Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Eyewitness to uprising in Hungary

Iím going to write this week about an eyewitness to the Hungarian revolution ó me.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the uprising, although thereís not much celebrating in Hungary,
where people died for freedom, because violent demonstrations are taking place against the government.
But the uprising on Oct. 23, 1956, although it was crushed a couple of weeks later with Soviet tanks, eventually
helped destroy the communist empire.

Hundreds of thousands of people who were trapped inside the Soviet empire rose up against communism,
but receiving no help from the West, they had no chance of winning as Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary with
some 30,000 Red Army soldiers. The U.S. stood by and allowed the Kremlin to reassert its control over
the captive nations in eastern Europe. Talk about another intelligence failure. If the U.S. had sent CIA agents
into Hungary, they would have known that Hungarians overwhelmingly opposed the foreign occupiers,
who would have retreated behind their borders with a little shove from the U.S.

But America had no idea of what was going on in Hungary ó the U.S. had just one Hungarian-speaking
agent in place during the revolution. America decided to do nothing even after the Kremlinís puppets were on the run and a coalition government made up of Hungarian patriots gained control in much of the country. But outgunned and crushed, some 200,000 Hungarians fled abroad, most of them to the U.S., where they became productive citizens and founded companies like Intel and other enterprises, some even in Arkansas.

After my family fled across the border into neutral Austria and arrived in America, I found out that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles didnít think the U.S. could risk a showdown with the Kremlin in an area that was under its sphere of influence after the Yalta Agreement at the end of the Second World War. Sure, Radio Free Europe promised help was on the way during the fighting, but the U.S., distracted by the Suez crisis and wary of confronting the Soviets, stood by as Budapest burned.
A couple of C-130s landing in the capital city with a dozen jeeps and 100 airmen and some U.S. flags and a few rifles would have kept the Soviets out. They wouldnít have risked a nuclear war over Hungary, but the U.S. gave the Kremlin the green light in eastern Europe, putting off communismís demise by some 30 years.

I was just a child, but the Soviets didnít seem that tough to me. Perhaps thatís why I still have a kidís view of the fighting: Maybe itís childish of me to believe that the U.S. could have helped bring democracy to eastern Europe three decades sooner.
The U.S. would have been welcomed as liberators, but maybe thatís just a kid talking 50 years after the fact.

I watched those Soviet tanks rumble into our town, but seeing a picture of a puny Soviet-era tank on display in Budapest this week (and hijacked by some crazed demonstrators), you wonder if the Kremlin would have had the stomach for a fight if the U.S. had dropped just a few weapons into Hungary. The Red Army had seen better days, having defeated the Nazis a decade earlier, but its soldiers werenít eager to fight ordinary citizens wanting their independence.

(Decades later, the Russians lost badly in Afghanistan against the mujahadeen, whom we armed with shoulder-mounted rockets, which, much to our regret, they later turned on us when they evolved into al-Qaeda, but thatís a history lesson for another day.) I keep coming back to our intelligence failures. We do not have the experts who know whatís going on in trouble spots around the world ó or if those experts do exist, theyíre often ignored.

Just as we knew little about revolutionary Hungary ó even though there had been popular uprisings earlier in East Germany and Poland, where thousands of people were also willing to die for freedom ó our governmentís position was that we couldnít help them, even though they looked to America for leadership. Because of an absence of human intelligence on the ground, we often stay out of conflicts that cry out for our support, yet we get bogged down in wars that are hardly worth fighting.