Monday, October 22, 2007

One of the great debates in the 1950s was whether Radio Free Europe, a U.S.-financed Cold War agency was of any value as a weapon in the Cold War.

Tim Weiner‘s recently published book, “Legacy of Ashes,” is a savage attack on the CIA. The author states as fact that the CIA used Radio Free Europe (RFE) to spark the October 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation and satellization. In other words as instigators and cheerleaders, the CIA and RFE, says Mr. Weiner, were responsible for the bloody events. If Mr. Weiner had done any homework he would have realized how misplaced is his accusation.

The accusation against the two U.S. agencies surfaced a half-century ago as soon as the Red Army crushed the rebellion. Jack Gould, the then TV and radio editor of the New York Times, ascribed to RFE a “mischievous [role] in inciting the Hungarian people to seek their freedom.” RFE, said Mr. Gould, “has pressed the cause of freedom much more vigorously and pointedly than, for instance, the Voice of America or the British Broadcasting Corp.”

A major factor in the Hungarian revolt was the East German uprising on June 17, 1953, following Josef Stalin’s death that March. Three years later came the rebellion of the Polish auto workers in Poznan. Let us not forget Nikita Khruschchev’s 1956 revelations of Stalin’s crimes followed by an uprising in Tiflis. Most important, there was the earlier Titoist revolt against Kremlin domination of Yugoslavia.

It mocks the Hungarian dead to say these RFE broadcasts sparked the revolt. Mr. Weiner seems to think that the Hungarian rebels were a sort of lumpenproletariat that could be manipulated by radio broadcasts. Mr. Weiner ignores the fact, if he even knew it, that Moscow so effectively jammed the Western broadcasts it was generally impossible to hear anything. My source for this was the late Anna Kethly, the only member of Prime Minister Imre Nagy’s 1956 Cabinet to escape to the West.

Yet there is a partial truth to Mr. Weiner’s accusation. But it was not RFE that led the Hungarians astray. President Eisenhower’s electoral campaign slogan was that containment was treason, and rollback should be U.S. policy. When the time came to implement that rollback policy, the White House was nowhere to be found.

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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