When I learned of the May 31, 1981 attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II I was on the way to church with my family. I spoke with the Pastor. In the Divine Liturgy we prayed for the Pope’s health and salvation.
That he recovered was a critical development on the world scene. As soon as I heard of the assassination attempt I thought of the Soviet Union. Who else would want him dead? He was a threat to the stability of the Soviet Empire. The Soviet Union Government in Moscow controlled the satellite countries of the Soviet Union, among other reasons, because that control assisted the Soviets in blocking availability to its citizens of news from the West. Further, any nation which sought to invade first would be required to overcome the Soviet Army stationed in the satellite states. All of that had worked rather well for the Soviets until a young shipyard worker named Lech Welesa helped to form a union called Solidarity. The Soviets suppressed Solidarity not long after Welesa had made what the Soviets called “provocative” speeches which riled up his fellow workers.
The Soviets understood that Welesa was a rather fervent Catholic. Moreover, Poland never was fully integrated into the Soviet system. Farms all over the country were privately owned. Polish people had more ability to resist than those in other Soviet client states. The Roman Catholic Church was more active and vibrant there than elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The Soviets, who made most of their foreign policy calculations out of fear, looked at a possible alliance between Solidarity and the Pope as potentially lethal to them. They were correct. Their intelligence proved to be more accurate than ours time and time again. So standing in church that evening I could not get my mind off of the Soviets. I knew in my heart that it was they who had perpetrated this dastardly deed.
Our Coalitions for America operation two years earlier, in 1979, had launched a defense/foreign policy coalition called the Stanton Group. It was chaired by Henry Walther and yours truly. The issues it considered had been handled at another meeting run by Coalitions but there was just too much action for those issues to remain there. (We also launched that year another group, Family Forum, for the same reason, dealing only with social issues. Both groups operate to this day). By the mid-1980s Stanton had become the hottest ticket in town. Even those outside the United States had heard of it. So, not surprisingly, two representatives from Solidarity were on the agenda. They gave a compelling presentation. They wanted help.That brilliant legislative attorney Mike Hammond, who at the time was working for the Senate Steering Committee, proposed an amendment to an upcoming defense bill to channel money to Solidarity. “Who will support this effort?” Hammond thundered. It was controversial. This was the Ronald Reagan Era, when it was yet possible to discuss smaller government.
At first some objected to the idea of sending unaccountable money to a labor union, of all places. In the end, we gave it our strong endorsement and Hammond’s persuasive arguments overcame the opposition. There was unanimous support for the Hammond initiative.
How exactly it was achieved I never have asked Mike Hammond. I am sure Central Intelligence Director William J. Casey knew what to do. Talk about being the right man in the right place at the right moment. Solidarity was revived. No coincidence. It was our American money. The Pope was well enough to take a very active role on the international stage. What happened in Poland at that time is history.
Why raise a question now about the 1981 assassination attempt? Precisely because an Italian Parliamentary commission has determined (as we would phrase it) “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Soviets were responsible for sending the young Turk Mehmet Ali Agca to kill John Paul II. Of course, critics of the report contend there is nothing new in it. Without reading it I doubt that is the case. The left always denies reality and thus it is so amusing to see the Russian intelligence service vigorously deny the validity of the Italian report. Inasmuch as the Soviet Union no longer exists, it would have been so easy for the Russians to say something like “we take no responsibility for what the old repressive Soviet Union tried to do.” Instead, it is clear that Soviet-style days have returned. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia it is far better to revive the days of Good Old Uncle Joe Stalin than it is to repudiate the Soviet times and look to the future as a strategic partner with the West. (Gorbachev is correct. The other day, as he turned 75, he said that the failure here is due in part to the West’s blowing it.)
Good for the Italians for telling us what in our hearts we were sure was true. I hope and pray that these files lifted from the Soviets provide more material to support the claims of the Italian Parliamentary commission.