Reagan also offered Solidarity crucial political support, even when the movement seemed crushed. “There are those who will argue that the Polish Government’s action marks the death of Solidarity,” he said in an October 1982 radio address. “I don’t believe this for a moment. Those who know Poland well understand that as long as the flame of freedom burns as brightly and intensely in the hearts of Polish men and women as it does today, the spirit of Solidarity will remain a vital force in Poland.”

That support did not go unnoticed inside Poland, despite the arrest of Solidarity’s leaders and thousands of others. The U.S. government also coordinated with the AFL-CIO, which smuggled money, printing presses and other equipment necessary to keep Solidarity an active, underground force.

Also crucial was Pope John Paul II, with whom Reagan coordinated a clandestine aid program. It was an angle Reagan understood intuitively: “I have a feeling,” he wrote a friend in July 1981, “particularly in view of the Pope’s visit to Poland, that religion might very well turn out to be the Soviets’ Achilles’ heel.”