When the Polish government declared martial law to crush Solidarity, this is what Ronald Reagan had to say on December 23, 1981:
As I speak to you tonight, the fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance. For a thousand years, Christmas has been celebrated in Poland, a land of deep religious faith, but this Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government.
The men who rule them and their totalitarian allies fear the very freedom that the Polish people cherish. They have answered the stirrings of liberty with brute force, killings, mass arrests, and the setting up of concentration camps. Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders are imprisoned, their fate unknown. Factories, mines, universities, and homes have been assaulted.
The target of this depression [repression] is the Solidarity Movement, but in attacking Solidarity its enemies attack an entire people. Ten million of Poland’s 36 million citizens are members of Solidarity. Taken together with their families, they account for the overwhelming majority of the Polish nation. By persecuting Solidarity the Polish Government wages war against its own people.
I urge the Polish Government and its allies to consider the consequences of their actions. How can they possibly justify using naked force to crush a people who ask for nothing more than the right to lead their own lives in freedom and dignity? Brute force may intimidate, but it cannot form the basis of an enduring society, and the ailing Polish economy cannot be rebuilt with terror tactics.
There is a certain clarity and resolve here that is utterly lacking in President Obama’s ambivalent response to the events in Iran. Why? In his column today, Jonah Goldberg pleads with Obama: “Take the side of democracy.” What is so difficult about that? If Obama wants to follow up on Goldberg’s advice, he might want to borrow this from Reagan’s speech:
I want emphatically to state tonight that if the outrages in Poland do not cease, we cannot and will not conduct “business as usual” with the perpetrators and those who aid and abet them. Make no mistake, their crime will cost them dearly in their future dealings with America and free peoples everywhere. I do not make this statement lightly or without serious reflection.
How bracing it would be to hear these words from the president today.
UPDATE: Ed Morrissey expands on Reagan’s opposition to the imposition of martial law in December 1981.