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'Insurgent' Politics in Troubled Countries

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'Insurgent' Politics in Troubled Countries

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'Insurgent' Politics in Troubled Countries

'Insurgent' Politics in Troubled Countries

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Commentator Peter Klein is working on a book about his family's involvement in the Hungarian revolution. He says that in the beginning, the revolutionaries were called insurgents. Then — as now with the Iraqi insurgency — the word "insurgent" can become a political term.

PETER KLEIN: When workers and students took to the streets of Budapest, the New York Times and other major American papers praised them by calling them insurgents.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Commentator Peter Klein.

KLEIN: The insurgents were people like my mother, who joined her co-workers to watch a rally in front of the Parliament building. When tanks rolled down the narrow cobblestone streets of the capital, snipers positioned on top of the Agriculture building across the way opened fire and eight of my mother's colleagues were gunned down. The innocent victims of the Soviet invasion of Hungary were the insurgents in 1956. How far a nine-letter word, insurgent, has come in 50 years.

In Budapest, a Times reporter, John McCormack, wrote about Hungarian insurgents storming the police headquarters and setting fire to every communist bookstore in the city. A half century later, I was in Iraq shortly after the invasion, reporting almost the same words. I had a rare opportunity to interview Moqtada Al Sadar, the self proclaimed leader of the Shiite insurgency. His followers attacked police stations and fire bombed liquor stores and movie rental houses.

But these were the bad insurgents. Folks the U.S. was trying to crush because they were not welcoming the liberators. Saddam had brutally oppressed the Shiites and murdered Sadar's own father. When I asked Sadar and his followers if they were grateful the U.S. got rid of Saddam, they said of course, thanks, but now leave.

That's sort of how my mother and father felt about the Soviets back then. There's no question the communists helped oust the Nazi occupiers and many of the Nazi victims initially welcomed the Soviets. But once it was clear they were imposing their own ways on the Hungarian people, the insurgency immediately began brewing.

In Iraq today, Sadar commands the respect of the Shiite insurgents. After a spirited interview with him back in 2003, Sadar excused himself and escorted my colleagues and me into the courtyard. The wood double doors swung open and several hundred men in white, full-bodied gowns poured into the room. They encircled us, chanting, nam, nam, Moqtada. Yes, yes, Moqtada.

I imagine my mother and her friends chanting something a little similar so many years ago. Egan, egan, Nagy. Yes, yes, Imre Nagy.

NORRIS: Peter Klein is a former producer for 60 minutes. He's working on a book about his family's involvement in the Hungarian revolution.

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