Some stories are more complex than others. Some accounts more significant than others, and some that we barely know have consequences far beyond our common knowledge. Few, perhaps too few, are aware or give thought to the fact that following WWI the Russian Revolution was mopping up the last of the White Russians (Tsarist and other non-reds) and consolidating its hold over the vast Russian lands. By 1920 this was essentially accomplished and with such success that Trotsky, Lenin, and kindly Uncle Joe Stalin felt it time to move the People’s Revolution beyond the borders of Russia. Standing first in line to receive the kiss of Russian Communism was Poland. Russian General Tukhachevsky was given the task of leading the Red Army to Warsaw and then onward to Berlin and Paris to create an entirely red Europe. A clever politico could always find a “people’s” voice among the Volk” Magyars, or Flemish to claim the reds were invited as liberators. But first in the way was Poland, an obstacle in the path of liberation Uncle Joe said should be liquidated.

In 1920 Poland was two years old, a state recreated by the Treaty of Versailles after long being engulfed by larger neighbors. Is two years enough time for a reborn nation to prepare a defense against a determined, larger, and equipped neighbor. The answer can never be yes. Poland was not prepared. The newly reformed nation appeared doomed to be rolled over by the tidal wave of Communism. Though ill prepared and vulnerable before a larger adversary the Poles refused to accept destruction. The Polish President called for a national effort by all, young or old, male or female to resist invasion. No one at the time thought the two year old nation could survive, but the Poles did not accept the inevitability of defeat and set about doing whatever they could to halt the Red advance.

Numbers of unlikely things rose to aid the cause of freedom. University mathematicians (remember, Copernicus was a Pole) and linguists teamed up to break Red Army codes and to disrupt Red military communication with overlapping signals that made Red Army messages unintelligible. Everything the Reds tried the Polish code breakers were quickly able to decipher. Polish success in communication and cyber war was the first of its kind and led to Poles being leaders in their field until a generation later when the Poles turned over their systems to boost English efforts to break the unbreakable Enigma code and shorten WWII. Free people who refused to give up accomplished those things.

Others, non-Poles including Americans, who did not accept defeat as inevitable formed the 7th Kosciuszko Squadron. You may recall Pulaski and Kosciuszko were two Polish officers who came to assist the not-yet United States fight for independence in the Revolutionary War. Love of freedom inspired pilots to join a just cause in a David and Goliath struggle. The 7th became the legendary Angel Squadron honored in a monument at their base in Lwow. In attempts to crush passion for freedom both Nazis and Reds razed the site during WWII. Destruction of the symbol did not snuff the flame. The 7th’s successor, Polish pilots come over to Britain, formed the most successful group in the pivotal Battle of Britain that balked Nazi expansion. Honoring freedom is done with monuments, but liberty lives in hearts more unbreakable than any shrine.

Another of the unlikely events was the appearance of a leader with vision and the ability to inspire. His name, one most Americans do not know, was Pilsudski, a General of the Polish military. Forewarned by information from the code breakers Pilsudski knew the placement of Red forces and told his officers “we are too weak to defend so we must attack.” He took the great risk of weakening already pitiful defense lines to mount a stronger thrust behind Red Army lines. This maneuver would have been of little value had the Reds been able to move forward and take Warsaw. What stopped the Red advance in August 1920?

The force filling in for Pilsudski’s troops was civilian men and women. It was schoolchildren determined not to yield, and it was a brigade formed up of Boy Scouts who took a stand twelve kilometers outside Warsaw. Few of the adults and none of the children that mid-August was a soldier. Short of proper arms, they used invention to frustrate their enemy. Lacking training and organization they applied passion to the cause of keeping their reborn nation alive. Nearly all of the Scouts died in their effort. It is always sad when children die in war. It is tragic whether the young person killed is Somali, Chinese, Iraqi, or a Pole. The nationality of dead children is not important. Slaughtered innocents are their own vast nation, lost lives we mourn regardless of creed or dogma.

None killed that August wanted to die; surely not those young lives barely begun. They did not want to die, but they wanted their nation and its culture to live and so they did what was needed as you would sacrifice for the cause of that and those you love. As we know having seen decades of war, real life struggle is rarely clear, but somehow through the murk we must learn to see the difference between defense of actual human dignity and the pretense of freedom in the quest to impose. I doubt those in the Scout brigade thought the process through along grand intellectual lines. They followed hearts that told them what was freedom and what was not. It is not slogans or intentions that move hearts. A politic or dogma can force submission. A tyranny can impose compliance, but these things are not the love one feels from freedom.

On August 15, 1920 Poles (who know an added meaning of the day) stopped the Red Army and altered the course of European and Western history. In war only the dead feel peace. The dead leave us no requirement but the hope we use wisely freedom bought with their lives.