Re-Examining Hungary's 'Failed Illusions'

A woman weeps during the Hungarian anticommunist uprising of 1956 i i

A woman weeps as she watches Russian military action against the Hungarian anticommunist uprising of 1956. Scroll down to read an excerpt from Hungarian scholar Charles Gati's Failed Illusions about saying goodbye to his parents when he fled the country. Jack Esten/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jack Esten/Getty Images
A woman weeps during the Hungarian anticommunist uprising of 1956

A woman weeps as she watches Russian military action against the Hungarian anticommunist uprising of 1956. Scroll down to read an excerpt from Hungarian scholar Charles Gati's Failed Illusions about saying goodbye to his parents when he fled the country.

Jack Esten/Getty Images

Walter Cronkite Remembers

Commentator and former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite tells the story of a rare moment in the news business when separate crises converged at virtually the same moment, including the Russian invasion of Hungary.

In his new book Failed Illusions, scholar Charles Gati offers a new assessment of the Hungarian anticommunist uprising of 1956.

Gati argues that the failure was widespread. He says Hungary's leaders failed to lead; Soviet reformers seriously considered compromise, but in the end rejected it; and Washington did nothing for the rebels, despite its professed anticommunism.

The Eisenhower administration talked about the liberation of Eastern Europe and the rollback of Soviet power — and broadcast such messages daily through outlets such as Radio Free Europe.

Yet when the opposition in Hungary rose, Gati says it turned out that the United States did not have "a single plan on the shelf of the policy-planning staff of the State Department about what to do, nor were there any economic means by which they could influence the situation."

"It was hypocrisy at its worst, the gap between words and deeds was huge," says Gati, who is a senior adjunct professor of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University and a native of Hungary who fled the country immediately after the 1956 revolt.

Excerpt: 'Failed Illusions'

Cover of 'Failed Illusions'

Two weeks after Moscow crushed the revolution, I left Hungary, going first to Austria and then in a few weeks to the United States. I became one of some 182,000 refugees from Soviet-dominated Hungary. My parents, though I was their only child, did not discourage me from leaving. They stayed up all night before I left, watching me as I wrote a few notes of farewell to relatives and friends and put a few belongings together for my escape from uncertainty to uncertainty. Emerging from the kitchen, my mother came around to stuff her freshly baked sweets — the best in the world — into my small backpack. "Look up Uncle Sanyi in New York," she said. At dawn, when it was time to say goodbye, my father tried to hold back his tears but he could not. "Write often," he said, his voice quavering with emotion. We embraced. We kissed. As I left, they stood on the small balcony of our Barcsay Street apartment and waved. I walked backwards as long as I could see them, hoping they could also see me for another few seconds. (As I recall this scene some fifty years later, holding back my tears as my father once tried to do, I still see them waving on the balcony, and I always will.)

I did not fully appreciate until much later — when I had my own children in America — how unselfish my parents were to let go of me.

(c) 2006 by Charles Gati.

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Failed Illusions

Moscow, Washington, Budapest, And the 1956 Hungarian Revolt

by Charles Gati

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