137. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Conversation with Ambassador Jerzy Michalowski of the Polish Embassy

Ambassador Michalowski called me on the phone and suggested lunch. When I countered by suggesting a day some time in the future, Ambassador Michalowski asked if he could call on me in my office. I checked with the State Department, and he came by at 3:00 p.m. today.

Ambassador Michalowski opened the conversation by asking what the prospects were of getting back on the track in our bilateral relations. I asked if he had read the President’s B’nai B’rith speech, in which the President made clear that a great deal would depend on the actions of the occupying powers in Czechoslovakia from now on.2

I asked Ambassador Michalowski when the Polish Government expected to withdraw its troops. Ambassador Michalowski said that, having paid the price, the Warsaw Pact allies could not withdraw until they were “sure” that their essential objectives would not again be endangered. In talking about the relationship between the Czechs and Moscow, he indicated the Czechs were far from docile or under control.

Michalowski said his expectation was that the Czechs and Soviets would end up making some sort of agreement which would result in the stationing of two or three Soviet divisions on the western border. He spent some minutes describing how the intervention had become necessary—essentially because the Dubcek regime was allowing counter-revolutionary forces to run rampant and vital Warsaw Pact security interests were at stake. He described Dubcek as honest and a “beautiful” personality, but without the strength to defend Communism that Gomulka had in 1956.

I said I could not agree with Ambassador Michalowski’s explanations. If anything seemed clear from the period between January and August, it was that the Czechoslovak Government and people were determined to remain in the Warsaw Pact and to discharge their commitments to it. They had even admitted large numbers of Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia for maneuvers—only to have those troops misused against them. The American Government had been scrupulous in giving [Page 376] no occasion for anyone to believe we were trying to take advantage of Czech developments. Our relationship to the Czechoslovak Government—a Communist regime committed to the Warsaw Pact—had been extremely reserved—even on bilateral issues such as gold and claims. Michalowski smiled wryly, and said perhaps we didn’t want the gold to fall into the hands of the occupying powers.

Michalowski readily acknowledged that the American Government’s position prior to August 20 had been “correct.” I remarked that the stories of American “green berets” and arms caches were the purest nonsense. Ambassador Michalowski said that this was the sort of thing governments sometimes said in such circumstances, and did not dispute the matter.

I remarked that the anti-Semitism in the Polish press and TV did not help matters. Michalowski said there had been one speech by Moczar and an article or two, but the policy of Gomulka and the responsible leaders of the government was firmly against such manifestations. When a remark slipped by, Mr. Randal of the New York Times could be counted on to pick it up. I asked whether the removal of Jewish Poles from government and party offices had altogether ceased. Michalowski said he knew of no removals since last spring.

Michalowski said the Eastern European countries had been willing to work constructively on bilateral matters in spite of the bombing of a socialist ally in Vietnam. We should now show the same constructive attitude with the shoe on the other foot. I said the cases were not analogous. Our bombing of North Vietnam had followed a massive intervention by North Vietnam in the South. Michalowski said every action is a reaction to something.

Michalowski said he had called on Congressman Zablocki yesterday, as well as a number of other Polish-Americans. So far as he could tell, the Polish-American community hoped that cultural and economic relations with Poland would continue. I said this was not my understanding of the reaction of Polish-Americans, and other Americans of Eastern European origin. The White House was getting a lot of mail advocating strong measures, and many Congressmen and other public figures felt the same way. Michalowski asked why we didn’t respond to a political act politically and not vent our feelings on cultural exchanges which benefited our peoples, or economic measures which would make it difficult to rebuild our relationship later. He particularly mentioned MFN, and said much depended on the vigor of U.S. Government action to save this vital link to Poland’s and America’s future relationship. If MFN were lost, the Poles would retaliate; and we would be in a downward spiral. I said I was not at all confident what would happen with MFN. I said I thought it did not so much depend on the U.S. Government as on the future course of action of the Polish Government and its Warsaw [Page 377] Pact allies in Czechoslovakia. Michalowski said he hoped we would not take a position that a resumption of detente would depend on the abolition of censorship in Czechoslovakia. I said that there seemed to be a range of possibilities—on one hand respect for Czech sovereignty, or at least the non-interference in internal affairs which seemed to be called for in the Moscow Agreements, and on the other a blood bath, police terror, and an occupation regime. I could not make prescriptions, but was merely pointing out that the world—including America—could not fail to respond one way or the other to the future course of events in Czechoslovakia.

Michalowski said he felt reassured by Kuznetsov’s arrival in Prague. He said he believes things are on the road to normalization, and we will see an improvement in the situation—not a degeneration.

Michalowski mentioned that a move to boycott Polish products had so far been narrowly averted. I said I was not at all sure there wouldn’t be further efforts by an aroused American public.

Michalowski said he hoped the American Government would not end up whipping the little countries, while business went on as usual with Moscow. He said the Polish Government had simply been participating in something it had to do. The decisions for the future would be made in Moscow. I said I couldn’t help but believe Mr. Gomulka had some influence in Moscow—particularly if reports of divided councils in the Kremlin had any truth to them. Michalowski said there had been deep divisions and hard arguments in the Kremlin, and the Polish Government did have a voice, but the basic decision was Moscow’s. I asked Michalowski what he had meant by his statement that we should respond politically, and not in the economic and cultural field. He answered: “Oh, perhaps by sending me home and withdrawing Mr. Stoessel—something like that.” He indicated his mission had been one tragedy and disappointment after another. If he had known what was in store, he would never have come.

I said I realized that Ambassador Michalowski personally must find the present situation an unhappy one. We parted by exchanging hopes that our next meeting would be in better circumstances. Michalowski said he was even then on his way to protest the shootings directed against a Polish ship in Miami.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Poland, Memos, Vol. 3. Confidential. Drafted by Nathaniel Davis.
  2. For text of President Johnson’s September 10 speech, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book II, pp. 944–950.
  3. On September 16, a Polish ship bound for Mexico was hit by a shell fired by a recoilless rifle.