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The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Western Intervention: Expectations and Reality

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Park, Hyun
Research Paper, Fall 2011

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Hungarian Revolution, 1956
III. Intervention of the United States
III.1 Background
III.1.1 Containment policy
III.1.2 Psychological warfare
III.2 Involvement before & during the revolution
III.2.1 NCFE (National Committee for a Free Europe)
III.2.1.1 Free Europe Press (FEP)
III.2.1.2 Operation Focus
III.2.2 Radio Free Europe (RFE), Voice of Free Hungary
III.2.2.1 Background
III.2.2.2 Policies
III.2.2.3 Encouragement of the Revolution
III.2.2.4 Influence on the Soviet military intervention by undermining Nagy's credibility
IV. Lack of Western Involvement
IV.1 Background
IV.2 The Unites States
IV.3 The Unites Nations
V. Reflections
V.1 The West
V.1.1 The Media
V.1.2 The reflections on Western involvement
V.2 Hungarian Perspectives
VI. Conclusion
V. Notes
VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction
            The word "propaganda" is often associated with communism, socialism, or other forms of government that involve dictatorship. Indeed, those types of governments are the ones who most ardently and explicitly utilized propagandistic methods. Historically, however, there has been no government completely free from the need for propaganda, especially at times of political conflict. Sometimes covert propaganda methods proved to be more powerful and penetrative than explicit ones. This paper examines the case of a less explicit but clearly intended propaganda practiced towards Hungary, with ¡°the country of freedom and democracy¡± leading the operations, amidst the tension of the Cold War.
            The situation in Hungary, on which the lives of countless Hungarian people depended, was for some Western powers a political opportunity. Not surprisingly, what led those external powers was their political benefit rather than humanistic sympathy, although what they advertised was their humanistic mission. The objective of this paper is to find out what their motivations were, what the methods were, how the propaganda created and failed expectations, and how people responded.

II. Hungarian Revolution, 1956
            Late in World War II, the Soviet Army occupied Hungary, with the country already under the Soviet sphere of influence. At that time, Hungary was a multiparty democracy under Prime Minister Zoltan Tildy. However, the Hungarian Communist Party, a Marxist-Leninist group who shared the Soviet government's ideological beliefs, constantly wrested small concessions in a process named "salami tactics", which sliced away the elected government's influence, despite the fact that had only received 17% of the vote. After the elections of 1945, the Hungarian State Security Police (later known as the AVH) was forcibly transferred to a nominee of the Communist Party. By 1949, Hungarian democracy ended and the People's Republic of Hungary was declared. (1)
            Hungary thus became a communist state under the severely authoritarian leadership of Matyas Rakosi, and the economy was reformed following Soviet model. From 1950 to 1952, the Security Police forcibly relocated thousands of people to obtain property and housing for the Working People's Party members, and to remove the threat of the intellectual and 'bourgeois¡¯ class. Thousands were arrested, tortured, tried, and imprisoned in concentration camps, deported to the east, or were executed. (2) In 1946, Hungary suffered from the worst hyperinflation ever recorded. While in 1944, the highest postage stamp denomination was 1,000 pengö, by mid-1946 it became 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengö. (3)
            On 5 March 1953, Joseph Stalin died, and this resulted in a period of moderate liberalization during which most European communist parties developed a reform wing. In Hungary, the reformist Imre Nagy replaced Matyas Rakosi as Prime Minister. However, Rakosi, "Stalin¡¯s Best Hungarian Disciple", remained as General Secretary of the Party, and was able to undermine most of Nagy's reforms. By April 1955, he had Nagy discredited and removed from office. On 14 May 1955, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact, binding Hungary to the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe.
            In 1955, Austria declared itself as a neutral state, and in June 1956, Polish people succeeded in earning concessions from the Soviet Union through a violent uprising. These series of events raised Hungarian hopes of bringing changes. After Khrushchev's "secret speech" of February 1956, which denounced Stalin and his proteges, Rakosi was deposed as General Secretary of the Party and replaced by Ernö Gerö on 18 July 1956. (4) Rakosi's resignation emboldened students, writers and journalists to be more active and critical in politics. Students and journalists started a series of intellectual forums examining the problems facing Hungary. These forums, called Pet?fi circles, became very popular and attracted thousands of participants. On 16 October 1956, university students re-established the MEFESZ (Union of Hungarian University and Academy Students), a democratic student organization, previously banned under the Rakosi dictatorship. Within days, the student bodies of Pecs, Miskolc, and Sopron followed suit. On 22 October, students of the Technical University compiled a list of sixteen points containing several national policy demands.
            The revolution broke out in the afternoon of 23 October 1956, with thousands of protesters. The statue of Joseph Stalin was toppled, and physical conflict unrolled. Revolutionary government was formed, and several spontaneous militias arose. Finally, Ernö Gerö and Prime Minister Andras Hegedüs, fled to the Soviet Union, Imre Nagy becoming the new prime minister with support of General Bela Kiraly. A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside. (5)
            The fight ceased from October 30th to November 4th, with the Hungarian people believing that the Soviet army has retreated for good. However, the Soviet government revoked its decision not to intervene, and the Soviet forces re-entered Hungary. On November 4th, Soviet tanks penetrated Budapest. The fight went on until the ceasefire of November 10th, in the form of a "well-equipped foreign army crushing by overwhelming force a national movement and eliminating the Government", according to the words of UN report.
(6) Hungary once again fell under the Soviet influence, with thousands of people arrested and eventually executed. Imre Nagy was executed after a trial in 1958.

III. Intervention of the United States

III.1 Background

III.1.1 Containment Policy
            There were primarily two different strategies that the United States used against the Eastern Block: the rollback strategy and containment strategy. Rollback strategy, a more aggressive of the two, was a strategy which tries to force change in the major policies of a state, usually by replacing its ruling regime. The Korean War, before Chinese intervention, was one example where the U.S. endorsed a rollback policy. The rollback strategy, however, carried the risk of failure and also of worsening conflict. As the fear of nuclear war heightened, the United States often adopted "containment policy" instead of rollback strategy. Containment was a policy using military, economic, and diplomatic strategies to ¡°contain¡± the spread of communism, instead of trying to undo the changes that were already made. The Eisenhower regime, after several aggressive rollback actions, realized the danger of general nuclear war and turned to containment policy, especially from 1956. As a result, the U.S. developed policies such as economic and psychological warfare, covert operations, and, at a later stage, negotiation with the Soviet Union regarding the status of the East-bloc states. (7)

III.1.2 Psychological warfare
            Psychological warfare, a tactic involving the use of propaganda or similar methods to demoralize the enemy in an attempt to ensure victory, possibly without even having to use physical violence, was raised to the level of high art during the Cold War. The U.S. Department of Defense defines psychological warfare as "The planned use of propaganda and other psyche logical actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives. See also psychological warfare consolidation." (8) During the Cold War period, this tactic was used against communist countries, primarily the Soviet Union, in order to influence the public opinion. Combined with the containment policy, psychological warfare was used to encourage the people in Eastern countries to achieve independence by their own effort, without the United States directly taking part.

III.2 Involvement before & during the revolution

III.2.1 NCFE (National Committee for a Free Europe)
            On June 1, 1949, a group of prominent American businessmen, lawyers, and philanthropists launched the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE), also called the Free Europe Committee (FEC), at a press release in New York. Its outward mission was to support the refugees and provide them with a useful outlet for their opinions and creativity. Not many people, even inside the committee, were aware that beneath the surface NCFE was in fact an innovative psychological warfare project undertaken and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the future Director of CIA, Allen Dulles, being the founder of the committee. Dwight Eisenhower, at that time General of the Army, was also one of the early members. This operation would become one of the longest running and successful covert action campaigns ever mounted by the United States, lasting for more than 30 years.
            NCFE often affiliated with anti-Communist emigre groups from Eastern Europe in the United States to develop operations abroad. The idea was to fund selected emigres in their activities to demonstrate that the Soviet-style dictatorships in Eastern Europe oppressed the aspirations of their people. NCFE was the American umbrella for these exiled European figures in the United States, raising private funds through Crusade for Freedom to supplement CIA funding and organizing exile activities to reach back to their occupied homelands. (9) For the people in target countries, these emigres represented the voice of the U.S. NCFE successfully maintained the title of a non-governmental agency, while engaging in propaganda operations planned by the government.

III.2.1.1 Free Europe Press (FEP)
            In August 1951, the National Committee for a Free Europe created the Free Europe Press (FEP), which was used not only for the printing of various publications in the USA and Europe but also for the printing of leaflets and launching of balloons to carry them to the countries in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary.
            One important project of FEP included book distribution plan, for a book could be an effective propaganda medium, being able to profoundly influence a person¡¯s mind and thoughts. With people like George Minden, an emigre from Romania, and Samuel walker, cooperating with young exiles from Eastern Europe, all kinds of books, magazines and published materials were sent to intellectuals, especially pro-communist intellectuals, of the Eastern Europe. This was different from the leaflets targeting the already anti-communist mass. The principles for book selection were these:
            "All materials must appear under "sponsorship" of a cover organization. There should be no total attacks on communism. Mailings should favor "revisionist" trends among the new elites. Practical alternatives to doctrinaire Marxist principles should receive high priority. Crossreporting (i.e., reports of what is going on in the other East European countries) should be used to demonstrate what might be possible in their country. Negative developments to weaken confidence in the bonafides of their government may be used. ... Our primary aim should be to demonstrate the superior achievements of the West." (10)

III.2.1.2 Operation Focus
            Among the more overt operations by FEP was the distribution of leaflets using balloons. These leaflets were not much different from propaganda materials by communist regimes, propagating freedom with various methods and often including information on schedules and frequencies of Radio Free Europe's broadcasts.
            FOCUS was the name of the balloon program for Hungary that started 1 October 1954 and continued until February 1955. It was timed to coincide with local November elections in Hungary and was meant to "focus" the attention of Hungarian citizens on attainable goals. Focus encouraged the Hungarian people to demand certain legitimate attainable demands by which they could baffle, thwart, and wrench concessions from the regime. The most important leaflet was "Manifesto and Twelve Demands of the National Resistance Movement." The Hungarian acronym for "National Resistance Movement" was "NEM", which means "no" in Hungarian.
            Following are the opening paragraph and the 12 demands:
            "The National Resistance Movement believes that the time has come to use new and more effective legal means to win liberty for the people and to dispel the Communist darkness over our land. The Hungarian people in all walks of life have just and fundamental complaints against the regime. They have made evident with increasing success their opposition to the oppressive rule of Soviet Communism. The time has therefore come to form a mass movement on the broadest popular basis. This movement expresses the will of the Hungarian people. Its task is to focus the sprit of opposition in constructive and effective ways."
            1. Real autonomy for the local councils.
            2. Free speech; free assembly.
            3. The rule of law, not the reign of the Party.
            4. The land belongs to those who till it.
            5. Free trade unions and free workers.
            6. An end to industrial slavery.
            7. Production for Hungary¡¯s well being.
            8. Living standards must be raised.
            9. Services for the people in the hands of the people.
            10. Homes, not barracks.
            11. Equality of education; free intellectual life.
            12. Freedom of worship and of conscience.

            The FEP also produced a newspaper entitled Szabad Magyarorszag ("Free Hungary"). 19 issues were printed and carried with the leaflets. Sometimes the leaflets were about jokes mocking communist regime, many of them gummed so that they can be attached somewhere. On Christmas and Easter, beautiful greetings leaflets were often delivered. None of these leaflets had any political text, but the messages were such that one could compare the suffering of the martyrs with life of communism. (11)

Image 1 : The 12 Demands of the National Opposition Movement

Image 2 : The "Nem" sticker

Image 3 : Szabad Magyarorszag

Image 4 : The "Babies" joke leaflet

            Coincidentally, Operation Focus started during Imre Nagy's first term as the Prime Minister and ended before Rakosi became the one and only dictator. Although it was before Nagy turned against the Soviet Union, he was still a reformist unlike Rakosi who practiced strict dictatorship. What Operation Focus did, however, was trying to create negative sentiment against the government which was being ruled by Nagy at that time. This unfortunate timing of Operation Focus was regretted by the Government, and this operation, combined with the Radio Free Europe's broadcasts later on, played a part in diminishing Nagy's credibility during the revolution, which will be discussed in the later part of this paper.

III.2.2 Radio Free Europe (RFE), Voice of Free Hungary

III.2.2.1 Background
            Radio Free Europe was created and grew in its early years through the efforts of the NCFE. It was developed out of a belief that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means. RFE was modeled after Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), a U.S. government-sponsored radio service initially intended for Germans living in the American sector of Berlin but more widely listened to in East Germany. Staffed almost entirely by Germans with minimal U.S. supervision, the station provided free media to German listeners. In order to establish a broadcast presence in Europe like RIAS, the NCFE began an extensive fundraising effort known as the "Crusade for Freedom", to which countless American citizens donated with the pride of advocating freedom. RFE, however, never explicitly claimed that the fund came from the Crusade, and the spokesmen evaded the questions or simply responded with a bland "no comment", when asked by the media about the money sources. A large part of the Crusade¡¯s initial RFE funding came from the CIA. In January 1950 the NCFE obtained a transmitter base at Lampertheim, West Germany and on July 4 of the same year RFE completed its first broadcast aimed at Czechoslovakia. (12) "Voice of Free Hungary" (VFH) was the name of the RFE¡¯s program in Hungary, especially during the revolution.

III.2.2.2 Policies
            In policy, Radio Free Europe prohibited creating any false hope, which was not quite plausible considering the essential purpose of the broadcasts. RFE's "Special Guidance for Broadcasters on Liberation", dated September 2, 1952, provided following advice:
            "We of RFE¡¦ cannot comment upon these statements with unqualified optimism, for to do so would be to deceive our listeners by inspiring in them exaggerated hope of Western Intervention."
            It was impossible, however, to reconcile what RFE guidelines originally stated as the radio¡¯s basic purpose - "keeping up the hopes of the enslaved people of Eastern and Central Europe" - with another "basic responsibility" later mentioned with the guidance principles, which was to refrain from stimulating, encouraging or precipitating "suicidal action based on hopes of armed liberation from outside.",/i> (13) The document titled "Suggested Guidance", issued on November 13, 1956, also reveal this contradiction. While advising to refrain from any tactical advice, the guidance also states that "RFE should fully report the support of the free world for the Hungarian people's fight for freedom." (14)
            The Special Guidance had to prohibit "comments" rather than the reporting itself on the topic of liberation, and prohibit only"unqualified" optimism, in order to avoid explicit self-contradiction. The vagueness allowed the policy to be left with the possibility of violation of the policy's core intention. In fact, the very name of the station and the phrase broadcast at the beginning and at the end of each program - "This is Radio Free Europe, the Voice of a Free Hungary." - contradicted the intention of the guideline.

III.2.2.3 Encouragement of the revolution
            There certainly existed policies regulating misleading encouragement, but they were weak policies and it was also not impossible to violate them. Firstly, it was not impossible to evade violation of policies but still subtly encourage expectations. A seemingly minor but revealing example was the discussion about the proper subtitle for leaflets which were created with the cooperation of FEP. Without debate, the title of the publication was set as Szabad Magyarorszag (Free Hungary). But there were two suggestions for a subtitle: A Nemzeti Ellenallasi Mozgalom Lapja (Journal of the National Resistance Movement) or A Nemzeti Ellenzeki Mozgalom Lapja (Journal of the National Opposition Movement). In each case the acronym was NEM. The decision was to use resistance, not opposition, even though there was no resistance and certainly no undergoing resistance movement in the early 1950s. (15)
            Explicit violation of the policies also existed. According to the internal policy review of RFE reported on December 5, 1956 by the RFE political adviser William Griffith, VFH broadcasters made many ¡°commentaries¡± in the broadcasts before November 4th. These commentaries were gradually restricted and reduced, but according to Griffith "the Hungarian Desk apparently found it difficult to surpass its desire to comment, for toward the latter part of November a trend back toward more commentaries (since checked) again became evident." (16) Griffith makes an assessment that "In general, we have found that the VFH did not measure up to our expectations during the first two weeks of the Hungarian Revolution. Although there were few genuine violations of policy and those did not occur in major political commentaries, the application of policy lines was more often than not crude and unimaginative. Many of the rules of effective broadcasting technique were violated. The tone of the broadcasts was over-excited. There was too much rhetoric, too much emotionalism, too much generalization."
            When citing the broadcasts that violated RFE policies, Griffith mentions that none of the related programs had the initials of the desk chief as having approved them for broadcast, which suggests that the chief did not read the final form before broadcast. 3 broadcast programs cited by Griffith, respectively broadcasted on the 27th, 28th, and 30th of October, give detailed instructions as to how partisan and Hungarian armed forces should fight. Then Zoltan Thury's "Special Short World Press Review" #1 of November 4th is mentioned as a broadcast that "probably constitutes the most serious violation of all." In the broadcast, excerpts from a London Observer Washington Dispatch of the same day are quoted :
            "If the Soviet troops really attack Hungary, if our expectations should hold true and Hungarians hold-out for three or four days, then the pressure upon the government of the United States to send military help to the Freedom Fighters will become irresistible !"
            Then Thury adds his commentary which clearly evidences a violation of the policy :
            "The reports from London, Paris, the U.S. and other Western reports show that the world's reaction to Hungarian events surpasses every imagination. In the Western capitals a practical manifestation of Western sympathy is expected at any hour." (17)
            Introducing a few more excerpts that do not explicitly violate the policies but still possibly gives false promise, Griffith concludes that it appears to have been a mistake to have permitted the VFH to broadcast any programs on military topics during the revolution.
            Although it is impossible to conclude from these broadcasts that the RFE was the ultimate cause of the uprising, it is also impossible to completely deny its influence. The hopeful, encouraging tone of the broadcasts and detailed tactical instructions would have undoubtedly added excitement to the already excited public. It true that many of the RFE employees were emigres, but for the Hungarian people the broadcasts were message from the West, the voice of America. Since RFE was one of the very few sources from which Hungarian people could obtain information on the Western world, RFE¡¯s press reviews, which cited hopeful foreign articles and even added the broadcaster¡¯s positive commentaries, were enough to give hope to the little-informed mass.

III.2.2.4 Influence on the Soviet military intervention by undermining Nagy's credibility
            Although RFE is often blamed for creating false hope amongst the Hungarian population, there is one more, and probably more important, kind of influence that RFE had on the revolution: the influence on Soviet decision-making to intervene. While it was not so easy for the general public to listen to RFE broadcasts due to Soviet jamming (although opinions vary on this point and the jamming problem was solved by October 24, 1956), the Hungarian and Soviet communist officials were in fact very well informed of the RFE programs, and RFE was an important source of information for them.
            When the first half of the revolution (before November 4th) drew to the close, the Soviet regime still held some credibility on Nagy, although not complete. In the discussions at Kremlin after the ceasefire, Khrushchev had in fact decided not to intervene militarily, and to leave Hungary with Nagy's reformist government. The United States, however, was faster in losing faith on Nagy, discrediting Nagy's ability to control the public and doubting his popularity. On 15 October 1956, when Hungarian Working People's Party readmitted Nagy, U.S. charge d'affaires Spencer Barnes advised the media to maintain neutral stance towards Nagy's government. On 23 October, Barnes once again urged the media to not take any stance towards Nagy, this time including a negative remark on Nagy. Sure enough, the next day (24 October) RFE issued its broadcasters a new set of guidelines: "avoid to the utmost extent any explicit or implicit support of individual personalities in a temporary government such as the communists Imre Nagy of Janos Kadar." (18)
            RFE's defamatory statements about Nagy began on 24 October, the first day of Nagy's appointment as Prime Minister. One RFE broadcaster, Janos Olvedi, asserted:
            "Instead of introducing real reforms, the [Nagy] regime tried to solve every problem by introducing only half-measures. They ignore the will of the people. Instead of setting up a popular representation, they continued to govern by way of a sham parliament." (19)
            When suspicions arose that Nagy had called in the first Soviet military intervention to the revolution, The RFE broadcasts accused Nagy and also blamed him for keeping some untrustworthy communists in his government, without acknowledging the fact that the RFE did not have enough information and thus had possibility of being incorrect. Griffith once again criticized the RFE program in review that"while the summaries presented in advance are measured, qualified, logical presentations of arguments and points of view, too many of the programs emerged in final form as bombastic, rhetorical, overly emotional blasts at the Nagy Government or certain members of it." (20)
            One of the most disparaging statement against Nagy, broadcast on 25 October by Andor Gellert, RFE's chief Hungarian editor, was as following:
            "Imre Nagy agreed to the invasion of Soviet troops. Already on this very day this step of his is put down as one of the greatest acts of treachery in Hungary's history. And this will be remembered forever. Imre Nagy, who covered his hands in Hungarian blood ... where are the traitors ... who are the murderers? Imre Nagy and his government ... only Cardinal Mindszenty has spoken out fearlessly." (21)
            RFE ardently advocated Cardinal Mindszenty, a popular Hungarian anti-communist cardinal, as a better figure to follow than Nagy. The United States was highly favorable of Mindscenty, and When RFE broadcasted his request for help from the U.S. and other powers, it further escalated Hungarians' expectation of American military aid.
            Meanwhile in Moscow, at the Presidium meeting of 26 October, Kremlin leaders were only just beginning to worry about Nagy's loyalty and managerial skills, but they mostly blamed Soviet statesman Anastas Mikoyan for not being strict enough. Soon, the influences of defamatory broadcasts reached Moscow. On 27 October, KGB Chief Serov, a direct route to Kremlin leaders' ears, reported to Moscow that "it is significant that proclamations have appeared around town at night, in which Imre Nagy is declared a traitor and Bela Kovacs is proposed as a Prime Minister. They are summoning people to organize demonstrations in Kovacs' favor." By 28 October the leaders in Kremlin have completely lost faith in Nagy, but they still decided not to intervene for Nagy regime was better than no regime. As disparagement of Nagy and promotion of Mindszenty continued, Khrushchev finally reversed his decision on October 31st. (22)
            In this case, as in the encouragement of revolution, Radio Free Europe was not the direct cause of the matter. The RFE¡¯s inflammatory broadcast programs, however, did contribute to Soviet and the Hungarian people¡¯s loss of faith on Imre Nagy, reducing Nagy¡¯s popularity and thus interrupting the revolution from having a strong and popular leadership.

IV. Lack of Western Involvement

IV.1 Background
            In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution was not the only event that demanded the West¡¯s attention. On 26 July 1956, the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal, after the U.S. and Britain rescinded their promise to fund the building of Aswan Dam, due to Egypt's increasing proximity with communist Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Nasser reacted to the American and British decision by declaring martial law in the Canal Zone and seizing control of the Suez Canal Company. Britain and France feared that Nasser might close the canal and cut off shipments of petroleum flowing from the Persian Gulf to Western Europe. When diplomatic efforts to settle the crisis failed, Britain and France secretly prepared military action to regain control of the canal and, if possible, to depose Nasser. They found a ready ally in Israel, whose brigades invaded Egypt on 29 Oct 1956.
            The United States, at that time, was eager to increase its influence on oil-rich Middle East. The American aspiration was to form an organization resembling NATO in Middle East that stands against the Soviet Block. For this reason the United States got involved in Suez Crisis, trying to persuade Egypt to join the anti-communist alliance. When Britain and France invaded Egypt, the US intervened and pressured Britain and France to retreat, which was eventually accepted by the two countries. Egypt, however, refused to trust the United States. (23)

IV.2 The United States
            From the first place, the United States did not intend any military intervention. Eisenhower, in a "report to the people of the Nation on developments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East" on 31 October, 1956, stated the U.S. stance as following:
            "After World War II, the Soviet Union used military force to impose on the nations of Eastern Europe, governments of Soviet choice - servants of Moscow. It has been consistent U.S. policy to seek to end this situation¡¦ that these countries, over-run by wartime armies, would once again know sovereignty and self government. We could not, of course, carry out this policy by resort to force. Such force would have been contrary both to the best interests of the Eastern European peoples and to the abiding principles of the United Nations. But we did help to keep alive the hope of these peoples for freedom." (24)
            As situation in Hungary turned violent, urgent appeals from the Hungarians for Western aid were repeated from November 1st to 4th. The United States offered some financial aid and sent a pleading message to the Soviet government, but there was no active involvement. In fact, there was a plan to airlift supplies to the Hungary, provided that direct military intervention was out of question, but Eisenhower even overruled that plan. (25)
            In his press conference on 14 November, 1956, Eisenhower made following comment:
            "But I must make one thing clear: the United States doesn¡¯t now, and never has, advocated open rebellion by an undefended populace against force over which they could not possibly prevail.
            We, on the contrary, have always urged that the spirit of freedom be kept alive; that people do not lose hope. But we have never in all the years that I think we have been dealing with problems of this sort urged or argued for any kind of armed revolt which could bring about disaster to our friends."

            This attitude, of course contradicting the broadcasts of the Radio Free Europe, partly came from the containment policy which tried to avoid conflict with the Soviet Union, but there were more than one reason behind the United States¡¯ lack of involvement. One problem was the poor intelligence of the United States. The United States failed to gather enough information so as to anticipate and prepare for the event. The NCS' report of 27 June 1956, just four months before the revolution began, had ruled out the possibility of open popular revolt in Hungary. (26)
            The Suez crisis also played an extremely important role. On the NSC meeting of November 1, 1956, the date that Soviet forces started re-entering Hungary, Suez crisis prevailed the discussion, while the Hungarian issue was only briefly discussed and deferred until the subsequent meeting on November 15th. (27) The real problem, however, was not that Suez distracted U.S. attention from Hungary, but rather that it made the condemnation of Soviet actions very difficult. Richard Nixon later explained: "We couldn't on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against [Gamel Abdel] Nasser." (28)

IV.3 The United Nations - Britain, France, and the United States
            On November 1st, when the second intervention of Soviet forces started, Imre Nagy was pleading for the UN¡¯s help by notes handed to every legation in diplomatic French, by radio, and by a teletype message sent to the United Nations building in New York. It could not have come at a less opportune time, however. The General Assembly meeting was scheduled that day, but it was about the Suez crisis, not Hungary. Eisenhower and Dulles had decided to teach the British and French a lesson, and it was the most important issue that occupied their minds. Nagy¡¯s appeal was distributed to all UN delegates with no priority markings, but most of them ignored it. (29)
            In the assembly, Hungary was mentioned for once or twice, but no resolution was made, and discussion on Suez continued. Some pointed out that the expression "forthcoming assembly" could be taken as the next assembly of November 12th, but this argument was contradicted as Nagy's second message calling for a discussion of Hungary at the assembly on November 1st was revealed. (30)
            In fact, until November 28, the three great powers (the U.S., Britain and France) had agreed that the Soviet forces in Hungary should be condemned, but they had decided to take some time and observe the situation before making any decision, thus not settling any resolution. When violent military conflict started on the 29th, however, the three countries¡¯ attitudes drastically changed. Britain and France wanted to bring the Hungarian issue to the General Assembly so that they can divert the attention from Suez Crisis, but the U.S., looking for the solution to the Middle Eastern crisis, did its best to cross the Anglo-French plan and keep the Hungarian issue before the Security Council. The U.S. indeed succeeded in preventing the Hungarian issue from being discussed in the General Assembly. (31)

V. Reflections

V.1 The West

Image 5 : Time Magazine, January 7, 1956

V.1.1 The Media
            Since the Suez Crisis grabbed the attention of the West, the Hungarian Revolution was not the most interesting news for the Western people at that time. Nonetheless, the event could be a symbol of liberation policy, and it was also a good example of communist brutality. Hungarian revolutionaries were often depicted as heroes that fought against the brutality of the Red Army and Soviet Communism.
            The Time Magazine picked a "Hungarian Freedom Fighter" as its "man of the year" of 1956. On the January 7, 1956 issue of the magazine, a drawing of a Hungarian revolutionary was used as the cover of the magazine, with an article of featured story on Hungarian history included. The article itself, however, concentrated more on explaining the brutality of Soviet occupation of Hungary rather than the braveness of Hungarian fighters. (32)
            News reels also reported on the Hungarian Revolution as a glorious fight against communism. British Pathe and UPI produced several news reels on the situation in Hungary. The titles usually showed the glory of freedom against Soviet communism, as in "Freedom Road - Hungarian Patriots Force Red Retreat". The spirit of freedom fighters was praised and the brutality of Soviet troops was condemned, as in the following excerpt:
            ""The victory seems complete ... the jubilant people of Budapest, brushed with the excitement of their historic struggle, surround our cameraman's car. They press closer, pleading, "tell the world we are free! We have cast off our chains." ... Russian tanks rumble back into Budapest to turn that hope into heartbreak. 5000 come with 200,000 Soviet troops to snuff out the torch that brave Budapest had held so high." (33)

V.1.2 Reflections on Western Involvement
            The West, especially the United States and its RFE operation, was very often criticized for encouraging hope of external aid and failing to fulfill that hope. Although it is rather hard to find justification statement for the creation of false hope, regarding the lack of intervention of the West, the most prevailing argument is that it was an inevitable choice in order to avoid a general war. Several years after the revolution, Eisenhower wrote in his memoir:
            "The Hungarian uprising, from its beginning to its bloody suppression, inspired in our nation feelings of sympathy and admiration for the rebels, anger and disgust for their Soviet oppressors. No one shared these feelings more keenly than I; indeed, I still wonder what would have been my recommendation to the Congress and the American people had Hungary been accessible by sea or through the territory of allies who might have agreed to react positively to any attempt to help prevent the tragic fate of the Hungarian people.
            Unless the major nations of Europe would, without delay, ally themselves spontaneously with us (an unimaginable prospect), we could do nothing. Sending United States troops alone into Hungary through hostile or neutral territory would have involved us in general war. Though the General Assembly passed a resolution calling upon the Soviets to withdraw their troops, it was obvious that no mandate for military action could or would be forthcoming. I realized that there was no use going further into this possibility."
            Stephen Ambrose, a U.S. historian, shared Eisenhower's view on this matter:
            "But although the United States had anticipated a revolt, and had indeed encouraged it, both through Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts and through CIA-created underground resistance cells within Eastern Europe¡¦ there was nothing the United States could do anyway¡¦ Hungary was surrounded by Communist states, plus neutral Austria, and had a common border with the Soviet Union. It had no ports. There was almost no trade going on between the United States and the Russians. There was no pressure, in short, except for the amorphous one of world public opinion, that Eisenhower could bring to bear on the Soviets in Hungary. He knew it, had known it all along, which made all the four years of Republican talk about ¡°liberation¡± so essentially hypocritical." (35)
            Furthermore, Peter Freyer, a British communist who was in Hungary as a journalist during the revolution, argues the inevitability by saying that "Hungary's October had to happen, sooner or later, whether or not the Americans were doing their utmost to provoke trouble." (36)
            Nonetheless, criticisms also existed within the West, as in Griffith¡¯s harsh criticism of the RFE¡¯s inflammatory broadcasts in his policy review. Albert Camus, a French writer, regretted Europe¡¯s lack of attention on Hungarian problem, in his 1957 speech, an open letter titled "The Blood of the Hungarians" on the first anniversary of the Hungarian revolution:
            "... Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years. But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary, and it can be no comfort to us, for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories¡¦" (37)

V.2 The Hungarian Perspective
            According to a survey among Hungarian refugees in Austria in February 1957, 96 percent had trusted in some kind of assistance from the United States and 77 percent understood this to be military assistance. (38) Even though the hope of external aid was never a direct cause of the revolution, many Hungarians were encouraged by the hope of Western intervention. Aniko Vajda, a Hungarian fighter, testified in an interview,
            "Radio Free Europe, they were saying, "hang on for three weeks. Three more weeks, we come in. We help you." So we fight for the last drop of blood we were holding onto. And what happened was, it was lying to us. Nobody came." (39)
            Radio Free Europe was not necessarily the only factor that encouraged the Hungarian public. Hungarian ambassador Geza Jeszenky stated in his interview in 1988 that "Perhaps the Hungarians were misled, not by the radio, but by the propaganda language by the U.S. administration. It spoke about liberation and rollback. Eisenhower kept speaking about liberation, but as a historian put it, it proved to be only a myth. Liberation was not meant seriously." At the question whether he thinks U.S. intervention would have led to a general world war, he replies "Absolutely not. Think of the Korean War. We did not think of U.S. intervention, but rather by the United Nations, like in Korea. Korea was not a U.S. war, but a U.N. war." (40)
            The American distrust in Imre Nagy is also hinted in the memoir of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty:
            "... At the time it rather surprised me that my case was handled so promptly. A few days later, however, I read in foreign newspapers that Imre Nagy had already asked the Americans to grant me asylum on the preceding day. If that were so, the officer had accompanied us in an official capacity, but he certainly had not mentioned Imre Nagy. If it is true that Imre Nagy appealed to Washington in my behalf, it would have been a noble action¡¦" (41)
            Thomas Torda, a U.S.-born Hungarian, criticizes the U.S. policy in 1956 as following, on behalf of the Hungarian people who fought in the revolution:
            "... the U.S. Government failed to live up to its ¡°liberation¡± philosophy¡¦ There should be little doubt left that the Republican Party's 'liberation' philosophy was, in fact, nothing more than a sham and a propaganda ploy?and, via the RFE and Voice of America broadcasts, one which let down millions of Hungarians¡¦ It is all very well to advocate ideals such as liberation and the promotion of democracy in the abstract. These ideals sound good, they strike the right notes, and they address the right audiences, but when such rhetoric meets the reality ¡°on the ground,¡± the logic of Realpolitik is much more likely to prevail." (42)

VI. Conclusion
            Under the influence of the Cold War, Europe was divided: the Europe east of the Iron curtain, and the Europe west of the Iron curtain. The Western powers, including The United States, sought to minimize the influence of the Soviet Union, the leading superpower of the communist Eastern Block. The United States, the rival of the Soviet Union, was the leader of the West in the Cold War. The U.S. practiced aggressive 'rollback' strategy when situation allowed, and resorted to 'containment' policy when they needed to avoid conflict. As this war was a war of ideologies, highly sophisticated forms of psychological warfare developed, allowing the superpower nations to expand their sphere of influence among other countries.
            This, instead of humanitarian sympathy for the Hungarian people, was the primary motive behind the Western intervention in the Hungarian Revolution. The United States got involved in the revolution, influenced it, and in the process planted hopes and expectations to the people in Hungary, partly by intention and partly by accident. Hungarian people¡¯s desperate aspirations, however, was not shared by the United States, and this resulted in a bitter disappointment of the Hungarian people as their revolution failed without any sufficient aid from the West.
            National Committee of Free Europe (NCFE) and subsequent operations such as Free Europe Press (FEP) and Radio Free Europe (RFE) were the American organizations that had high possibility of misleading people. The operations of those organizations, with secret funding of the CIA, propagated the idea of ¡®freedom¡¯ among the Hungarian people. Although the public was already exited with lots of demands coming up, the involvement of the United States further added the enthusiasm of the people.
            Since there were few sources from which people could get information on the West, many people relied on the American sources. RFE broadcasts stimulated hope of Western help to those listeners, sometimes even against the RFE policies which commanded neutrality. The problem was that it was never the intention of the United States to carry out overt, direct intervention, trying to avoid general war and maintaining containment policy. The RFE also added to the lack of popularity of Imre Nagy both between the Hungarian public and the Soviet officials. Unlike in the Polish revolt where the United States was in favor of the leader, Nagy could not get enough support, and was sometimes even disparaged (this also against the RFE policies) by the Radio. This influenced the leadership¡¯s lack of power and the Soviet decision to distrust Nagy and intervene.
            The Suez Crisis, which developed to a violent military conflict at the same time in a perfect coincidence, further exacerbated the situation. This war in the Middle East grabbed the attention of the western world, making the Hungarian Revolution seem less important. Britain and France, although being two great powers of the West, was too occupied by their business in the Middle East to care about the Hungarian issue. The Suez Crisis also took the attention of the U.S. from Hungary, and made it impossible for the U.S. to oppose Soviet action while Britain and France was doing something similar in the Middle East. As a result, Hungarian plea for the UN¡¯s aid was not heard, Britain, France and the U.S. being the three greatest Western powers in UN.
            Considering the international and America¡¯s domestic situation in 1956, the U.S. and UN¡¯s decision not to intervene is not entirely incomprehensible. It was logical for the United States to have a fear of general nuclear war, and the Western interests related to the Middle East to enough to make the Middle East a priority to Hungary. The problem, however, is that the Hungarian people were driven to expect some help from the West, as the surveys and testimonies of many Hungarians prove. It was practically impossible to not give any hope while carrying out active propaganda missions designed to encourage liberation - the policies of the RFE were in reality useless. The biggest mistake of the Western powers was not that they refrained from direct intervention, but rather that they gave false hope to the people through planned propaganda that was designed to fulfill their own political motive.

(1)      UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) Chapter II. A ("Developments before 22 October 1956"), p.18
(2)      Tökes 1998 p.317.
(3)      Heindorffhus Shoebox
(4)      UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) Chapter II. A ("Developments before 22 October 1956"), p.18
(5)      Ibid. p.23
(6)      Ibid. p.186
(7)      Britannica Online Encyclopedia - article containment
(8)      Taylor 1987
(9)      CIA 2007
(10)      Matthews 2003 pp.409-427
(11)      Psywarrior - Article "Free Europe Press Cold War Leaflets"
(12)      Puddington 2003
(13)      Gati 2006, pp.73-74
(14)      CIA 1956
(15)      Gati 2006, p.74
(16)      Griffith 1956 p.2
(17)      Ibid., p.6
(18)      Nowak 1956 p.7
(19)      Granville 2004
(20)      Griffith 1956 p.8
(21)      Granville 2004
(22)      ibid.
(23)      Britannica Online Encyclopedia - article "Suez Crisis"
(24)      Washington Post (November 1, 1956), p.A18.
(25)      Colby 1978 pp.134-135
(26)      Borhi 1999 pp.67-110
(27)      Irving 1981
(28)      Borhi 1999 pp.67-110
(29)      Irving 1981 p.521
(30)      ibid. p.522
(31)      Bekes 2000
(32)      Time Magazine Jan. 7 1957 (33)      Kozosseg, 2006
(34)      Eisenhower 1969, p.166
(35)      Ambrose 1984, p.355
(36)      Freyer 1980
(37)      Camus 1957
(38)      Bekes 2009
(39)      BBC & CNN 1998
(40)      CNN November 8, 1998
(41)      Mindszenty 1974
(42)      Thorda 2006

Visual Sources

1) Psywarrior - Article "Free Europe Press Cold War Leaflets"
2) ibid.
3) ibid.
4) ibid.
5) Time Magazine Jan. 7 1957


Note : websites quoted below were visited in Fall 2011.

Primary Sources

1.      UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary, New York, 1957
2.      CIA Secret Document - "Suggested Guidance", 13 November 1956
3.      William Griffith, Policy Review of Voice for Free Hungary Programming, October 23 - November 23, 1956, December 5, 1956, restored in the National Security Archive of George Washington University,
4.      "Text of President's Speech," The Washington Post, 1 November 1956
5.      "Man Of The Year: THE LAND & THE PEOPLE", Times Magazine, Jan 7, 1957, from Time Archive,,16641,19570107,00.html
6.      The 1956 Hungarian Revolution as Depicted in Newsreels (1956), video compilation by Magyar Barati Kozosseg, 2006
7.      In Review, Dwight D. Eisenhower , NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969
8.      "Hungarian Tragedy", Peter Freyer, Eyewitness in Hungary: The Soviet Invasion of 1956, Edited by Bill Lommax, 1980
9.      Albert Camus' open letter "The Blood of the Hungarians", 1957, postyed by Institute of Hungarian Studies,
10.      CNN, edited transcript of the interview with Geza Jeszensky, November 8, 1998 11.      Memoirs, Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty, Macmillan Publishing, 1974
12.      Redjade Gaston Vadasz¡¯s speech about the 1956 Revolution, Audio source, posted on Internet Archive,

Secondary Sources

13.      Hungary's Negotiated Revolution: Economic Reform, Social Change and Political Succession, Rudolf L. Tökes, Cambridge University Press, 1998
14.      Britannica Online Encyclopedia - article "containment"
15.      "Glossary of Relevant Terms & Acronyms, Propaganda and Psychological Warfare Studies University of Leeds UK, Phil Taylor (1987), University of Leeds UK.
16.      Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - Featured Story Archive 2007, "A look back¡¦"
17.      "The West¡¯s Secret Marshal Plan for the Mind", John P.C. Matthews, International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, vol. 16, no. 3 (July/Sept. 2003)
18.      Psywarrior - Article "Free Europe Press Cold War Leaflets"
19.      Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Arch Puddington, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003
20.      Failed illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian revolt, Charles Gati, Stanford University Press, 2006
21.      "Poles and Hungarians in 1956", Jan Nowak, unpublished paper delivered at conference "Hungary and the World, 1956: the New Archival Evidence, 26-29 September 1996," Budapest
22.      "Radio Free Europe's impact on the Kremlin in the Hungarian crisis of 1956: three hypotheses", Johana Granville, Canadian Journal of History, December 1, 2004
23.      Britannica Online Encyclopedia - article "Suez Crisis"
24.      Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA, William Colby, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978
25.      "Rollback, Liberation, Containment, or Inaction ?: U.S. Policy and Eastern Europe in the 1950s", Laszlo Borhi, Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 1, Number 3, Fall 1999
26.      Uprising! One Nation's Nightmare: Hungary 1956, David Irving, Focal Point, 1981
27.      "The Hungarian Question on the UN Agenda", Csaba Bekes, Hungarian Quarterly, spring 2000
28.      Eisenhower, Vol. 2: The President, Stephen E. Ambrose, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984
29.      "Could the Hungarian Revolution Have Succeeded in 1956? Myths, Legends, and Illusion", Csaba Bekes, The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives., 2009
30.      BBC & CNN documentary series - The Cold War, #7 "After Stalin (1953 - 1956)", 1998
31.      "The Hungarian Revolution and America¡¯s Failure to Actively Respond: Personal View of a U.S.-born Hungarian-American", Thomas J. Thorda, 2006, submitted to the conference in Budapest on the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.
32.      1956 Counter-Revolution in Hungary: Words and Weapons, Janos Berecz, Budapest, 1986
31.      The Hungarian Revolution?Uprising, Budapest 1956, Attila J. Urmenyhazi, American Hungarian Federation, 2006
33.      Cold War, Detente and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Csaba Bekes, Cold war History Research Center, 2002
34.      "CIA had Single Officer in Hungary 1956" - The National Security Archive
35.      Setting the Record Straight: Role of Radio Free Europe in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Ross Johnson, Hoover Institution, 2006
36.      "Hungarian Hyperinflation" - article in Heindorffhus Shoebox

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