08 Aug Let Poland be Poland
Ronald Reagan needs no introduction. The fortieth president of the United States, who went from Hollywood actor to governor to statesman, occupies a special place in the hearts of Poles.
History will remember Ronald Reagan as a bold, uncompromising politician, an anti-communist hawk, and a true statesman whose impact was felt far beyond American domestic politics. His unwavering stance amid the most challenging circumstances Poles had faced since World War II made him a figure of monumental importance in Poland.
On December 13, 1981, dark clouds swept over Poland, casting a red-tinted pallor over the country. In the very middle of a fierce winter, the Communist-installed government declared war on its own citizens. What was essentially a military junta led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski seized power and imposed martial law in an effort to stifle Poland’s growing desire for freedom and the spirit of the Solidarity movement. But then, to the chagrin of the Communists, some words of support came from the United States: “You are not alone.”
In an address to the nation, Ronald Reagan said: “We the people of the Free World stand as one with our Polish brothers and sisters. Their cause is ours, and our prayers and hopes go out to them this Christmas.”
On Christmas Eve, not two weeks after the start of martial law in Poland, a literal glimmer of hope appeared in a window of the White House. The President of the United States himself lit a candle as a sign of solidarity with Poles. Moved by his gesture, Americans across the country followed suit, sending a message to Poland that its people were not alone in their struggle. In millions of windows, from California to New York, tiny, warm flames flickered in solidarity. Knowing that only broad pressure from the international community could sway the Communists, the administration declared a Day of Solidarity with Poland on January 30, 1982. It was the spark that set off a global reaction.
In cities around the world, demonstrations were held in support of the Solidarity movement. The documentary film “Let Poland be Poland,” produced by the U.S. International Communications Agency and the Department of Defense, lit up television screens in 50 countries worldwide. It featured such Hollywood legends as Frank Sinatra and Kirk Douglas joining political heavyweights like Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand to send a message to Poland: “You are not alone.”
Viewed by a global audience of nearly 200 million people, the movie offered an example of how to pressure the dictatorships of the Axis of Evil without resorting to military intervention, instead uniting people through culture, empathy, and solidarity.
Unsurprisingly, the regime in Poland attempted to downplay the message, but Poles—whose hearts beat to the rhythm of Solidarity—weren’t fooled. They knew the whole world was watching, listening, and standing by their side.
In those dark times, Ronald Reagan stood firm as a lighthouse, giving light and hope to an oppressed nation held hostage by its leaders. The image of a candle flickering in the window of the White House became a lasting symbol solidarity and brotherhood—a reminder that even in the darkest depths, there is still room for light.
Ronald Reagan became a hero for Americans and Poles alike. He proved that true freedom is a universal value that is worth every sacrifice and every struggle. His words and gestures were like echoes reverberating in the hearts of Poles, giving them the strength to believe in a better tomorrow.