Charles Gati, a senior adjunct professor in the
European Studies Program at
SAIS, has published
Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the
1956 Hungarian Revolt. Stanford University Press and
Woodrow Wilson Center Press released the book last week.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, SAIS will host a forum where
Gati will discuss his book and address the question, "Did
the U.S. abandon Hungary in 1956?" Mark Kramer, director of
the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard University, also
will participate in the forum, which will take place at 5
p.m. in the Rome Building's first-floor auditorium.
As the 50th anniversary of the October 1956 Hungarian
revolt approaches, Gati examines the revolution and its
suppression by the Soviet Union as a key event in the Cold
War. He goes beyond the simplicity of this David and
Goliath story in his new history of the revolt. The
Hungarian uprising began on Oct. 23, and by Nov. 4 Soviet
tanks and troops had moved into the city, defeating the
revolutionaries, who had hoped that the United States would
come to their assistance.
Denying neither Hungarian heroism nor Soviet
brutality, Failed Illusions fundamentally modifies
our picture of what happened during this 13-day period.
Gati, who was a 22-year-old reporter in Budapest during the
uprising, analyzes the brave, idealistic yet unrealistic
revolutionaries and their reform communist leader, Imre
Nagy. He suggests that had the Hungarians coupled their
valor with pragmatism, some of the revolution's goals could
have been achieved.
According to Gati, the United States was all talk and
no action, and offered mixed signals at best. It encouraged
the revolutionaries with promises of "liberation" and the
"rollback" of Soviet power from Eastern Europe, while
American-run Radio Free Europe simultaneously backed the
insurgents' excessive demands and opposed Nagy.
Failed Illusions poses the question as to why
the United States and its allies did not encourage the
Hungarian revolutionaries to pursue more constructive
options that were available, such as the more limited goal
of Titoism, as a first step toward freedom. NATO could have
pressed the issue with the United Nations before, and not
after, the Soviet crackdown, he said.
There are valuable lessons here for the United States'
efforts to "democratize" or reshape distant lands, Gati
As he wrote in a recent op-ed, "The Hungarians need to
hear what happened 50 years ago — and Americans need
to hear that in the future we will not say we seek clearly
unattainable goals abroad for political ends at home."
The book is based on extensive archival research,
including the CIA's operational files and transcripts of
Radio Free Europe's broadcasts, as well as interviews with
participants in Budapest, Moscow and Washington.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security
adviser and a professor of international relations at SAIS,
said, "Failed Illusions casts incisively a new
perspective on three key dimensions of the historic drama
that was the Hungarian revolution: the unsavory background
and the heroic epiphany of Imre Nagy, the revolution's
tragic leader; the confused, disruptive and ultimately
devious Soviet efforts to manipulate the Hungarian
communists; and the impotent futility of U.S. posturing
which masqueraded as 'the policy of liberation.' Riveting
as a story, significant as a history."
Gati, who fled his native Hungary during the 1956
revolt, is also the author of The Bloc That Failed:
Soviet-East European Relations in Transition (1990) and
Hungary and the Soviet Bloc (1986). He has taught at
Union College and Columbia University and served as a
senior adviser on the Department of State's policy planning
staff in the early 1990s.