In one week of living under the most thoroughgoing repression that their nation has faced since World War II, Poles have learned to adapt to a system designed to instill fear and submission. Some are resisting, but here in the capital most Poles appear to be yielding before the iron fist being wielded by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
The speed with which ordinary Warsaw citizens are adapting to what is officially described here as "the new situation" is discernible at many points. At a crowded police station, hundreds of persons lined up docilely earlier this week to seek permission to travel outside Warsaw.
A plainclothes policeman berated those in line for even showing up at the third-floor office and shouted insults at them.
"A week ago, he would not have dared that," one of the people in line said to a foreigner. "He would simply have been tossed out of the window."
Regular communications with Poland, cut by martial law authorities on Dec. 13, remain suspended. Washington Post correspondent Michael Dobbs, who has covered the Polish crisis for the past 16 months, is in Warsaw.
A few blocks away on another day, a young man ran up to a newspaper stand where people have lined up, not to buy the officially approved and now sterile newspapers, but for the scarce cigarettes on sale. The young man, apparently a Solidarity trade union activist, thrust a stack of protest leaflets at the kiosk vendor, asking him to hand them out to each customer.
The vendor, and all of the people in line, fled as quickly as they realized what the leaflets were.
After an exhilarating, 16-month lesson in the ways of democracy during Solidarity's rise and fall, Poles have now learned to respond to the totalitarian system that is closely controlling every aspect of their lives, from travel between cities (forbidden unless you are returning home) to telephone communications (there aren't any) to work (loyalty oaths are being demanded for many occupations and professions).
Under the circumstances, most Poles take Jaruzelski's assertions that he intends, once order is restored, to broaden and deepen the reforms begun in August 1980 as a bad joke. The fundamental reform sought, and achieved, by the workers was the establishment of an independent trade union to guarantee that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated.
But, as a result of its own actions, the government appears now to have destroyed the union that would have provided that guarantee, and Jaruzelski appears to be in no position to allow an independent union to reemerge.
He has moved with force he believes sufficient to stamp out the thirst for democracy and to persuade Poles of the futility of resistance. He has built a situation in which most Western observers here believe it will prove impossible to relax martial law to a significant degree for many months, since the only way the authorities can maintain their grip on the country now is through fear.
With all trace of Solidarity gradually being scrubbed off the face of Poland, Poles are once again looking to the church for succor and support. The regime cannot afford to fight on too many fronts at once, and so far has given no sign of seeking a major confrontation with the church. The government granted one exception to the ban on public gatherings, and that was for religious services.
But it is not clear how the church will use its position in shaping a response to the imposition of martial law and the breaking of Solidarity.
The position of the primate of Poland, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, is ambiguous. On the one hand, he is bitterly opposed to martial law. On the other, Glemp -- together with Poland's other bishops -- sees no value in active resistance to the authorities. This, he fears, could lead only to yet more bloodshed and possibly even civil war.
He sees his own task as keeping Poland's national identity intact until the next upsurge of democratic freedoms.
This has led the church to try to lessen the harshness of martial law by small steps. Glemp has drawn up a list of internees whose release he is demanding from the government. Collections of food and money are also being organized in churches to help the families of those detained.
The distinguishing feature of life under martial law is that there is no right of appeal against decisions made by the authorities. For 16 months, Poles have acted as if it was taken for granted that democratic freedoms were theirs. The old fear of officialdom appeared to be gone for good.
Now it is back, to a greater degree than ever before.
"In Polish, we call martial law a 'state of war,' and that is an exact description of what is happening here," a Warsaw resident said. "The government has declared war on its own people."
The government's argument, elaborated on in one editorial after another in the official press, is that it was presented with a choice of two evils: either to clamp down hard now, or allow the total disintegration of the structures of the Communist state. The unspoken implication is that this would have led to an inevitable Soviet invasion.
The martial law authorities appear to fear that such a drastic turn could also be provoked by a campaign of widespread killing, which would provide a focus of resistance to the new regime, deepen Western repugnance and put severe strains on the Polish Army. In the event of a bloodbath and a collapse of the Army, few Poles doubt that the Soviet Army would move in.
The trick then is for the government to impose its will by a massive show of force and to prevent all information circulating in the country except for information that serves official purposes. This has led to severe restrictions on the movements of foreign correspondents and facilities for filing stories.
Information sent abroad returns to Poland via the Polish-language broadcasts of the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corp. and Radio Free Europe.
Thus, both sides appear to be maneuvering to try to avoid bloodshed. Increasingly, Poles are looking at passive sabotage as their only form of protest against a suddenly detested regime.
"We were never very fond of working anyway," one office worker observed. "Now that not working has become a patriotic duty, I can't see very much being produced at all."
The new official arbitrariness and the public submission were both illustrated by the scene at Warsaw's central police station on Zurewais Street where hundreds lined up to get permission to travel outside the city rather than risk a fine of the equivalent of $100 or three months imprisonment or both.
A pregnant woman applied for a permit to visit her father, who she said was dying of pneumonia. She said he had asked her to come because he was alone and needed help. Her application was refused summarily.
"Whom do I threaten?" the woman, now beginning to sob, asked the lanky and rude clerk. "Why am I dangerous?"
The clerk told her sharply to stop making such a scene and leave. Everybody else in the room merely stared, in silence.
A man in the line said in English "bloody Communists." An older man who clearly understood waved a thumbs-up sign in the middle of the police station, and said: "Yes, yes." But everyone stayed in line.