The Victims of Communism Foundation's Blog

Lieutenant General Edward Leon Rowny, 1917-2017

Lieutenant General Edward Leon Rowny, 1917-2017


It is with deep regret that the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation marks the passing of Lieutenant General Edward Leon Rowny, a dedicated soldier, a faithful American, and a leader who devoted his life to the struggle against totalitarianism and the defense of freedom.

General Rowny was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1917 to two Polish emigrants. His parents ensured his deep connection to the culture and traditions of his homeland, including the stories of Thaddeus Kosciuzko and Casimir Pulaski, two Polish officers who came to the fledgling United States and provided crucial aid to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

Rowny’s own career in soldiering began Italy in 1944, where he led American troops against the forces of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Later, after the communist regime of Kim Il-sung—with the tacit approval of the Soviet Union—invaded South Korea, Rowny’s expertise and planning contributed to General Douglas MacArthur’s masterful victory over the communist invaders during the amphibious landings at Inchŏn.

“There is also a story, dear to my heart, of how I became engineer of the Army’s X Corps following MacArthur activating that Corps for the invasion,” Rowny wrote. “General MacArthur said he wanted me to become the Corps engineer. I told him I was flattered but this was not possible because I was only a lieutenant colonel and the position of Corps engineer called for a brigadier general. ‘No problem,’ said MacArthur.” Rowny was brevetted (temporarily promoted) to the position of brigadier general—the first American officer to receive such a brevet promotion since Thaddeus Kosciuzko.

Later, Rowny’s quick-thinking initiative was put to use building an airstrip inside the embattled Chosin Reservoir pocket, a task made especially difficult by subzero temperatures and the endless attacks of the Chinese army on the soldiers and Marines holding the line there. The airstrip Rowny’s men built was vital to bringing supplies in and wounded soldiers out. General Rowny’s tireless devotion to duty and keen engineering skill helped to save American lives in two of the most pivotal battles of the Korean War.

Soon, however, Rowny would be called to serve his country not on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table. He was a US representative to talks on arms control agreements with the Soviet Union under three presidents—Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

Rowny recalled negotiating with the Soviets as a difficult, often counterintuitive, but necessary process. “If you think you’re doing things in good faith and that they will then repay you, you’re absolutely wrong,” Rowny said of his Soviet counterparts. “The Soviets don’t have that Judeo-Christian ethic about their negotiations. They’re tough negotiators. They do what’s in their interest, and they don’t believe that gratitude should be repaid by gratitude. As a matter of fact, they look upon gratitude as some way of either currying favor or with disdain.”

No matter what, one principle guided Rowny’s conduct through round after round of discussion and revision: keeping the American people safe from Soviet aggression. When he saw that flawed terms of the SALT II treaty would have placed the United States at a strategic disadvantage against the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union, he resigned his position and led the fight to convince the United States Congress that ratification of the one-sided agreement was the wrong decision. “That night, I sent back a message saying I cannot in good conscience subscribe to this treaty,” Rowny said of his decision upon being told that the SALT II proposal would include provisions he considered irrevocably harmful to the US national defense posture. “I asked to be relieved and put on the retired list. [A] cable came back and said, ‘Your request is approved.’”

Despite the efforts of the Carter administration, Congress never ratified the agreed-upon SALT II terms. “I liked Carter, and I’d worked with him,” Rowny said. “Here was a man of good faith [who] wanted to set the example. And I think his motives were absolutely pure. What he didn’t understand were the Russians, and the Russians don’t deal that way.”

In recognition of his devoted service, keen negotiating acumen, and unwillingness to endorse concessions he found harmful to our national security, Rowny was appointed to the rank of Ambassador by President Ronald Reagan as the President’s chief negotiator on the START I talks and subsequently became President Reagan’s Special Advisor on Arms Control.

For his role as one of the principal architects of America’s policy of “Peace Through Strength,” Rowny was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the United States. In 2005, Rowny was presented with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.

Of Rowny, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote: “The people shaping Donald Trump’s strategic initiatives—toward North Korea, China and Russia—know who Ed Rowny was. This is a good moment for all involved to reflect on what he contributed to their trade: an unfailingly clear-eyed view of the nature of America’s adversaries.”

Ed Rowny was a man of many roles, including statesman and military leader. He was an eloquent advocate of “Peace Through Strength” and a devoted freedom fighter. He loved America and was ever proud of his Polish roots. He served as a model to me and countless others in the battle against tyranny and for freedom, and he will be greatly missed.