Being “a man of a certain age” I’m old enough to remember the Cold War. During this era of tension and rivalry between East and West, especially during the late 70s and early 80s it felt like Poland was always in the news. As Polish dissidents and labor activists fought for freedom while receiving support and inspiration from history’s first Polish-born Pope the world wondered how far things could go before the country’s ruling Communists and their Soviet overlords squashed Poland’s attempts at liberalization. Unfortunately, the country’s baby steps towards democracy led not to greater freedom but instead provoked a repressive military coup. Only after the collapse of Communism a decade later would Poland finally taste freedom.
Perhaps it was these lingering memories from childhood of seeing Poland on the evening news that motivated me to grab a copy of Benjamin Weiser’s 2004 book A Secret Life: The Polish Colonel, His Covert Mission, And The Price He Paid To Save His Country when I saw it on the shelf at my public library. Not only is Weiser’s book worth a read, it’s a fascinating and entertaining look at the hidden world of spy craft that was secretly going on behind all those news headlines. And that of course makes it essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the Cold War.
Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski saw himself as a proud Polish officer and patriot. But he’d had enough. For too long his country had been a puppet of the Soviet Union, unable to make its own decisions politically and militarily. He also knew if war ever came to Europe the USSR and Warsaw Pact would attack NATO first, resulting in America and its allies counter attacking with nuclear weapons. Not wanting to see Poland reduced to a radioactive wasteland Kuklinski, in hopes breaking Soviet hegemony, began a decade long secret mission to provide the CIA with priceless military intelligence. Only years later was his vital role finally publicly acknowledged.
Not only is A Secret Life an excellent book, like I stated earlier it’s essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the Cold War. With that in mind, I have no problem recommending it.