Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pants on Fire!

Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
by Victor Sebestyn

For starters, this is a really good book. I knew very little about the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union, other than that it happened and that the Soviets prevailed. The author has the gift of making history very accessible, and the book reads almost like a suspense novel. The revolution occurred in an organic way, springing up out of peaceful demonstrations with almost no coordination or pre-planning. Leaders emerged from unlikely places, and officers from the Hungarian army defected to help the rebels and give them access to weapons. People acted with tremendous courage and selflessness, sincere in their belief that they could create a better life for their people. As you read the book, you want to cry because the end is already known, and it is not pretty for the Hungarians. Sebestyn is able to still suck us into the hope and euphoria of that brief time, and the reader almost believes that somehow freedom will carry the day.

The amount of lying and other forms of deception that came out of the Kremlin during the troubles with Hungary is absolutely staggering. I mean, I knew that the Russian leadership in the early post-Stalin years was not known for their ethics or honesty, but these guys must have had zero conscience. It was all about jockeying for position and seeing who would emerge to fill Stalin's shoes, so not only were the potential Soviet leaders duplicitous with the Hungarians, they were also constantly stabbing each other in the back and trying to make each other look like buffoons. Names that I grew up hearing (Yuri Andropov, Nikita Kruschev), and associating with the specter of Communism, became even more sinister as I observed their machinations and mad desire for world domination. Not having grown up in the peak years of the Cold War, I have always had a hard time understanding why so many people recoil in horror at the words "Soviet Union." No longer. These were dangerous guys. (Note: I still think it is morally wrong, and irresponsible, to brand anyone with whom we disagree politically as a "socialist" or a "communist." I just understand better now why those are such loaded terms. It really did not have as much to do with ideology or policy as the brutality with which the ideas were enacted and forced upon a people. Those words should not be tossed around lightly. They scare people, and rightfully so, which clouds clear thinking and prevents authentic debate. Getting off my soapbox now...)

However, the United States should not have emerged from this event with a clear conscience, either. It was largely our propaganda, over the airwaves of radio, that incited the Hungarians to try to bust out from behind the Iron Curtain. United States and European rhetoric led the Hungarians to believe that when and if they revolted they would receive weapons, men, and other aid from the West. However, the Hungarian revolution occurred right around the time of Eisenhower's election to a second term, and he did not want to rock the boat too much, with his own people OR with the Soviets. He also was distracted (as were the American people) by a crisis in the Middle East. The assistance that Hungary expected never came, and people suffered and died because of that. That is part of the tragedy that we as Americans have to live with.

Reverent Reader


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