"Kaz: War, Love, and Betrayal," an Attempt to Reframe How We Look at Poland

Bob Terzian, Esq. interviews Dr. Bogdan Kotnis



Robert Terzian, Esq. interviews Dr. Bogdan Kotnis, the author of the novel "Kaz: War, Love, and Betrayal."


Robert Terzian: Welcome to the first of a series of podcasts about American-Polish connectivity, structured around Dr. Bogdan Kotnis's historical novel "Kaz: War, Love, and Betrayal."

I am Robert Terzian, a moderator for this series of conversations with Dr. Bogdan Kotnis. I enjoyed reading "Kaz" and noticed many parallels to modern events, so I contacted the author. We had several discussions about his book and geopolitics. Dr. Bogdan Kotnis made me look at current events from a fresh perspective and see connections I did not notice before. I thought it would appeal to the broader public, and we agreed to record a series of interviews.

Dr. Kotnis, welcome. Thank you for sharing your insights into global and Polish history and geopolitics from a Polish perspective. What is your book "Kaz" all about?

Bogdan Kotnis: Hi Bob, and greetings to all viewers. I appreciate your interest in Polish American synergy through history. "Kaz: War, Love, and Betrayal" is a story of Casimir Pulaski. I called him Kaz in the book . He was a trailblazer of the American Polish brotherhood in arms. The book is a historical adventure that shows the beginnings of American and Polish ties, which are so critical, especially today, given the Russian aggression in Ukraine that threatens the world peace we have enjoyed since the end of WW2.

Book cover "Kaz: War, Love, and Betrayal" by Dr. Bogdan Kotnis (Source: Amazon)

RT: Bogdan, you mentioned the United States, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the world. How do they all fit in your book? How important is it to consider all these countries?

BK: Kaz, the main protagonist, confronted Russians on the territory that included today's Ukraine. Poles and Russians fought over this land for at least eight centuries, but Ukraine as a country is only 30 years old. So, all three countries are intimately involved in Ukraine today. Understanding their long-term, complicated relationship should help us resolve the conflict so that world peace is not compromised.

We should carefully look at all these essential countries to understand the context of current Russian aggression. Like a lot of us, I was shocked when Russia's "little green men" annexed Eastern Ukraine in 2014, ripping apart European peace. From the beginning, the role of Poland was mostly downplayed, while Germany and France led an effort to appease the Russians. Sadly, this approach encouraged Russia, and they attacked Ukraine in 2022 even more brutally. The shock that the 2022 attack caused shows us that our analysts must study the region more carefully. Reading Kaz will help us understand the root causes of today's war.

RT: Before we go on, let me introduce our novelist. Bogdan lived approximately 30 years in Poland and 30 years in the United States. He holds a master's degree from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He speaks Polish, English, Russian, Ukrainian, Danish, German, and Spanish and listens to global news in all these languages. You can imagine the insight his experience yields!

BK: You, the viewers, should know that Robert Terzian, Esq. is a retired U.S. government attorney who closely follows national and global policy developments.

BT: Bogdan, I see three main themes in your book: your novel's plot, a Polish perspective on the Russian threat, and American-Polish cooperation. Do you agree?

BK: I had these three themes you mentioned in mind when writing "Kaz." A recognized author, James Conroyd Martin, noted in his Amazon review of "Kaz" that it is a hybrid, two books in one, a combination of an action and adventure novel and a historical analysis of events.

RT: We will explore these themes in greater detail throughout the subsequent several interviews. Let's start with the first theme, the plot. What is your book "Kaz" all about?

BK: The book tells the story of a patriotic Pole, Casimir Pulaski, again, I call him Kaz, fighting the Russians who were attacking Poland to grab more land. My novel starts with the manipulations by Russian Empress Katherine the Great to ensure that her protégé, a Polish nobleman, Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, was elected Polish King.

RT: Did you say the "election" of the King?

BK: Yes, long ago, Poles decided that when a king died without an heir, they would elect a new king. The first election happened in 1573. So, last year was the 450th anniversary of the first election of the Polish King. The King had to agree to a long list of privileges, reducing his absolute power. All countries in Europe ruled by absolute monarchs hated this Polish practice. Interestingly, the concept of election ultimately found its way into the U.S. Constitution and that of Poland, which was the first European nation to draft a constitution about five years after the U.S.

RT: Thanks, but I interrupted your response about the origins of your novel. Please continue.

BK: No problem, Bob. Katherine's manipulations weakened Poland so much that Russia, along with Prussia and Austria, eliminated Poland from the map for 123 years in a three-step partition. In the first half of the book, I tell the story of Poland's resistance to this Russian incursion through the experiences of a Polish nobleman, Count Casimir Pulaski, Kaz, hoping that readers would learn about Poland's historical opposition to an aggressive Russia bent on territorial expansion. Russian actions in Ukraine today mirror what Catherine did in Poland 250 years ago.

The second half of the book, taking place in America, shows how Kaz's experience and involvement helped the United States fight for a country against the British. In both countries, Kaz fought for national independence against absolute powers.

RT: Bogdan, tell us more about how writing a historical novel in English about Polish and American history 250 years ago connects us today to those events.

BK: First, I wanted to show the beginning of the continuing brotherhood in arms and shared political values between the United States and Poland. Since we all like stories, I wrote an exciting story about one of the military heroes who spilled blood for Poland and the United States, Count Casimir Pulaski. Kaz was a Colonel in the Polish war against Russia and then a General in George Washington's army, playing a crucial role in the American War of Independence. He was the first American General to fight the Russians.

Second, I intended to excite curiosity about Poland and its relationship to America. I am convinced that Poland and the United States are siblings in democracy and absolutely vital to each other's national interests, mainly as they cooperate in opposing Russian aggression. My novel describes events that set the stage for understanding the origins of the Polish American bond and the mutually advantageous partnership that is so critical to both today. I hope to resurrect American interest in Poland and capture a desire in America to recognize and celebrate its common bonds with Poland more fully.

RT: Bogdan, what else can you tell us about General Kaz Pulaski, the main protagonist?

BK: In Poland, Kaz is famous for engaging in a five-year-long war, called the Bar Confederacy, against the Polish King and Russia. The novel follows Kaz from the election of the last Polish King, King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, or King Stan, as I call him. We are in Poland with Kaz from 1763 to 1772, when he had to leave the country at the war's end. In 1777, Kaz arrived in the United States. We stay with him until his heroic death in Savannah, Georgia, in 1779.

RT: Who was King Stan?

BK: King Stan was a Russian puppet installed on the Polish throne by Russia's Katherine the Great, much like the Russians recently installed President Lukashenka in Belarus and President Yanukovych in Ukraine. King Stan's election and reign were disastrous for Poland and eventually led to Poland's partitions between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1795.

When Russians and King Stan forced Kaz to leave Poland, he traveled through Europe, including Turkey, to raise funds and support for the Bar Confederacy, which was the name of a legally registered opposition to King Stan and his catastrophic obeisance to Russia. Kaz was introduced to Benjamin Franklin in France, who sought experienced officers willing to fight for the United States.

RT: Does meeting Franklin explain why you also show Kaz in the United States?

BK: Yes, Bob. Franklin recommended Kaz to Congress and General Washington. Consequently, Kaz sailed to the "Colonies" and met with Washington but had to wait for Congress to grant him a commission in Washington's army first. However, even before he won his commission, Kaz convinced Washington to change plans for the Brandywine Battle and let Kaz lead a cavalry charge. This decision saved Washington's army from a total defeat during this largest battle of the Revolutionary War and expedited Kaz's commission to the rank of Brigadier General. He trained our cavalry according to the Polish standards. He wrote the first U.S. cavalry manual and introduced a new military doctrine, which used cavalry as a strike force and not merely a transport and reconnaissance outfit. These accomplishments won him the name "Father of the American Cavalry."

RT: So, the novel tells how the emerging U.S. and fading Poland shared some of the same military heroes and strategies fighting for national independence. It reflects a positive example of a U.S. General deferring to unique Polish expertise and suggests the two nations' joint commitment to the revolutionary idea of "elected" leadership – democracy.

BK: Exactly. The Polish American bond began then and has continued as the enduring fraternity of shared ideas tested on the battlefields. That bond continued in subsequent world events, in which the U.S. played a leading substantive role in supporting Poland. Strengthening this bond diplomatically and in the eyes of the public is strategically more important today than ever since the 18th century.

RT: What are you trying to accomplish by showing Kaz's adventures?

BK: Those events afford me a platform explaining how the Russian motivation has remained the same over centuries. I wanted to reveal Russia's leading political motivation, which has been to fight their way west until they control the whole of Europe. Russians have repeatedly stated this intention, but the West has not responded meaningfully.

Understanding this historic and unwavering Russian expansionist commitment should help us formulate a winning strategy for stopping them in Ukraine today, the strategy that is missing in our debates. Believing that we can appease Russians with anything is a mistake. They consider any appeasement a sign of weakness, and it motivates them to continue their conquest.

RT: Bogdan, you've used the word appeasement twice. Just what do you mean, and what were/are the alternatives?

BK: Appeasement tries to avoid war by agreeing to the aggressor's demands. The calculation is that these concessions will satisfy the aggressor, and the war can be avoided. In the case of the war in Ukraine, much like in the case of the war in Poland and the beginning of WW2, these concessions were a mistake and gave the aggressor time to get even stronger before the attack.

RT: It sounds as if you are saying that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is like a déjà vu experience that inspired your novel.

BK: Yes, you can say that, Bob. For me, the Russian approach to Europe has remained the same since the 18th century. My novel "Kaz" starts in the final years of a process similar to hybrid warfare today, by which Russia ended the longest-lasting elective monarchy, the largest European nation, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Understanding this process helps discover Russia's undying commitment to its long-term strategy, leading to today's war in Ukraine. Czar Peter the Great formulated the Russian "manifest destiny" 300 years ago, and Russia remains committed to it until today through wars, revolutions, and name changes of their country. They keep on pushing west.

RT: Didn't you experience Russian rule firsthand when you lived in Poland?

BK: Yes, Bob, I certainly did. When writing the book, my personal experience was constantly on my mind. I witnessed the same pattern of threats, corruption, and lies that Kaz suffered in the 18th century and that Russia employs in Ukraine today.

Our American and most Western analysts of the Ukrainian war appear unwilling or unable to see this well-established pattern. Instead, they focus primarily on current events, imbued with a gullible attitude of regarding Russia almost as a maladjusted child who needs love and respect to make it change its ways. Consequently, our experts are consistently surprised by facts on the ground. Russians understand this weakness and use it to their advantage. This narrow focus is the West's Achilles heel in dealing with the Russians. We should dig deeper into history to see and deal with Russian core motivation effectively and understand their use of hybrid warfare.

RT: Can you briefly describe what you mean by hybrid warfare?

BK: It is a chain of manipulations, propaganda, and terrorist attacks under a threshold of classic kinetic warfare. It confuses the victim country so that it cannot clearly describe what is happening and who is to blame for the mess. Russians have been consistently using this stratagem.

Today, Russia is the largest and the most aggressive country, consistently opposing the world order the free world has built since the end of WW2; why? Because this world order did not give Russians what they wanted when they started WW2 - the total domination of Europe.

Remember that our American soldiers were rushing to Berlin in 1945 to defeat the Germans but also to stop the Russians from advancing further west. At that time, we Americans and our Western allies bought into the Russian propaganda that Russia was merely defending itself when it invaded Poland in 1939. Still, the Cold War confirmed that Russia did not share Western values.

RT: Let me interrupt you here again. You say that Russia started WW2. It differs from how I was taught here in the U.S. This Polish perspective is very interesting. Could you say a few words about that?

BK: I understand, Bob; I read books. I watch the news. I want to focus on Russians, the Germans’ partners in the crime of invading Poland. The U.S. underplays this German-Russian partnership in a misguided effort to smooth the rough edges of history in the American mainstream narrative. American public education mostly omits the Russian brutal attack on Poland.

By skipping Russia's role as a German partner in crime from our mainstream narrative, we avoid admitting to appeasing Russians after WW2, in part with Polish independence. Russians knew it was an alliance of convenience, not based on shared values or commitment to a particular world order. They pushed us hard already in 1945, which led to the Cold War. For domestic consumption in the United States, it was never honestly explained. So, we continue hearing mostly about the Germans as the sole aggressors.

To explain our post-WW2 aid to Germany, we started using the term Nazis when describing the Germans in WW2. This labeling or rebranding helped us sell the idea of aid to the Germans. Today, this ruse enables the Russian leaders to sell the idea that opposing Nazism and the West justified their attack on Ukraine in 2022: They said that they were merely defending themselves against Ukrainian Nazis.

RT: So, you are saying that Russia and Germany both attacked Poland in 1939?

BK: Russians and Germans planned the September 1939 attack on Poland together and carefully coordinated the assault. Arguing who shot the first shot only helps Russians manipulate the facts and support their propaganda. The truth is that the Russians annexed half of Poland and killed quite a number of people. Whatever Poland lost to the Russians in 1939, today belongs to Ukraine, Belarus, or Lithuania. Even before the start of WW2, Russians killed hundreds of thousands of Poles in the Soviet Union in a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in preparation for the war.

RT: I understand that Poles have a long-time view of history that shapes a Polish perspective, which you assert is being overlooked.

BK: Poland's perspective is defined through over a thousand-year history, during which Poland has persisted as a distinct culture and identity. This Polish perspective is a missing link in the current analysis of the Russian invasion. Russia entered the world stage as a dominant power after destroying Europe's largest country, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in 1795. If you do the math, it shows Poland had an 800-year-long track record of success and then 123 years of lost independence. The enemies of Poland used that time well to create a grotesque image of Poland.

Kaz is my vehicle for drawing attention to the past to understand the present. It shows a well-established Russian aggressive posture and practice, and honors the Polish and American patriots' resolve to stand up to oppression.

The Polish response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine showed that Poles quickly recognized this war as the continuation of a long-term Russian strategy aimed at conquering the whole of Europe. The Polish perspective is broader, revealing similar patterns in Russian strategy and tactics over centuries. If our leaders and public better understood and carefully considered this Polish perspective, we would be united in formulating a winning strategy concerning Russia and the meaning of its invasion of Ukraine today.

RT: When did you start thinking about the importance of Polish American cooperation?

BK: I remember my Fulbright professor in Poland in the 70-ies, Eugene Metcalf, from Miami University, Ohio. He traveled to Poland and taught us American literature amid gloomy Soviet times. I was impressed by how much he taught me and how much he tried to learn from us, the students. He opened my mind to looking at events from multiple perspectives.

When I eventually came to the United States, I found that the Polish perspective was mainly missing in the American debate. Especially since the current Russian aggression in Ukraine, neglecting a Polish view is a strategic oversight.

RT: What would the introduction of the Polish perspective contribute to our understanding of global events?

BK: Incorporating the Polish perspective in our American analysis helps us more clearly see through Russian maskirovka, the term they use for manipulations and propaganda. We’ve been living under a delusion, created by our short-sightedness and Russian propaganda that Russia was a peaceful nation seeking equal partnership in Europe and would never attack Ukraine. How many times are we going to fall for the same lie?

Recognizing the vitality of the Polish perspective throughout history allows us to see how the fate of Poland and the United States is connected through shared interests in democracy and the bond of brotherhood in arms from the first days of the Revolutionary War.

RT: Let us stop here. Bogdan, thank you for the first interview, and let us continue next time.

If you listeners want a broader context of current events than you can find in our mass media, tune in to the following interview. We will focus in more detail on the book "Kaz," explore the roots of Polish American cooperation, and the Polish perspective on the continuing Russian threat. We will explore the use of hybrid warfare, explain more about Russian-German cooperation in WWII and beyond, and hopefully, issues that you suggest.




Sources/Bibliography:


Dr Karol Nawrocki, President of the Institute of National Remembrance, visited London to meet with Polish community living in Britain, unveil the exhibition “Trails of Hope. Odyssey of Freedom”, the fate of Poles during World War II and give a lecture entitled „Polish history without secrets”.

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A representative of Kuryer Polski, Dr. Bogdan Kotnis, was invited to attend the 12th US-Ukraine Security Dialogue that took place on March 3 and March 4, 2021. A high quality of panelists and carefully selected topics allowed participants to learn a great deal about current political and economic concerns in US-Ukrainian relations.

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Wake Up, Poland!
Bogdan Kotnis

There is an urgent need for Polish Americans and Poles to join in the process of crafting Poland’s short-term and long-term strategy for success aimed to improve her cultural, economic, and political relevance. Polish Americans are a part of Poland’s diaspora, often called Polonia. Short-term strategy should describe desired status of Poland five years into the future and identify actions needed to reach that goal. Long-term strategy should span the next twenty-five years. We should include strategic flows and connectivity in this strategy.

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