In a panel at IWP on June 13th, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz gave a talk entitled “Losing One’s Country Twice, Finding it Once.” The panel, entitled “Loss of Country,” was co-sponsored by the by the American Academy of Distance Learning and also included discussions on “The Artful Recluse: 17th Century China” with Dr. Richard Bishirjian and “To Lose a Country: France 1940” with Dr. Jack Tierney.
Dr. Chodakiewicz’s introduction may be found below:
Losing One’s Country Twice, Finding it Once
Losing a country physically does not necessarily translate in losing it mentally. Sun Tsu teaches us that there is no triumph until the enemy acknowledges his defeat to himself. Marshal Józef Piłsudski put it a bit differently: “To be defeated and not surrender, it is victory.” I shall demonstrate this at the personal level and the public one.
To lose a country it means that your place of birth ceases to be yours. It usually also signifies that the dominant culture and civilization either depart radically from the cherished original (perhaps ideal) essence or that they jettison it altogether. The country thus transforms itself so radically that it ceases to be ours. That is why Edmund Burke admonished us that to love one’s country the country must be lovely. This is incongruent with the proposition “My country, right or wrong.” Really? How about “My Third Reich, right or wrong.”
Clearly, that is wrong. It was not just “decent Germans” who succumbed to the swan song of patriotism to serve Adolf Hitler. Think about decent White Russians who resolved to serve the Bolsheviks for they deluded themselves that it was the best way to help Russia.
Hence, if it is stripped of its loveliness, a country becomes just a geographic area one refers to with nostalgia for what once was. What about the people who are captive in a country that turns unlovely? Over time, most absorb gradually the characteristics of unloveliness imposed on them, sometimes by perceptions manipulation, sometimes by sheer terror, and often by the combination of both. Remember the objective of the Communist was to create a new man, homo Sovieticus. They did succeed to a various degree throughout the Captive Nations.
Granted, because of the Catholic Church and private farmers, who defended their lands from collectivization, as well as a small private service sector, Poland was a freak in the Soviet bloc. It was Sovietized to the least degree of all the unfortunate slaves of Communism. But even there the red propaganda and violence made awful inroads into the mentality of the captive population. Nearly fifty years of brainwashing produced terrifying results.
We first lost our old country in 1939 but we refused to acknowledge it. Meanwhile, as emigres, we found a new country, where we settled. In my case it is the United States. Since America, when I first arrived, was so much like the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of yore, I had no problem finding it lovely. Whether it has remained so, being subjected to the whirlwind of counter-cultural revolution, it is a different story. As for Poland, it has changed so much from the ideals we cherished fighting the Communists in the old country and then assisting in the red system’s demise from abroad.
Is Poland still lovely? For an émigré, who spent nearly 40 years in the West, mostly in the United States, this is a harrowing question. To put it simply, there are grounds for optimism. There is yet hope. Restoration is possible in Poland but it will be very difficult. It will entail making an aquarium out of a bowl of fish soup.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 13 June 2019