The Pope and Communism, Part II

From the Washington Times (print edition):

As with Ronald Reagan’s ascendance to the presidency in 1980, the election of a pope from behind the Iron Curtain — the first non-Italian in 450 years — proved to be a decisive turning point in the Cold War.

This seems to be a bit of myth-making. As I stated in an earlier post, I believe the Pope was rather weak in the face of tyranny. Interestingly enough, most of the commentary on that post disagrees with me, but relies on an argument that the Pope’s role in defeating communism is self evident. As a student of America’s Cold War foreign policy, I remain unconvinced.

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Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Yours is the minority opinion by a longshot. The other thread already dealt with the issue. No need to rehash this debate.

  2. bryan says:

    but relies on an argument that the Pope’s role in defeating communism is self evident. As a student of America’s Cold War foreign policy, I remain unconvinced.

    No, I never argued that it was self-evident. Instead, I quoted from Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev and a Frontline documentary that examined the very issues you brought up.

    You, on the other hand, have provided no evidence for your assertion other than a) your background in america’s cold war foreign policy; b) your master’s thesis; and c) “academe,” a shady place that is home to everyone from John Lemon, Steven Taylor, Noam Chomsky to Ward Churchill.

    And another thing, saying “I remain unconvinced” doesn’t mean you’ve proven anything.

    You still avoid the substance of earlier disputed evidence, and the eyewitness testimony of solidarity leader Lech Walesa. to wit: The Pope’s words, while perhaps inspiring to some, simply seem coincidental.

    So you want us to believe Judge Greer in the Schiavo case solely on the basis of Michael Schiavo and his relatives’ testimony, but you don’t want us to believe the testimony of the man who led the solidarity party through most of the overthrow of communism in Poland.

    To suggest that the ascension of the first non-Italian pope in 500 years, who just happens to be a Pole from a heavily roman catholic country that happens to be under communist rule – who proceeds to make at least three visits to his homeland speaking about human life issues – is just “coincidental” is rather obtuse, to put it mildly.

    I realize there is something to be said for being the stick in the mud (my blog is “arguing with signposts,” after all), but this seems more a case of selective ignorance to me.

    Finally, another substantive point that could be made about the Pope’s impact is that it was primarily an impact on morale and spiritual fervor. These are not things that show up very well in chi-squares and beta weights. If “academe” denies the role of the pope in inspiring the polish people throughout the ’80s, perhaps “academe” is suffering from a bit of empiricism poisoning.

  3. reliapundit says:

    gorby said that letting PJPII return to Poland was the biggest mistake they ever made.

    gorby knows what you inanely refuse to accept.

    you don’t need any more proof: you need to look in the mirror.

  4. It’s interesting how this thread has turned into a series of insults rather than a refutation of my argument. I don’t see why that has to be.

    For reliapundit, I’ll say that I looked in the mirror and saw someone who spent a decade studying Cold War foreign policy (so I do have some foundation for these opinions).

    For Bryan, I think you made a more cogent argument in your reponse at your own site. Here you say that I’m obtuse and ignorant; there you seem to acknowledge that the Pope’s influence was largely symbolic and confined to Poland — which as you allude to is 95 percent Catholic. My argument may be bolstered by this: if the Pope’s influence on Soviet politics was so profound, why was it 11 years after his election that the wall came down? I call his effect coincidental, because at the same time US policy became very aggressive and there is virtual unanimity that this pushed the USSR to the brink. Contrast this with the Pope’s campaign of relatively mild words and I think my argument still stands.

    So I remain unconvinced, and I believe that the Pope’s weakness in dealing with other dictators puts the burden of proof on those who would say he was a key figure in the fall of communism.

    But I’m being perceived as pedantic, and I’m receiving insults in return, so I think we should move on.

  5. reliapundit says:

    leo: you think you know more than gorby, walesa and sharansky.

    gimme a break.

    i was around then. I saw the pope in poland (on tv) and saw what he had on the people.

    gorby admits this turned things around in poland.

    EVERYONE sees that poland was the beginning of the end of the USSR’s tyrannical hegemonic empire.

    but you.

    guess the WHOLE world aint as smart as you.

    i guess gorby don’t know as much as YOU.

    many people remain unconvinced that the earth is round. you sir – as far as the pope goes – are a flat earth person.

    you PROVE one thing: academics can study for decades (with other leftie academics) and learn nothing true.

    I have an MA. I know that most of the departments in the humanities are dominated by lefwingers who have been deep in denial since 1989.

    you are their proud progeny.

  6. reliapundit: I think I know more than everyone. Except you of course.

    Now back to my left-wing denial …

  7. DC Loser says:

    “if the Pope’s influence on Soviet politics was so profound, why was it 11 years after his election that the wall came down?”

    Then why was it that the wall came down 9 years after Reagan’s election? Using your logic, Reagan had very little to do with the fall of communism, just a little more than the Pope. John Paul had nothing to work with except the faith of the people and the results were, miraculous. If you were alive at the time and remembered what it felt when Solidarity first dared to organize and challenge the Polish government, it was nothing short of incredible. That this shipyard electrician dared to challenge the communists. I really didn’t think Walesa would last or stay alive very long, but he and the rest of the people persisted through the long years of martial law and remained faithful to their cause and the church. Solidarity was the beginning of the end.

  8. Jim Henley says:

    One of the things that astonishes me about Stotch is that one can be a conservative and not suspect the academy, especially the IR sector, is prone to underestimating the role of non-governmental and especially religious actors. He’s so ticked off that the Pope didn’t back Bush’s Iraq venture that he can’t see anything else the man did straight. That’s what all the “I believe the Pope was rather weak in the face of tyranny” comes down to: “PJP was tricksy and false to Dubya and we hates him!”

  9. So long as I’m called a leftwing academic and a dogmatic conservative in the same post, I’m happy …

  10. Jeff says:

    I always thought someone asserting something had to prove it first rather than challenging others to disprove it right out of the box.

  11. reliapundit says:

    The first world leader

    The greatest political actor of our time leaves us the challenge of moral globalisation

    Timothy Garton Ash
    Monday April 4, 2005
    The Guardian

    The world lived this death. It was a global Calvary. People from every corner of the earth gathered in St Peter’s Square, peering up at those two windows of the papal apartment, illuminated against the night sky. Across five continents, Christians, Jews and Muslims joined them through television. Marcello, from Rio de Janeiro, emailed CNN: “We are watching the agony of the greatest man of our time.” Mohamed, from Birmingham, emailed the BBC: “He will be missed by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”

    What does this tell us? It tells us that Pope John Paul II was the first world leader. We talk of Bush, Blair or Hu Jintao as “world leaders”, but they are merely national leaders who have a world impact. That’s true even of Nelson Mandela, his closest contender for Marcello’s title of “greatest man of our time”.
    Pope John Paul II uniquely combined three elements. He was the head of the world’s largest supranational organisation of individual human beings. (The UN is an organisation of states; the Islamic umma is not an organisation.) He believed withunshakeable conviction that his message was universal, applying equally to every man, woman and child – Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And he seized the technological opportunity of bringing that message personally to almost every country on earth, thanks to jet aeroplanes and television. In short, he made the world his parish. No one had ever done this before. No one could.

    As an agnostic liberal, I don’t feel qualified to judge what he meant for the Catholic church. But I think I can judge what he meant for the world. John Paul II was, quite simply, the greatest political actor of the last quarter-century. I use the word “actor” in a double sense. Theatre was the second passion of the young Karol Wojtyla, even in Nazi-occupied Poland, and he was a talented stage performer. Before the onset of Parkinson’s disease, he had a lovely voice. The actor John Gielgud described his delivery as “perfect”. He had this extraordinary ability to speak to a crowd of a million people so that each and every one felt he was talking to them individually. He spoke in images as well as words (look at that photo of him in a sombrero carrying a Mexican child) and his personal warmth came across on television.

    We also use the words “political actor” to mean a person who makes things happen in the world, as in the portentous American phase “a global player”. I watched at close quarters John Paul II’s impact on the Soviet bloc, from his election in 1978 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of communism. However, the major figures on all sides – not just Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity’s arch-opponent, General Wojciech Jaruzelski; not just the former American president George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev – now agree that he was. I would argue the historical case in three steps: without the Polish Pope, no Solidarity revolution in Poland in 1980; without Solidarity, no dramatic change in Soviet policy towards eastern Europe under Gorbachev; without that change, no velvet revolutions in 1989.

    Karol Wojtyla’s political vision included the reunification of Europe. So long as he still had breath enough to speak, he talked of eastern and western Europe as the continent’s two lungs. He lived to see this vision realised, as eight central and east European states, including his beloved Poland, joined the European Union last May.

    Yet his largest legacy may lie not in the first world (of democratic capitalism), which he inhabited and enlarged, or the second world (of communism), which he destroyed, but in what we used to call the third world. John Paul II was a consistent spokesman for the half of humankind who live on less than $2 a day. This is also the part of the world where most Catholics are now to be found. He preached, tirelessly, every person’s right to a minimum of human dignity. “I speak,” he said, “in the name of those who have no voice.” It was not just in communist-ruled eastern Europe that he spoke up for freedom. Opening an old file of newspaper cuttings, the first one I find is headlined “Pope takes issue with Stroessner on freedom”. It records him reading the Paraguayan military dictator a fierce lesson about the importance of human rights and of free speech.

    The familiar claim that he was “socially conservative” is a gross oversimplification. He consistently admonished third world dictators and western capitalists about the need for social justice. In a small Polish-speaking group I once heard him say, very plainly, that he deplored unbridled capitalism as much as communism. He was also utterly consistent in his advocacy of peace, from criticising the impending Falklands war when he came to Britain in 1982 to opposing the Iraq war in 2003. In Japan, he cried: “Never again Hiroshima! Never again Auschwitz!”

    One of his policies did great damage in the developing world. Maintaining and reinforcing Pope Paul VI’s ban on artificial means of contraception, he caused unwanted children to be born into poverty and, increasingly, with HIV/Aids. Challenged by a friend, he said: “I can’t change what I’ve been teaching all my life.” We must hope that his successor will reverse this policy.

    Some say he was lost in the post-9/11 world. Actually, no one has done more to avert a “clash of civilisations”. He reached out to Jews and Muslims, as well as to Christians of other churches, in a way no pope had ever done before. And the message got through – witness that email from Mohamed in Birmingham.

    “What will survive of us is love,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin. John Paul II will survive in the memories of millions who loved him. But even for those who did not love him, including many western secular liberals, protestants and liberal Catholics, the legacy of this first world leader is a challenge.

    At the beginning of the third millennium, we have economic globalisation. We have the globalisation of information, represented by the internet and CNN. We should have international institutions and laws to match. But that in turn requires what has been called moral globalisation. Whether or not we share John Paul II’s motivating beliefs, we can acknowledge that his was the most impressive attempt so far made by any single human being to spell out what moral globalisation might mean, starting with a lived practice of universal sympathy. After he preached at Auschwitz in 1979, a nun, kneeling before him, whispered: “I am a Polish nun. But I am also a Russian Jew.” In 2005, we need to say: “I am a prosperous westerner. But I am also a woman of Darfur.” And then to act accordingly.

    Now we must do this on our own.

    · Timothy Garton Ash is the author of The Polish Revolution: Solidarity and, most recently, Free World

  12. reliapundit says:

    No one can prove conclusively that he was a primary cause of the end of communism. However, the major figures on all sides – not just Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader, but also Solidarity’s arch-opponent, General Wojciech Jaruzelski; not just the former American president George Bush Senior but also the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev – now agree that he was.

    (excerpt from garton ash’s article above)

    leopold: give up.