Hungary For War

The 1956 Anti-Soviet Protest led by Loyola University Students
Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

In the fall of 1956, Loyola University students went out into the city of Los Angeles and protested against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Hungary. This event was spurred by the maltreatment and oppression of the Hungarian people brought upon by the Soviet Union. In this protest, students held posters that declared “Free Hungary,” “Reds stop murdering Hungary,” and “We care, Don’t you?” These students were calling for Western intervention into this problematic situation and specifically wanted the United States government to get involved. These students gathered together outside Los Angeles City Hall, in front of Mayor Norris Poulson, and declared their sentiments and showed American and Hungarian unity by bringing together both nationalities and putting both respective flags side by side. This type of protest was not all that uncommon. During this time, the Cold War was at its height; America and the Soviet Union, were on a path to cataclysmic warfare. This protest depicted America’s feeling that communism was a poison, attempting to leach its way into other nations and world politics. Communism was the antithesis to democracy – the “correct polity.”

After the end of World War II, two nations emerged as the most powerful countries in the world: the United States and the Soviet Union. They both fought on the same side of the war but were vastly different from one another. The most glaring distinction between the two countries was ideological: the Soviet Union was a communist nation built upon Marxist-Leninist dogma, while the United States of America was a liberal democracy with a capitalist economic system. These contradictory methods of government led these two global powers down a path of war, though not a traditional one. The result was a cold war, which did not have open warfare between the nations but rather was characterized by threats, propaganda and other political measures.

From the 1950s through the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Soviet Union and the United States of America were at each other’s throats. The Soviet Union was particularly aggressive in their acquisition of land, although not in a conventional manner. The USSR would help establish Communist governments that would in turn be loyal allies and create a buffer zone. Consequently, they established the Eastern Bloc by the addition of satellite nations and used them as buffer states in case of any attempted invasion from the West. At times there were satellite nations that created problems for the Soviet Union, which resulted in Soviet intervention in these countries.

This was the case in Hungary in the fall of 1956. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Imre Nagy, had introduced new reforms into the country, attempting to stray away from Soviet influence. Nagy became a politician who was willing to establish unprecedented political, social, and economic reform. Nagy signaled that he would introduce a multi-party state in Hungary and demanded the withdrawal of all Soviet forces in the country at that moment (Byrne, 2002). Both of these actions were obvious affronts to the USSR – intentional or not – because the Soviet Union was built upon only one ideology, communism, and they wanted no possibility of political opponents in any of their satellite nations in order keep their allegiance. Nagy did not stop with those reforms: he declared Hungary’s rejection of the Warsaw Pact and appealed to the U.N. for help in creating the country’s neutrality on November 1, 1956 (Byrne, 2002).

Students at the 1956 Anti-Soviet Protest in Los Angeles
Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

The USSR decided to an offensive into Hungary in order to put an end to this “madness.” The Soviet invasion of Hungary began on November 4, 1956. The USSR launched an offensive aimed at overthrowing Nagy’s reign and destroying the national uprising that had begun twelve days earlier (Byrne, 2002). Within a few weeks the Soviet Union took complete control of the country, replacing Imre Nagy with János Kádár, a former colleague of Nagy but one who loyally followed the Soviet lead. During these weeks, the USSR focused on capturing the rebels. They arrested these protestors and, in some cases, outright slaughtered them. The democratic West never aided the Hungarian rebels, which enabled the Soviets to crush the movement. Due to this fact, the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev stated that this invasion proved to the West that the Soviet Union was strong and resolute, while “the West is weak and divided” (Kramer, 1998).

U.S. foreign policy at the time was not weak or divided, as Khrushchev suggested but rather resolute and resourceful. At this point in time, during the Hungarian conflict, both the U.S. and USSR knew they did not want to get into an all-out war because it would most likely end in nuclear extermination. Therefore, U.S. foreign policy aimed at indirectly disturbing Soviet rule in the Eastern bloc and stopping the spread of communism. The U.S. government was calculated in its approach to creating dissension in Eastern Bloc states. America did not need to create dissension by intervening militarily, but rather could do this by unconventional means, such as trade or economic promises.

The Discussion at the 290th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, July 12; 1956 is a great example of this strategy. In this document, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles clarified the hidden purpose behind the proposed U.S. policy to give aid to the Eastern European regimes. Dulles asserted that the offer of food to the people of Poznań (Poland) would inevitably be rejected by the Polish Government because of their relation to the USSR. The U.S. had the knowledge that the aid would be rejected, leading to the embarrassment of the Polish Government’s lack of ability to provide for its people. This not only points to the U.S. political strategy to delegitimize the communist party but also suggests that the U.S.’s secret motivations were not truly to help the people in need, but rather help their own government by making themselves look righteous.

US foreign policy was well informed at the time; often the government had procured studies of Warsaw pact nations to see whether these nations were “potential theaters for Special Forces operations.” In respect to the U.S. policy towards Hungarian involvement, there was a detailed study produced by the Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., research project, under contract to G2, Department of the Army, for the government named “Hungary: Resistance Activities and Potentials’, January 1956” in order to examine Hungary as a possible place for political or military intervention . This study was produced several months before the uprising in Hungary and analyzed the level of contention in the country, while also considering “geographical and other factors in determining whether Hungary represents a suitable target for direct U.S. action.” This report depicted that the U.S. had full knowledge of what was occurring in Hungary and had the foresight to see whether they could help them or not. Even with their knowledge, the United States still chose not to intervene. This may be surprising too, because in this study they found “forced labor camps and prisons (197 are listed) complete with a map indicating locations.” This report may indicate and possibly validate the argument that the U.S. had no interest in helping these nations but rather had hopes of only helping themselves. For instance, this document did prove the U.S. government had knowledge of forced labor camps, and of the suffering Hungarians underwent, but they still did not intervene because they did not see any possible benefits for themselves if they took action in Hungary, This then points out how US foreign policy was based on a cold and heartless calculation to prioritize the delegitimization of its political opponent rather than helping civilians in need of aid. This thereby discredits Nikita Khrushchev’s claim that the U.S. was weak and divided but rather supports the notion that the U.S. was calculated and resolute.

The lack of military and political intervention would not have been popular in the public’s opinion. During this time, a decade after World War II, the nation’s citizens felt as though they were the protectors of the free world (democracy). Americans believed the United States to be the beacon of democracy and therefore freedom and equality, in their eyes the antithesis to the Soviet Union. The popular opinion was to intervene and stop the spread of communism. This could be seen in the U.S. involvement on the Korean War and later, the Vietnam War – although the latter had much more American protest than the former. Americans supported intervention to stop the the spread of communism.

1956 Anti Soviet Protest
Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

The Loyola University protest exemplified this support for American intervention. Just like most of the nation, these students wanted the U.S. to intervene in this conflict. They believed the U.S. was the best hope for Hungary’s survival and liberation. This argument is validated by the posters these concerned students held. One in particular poster explicitly stated, “Liberate Hungary Now!” These students were not only protesting because of the Communist rule in the country but also because of the brutal tactics the USSR employed to stop the demonstrations in the country, specifically their acts towards students (in Hungary and in the Soviet Union). An example of this is when special anti-riot troops forcibly disbanded protests in Yaroslavl where students organized rallies and carried banners demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary (Kramer, 1998). Although it is unclear whether the USSR had killed any students in that protest, it is known that they have slaughtered student protestors and or imprisoned them for supporting reform. The USSR implemented a decision to “purge all higher educational institutions of unsavory elements (Kramer, 1998) in order to stop the spread of anti-Soviet sentiment. Other posters held by Loyolan students depicted “Hungarian Youths Don’t Cry, They Die”, another said, “Hungary Wants Freedom Not Slaughter.”

The public support for intervention can also seen on the heading of the LA Times front page on the morning of November 4, 1956, which read, “RUSS ATTACK HUNGARY OUST NAGY”. The fact that this was on the front page indicated the importance of this event; the newspaper attempted to influence public opinion in this matter by including pro-democratic rhetoric, aiming to delegitimize the reasoning for USSR intervention in Hungary. The newspaper stated that the Soviet Union invaded and assaulted a lawful democratic nation. The use of the word lawful automatically proposes the thought that democracy is more sensible than any other form of government, i.e. communism. This statement indirectly asserted the superiority of democracy over communism and argued that the Soviets had illegally intervened and suppressed a legal reform movement in a democratic nation.

Ultimately, the contrasting methods of government led to the Cold War. America’s feeling that communism was a poison, attempting to leach its way into other nations and world politics and the fact that Communism was the antithesis to democracy – the “correct polity” – were overwhelming contributors to the ascension of this war. Hungary happened to be a nation caught in the middle of this ideological battle and felt the full force of the war. America’s cold-calculated foreign policy prohibited U.S. military intervention in Hungary and allowed the slaughter and imprisonment of many freedom fighters, who only wanted social, political, and economic reform in their own country. Loyola’s student-led protest was just an extension of how our public felt about this matter; we wanted to help.

Written by Benjamin Wander, History, LMU 2021

For Further Reading:

Primary Sources:

Anti-Soviet Protest in 1956, Prints 07B. Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.

Byrne, Malcolm. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents. A National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. The National Security Archive, George Washington University, 2002. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/, accessed November 2, 2019.

· “Study Prepared for U.S. Army Intelligence, ‘Hungary: Resistance Activities and Potentials,’ January 1956,” https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/doc1.pdf (accessed November 2, 2019)
· “Minutes of 290th NSC meeting, July 12, 1956,” https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/doc2.pdf (accessed November 2, 2019)
· “Jan Svoboda’s Notes on the CPSU CC Presidium Meeting with Satellite Leaders, October 24, 1956,” https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/doc5.pdf (accessed November 2, 2019)
· “Minutes of the Nagy Government’s Fourth Cabinet Meeting, November 1, 1956,”https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/doc7.pdf (accessed November 2, 2019)
· “Situation Report from Malenkov-Suslov-Aristov, November 22, 1956,” https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB76/doc9.pdf (Accessed November 2, 2019)

“Russ Attack Hungary, Oust Nagy.” Los Angeles Times. November 4, 1956. https://www.newspapers.com/image/380887094/, accessed November 2, 2019.

Secondary Sources:

Greene, John Robert. “Comfort and Crisis: The 1950s.” In America in the Sixties, 1-19. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1j2n8w0.5.

“Human Rights as a Transnational Vocabulary of Protest: Campaigning against the Political Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union.” In Protest Beyond Borders: Contentious Politics in Europe since 1945, edited by Hara Kouki and Eduardo Romanos, 49-66. City: Berghahn Books, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd6qs.8.

Jewish Life. “The Soviet Union Reappraised (1956).” In Jewish Radicals: A Documentary History, edited by Tony Michels, 268-76. New York: New York University Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg2ss.57.

Kowalewski, David, and Paul Schumaker. “Protest Outcomes in the Soviet Union.” The Sociological Quarterly 22, no. 1 (1981): 57-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106086.

Kramer, Mark. “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings.” Journal of Contemporary History 33, no. 2 (1998): 163-214. http://www.jstor.org/stable/260972.

People Riot in Communist Hungary Ca. 1956. 1956. Accessed November 5, 2019. https://fod.infobase.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=96872&xtid=37872.

Zavadskaia, E. Yu. “Lone Protesters.” In Sedition: Everyday Resistance in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, edited by Vladimir A. Kozlov, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Sergei V. Mironenko, V.A. Kozlov, and O.V. Edelman, 189-98. New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm379.9.