January 29, 2006


Laying claim to Hungary's 1956 revolution: Hungary is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the uprising against the Russians. Viktor Sebastyen, whose family left Hungary when he was a young child, has written a book about the 1956 uprising. He says that despite the passing years, there is still an uneasy relationship with Russia. (Viktor Sebastyen, 1/29/06, BBC News)

Even now, with Budapest a bustling, modern European capital teeming with tourists, you can see, if you look very closely, that a few of the city's public buildings and biggest apartment blocks are pockmarked by bullet holes.

They are a reminder of a 50-year-old national trauma: The 1956 Hungarian revolution which was brutally crushed by the then Soviet Union. [....]

Many were hardly more than children at the time, 13- and 14-year-olds who battled against Soviet tanks armed with just a few rifles and Molotov cocktails.

For a few euphoric days it even looked, miraculously, as though they might win against the might of the world's then second superpower, but then reality bit back.

The Russians returned with overwhelming force, crushed the rebels and did not leave for a further 33 years.

Thousands left Hungary as refugees after the revolution and many hundreds returned after the collapse of communism to spend the last years of their lives in the country of their birth.

Ninety-two-year old General Bela Kiraly, who led the revolutionary forces, acts as an unofficial spokesman for them.

Two metres tall, ramrod straight, Gen Kiraly retains the military bearing and the impeccable manners of a different age.

He escaped to the West after the tragedy of 1956 and was sentenced to death for treason in his absence by a communist court.

He lived in America for three decades where he taught history at a college in New York, but he took the first opportunity open to him to go back.

After WWII there were just two issues that mattered, one domestic and one foreign: rolling back the New Deal welfare state and toppling the USSR. Ike wasted an opportunity to begin the latter here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2006 7:48 AM

It must have been awkward to help in force, since the only path into Hungary was through Austria which was neutral and wouldn't give consent. Still, he should have found a way.

Posted by: pj at January 29, 2006 8:47 AM

We still had total nuclear supremacy at that point.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2006 8:54 AM

It would have taken a completely different type of general to start something. A Patton, perhaps. But he would have been a terrible politician. Besides, no American leader (except LeMay) would have had the stones to use nukes as an opening.

Posted by: ratbert at January 29, 2006 10:00 AM

It was a huge missed opportunity, but given how woeful US intelligence was when it came to discerning the state of the Politburo or the Soviet Union's inferior nuke arsenal, it's hard to blame Ike for being cautious.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at January 29, 2006 10:22 AM

LeMay was ready, willing, and able.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2006 10:39 AM

True. Soviet might was grossly exaggerated by the media right up until the day it collapsed. Lost opportunity? Maybe, but knowing what we know now, I imagine that had Ike attempted to go to the aid of Hungary, the anti-war/pro-Soviet/hippy-dippy movement would have just started ten years earlier.

Posted by: erp at January 29, 2006 11:29 AM

How many millions of Russian civilians, women and children would die in an American nuclear strike in the 1950s? How many Europeans, Japanese and Americans? How would this number compare to those actually killed by the post-Stalin Soviet system?

FYI America's total nuclear arsenal in 1956 was almost 3,700 warheads of which over 2,100 were strategic. The Soviet nuclear arsenal at the time was 400 warheads of which 84 were strategic. Neither side had ICBMs so a successful first strike with a bombers only nuclear force would have been impossible. (see http://www.thebulletin.org/article_nn.php?art_ofn=nd94norris, scroll down to table for data)

The Soviet Airforce at the time were transitioning from the Tu-4 and TU-16 medium range bombers to the USSR's first true intercontinental bomber, the TU-95. Prior to 1956, attacks against the continental United States were to be made by one-way bomber runs (see http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/bomber/tu-4.htm):

Immediately after serial production of the Tu-4 was initiated, work began to adapt the bomber to strike at American territory. Some airplanes were outfitted to carry nuclear bombs and were designated as TU-4A. During re-equipment, the bomber was equipped with a thermostatically controlled heated bomb bay, a suspension unit for the bomb was developed, and biological protection devices for the crew were supplied. Some TU-4 bombers were equipped with aerial refueling devices, and very few were outfitted with additional fuel tanks located under the wings. They were deployed in 1952, though the majority of the TU-4 were not re-equipped with air refueling. Although the limited range of the Tu-4 rendered it incapable of striking the United States and subsequently returning to bases in the Soviet Union, neither country was a stranger to one-way strategic bombardment missions, given the precedent of the FRANTIC operations in World War II.

Being unable to destroy any of the USSR's nuclear assets in a first strike with slow moving bombers, Soviet retaliation was inevitable. It is reasonable to assume the a significant fraction of the Sobviet arsenal would reach its targets (nuclear explosions play havoc with the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including NORAD and NATO radars). Of the more than 300 non-strategic bombs aimed at Europe and Japan we can assume that most of them would get through since they could be escorted by Soviet fighters. Europe and Japan, as well as the USSR, would be reduced to a charnel house.

As for the US, if 3/4 of the 80 warhead Soviet strategic arsenal was shot down en route to America, at least 20 American cities would have been destroyed. Under these circumstances, millions of Americans would have died and America would no longer exist as a functioning society.

I'm not sure that I would call that "winning".

An American President who launched such an unprovoked attack would be a war criminal responsible for the deaths of 10s of millions of Russians, Europeans, Japanese and Americans. Such a president would have more blood on his hands than Hitler, Stalin or Mao.

I'm not sure I would call that "moral".

Posted by: bplus at January 29, 2006 2:47 PM

Follow up:

The DEW radar line built to warn the US of incoming attacks was not built until 1957. Given incomplete radar coverage of North America in 1956 and the effects of nuclear explosions on the radar spectrum, it is reasonable to assume that at least 50% to 75% of the Soviet bombers would reach their targets.

Make that 40 to 60 American cities destroyed instead of 20.

Maybe Ike was a little smarter than his current critics, people whohave never worn a uniform and whose level of military expertise does not reach that of armchair general.

Posted by: bplus at January 29, 2006 2:54 PM

The Russians have said that even as late as the Cuban missile crisis they didn't have a capacity to launch a serious strike on the US. They know better than you.

We'd have killed a bunch ofd Russians but saved their country by ending the regime thirty years earlier and saved our own country from the damage incurred in the 60s and 70s. Literally tens of millions of Chinese would have been saved.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2006 3:51 PM


You sound like Harry in your fealty towards Soviet weapons. It is unlikely that the Russians could have sent bombers on suicide missions involving thousands of miles - OTOH, that is what SAC was trained to do, under very harsh conditions (including losing a few planes to the Soviets). While it is possible that the Russian bombers could have hit a few targets, it is just silly to say they would have hit 20, 40, or 60. They would have been lucky to hit Seattle.

But, they could probably have hit Japan, Berlin, Istanbul, Tehran, Hong Kong (maybe), and parts of Europe without too much difficulty. So, I don't endorse the LeMay option.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 29, 2006 5:11 PM

So OJ you're "not saying we wouldn't get our hair messed".

Define "a bunch of Russian". Would that be more or less than those killed by Stalin himself? And how many Chinese would die in your follow up nuclear strike on the PRC? Why is it better for us to kill tham than Stalin or Mao?

And how many millions of Russian (and Chinese, and European and Japanese and American) dead are worth it to you to prevent hippies from appearing?

Posted by: bplus at January 29, 2006 5:20 PM

OJ makes a slightly better case here than in his "We should nuked the Soviets early on" plan, but I still don't think it would have been worth it, for the reasons stated above.

And how would it have saved any Chinese? Mao was firmly entrenched at that point. If the entire USSR were flattened in '56, Chiang Kai-Shek still wouldn't have had the ability to retake the mainland.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 29, 2006 5:30 PM

Chairman Mao, Ike on line #2--he says you're next....

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2006 5:34 PM

Because we'd be killing them for our ends, not Marxism's.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2006 5:36 PM

Papaya: Why is this argument better than doing it right after WWII, when only we had the bomb?

Posted by: David Cohen at January 29, 2006 6:19 PM

David: I am making the (perhaps false) assumption that we might have been able to help liberate Hungary without getting into an all-out war with the USSR.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 29, 2006 8:52 PM

OJ, what about all the dead Europeans and Japanese even if America emerges completely unscathed?

Why does killing for our ends make mass murder somehow better?

Wouldn't President OJ be a worse murderer than Stalin, Hitler and Mao combined?

Posted by: bplus at January 30, 2006 8:22 AM

Was FDR a mass murderer or Truman or Lincoln? Everyone dies, not everyone gets to die for a good end.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 8:39 AM

So which Marxist aphorism do you adhere to: "the ends justify the means" or "you can't break an omlet without breaking a few eggs"? You are the prefect example of someone who has become what he hates. If we were to commit this horrible act of mass murder, how would we be any better than the Soviets?

As for FDR,Truman and Lincoln did they commit a war crime by launching an unprovoked war of aggression? Men were hanged at Nuremberg for doing the same.

So what about all of those 10s of millions of dead Europeans and Japanese killed as a result of your action? As a Christian,wouldn't that bother your conscience even a little?

Posted by: bplus at January 30, 2006 9:04 AM

Of course ends justify means--if they didn't nothing would be justified.

If the Nazis had won FDR would have been hung at Nuremberg for things like bombing civilians. But the end justified what he did. His failure was not pursuing our war end to its end and leaving the Bolsheviks in place.

Who knows better than Christians that sometimes you have to give up your own life in order that good may triumph over evil?

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 9:10 AM

While Christians can sacrifice our own lives, we never ever have the right to sacrifice other innocent people.

Posted by: bplus at January 30, 2006 9:17 AM


No, the moral question is answered by the ends. You don't actually believe WWII was immoral because we killed millions of innocents, even though that's the dynamic you're arguing. You believe, rightly, that destroying Nazism made the deaths of innocents justified. That doesn't make you evil. Indeed, it would be evil that to believe thaty we should have let Hitler triumph rather than kill anyone ourselves.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 9:24 AM