’Not an Unmixed Evil’—the Eisenhower Administration and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Pierre Savard Graduate Student Colloquium / Le Colloque Pierre-Savard des Étudiants Diplômés, Department of History - University of Ottawa

April 2006

By 1956, the anti-Communist fervour of the high Cold War years had been, in part, replaced by a less overtly militant opposition to the Soviet Union. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Moscow’s brutal military response to the uprising tested the strength of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s seemingly more conciliatory approach to Nikita Khrushchev’s regime. Nevertheless, the uprising also served as a stark reminder of the reality of the Cold War to anyone whose anti-Communism had begun to waver in light of waning tensions between the two powers.

The policy of détente coupled by fears of widespread conflict precluded any US military intervention in Hungary during the revolution and served as the administration’s reasoning for not attempting to assist Hungarian revolutionaries in their attempt to break free from the Warsaw Pact.  Yet in early 1956, the US government knew full well that unrest in Hungary was a distinct possibility and—despite Eisenhower’s more conciliatory rhetoric—organizations affiliated with Washington, such as Radio Free Europe, followed a policy of anti-Communist agitation and created the impression in Hungary that America’s commitment to emancipating the “captive nations” included military intervention.

In the period leading up to the Hungarian revolution and during the uprising itself, anti-Soviet harangues broadcasted into Eastern Europe contrasted sharply with US foreign policy and the outward expressions of rapprochement. The Hungarian uprising of October 1956 proved to be Eastern Europe’s most bloody revolution, fuelled in part by the false hopes associated with America’s relentless verbal assault on Communism. Yet for Washington, the battles in Budapest were not meant to serve as a justification for US intervention, but rather as a graphic example of Soviet brutality and as a shocking reminder to domestic and western audiences of the repressive ways of Communist rule.

Christopher Adam