Journey to a revolution : a personal memoir and history of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 /
Michael Korda.
1st ed.
New York, NY : HarperCollins, c2006.
xv, 221 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
0060772611 :
More Details
New York, NY : HarperCollins, c2006.
0060772611 :
standard identifier
contents note
The idol with feet of clay -- Hungary: the mythic nation and the real one -- Hungary and the Cold War -- Salami tactics -- "Arise, Magyars!" -- "Long live free, Democratic, and independent Hungary!" -- Götterdämmerung on the Danube -- A much fought-over city -- "Slaves we shall no longer be!"
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [209]-[211]) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Journey to a Revolution
A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Chapter One

The Idol with Feet of Clay

Few things stand out less clearly at the time than a turning point in history, at any rate when one is living through it. As a rule it is only in retrospect that an event can be seen clearly as a turning point. Historians write as if they were looking at the past in the rearview mirror of a moving car; and, of course, picking the "turning points" of history is something of a specialty for many historians—in some cases, the more obscure, the better. Turning points, however, are much harder to recognize as they occur, when one is looking ahead through the windshield.

To take an example, we now recognize that the Battle of Britain was a turning point in World War II—fewer than 2,000 young fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force handed Hitler his first defeat, and ensured that whatever else was going to happen in 1940, Great Britain would not be invaded—but those who lived through the Battle of Britain day by day did not perceive it as a decisive, clear-cut event. The fighter pilots were too exhausted and battle-weary to care; and the public, while buoyed by the victories of the R.A.F. in the sky over southern England, was still struggling to come to grips with the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and the collapse of France, and would soon be plunged into the first stages of what later came to be known as the blitz. Those who—as children—saw the white contrails of the aircraft swirling overhead in the blue summer sky, or watched the shiny brass cartridge cases come tumbling down by the thousands, had no sense of being witnesses to a "turning point"; nor did their elders. It was only much later that this turning point began to be perceived as one, and that Battle of Britain Day was added to the list of annual British patriotic celebrations.

In much the same way, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, while it was clearly a major event, was not perceived as a turning point in history until much later, when the unexpected disintegration of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe, followed very shortly by the total collapse of the Soviet Union itself, could be traced back to the consequences of the uprising in the streets of Budapest.

The three weeks of the Hungarian Revolution ended, of course, in a victory for the Soviet Union, as everybody knows, but not since Pyrrhus himself has there been so Pyrrhic a victory. The Hungarians had chipped the first crack in the imposing facade of Stalinist communism and had exposed the Soviet Union's domination of eastern Europe for the brutal sham it was. For the first time, people in the West—even those on the left—had seen the true face of Soviet power, and it shocked them.

The Hungarians lost, but in the long run the Russians lost more. Communism became much harder to sell as a humane alternative to capitalism (or to western European democratic socialism); and the Russians themselves, badly shaken by the size and the ferocity of the uprising they had put down with such overwhelming force, and dismayed by the attention it received in the world's media, never attempted to repeat the experience in Europe. From time to time, the tanks might be sent rumbling into the streets again, as they were in Prague in 1968, but they would not henceforth open fire on civilians. Without apparently having given the matter much thought, the Russians discarded the trump card in their hand: the belief on the part of eastern Europeans that the Red Army would shoot them down mercilessly if they rose against the puppet governments the Soviet Union had imposed on them at the end of World War II.

More dangerous still, those governments themselves, whose ultimate legitimacy rested on the threat of armed intervention by the Soviet Union, ceased to believe that it would ever intervene again to support them with force the way it did in Hungary in 1956—and if the Russians would not, then how, when push came to shove, were the "people's governments" of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania to remain in power over the long haul?

This is always a serious problem of empire, by no means limited to the Soviet Union. In 1919, the United Kingdom used violence, albeit on a considerably smaller scale, against the congress party in India when General Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on demonstrators in Amritsar, killing 379 of them at Jallianwallah Bagh, and wounding perhaps three times as many. The massacre horrified the British—except for the impenitent General Dyer and his supporters—and the result was an increasing reluctance on the part of the British government to use force against the congress party at all. In consequence, the threat of armed violence—one of the pillars on which the raj stood—gradually became more and more remote and unlikely. The Indians ceased to fear it, the British grew increasingly unwilling to use it on a large scale, and independence for India thus became only a matter of time.

In much the same way, the Hungarians' uprising against their own unpopular government and the government's Soviet masters, while it failed, fatally shook the confidence of the Soviet government in its ability to control the countries of eastern Europe—a confidence that had already been weakened by Stalin's death, by the increasingly (and defiantly) independent attitude of Tito's Yugoslavia, and by the widening ideological rift between the Russian and the Chinese communist parties.

After 1956, the Soviet Union found itself in an increasingly uncomfortable and ambivalent position vis-à-vis the eastern European "people's democracies," since the Soviet leadership was desperately trying to dismantle the remnants of Stalinism at home and bring about a "thaw" in Russian life, while at the same time continuing to prop up unrepentantly Stalinist leaders in the Soviet Union's client states . . . .

Journey to a Revolution
A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
. Copyright © by Michael Korda. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution Of 1956 by Michael Korda
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2006-07-31:
In October 1956 the Hungarian people spontaneously rose up against an oppressive Soviet-imposed Communist regime and basked briefly in the light of freedom. In this history lesson-cum- memoir, Korda (Another Life) stitches an appealing retelling of his journey of discovery into the larger context of the desperate, short-lived Hungarian revolt. Part hard-nosed history lesson, part affectionate celebration of Hungary and Hungarian culture, and part sepia-tinged memoir, the book attempts to pull back the veil on the post-WWII machinations of the victorious Allies and expose how such diplomatic wheeling and dealing can devastate an entire nation. The first two-thirds are strong, with both a comprehensive overview of the postwar geopolitical scene and a finely tuned take on the specifics of the Hungarian situation. Korda's account of his own journey there during the revolution at age 24 is strangely flat. Along the way from the pastoral comfort of his native England to the rubble and corpse-strewn streets of Budapest, he has some near misses with life-threatening danger. At the border between Austria and Hungary, Korda and his mates encounter a machine gun-toting guard who offers them barack, homemade peach brandy, and a warning about the invading Russians: "there are some very bad guys in Gy?r." While the tale at times has difficulty rising from the page, Korda's story is a worthy read. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2006-09-15:
Korda's lively personal account is complemented by Gati's more academic title. Born and raised in Hungary, Gati (European studies, Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Bloc That Failed) was a young journalist in Budapest at the time. Using hundreds of documents in the archives in Budapest, Moscow, and Washington, he has written a thorough and scholarly analysis of the revolution. An expert in Soviet and Eastern European politics, Gati seeks answers to such questions as why the Soviets changed course and decided to intervene in Hungary after initially pulling out, what effect the attitude of the United States had on the outcome of the revolution, and what role other world events played in forcing Hungary to be a lower priority to the West. Both authors have written honest, unromanticized accounts of those tragic days. They both agree that it was a sort of "David and Goliath" struggle and that although the revolution failed, it ultimately contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Gati's book is clearly the more scholarly, but both works are accessible and engaging. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [Victor Sebestyen's Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution is forthcoming from Pantheon. Ed.] Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
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Publishers Weekly, July 2006
Booklist, August 2006
Library Journal, September 2006
Washington Post, October 2006
Reference & Research Book News, February 2007
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Table of Contents
Prefacep. xiii
The Idol with Feet of Clayp. 1
Hungary: The Mythic Nation and the Real Onep. 15
Hungary and the Cold Warp. 28
Salami Tacticsp. 65
"Arise, Magyars!"p. 91
"Long Live Free, Democratic, and Independent Hungary!"p. 111
Gotterdammerung on the Danubep. 157
A Much Fought-Over Cityp. 176
"Slaves We Shall No Longer Be!"p. 201
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
Notesp. 209
Bibliographyp. 211
Photography Creditsp. 213
Indexp. 215
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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