Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 1956 – Hungarians Fight Back with American Arms

In the postlude to World War II, Soviet occupation forces came to dominate Eastern Europe. Churchill described the separation from the West as an Iron Curtain in 1946, and, in the decade following, Hungary had suffered under Stalinistic rule. In 1956, what began as a demonstration by students became a nation-wide rebellion against Soviet authority. The students rallied around the statue of Hungarian hero Jozef Bem, cut the Soviet emblem from the Hungarian flag, read manifestos, sang, and began to march on Budapest's radio center. As they approached, the students were fired upon by the State Security Police with tear gas and live ammunition. The protestors retaliated, overwhelmed the police, and the Soviet-inspired government collapsed almost overnight.

Working to maintain what order they could, Soviet tanks surrounded the Parliament, and reformist Imre Nagy was given the place of the ousted prime minister, András Hegedűs. Nagy called for an end to violence, but Molotov cocktails and what few weapons the people had were used on the police. Soviet forces stayed disengaged, seeking only to protect what little of the government was still in place. Throughout the country, rebels took over local government and began hurried elimination of Soviet emblems. On October 28, an uneasy armistice was declared, though often interrupted, and Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would remain only to defend Russian interests before withdrawal.

While the new Hungarian government seemed hopeful, the Soviets began plans to intervene. Khrushchev met with leaders of other communist nations in Eastern Europe, and it was said that Mao Zedong had given the recommendation to crush the rebellion. The United States was frozen in a neutral position due to the ongoing affair at the Suez Canal where they had allowed British and French intervention. The Eisenhower Administration knew it could not very well support international military efforts in Egypt then condemn it in Hungary, but raucous opinion from the press drowned out VP Nixon's more diplomatic approach. It was finally decided that, although not full military support, covert delivery of tank-busting rockets and small artillery mortars would be made. Though there was little time for training, the weapons were delivered by train and spread through the newly founded militias.

On November 1, Soviet tanks began to penetrate Hungary and move toward Budapest. Nagy and his cabinet responded by announcing Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, calling for the removal of Soviet troops, and appealing for United Nations support in maintaining neutrality. The political actions proved ineffective, and, in the early hours of November 4, the Soviets launched Operation Whirlwind with 17 divisions storming eastern Hungary. The militias gave a sudden and impressive counterattack, but the armored Soviets pushed through into Pest. Without orders from higher authority, Hungarian freedom fighters demolished the bridges by explosives and small-scale artillery, halting the Soviet advance at the Danube River.

Nagy praised his fellow countrymen via radio and called for resistance on the eastern side of Hungary. Soviet supply lines became cut repeatedly, and the need for defense hindered any attempt to make headway into territory. As November dragged on, the invasion stalemated, and international cries of foul play began to rise against Russia. Spain led the way in boycotting the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, along with the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, and more. Combined with the boycott by the Arab states because of military action at the Suez Canal and the Chinese boycott due to Formosa (Taiwan), it would be the least-attended Olympics in years with only 2,459 athletes, one-half of the originally planned participants.

As the Suez Crisis came to an end with Egyptian control of the Canal, the signal seemed to spread that small nations would not ascribe to imperialism any longer. Hungary became revitalized with international support, and the Soviets began discussions of drawing demilitarized zones, but Nagy refused. In 1958, the spirit of rebellion broke throughout the Warsaw Pact, and Russia suddenly saw itself losing the influence gained after the Second World War. Khruschev manipulated political damage control, breaking satellite nations away from Russia while keeping the Soviet Union itself intact, though severely weakened.

In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy admitted that the Cold War had not ended, but said that the world had reached a new balance beyond a fallen Iron Curtain. America was not the unquestionable leader of the post-colonial world, although it now stood ahead of the rest, and he invited them to work together with, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Freedom, specifically capitalistic freedom, would win the day as the strength of Communism continued to wane.

In reality, the United States acted on the behalf of Hungary only with a failed recommendation to discuss the issue at the United Nations Security Council. A later resolution would be produced by the General Assembly, but by then the affirmed Kádár government refused UN interference. Soviet purges would roll through Hungary, adding thousands more to the death toll already created during the fighting in the revolution as well as arrests and the flight of some 200,000 refugees. Though there was international denouncement, Hungary would remain under Soviet influence until its collapse in 1989.


  1. Interesting scenario, but I do not think that in 1956 the Khruschev withdraw so easily. Altough, the same year in Poland he stopped his machinations. When he came to Warsaw, he was preparing for war, because the Polish Communist Party has a new leader - Władysław Gomułka. Gomułka has ordered army to move around Warsaw, so Khruschev realised that if he will does not agree for Gomułka's leadership the fight between Soviet and Polish Armies may start. It ended when he accepted Gomułka as a leader, and Gomułka assured him of his loyalty toward Sovier Union. But he was ready to crush rebellion in Poland.

  2. Egyptian control of the Canal? Not in a million years - we should have given Israel a free hand and they'd have been in Cairo.At the same time,we should have come to the rescue in Hungary.


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