Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane’s warning about naive idealism in foreign policy

I Saw Poland Betrayed by Arthur Bliss SAN FRANCISCO — Arthur Bliss Lane (16 June 1894–12 August 1956) was the United States Ambassador to Poland (1944–1947). He served earlier as the U.S. Ambassador to the wartime Polish government-in-exile in London and was with the U.S. diplomatic mission in Poland in 1919. During the interwar period, he had a number of other diplomatic assignments in Western Europe and Latin America.


Arthur Bliss Lane served as Minister to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from June 1936 to September 1937, and was later transferred to Yugoslavia. He remained in Belgrade until the German occupation of April 1941. Later during the war,  he was Minister to Costa Rica, October 1941 to April 1942, and Ambassador to Columbia, until October, 1944.


From October 1944 to May 1945, he was Ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile in London.  In May 1945, he became Ambassador to the Polish Government in Warsaw after the United States and the United Kingdom transferred their recognition to the Soviet-dominated regime in Poland.


Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane resigned from the State Department in 1947, after a distinguished career in U.S. diplomatic service, in protest against what he saw as the betrayal of Poland by the United States and other Western allies toward the end of World War II and in the immediate period after the war.


In his book I Saw Poland Betrayed An American Ambassador Reports to the American People, he criticized President Roosevelt’s naive trust in Stalin and his concessions to the Soviet Union at the expense of Poland and other East Central European nations. The cost of Roosevelt’s deals with Stalin was not only decades of Soviet domination and communist repression in Europe but ultimately the Cold War, wars in Korea and Vietnam, thousands of American lives lost and billions of dollars in U.S. defense spending.


Roosevelt’s intentions, however, were not evil. In fact, they were noble and idealistic by the standards of international politics of his time. Roosevelt refused to see Stalin for what he really was, a ruthless dictator who had earlier made a deal with Hitler to divide Poland and take over the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and parts of Finland and Romania.


Naive idealism combined with appeasement are dangerous qualities in any U.S. president. Former Czech president, playwright and human rights activist Vaclav Havel, who has been a supporter of Barack Obama, had this warning  in response to the U.S. president’s refusal to see the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama:


“It is only a minor compromise,” Mr. Havel said of the nonreception of the Tibetan leader. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”


Appeasing the Kremlin and the Chinese communists in the hope of winning concessions makes such concessions far less likely, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found out during her humilating visit to Moscow last week.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Medvedev couldn’t be more brutal in telling her that putting pressure on Iran to end its nuclear programs was not in Russia’s national interest, when in fact they meant their own interest. Prime Minister Putin went to China and was not around to receive her.


In fact any Russian scholar with a good sense of realism could have told President Obama that the current leaders in Russia want the U.S. out of Eastern Europe but don’t believe that they owe America anything if the Americans leave. They will also continue to rely on anti-Americanism to consolidate their power internally. They want oil prices to be as high as possible, and therefore want tensions to be high in the Middle East. For that reason, they want the United States to be bogged down both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The only thing that the Obama Administration should expect from the Kremlin are Russian concessions that would allow the U.S. to continue and expand military operations in these two Muslim nations.


During World War II, when the stakes were still much higher than they are now, Arthur Bliss Lane was not the only one to see the danger in Roosevelt’s policy of appeasing the Soviet dictator. In 1942, another American diplomat, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Christian Bullitt Jr. accurately predicted the “flow of the Red amoeba into Europe“. Roosevelt responded to Bullitt, Jr. with a statement summarizing his rationale for war time relations with Stalin:


I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man. . . . I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace. Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Since President Obama’s vision of U.S. foreign policy seems to resemble to some degree President Roosevelt’s worldview — as seen by Obama’s unilateral concessions to Russia on the missile defense, his often expressed hope for a “reset” in relations in Moscow, as well as his refusal to see the Dalai Lama at the White House in order to appease the Chinese communist leadership — the following excerpt from Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane’s I Saw Poland Betrayed book, might be relevant to any media discussion of current issues in U.S.-Polish and U.S.-Russian relations:


The public has a right to know when the executive branch of the government makes far-reaching commitments which affect millions of persons and which might seriously endanger the security of the United States. (…) The peace of the globe itself calls for the maintenance of a policy of firmness by the United States backed by military strength. History has already proved that such a policy is a far more effective deterrent of international aggression than a policy of inertia, vacillation or appeasement. Arthur Bliss Lane in “I Saw Poland Betrayed”


Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane’s book was published in 1948.  


A book about Poland which Arthur Bliss Lane had with him while serving at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Warsaw in 1919. The book is now in my library.
A book about Poland which Arthur Bliss Lane had with him while serving at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Warsaw in 1919. The book is now in my library.



The Yale University Library, where Arthur Bliss Lane’s private papers and documents are archived, has on its website additional information about his diplomatic career and his public activities after he resigned from the State Department.


“From April 1947 until his death in August 1956, Arthur Bliss Lane undertook a number of lecture tours, radio programs, articles and letters by which he worked to stimulate public opposition to the activities of the Soviet Union, particularily in Eastern Europe. In his speeches and writings, … Lane denounced both the spirit of the Yalta Agreement and the manner in which it was carried out. He became a critic of the Roosevelt Administration and of the Democratic Party.


During this period, Arthur Bliss Lane was a member and participant in many Polish charities and anti-Communist organizations, including committees supporting the investigation of the Katyn Forest Massacre. Lane campaigned vigorously in 1952 among the Slavic ethnic groups for the Republican Party and Dwight D. Eisenhower. After 1952, he urged diplomatic relations with the Vatican.”


As the Wikipedia article about this remarkable American diplomat correctly points out, while in Poland, “Lane was so saddened” by the Soviet domination of the country and the communist suppression of Polish patriots and democrats that he resigned his post on February 24, 1947. He wrote I Saw Poland Betrayed, “which detailed what he considered to be the failure of the United States and Britain to keep their promise that the Poles would have a free election after the war. In that book he described what he considered betrayal of Poland by the Western Allies, hence the title, I Saw Poland Betrayed.” The book was translated into Polish and published  by an underground publishing house in Poland in the 1980s.


The Polish Wikipedia has a much longer and more detailed biography of Arthur Bliss Lane.


If any relatives or friends of Ambassador Bliss Lane would like to contact me with more information about his life and diplomatic career, please send an email to