ACF Critic Series #21: Katyn

 

Our own @FlaggTaylor and I talk about Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn, his 2007 film about the terrible Soviet slaughter of the Polish officer corps–some 22,000 men — as well as its aftermath. The protagonist is the wife of one of the officers and we follow her through both the Soviet and the Nazi parts of occupied — and dismembered — Poland. We get to see various characters struggling with questions of honor and prudence as the country is being destroyed. Only memory is left to give reasons for hope for future freedom. Krzysztof Penderecki’s music is also worthy of mention.

P.S. This was Wajda’s fourth and last movie to be nominated for the Oscars.

P.P.S. We’ll follow this up with discussions of the latest Polish films to be nominated — and win — the Oscars, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida and Cold War.

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  1. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Evening Titus,

    As a footnote to your discussion, (which was super) from “FDR Goes to War” by Burton Folsom.  Concerning the report that the Russians were the Katyn murders, “To Roosevelt, that was the wrong conclusion, so he called on George Earle for a second opinion.  Earle carefully gathered evidence including more than one hundred interviews, and concluded that Stalin was guilty.  According to Earle, Roosevelt reacted with these words:  “George this is entirely German propaganda and a German plot.  I am absolutely convinced the Russians did not so this.”  Earle was startled at the response, but he continued to accumulate evidence and kept telling the president the proof of Soviet guilt was conclusive.  In response, Roosevelt dismissed EArle and took him off the case.”

    After Yalta, in March of 1945, Earle told Roosevelt’s daughter Anna that unless the president insisted, he would start talking to the press, so that Stalin’s real nature would be more clearly seen by the public.  “With less than three weeks to live, Roosevelt ordered EArle to keep quiet:  “I have noted with concern your plan to publish you unfavorable opinion of one of our allies at the very time when such a publication form a former emissary of him might do irreparable harm to our war effort…..I specifically forbid you t publish any information or opinion about an ally that you may have acquired.”  Then Roosevelt ordered the Navy to transfer Earle to Samoa for the rest of the war.”

    Titus my pop in observing the staggering stupidity of our government in WWII, said that he was grateful that our enemies had made even more stupid decisions than we did.

    • #1
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Hey, Jim. Thanks for the kind words! Your pop was right! Americans did many, many stupid things–since we have so many records & documents, most of them unsealed, it’s easy to find these things, not least because few are in the mood to deal with the past in a dignified way. Conservatives like to trash FDR, liberals like to trash almost everyone but him. Neither have the capacity to replace him or do better in our times than he did in his. I, for one, am pretty grateful for FDR & admire his greatness.

    Indeed, we do have to make comparisons, if we are to understand how politics works, since politics involves competitions & nobody’s perfect. FDR & America fought against terrifying tyrannies with sufficient conviction & competence to defend political freedom–more, I fear, than we’d be able to muster just now.

    I don’t say we should hide FDR’s softness on Stalin & Communism. Who studies history need not ignore it at all, since FDR was followed by Truman, the Cold War, containment, & the Alger Hiss trial. The failures of FDR, Dems, & America then had to be faced, something even worse than the Nazis.

    I don’t say, either, we should hide the ugliness of the ideas of government through propaganda that were so popular in the age when radio was the dominant communication technology. Neither FDR nor Churchill were immune to that; both, however, thrived by proper use of this technology–not by anything wicked. I think America especially, but also Britain, deserved to know more of the ugly truth than authorities were willing to reveal (not to say believe) at the time–but I don’t see evidence that any people at any time has the sophisticated view of things & peoples, allies & enemies, that a great politician has. Some simplification & lying is inevitable in human affairs.

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  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Here is a link that will provide different sources on the Katyn Forest Massacre.

    Russians have never really admitted the role they played in the Katyn Forest Massacre. This should come as no surprise, after all Russia has offered around 32 different stories on the Skirpal nerve agent poisoning in the UK.

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    I almost forgot well done on the podcast. One can erase history by destroying monuments, attempting to rewrite history, but the most dangerous method is to simply ignore it.

    • #4
  5. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Mornng Titus,

    During the war FDR did some good things, he wanted to win the war and thought we could, he let the generals direct the planning and execution without micro-managing, he listened to Churchill and others about taking on Germany before Japan, he let loose our industries to out build the world in armaments, he was willing to help USSR destroy the German army.  His goal was total victory, a choice which has been shown to be the wisest.  However, I do not consider FDR great, he did not see the threats on the horizon, if something conflicted with his ideology or his ego he ignored it, and banished all those who persisted in disagreeing with him, he and his economic experiments crippled our country and held back our ability to rearm once war had begun.  In comparison with Churchill, FDR can be seen as the luckiest of the WWII, leaders.  AS VDH has noted when your enemies can not hit your war industries you have a unbeatable advantage.  FDR had enough men to produce the second largest army in the war, his population was safe, his economy could not be hurt by his enemies, he did not have to spend assets on defense of his own territory,  the populous was unscarred, comparatively, from WWI, US was attached in an underhanded way giving FDR the emotional hook which inspired an enthusiastic response.  After Dec 7th most men knew they were going to be part of the services and the non serving public willing became part of the war effort in other ways.  Of course, it is impossible to know how other presidents might have lead for better or worse.  Maybe I undervalue his war leadership, and my dislike of FDR as a politician has caused me to be less generous.

    • #5
  6. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    I watched this movie a number of years ago.  I now want to watch it again as this provided so much information.  I have watched other Wadja movies but not seen them all.  It is remarkable to me that he was able to make these movies in Poland as he did.  Thanks again for the podcast.

    • #6
  7. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    colleenb (View Comment):

    I watched this movie a number of years ago. I now want to watch it again as this provided so much information. I have watched other Wadja movies but not seen them all. It is remarkable to me that he was able to make these movies in Poland as he did. Thanks again for the podcast.

    My pleasure! We’re doing a mini-series on Poland. Some new films by Pawlikowski about Poland in the 50s & 60s. Agnieszka Holland’s upcoming movie on the Soviets murdering the Ukrainians in the 30s, Mr. Jones. (We’ve already covered her movie on the Prague Spring & Jan Palach’s martyrdom, Burning bush.) Also, another Cold War story–a German story about the 40s-50s, Donnersmarck’s Work without author.

    • #7
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Mornng Titus,

    During the war FDR did some good things, he wanted to win the war and thought we could, he let the generals direct the planning and execution without micro-managing, he listened to Churchill and others about taking on Germany before Japan, he let loose our industries to out build the world in armaments, he was willing to help USSR destroy the German army. His goal was total victory, a choice which has been shown to be the wisest.

    Let me add, we have precious little evidence that there was anyone else bending over backward to get into position to do this; or who was as serious about what had to be done. You almost make it seem like he just got out of the way of other people!

    However, I do not consider FDR great, he did not see the threats on the horizon, if something conflicted with his ideology or his ego he ignored it, and banished all those who persisted in disagreeing with him, he and his economic experiments crippled our country and held back our ability to rearm once war had begun. In comparison with Churchill, FDR can be seen as the luckiest of the WWII, leaders.

    Yes, but he also had the hardest job of getting his country to fight. He also started most disarmed. These do not cancel your observations, but I don’t like the suggestion that it was a cake-walk. As for economic craziness, that seems to have happened everywhere.

    AS VDH has noted when your enemies can not hit your war industries you have a unbeatable advantage.

    Let’s add: The British economy didn’t take a lot of hits either… Japan had the same advantage for most of the war. Russia, too… Most of the war, the German economy was invulnerable, too.

    FDR had enough men to produce the second largest army in the war, his population was safe, his economy could not be hurt by his enemies, he did not have to spend assets on defense of his own territory, the populous was unscarred, comparatively, from WWI, US was attached in an underhanded way giving FDR the emotional hook which inspired an enthusiastic response. After Dec 7th most men knew they were going to be part of the services and the non serving public willing became part of the war effort in other ways. Of course, it is impossible to know how other presidents might have lead for better or worse. Maybe I undervalue his war leadership, and my dislike of FDR as a politician has caused me to be less generous.

    Japan, too, had most of these advantageous for most of the war! Germany, too.

    • #8
  9. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    My assertion FDR was not great and that he had many advantages that the other WWII powers did not.  Were unarmed and not ready, absolutely.  We weren’t ready to do anything we had just spent 8+ years trying to wring the life out of our economy, from centrally deciding the cost everything from the cost of pressing pants to the cost of a chicken in Brooklyn see Schechter Poultry vs the US.  Yes other countries were trying equally stupid things because they had seen the future, but our future didn’t work even when we had some taxes at over than 100%.  So what could have FDR done to prepare, he could have enlisted men not in the WPA but in the Armed services, so we at least would not have had to start from scratch.  This would have provided employment and preparation.  He could have at least prepared a defensive strategy.

    Japan had been in hot wars with Manchuria, China, and the USSR since 1931.  In 1932 the US Navy war gamed an attack on Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes and showed how devastating that would be.   Many were asleep but not Admiral James Richardson, commander of the Pacific fleet, who warned everyone of the vulnerability of ships at anchor and too few patrol planes.  Richardson ultimately spoke directly to FDR who said “Joe, you just don’t understand that this is an election year and there are certain things that can’t be done, no matter what, until the election is over and won.”  So here we have Japan as a chronic aggressor for nearly a decade,  our fleet Admiral personally warns us of this threat and FDR’s response, he fires Richardson and replaces him with yes man.  This was not all, the British torpedo planes bombed the harbor at Taranto, in 1940, and destroyed half the Italian fleet in one night.  After the victory Churchill sent an account of the attack to Roosevelt.  So FDR doesn’t see threats on the horizon accurately although there is historical evidence, he is personally warned of the threat by his top Pacific Admiral and  the hazards are reinforced by Churchill, his closest ally, and his response, let’s get elected.  Internment of the Japs would be done for the same reason.  

    FDR was at best average, America had an economy 10 x that of Japan in 41, the biggest economy in the world, he had fuel, unlike Germany who ended up using more animal powered transportation that any of the other combatants.  He had the industrial output to create a better navy than all others put together two years after Pearl Harbor.  Japan could not rebuild in such a way, They never recovered from Midway,  nor could they control their ability to get the raw materials to continue with the war.  FDR was oblivious to Soviet infiltration in his government as a willful choice.

    • #9
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    FDR had his problems. I don’t see, however, what was wrong with trying to get re-elected, if he thought he, but not his adversaries, would be suited to the job of defending the nation–at least, if he was right. Would you trust the GOP of 1940 with the war more than FDR?

    I’ve heard some people who say so. Some point to Sen. Vandenburg.

    I’m not persuaded, of course.

    In America, both parties disarmed the nation. But the GOP was in power until 33 & they didn’t stop there, but they empowered the Japanese aggression–& Fascists & then Nazis–with their diplomacy & wishful end of war forever treaties of various kinds.

    I do agree that FDR wasn’t much on tactical foresight, but that’s not the key thing.

    I also agree that America had resources bigger than anyone’s except Russia &, as the war turned, American resources counted far more than what Soviets could do. But waging war in America has never been easy. You do have to get yourself elected or re-elected. Even in moments of crisis, Americans aren’t supportive of war presidents–think of Lincoln in 1864, not just 1860, as also of FDR. So yeah, FDR had an easier job than the other war leaders, but he also achieved more. It’s wrong not to see the man’s greatness because of his mistakes. I suppose it’s inevitable–in our democratic age, we’re all born & bred ingrates. Nobody looks to the past with gratitude for even the greatest achievements. But at some point we have to be reasonable & allow that for all our superiority, the situation really was very dangerous & it’s not obvious who else could have done half as well.

    If you want to see far more prudent men to far worse, look at Ike, commander in Europe, who shed his men’s blood along with the French & English, only to turn around & betray them in a horrible way in ’56–you know, for the sake of Nasser & his ideas about how to use terrorism as a substitute for foreign policy. Still, Ike, too, was great, his presidency all things told a success.

    • #10
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