|Some Comments Regarding the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
Some Comments Regarding the 1956 Hungarian Revolution*
Lajos F. Szaszdi
The truth is that during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the U.S. government under President Eisenhower acted with astonishing timidity by not reacting with firmness to stand up to the Soviet Union in defense of Hungary. The U.S. had strategic bombers that could have been flown to Great Britain to send a warning to the Soviets; it could have deployed an aircraft carrier to the Adriatic Sea - gunboat diplomacy - to threaten air strikes against Soviet forces if they invaded Hungary; it could have refrained from instructing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Henry Cabot Lodge to declare at the United Nations that the Hungarians and the Soviets will resolve the crisis together and alone.
Henry Cabot Lodge’s statement was made on the eve of the Soviet invasion, thus constituting an actual green light to a Russian military intervention. Indeed, according to the recollections from those days of historian and university professor Dr. Ádám Szászdi Nagy, early in November 1956, on the 3rd of the month, when the Hungarian Ambassador at the U.N. wanted to convene a special session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the threat of a Soviet invasion against Hungary, Henry Cabot Lodge said that meeting for this purpose was not necessary, because such a session would distract the Security Council from the Suez Canal crisis, and that he knew that the Hungarian and Soviet governments were talking to each other to solve the crisis.(1) Consequently, according to the U.S. U.N. Ambassador, there was no need for an intervention by the Security Council on the crisis in Hungary. Then, the next day the Soviets invaded Hungary. According to Life magazine's special report titled “Hungary's Fight for Freedom,” “Nov. 3 was a day of strange suspense. A report had it that Nagy and the Soviet ambassador had agreed on the formation of mixed Hungarian-Soviet commissions to oversee the Russian evacuation.” The magazine’s report continued: “In the early-morning hours of Sunday Nov. 4, massive Russian tank and artillery forces . . . smashed into Budapest and into the provincial strongholds of the freedom fighters.”(2)
It is important to remember that the U.S. enjoyed total nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union in 1956 in terms of numbers of weapons, types, and the ability to deliver them into Soviet territory. In this regard, Eisenhower could have threatened the Russians to back off and let Hungary become a neutral country. The USAF had in 1955 a total of 1,350 bombers with the capability of bombing the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, while the Soviet Union could only muster 350 bombers with a similar capability.(3) Also, in May 1956 a B-52B Stratofortress heavy bomber became the first aircraft of this type to have successfully dropped a hydrogen bomb, tested over Bikini Atoll.(4) So awesome was the U.S. military power at the time that Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in reference to it that Washington “now seemed to have both the capacity to inflict very heavy damage on the Soviet Union and to significantly impede any Soviet effort to seize Western Europe.”(5) But Eisenhower was too cautious to dare take a step in support of freedom. Khrushchev himself saw the former SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) apparent irresolute posture, pointing out that the U.S. President was “a good man, but he wasn't very tough.”(6) The firm stance taken by the U.S. over the Cuban Missile Crisis six years later - and back in 1956 the Soviet Union was much weaker in its nuclear arsenal than in 1962, when its strategic nuclear forces were still inferior to those of the U.S. - would also suggest that when faced with the prospect of World War III, the Soviet leadership and Khrushchev in particular would have backed down from the brink. This point was made in a letter appealing for help delivered to the U.S. legation in Budapest on November 4 by Professor István Bibó, appointed Minister of State by the Nagy government the day before. In his message Bibó said: “This is the historical moment to which both President Eisenhower and secretary of state Dulles have referred in speeches in which they said that only by risking a world war can a sure way be found to avert the outbreak of a new world war.”(7) We will never know, but it cannot be ruled out that if the White House would have acted firmly and unambiguously, the U.S. could have “convinced” Khrushchev to let Hungary go.
(1) See also David Irving, Uprising! One Nation’s Nightmare: Hungary 1956 (Bullsbrook, Australia: Veritas Publishing Company, 1986), 503.
(2) The Editors of Life, “Hungary’s Fight for Freedom. A Special Report in Pictures,”
Life, 1956, 70.
(3) Thomas G. Paterson, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Policy. A History - 1900 to Present, 3rd ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1988), 488.
(4) James Norris Gibson, The History of the US Nuclear Arsenal (Greenwich, Conn.: Brompton Books, 1989), 113; “Service of RB-52B/B-52B,” 21 June 2000 [information page on-line]; available from http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b52_5.html; Internet; accessed 20 September 2006; “Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD): B-52 B,” GlobalSecurity.org, 28 April 2005 [information site on-line]; available from http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/systems/b-52b.htm; Internet; accessed 20 September 2006.
(5) Zbigniew Brzezinski, "The Competitive Relationship," in Caging the Bear, ed. Charles Gati (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974), 168, quoted in Thomas G. Paterson, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Policy. A History - 1900 to Present, 3rd ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1988), 488, n. 55.
(6) Nikita S. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, trans. Strobe Talbott (New York: Bantam Books, 1971), 434, quoted in Thomas G. Paterson, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Policy. A History - 1900 to Present, 3rd ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1988), 488, n. 54.
(7) Italics are Irving’s. See Irving, 497, 516-17.
*The following article is based on a letter published by the author in the UNICUM e-mail list before 2003.