Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Kosciuszko, We Are Here!

I recently finished reading Kosciuszko, We Are Here! American Pilots of the Kosciuszko Squadron in Defense of Poland, 1919-1921 by Janusz Cisek.  It is the fascinating tale of over a dozen American pilots who volunteered to help the Polish in their war with the Bolshevik armies of Russia.  Few of the pilots had personal or professional ties to Poland, which raises the question of why they volunteered.

As explained in the book, two main motivations existed.  One was anti-Bolshevism, be it from second-hand exposure or general principle.  The other motivation was to pay Poland back for the contributions of several Polish figures during the American War of Independence.  Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski were Polish men were heroes to 18th century Americans and Poles; Pulaski gave his life leading a cavalry charge against the British at the Battle of Savannah.  Merian Cooper, the American pilot who helped organize the squadron and served as its second command, was the direct descendant of one of the American soldiers who'd served with Pulaski at Savannah.  (All three of the gentlemen mentioned above are interesting in their own right, and a quick perusal of their Wikipedia entries is impressive - particularly Kosciuszko and Cooper, whose life was... diverse.)

The author explains the general (bad) situation the newly-independent Polish republic found itself in during the aftermath of World War I.  This helped me to understand why the Polish were so desperate for every trained soldier and airman they could find, and why they were so glad to add a (mostly) American squadron to their air force.  It covers the operations of the 7th Kosciuszko Squadron during the Russo-Polish War (also known as the Polish-Soviet War), and attempts to place them in the context of the overall campaigns of the war.  Alas, those without knowledge of that war may find themselves without adequate context.  I sought out such context, and found that the final chapter in The Eastern Front, 1914-1920 by Michael S. Neiberg and David Jordan, helped add to the context.

As his name suggests, author Cisek is Polish, and his first language was clearly not English.  Despite the occasional strange turn of phrase, the prose is decent and serves to convey the tale well enough.  He delves into the Polish perspective quite well from Polish sources as well as reports from foreign diplomatic personnel (particularly the US Military Attache) in Poland.  It features a decent number of photographs of the pilots and their aircraft, which help convey the primitive-but-improving state of aviation in the period.

The title is inspired by the famous quote "Lafayette, we are here."  Those words were uttered by an American Army officer during WWI at the French grave of the Marquis de Lafayette.  Like Lafayette, Kosciuszko was a European who served in the American War of Independence, and was a hero to his own countrymen as well.

NOTE: Amazon offers a much better price than I paid when I happened across this when perusing the book shelves at the gift shop of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. 

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