A happy epilogue for the Cold War

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 03, 2014

One of the most enduring visual images of the Cold War—one of the early signs that the Soviet empire was doomed—was the sight of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish strongman, literally shaking as he addressed the enormous crowd that gathered to greet St. John Paul II on his triumphant return to his homeland.

Make no mistake about it; Jaruzelski was a formidable enemy of the Catholic Church. With his Soviet comrades watching over his shoulder, he launched a harsh crackdown on the Solidarity movement. He was responsible for the imprisonment of hundreds of human-rights activists. He probably gave the order for troops to fire on striking workers, killing several; he may well have approved the brutal murder of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, the “Solidarity priest” who was bludgeoned to death in 1984. But Jaruzelski was also a realist, and when the Pope arrived in Poland, the general knew in his heart that he was overmatched. As indeed he was—not only by the man, but by the spiritual force the Pontiff represented.

General Jaruzelski lost the battle for Poland, of course. But for years he kept fighting another battle: to justify his leadership, to rationalize the decisions he made while he held power. Shortly before his death last week he surrendered that battle as well. Before he lost consciousness, Reuters reports, Jaruzelski “asked a Catholic priest to administer the last rites.” No longer an atheist, no longer an enemy; Wojciech Jaruzelski died a Catholic.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Jun. 12, 2014 11:50 PM ET USA

    May God have mercy on his soul.

  • Posted by: Defender - Jun. 03, 2014 7:04 PM ET USA

    Poland, during the Crisis, was a strange place. Many might not know it, but there was a considerable number of Soviet troops and aircraft in Poland and the daily political and military occurrences often staggered the imagination. It does make one wonder if things might have been different if the Soviets weren't already in Poland or not.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2014 6:47 PM ET USA

    And those who worked only 1 hour received the same as those who worked all day. There's hope for all of us.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jun. 03, 2014 6:29 PM ET USA

    Some good news. I read the link (Reuters) and was disappointed to learn that some protested at his funeral. I understand their bitterness -- he and his government killed some of their relatives or friends! -- but we have to rejoice when a lost soul finds the Church, even at the last moment. Remember Oscar Wilde, a great writer but his true genius showed through most clearly on his deathbed. Alleluia!