Here’s a story that has come under the radar (no pun intended) of most of the international press, but at least we have it here in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza:
“In Łask, the Americans have NOT landed,” it reads.
Well – yes they have, yet they also have not. Łask is a Polish village just to the West of the city of Łódż, whose only claim to fame is that it has an airbase. There, the American and Polish air forces recently staged a joint ceremony – you can click through if you’d like to see the photo – marking the arrival of 16 American F-16 fighter-bombers and associated personnel, flight and ground (among which, strangely, only 10 pilots). This is noteworthy because, as the article notes, it is the first permanent stationing of US armed forces on Polish soil.
It’s a big deal, among other reasons because it’s a sign of the American commitment to Poland’s defence within NATO. (Against whom? Against parties to the East, of course.) This is not so much because of the equipment itself – the F-16 is a good, if ageing, plane, but 10 of them (only 10 pilots, remember) is not many should a general war break out – but instead due to the very presence of such American personnel within Poland, and thus within the line-of-fire should Poland be attacked. It’s likely then that these would come to harm, thus increasing the pressure on the US president to actually fulfill America’s promises under NATO to intervene.
This is a very encouraging development for Poland, obviously, and one the authorities there thought they had already assured for themselves towards the end of the Bush administration, when they agreed to the construction of American anti-ballistic missile bases in their country, with the associated radars to be placed in the Czech Republic. However, the Obama administration ultimately canceled that whole project, unfortunately making the announcement on September 17 (2009), a black holiday in Poland marking the day in 1939 when the Soviet Union invaded the country from the East to join Nazi Germany in dividing it up.
Finally, Poland gets its US military deployment. Then again, it’s hardly as substantial as building missile bases would have been. Indeed, there is considerable doubt here as to how “permanent” this really is: it turns out to be more the case that the Americans will deploy to the Łask base every quarter for maneuvers, from their true “home bases” back in Germany. Thus your headline: “The Americans have NOT landed.”
Indeed, the article’s main focus is on what-might-have-been. A year and a half ago the Americans’ plans were much more ambitious, namely a truly permanent stationing there, and with substantially greater amounts of personnel and equipment. The Łask village residents started to speculate excitedly about their new American neighbors – and, frankly, about how much money they would surely make by providing them with their various daily needs. A Chicago radio station even called up Mayor Szkudlarek to ask how many McDonalds the town had. “None,” he replied, “but we’ll put in as many as you want!” He also announced the building of a skateboard park for the incoming US military dependents – “it will be like San Francisco!” he promised.
Ah, those were the days. As for present reality, it turns out that the new American flight personnel will live in Łódż and just commute to Łask, when they are in Poland at all. What Łask is actually getting, then, is substantially less than what had once been envisioned, really only a token. At least the skateboard park plans will be carried through nonetheless, for the benefit of village residents – “Letdown Park,” anyone?