europe therefore was not really
thinkable. The Warsaw Pact's "counterattack" looks very much like a
plan for a first-strike invasion of Western Europe. One tipoff:
Neither Britain nor France is attacked in the war game. This is a
plan for a lightning dash to the Rhine followed by a cease-fire, an
offer of negotiations, and a "peace settlement" allowing the Soviet
Union to swallow all Germany and dominate a nominally independent
Franco-British rump of NATO.
That it never happened is partly because three extraordinary
people -- a Polish pope, Britain's first woman prime minister, and a
Cold Warrior from Hollywood -- all arrived in power to rebuild
Western strength and morale and to give hope of liberation
to "captive nations" behind the Iron Curtain.
A bloody invasion of Europe was, however, a real possibility.
Thus we had a narrow escape.
Mr. Sikorski's revelations have naturally annoyed the Russians.
They have also been seen by some media cynics as a response to
Russia recently playing anti-Polish power politics over energy and
gas pipelines. That might well have been a subsidiary motive, and
reasonably so. Russia needs to know that if it tries to bully its
neighbors such as Poland or Ukraine, they can at least embarrass
their old masters and warn the West of what the Kremlin planned and
did until the day before yesterday.
But the main motive behind these revelations, in Mr. Sikorski's
own words, is "to bring to an end the era of post-communism." He is
therefore opening the archives not only on Warsaw Pact war games but
a large range of military intelligence, including the martial law
suppression of Polish Solidarity and Poland's role in the Kremlin's
crushing of the 1968 "Prague Spring."
Until now knowledge of these and other communist-era crimes has
been quietly suppressed throughout Eastern Europe. "Post-communism"
has been a transition to democracy in which the truth about
communism has been sacrificed in the interests of social peace. As a
result, communist-era public figures have survived and even
flourished; post-communist networks have exercised a shadowy
political influence; and, in response, cynicism about democracy has
Latin America and South Africa had their own "post-
authoritarianism" immediately after military dictatorship and
apartheid. But that was followed by a period of "truth and
reconciliation" in which an honest, if sometimes partial, public
reckoning of past crimes was attempted.
There is a deep hunger beneath the familiar cynicism throughout
Central and Eastern Europe for such a reckoning. This is not a
desire for vengeance or even just punishment -- though some victims
of murder and torture and their families would certainly support the
latter -- but an admission of past crimes, a cleansing of public
life and a fresh democratic start.
What is needed is a Europewide Truth and Reconciliation
Commission of scholars and elder statesmen of undoubted democratic
loyalty, who would hold hearings and report not just on the crimes
of communism -- class genocide, mass murder and widespread torture --
in Eastern and Central Europe, but also on those in the Soviet
Union itself and even on the culpable failures of Western statesmen
to halt the culprits.
Who might serve on and lead such a commission? There is no lack
of brave dissidents, eloquent historians and distinguished elder
statesmen who could perform these tasks -- Robert Conquest, author
of the classic "The Great Terror" (who a week ago received the Medal
of Freedom), former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, historian
Paul Hollander, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, former Italian
President Francesco Cossiga, French philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy
and Alain Finkielkraut, and Anne Applebaum, columnist for The
Washington Post and author of the recent Pulitzer prize-winning
history of the Gulag, who in private life is Mrs. Radek Sikorski.
But the first step should be an approach from the U.S. Congress
to the European Parliament to propose jointly fostering such a
For if we refuse to examine the communist past, it will continue
to poison the democratic present -- not only in Poland and Eastern
Europe but also in those Western democracies that looked the other
way while millions died.
John O'Sullivan is editor-at-large of the National Review and a
senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
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