Sherwood Smith's Reviews > A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II

A Question of Honor by Lynne Olson
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Jun 21, 2012

bookshelves: history, history-ww-ii, history-20th
Read from June 21 to July 25, 2012

Most Westerners don't realize that there were three constitutional changes in the late 1700s, the (relatively) sedately bloody American Revolution, the horror of the French Revolution . . . and the entirely peaceful Polish Constitution of 1793, with the king presiding.

But scarcely had the Poles began to explore their new government when Russia, Prussia, and Austria teamed up with their enormous armies to wipe Poland off the map. Many Poles, desperate to recover their country, fought loyally and hard for Napoleon, who exploited them to the end.

A century and a half later, once again, Poland was wiped out, this time first by Hitler's Blitzkrieg, whereupon many Poles threw in with the Allies . . . to be forgotten when Stalin overran Poland from the East.

This book opens with a thumbnail history of Poland, which during my generation, at least, was locked behind the Iron Curtain, part of the enormous gray swathe of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Poland didn't exist, except in repulsive Polack jokes.

"Every inhabitant of Warsaw must be killed, and there shall be no taking of prisoners," declared Heinrich Himmler. By 1945, when western Europe was celebrating the end of the war, Warsaw had been systematically destroyed, the only inhabitants unburied corpses . . . and to this, Churchill and Roosevelt expected the Poles who had fought to liberate Europe to return to Poland and Stalin's tender mercies.

Written with passion and intelligence, this book tells the story of Poland and World War II with a special focus on the Kosciuszko Squadron (so appropriately named!), the wild and courageous flying aces of World War II whose feats at the time were legendary. Olson and Cloud do a brilliant job of bringing the players to life, from individual pilots and resistance fighters to the chief statesmen of the war.

Bolstered by nearly fifty pages of small-print notes and bibliography, the book makes all too real the unimaginable, highlighting the faith and courage (and anger and recklessness) of those who resisted being obliterated between the manifold evils of Hitler and Stalin. Not always comfortable reading, though the writers also inject moments of humor, of compassion, or small victories. It's important reading, lighting up a part of history that was hidden for half a century. It's only by understanding where we've been and learning from it that we can prevent it from happening again.

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Reading Progress

06/24 page 39
8.0% "Terrific and vivid, right now interweaving background with introduction of the squadron."
06/25 page 79
15.0% "Absorbing but painful reading: not only the grim details of the Blitzkrieg, but how much the West allowed themselves to buy into Hitler's anti-Pole propaganda in order to avoid coming to their rescue as promised. Even Germans were sickened (vis. Gen. Canaris, later hanged after the bomb plot.)"
06/28 page 144
28.0% "Battle of Britain"
07/02 page 150
29.0% "Perceptions of lethal excellence"
07/03 page 400
78.0% "I keep trying to read in sips, but I'm having too much fun, and the Kindle sneaks back into my hands.

I love the fact that Ivan has always wanted the easy life, but in fact, being off balance has brought out the best in him. Steadily. Reliably. Brightly. But his steady lamp was overwhelmed by Miles' nuclear fireworks."
07/03 page 1550
100.0% "I keep trying to read in sips, but I'm having too much fun, and the Kindle sneaks back into my hands.

I love the fact that Ivan has always wanted the easy life, but in fact, being off balance has brought out the best in him. Steadily. Reliably. Brightly. But his steady lamp was overwhelmed by Miles' nuclear fireworks."
07/09 page 211
41.0% "Part two is extremely grim. I had not been conscious before how many of the death camps were in Poland."
07/13 page 231
45.0% "Very well written but so grim, and there is no avoiding how Churchill and Roosevelt betrayed Poland at the end so WWII so slow going"
07/06 marked as: read
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