A Silent Hero
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It is no discovery, that in Poland’s quest to join NATO, there were not only allies promoting its cause. Among various forces that, for various reasons, were not open to this idea, there were members of the U.S. political elite and public opinion that were not all that excited about the prospect.

In breaking this negative attitude, a lot of people played an important role, both famous and unknown. In this last group was the recently deceased, Norman Boehm (1938–2016). This American of Swedish-German roots selflessly and successfully joined in the campaign supporting Poland’s bid to join NATO.

Who was he? The short answer is—a man of success. Privately, he was the cousin of the actress Ingrid Bergman. Extensively educated (studied law and chemistry), Norman Boehm worked as a manager in ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company) in Saudi Arabia, for Exxon (Esso) in England, and in Norway and Texas. He became famous in 1976 by negotiating the largest contract in the history of Esso and Shell, for drilling platforms in the North Sea, for a then staggering amount of $462 million. In accordance with the best American tradition, he also served in the military as a naval pilot.

By a happy twist of fate, he was married to Aleksandra Ziółkowska, a Polish writer, engaged in the Polish cause and that of Poles on the difficult American soil. It's to her that we are in debt, that Norman became, as she wrote, “almost a Polish patriot.” Not knowing the Polish language, he had taken the effort to know and understand Polish history, so difficult for foreigners. This knowledge became a solid “asset” on his account when the start of the Great Challenge of the NATO expansion process began. An additional advantage was his level of negotiating skills and knowledge of the specifics of the U.S. political scene with its mechanisms and nuances.

Of crucial importance was the U.S. Senate in the decision concerning Poland’s admission.
The author of The Polish Road to NATO (2006), Jan Nowak–Jeziorański, estimated that approximately 1/3 of U.S. Senators stood in opposition to the admission. Aleksandra and Norman Boehm played an important role in their reorientation. Their method of action was the inundation of the senators’ offices with mail and other means of intervention. Norman Boehm also used the media, including also local media, forcing politicians to answer related questions and providing explanations.

These lobbying efforts were two-tracked. On the one hand, pressure was on the politicians, while on the other, the voters. The latter had to become convinced and won over to the Polish cause, who in turn, would put pressure on their Senators, State and Federal representatives. Jan Nowak–Jeziorański vividly called this technique “massaging by voters.” Norman’s commitment he vividly summarized as having been “downright incredibly effective” and “the likes of which he’s never seen before,” as he wrote in a private letter to Aleksandra Ziółkowska–Boehm.

It is worth noting that Norman Boehm for the rest of his life remained a modest, warm, self-contained person and never bragged about his achievements for the benefit of Poland. There were many more such individuals. The loss of such friend is most painful. Always and everywhere.


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