What the Jan Karski Gaffe Really Means
In the 1976 presidential debates, President Ford stated, "Poland is no longer under Communist domination." Americans liked Gerald Ford, but this comment about Poland saddled him forever with the image of a clueless ignoramus. Ford's "Polish Moment" may well have cost him a close presidential election.
Barack Obama himself had a "Polish Moment" when, during a ceremony to honor the late Jan Karski, he spoke of "Polish death camps." Karski was an extraordinary man. His book, The Story of a Secret State, is harrowing, inspiring, horrifying, and noble. Karski, writing in the middle of the Second World War, tells how an entire underground government was created in Nazi-occupied Poland and how, under the grimmest situation possible, the Polish people not only resisted the Nazis, but created an elaborate organization which made the French Resistance look pathetically lame.
Karski, a Polish Catholic, also sought out Polish Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto before the 1943 uprising and recorded their desperate cry to the civilized world. Karski was captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and except for the help of religiously devout Poles, he would have perished under Nazi interrogation. His life was a testament to the resilience of the Polish people -- Catholic and Jewish -- against totalitarianism.
Caught between two of the vilest systems in human history, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, the Polish people suffered in Nazi death camps, where six million Poles -- Jewish and Catholic alike -- died. The extermination of Polish Catholics in addition to Polish Jews is described in Sophie's Choice, a book and then a film.
Before the Nazis began exterminating Poles, the Soviets herded over 1.5 million Polish men, women, and children in cattle cars to Gulag camps, where most died, suffering from policies of deliberate starvation. The Soviets also murdered in cold blood 20,000 Polish officers via the Red Army in the Katyn Forest. After the war ended, the Polish people suffered forty-four years of Soviet enslavement (a fact which eluded President Ford in 1976).
Pope John Paul II, the "Polish Pope" who was a hero to Jews and Catholics alike, took his name from a Polish priest who volunteered to die for a terrified Polish man in a Nazi death camp. He, like many other Poles, resisted both Nazis and Soviets during the dark night of Poland which began in 1939 and ended in June 1989, when free elections effectively ended the power of the Communist puppet government and doomed the Soviet empire.
It is hard to imagine a more outrageously wrong statement than to speak of "Polish death camps." The conventional conclusion has been that Barack Obama is every bit as ignorant as conservatives have feared. About four years ago at a speech in West Lafayette, Indiana, Obama spoke of "the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor," with the clear implication that somehow this child of Hawaii had no clue at all about how the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor actually occurred.
This fits in which what J.R. Dunn wrote last August how Obama stares passively for long moments at the teleprompter until it feeds him the words to speak. "We're waiting," our president explains, as the electronic brain which guides his mouth begins to work. Think about what that means: when Gerald Ford made his boneheaded statement about Poland being free in 1976, it was in the middle of a nationally televised presidential debate, and it came from Ford's own mind, but when Obama talked of "Polish death camps" in his tribute to the Polish Catholic hero Jan Karski, this was not his mistake.
Barack Obama read those lines, which his brain trust had written for the teleprompter. His experts researched, drafted, vetted, and composed his egregious error, slandering an entire nation as well as the life of Jan Karski, the person presumably honored at the ceremony. These men behind Obama, apparently, are as profoundly ignorant as the president is.
This also means that when Tommy Vietor of the National Security Council explained on Wednesday that "[t]he president misspoke" about the Polish death camps, Vietor lied: Obama did not misspeak (nor did he misread). What he read reflected the historical knowledge his team of expert advisers knew, but these men know nothing beyond the rhetoric of rabid and radical leftism. A bright high school student could have reviewed the president's teleprompted address and seen the glaring gaffe, but our nation is not in the hands of people as informed or as wise as high school students. That is what the Jan Karski gaffe really means.