22 April 2005

The Pope's divisions

Of all the assessments I have thus far read on the legacy of John Paul II, this one by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard is by far the most intriguing: "John Paul the Great." Many observers recognize the role played by the Pope in the collapse of communism a decade after he came to the papal throne. But there may be more to this than most of us are aware. Here is a small sample from Bottum's article:

"How many divisions has the pope?" Stalin famously sneered. As it happens, with John Paul II, we have an answer. At the end of 1980, worried by the Polish government's inability to control the independent labor union Solidarity, the Russians prepared an invasion "to save socialist Poland." Fifteen divisions--twelve Soviet, two Czech, and one East German--were to cross the border in an initial attack, with nine more Soviet divisions following the next day. On December 7, [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski called from the White House to tell John Paul II what American satellite photos showed about troop movements along the Polish border, and on December 16 the pope wrote Leonid Brezhnev a stern letter, invoking against the Soviets the guarantees of sovereignty that the Soviets themselves had inserted in the Helsinki Final Act (as a way, they thought, of ensuring the Communists' permanent domination of Eastern Europe). Already caught in the Afghanistan debacle and fearing an even greater loss of international prestige and good will, Brezhnev ordered the troops home. Twenty-four divisions, and John Paul II faced them down.

Those doubting that the man born Karol Józef Wojtyla was used mightily of God during his long life will have their doubts shaken by Bottum's article.

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