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In late October 1956, a revolt broke out against the government of Hungary, one of many Eastern European nations in which the Soviet Union had imposed communist regimes after World War II. Although Hungary was technically a sovereign state, its government ultimately answered to the Soviet Union. Hungary was also a member of the Warsaw Pact, an alliance of communist states headed by the Soviet Union. The rebels hoped to replace Hungary’s communist government with a democratic, neutral regime. Such a change would have forced the Soviet Union to withdraw its military forces from Hungary. The threat of Soviet intervention in Hungary was high, but on October 31, the Soviet government made a surprising announcement: it was willing to negotiate about the stationing of its troops in Hungary.
In this radio and television address, President Eisenhower refers to the unexpected Soviet offer as a significant statement but also warned, “We cannot yet know if these avowed purposes will be truly carried out.” He promised economic support to the Hungarian rebels and to those in other Eastern European countries who might take power from the Soviet Union. Such a commitment reflected the policy of the Eisenhower administration to not just contain communism, but also liberate people from its rule (Document 12). Many Hungarian rebels hoped the United States might directly aid the rebellion, but Eisenhower did not take, nor did he ever consider, such a step, which risked war with the Soviet Union in Europe.
On November 4, the Soviet Union suddenly ended its conciliatory stance and ordered its troops to crush the revolt. The Soviets feared looking weak and also worried that negotiation with the Hungarians might encourage revolt in other satellite states. A pro-Soviet government was reinstalled in Hungary. The U.S. decision to not aid the Hungarian rebels was pragmatic and prudent, given the risks of intervention, but the limited response also highlighted the difficulty of fulfilling the global liberation of captive people.
(The speech also explained the U.S. response to the Suez Canal crisis in the Middle East, which coincidentally occurred at the same time as the Hungarian uprising. Eisenhower denounced an armed attack on Egypt by France, Great Britain, and Israel; these three nations were trying to keep Egypt from controlling the Suez Canal. U.S condemnation of the attack, which failed to achieve its objective, showed the United States would not automatically support its allies in their efforts to hold onto imperial power. That portion of the speech has been omitted.)
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958), 1060-6. Available at https://goo.gl/xyC23Z.
My Fellow Americans:
Tonight I report to you as your President.
We all realize that the full and free debate of a political campaign surrounds us.1 But the events and issues I wish to place before you this evening have no connection whatsoever with matters of partisanship. They are concerns of every American . . .
In Eastern Europe there is the dawning of a new day. It has not been short or easy in coming.
After World War II, the Soviet Union used military force to impose on the nations of Eastern Europe, governments of Soviet choice – servants of Moscow.
It has been consistent United States policy – without regard to political party – to seek to end this situation. We have sought to fulfill the wartime pledge of the United Nations that these countries, over-run by wartime armies, would once again know sovereignty and self-government.
We could not, of course, carry out this policy by resort to force. Such force would have been contrary both to the best interests of the Eastern European peoples and to the abiding principles of the United Nations. But we did help to keep alive the hope of these peoples for freedom.
Beyond this, they needed from us no education in the worth of national independence and personal liberty – for, at the time of the American Revolution, it was many of them who came to our land to aid our cause. Now, recently the pressure of the will of these peoples for national independence has become more and more insistent. . . .
. . . [A]ll the world has been watching dramatic events in Hungary where this brave people, as so often in the past, have offered their very lives for independence from foreign masters. Today, it appears, a new Hungary is rising from this struggle, a Hungary which we hope from our hearts will know full and free nationhood.
We have rejoiced in all these historic events.
Only yesterday the Soviet Union issued an important statement on its relations with all the countries of Eastern Europe. This statement recognized the need for review of Soviet policies, and the amendment of these policies to meet the demands of the people for greater national independence and personal freedom. The Soviet Union declared its readiness to consider the withdrawal of Soviet “advisers” – who have been, as you know, the effective ruling force in Soviet occupied countries – and also to consider withdrawal of Soviet forces from Poland, Hungary and Rumania.
We cannot yet know if these avowed purposes will be truly carried out.
But two things are clear.
First, the fervor and the sacrifice of the peoples of these countries, in the name of freedom, have themselves brought real promise that the light of liberty soon will shine again in this darkness.
And second, if the Soviet Union indeed faithfully acts upon its announced intention, the world will witness the greatest forward stride toward justice, trust and understanding among nations in our generation.
These are the facts. How has your government responded to them?
The United States has made clear its readiness to assist economically the new and independent governments of these countries. . . . We have also publicly declared that we do not demand of these governments their adoption of any particular form of society as a condition upon our economic assistance. Our one concern is that they be free – for their sake, and for freedom’s sake.
We have also – with respect to the Soviet Union – sought clearly to remove any false fears that we would look upon new governments in these Eastern European countries as potential military allies. We have no such ulterior purpose. We see these peoples as friends, and we wish simply that they be friends who are free
- 1. The 1956 presidential election was taking place less than a week later, on November 6. Eisenhower’s opponent was Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who also ran against Eisenhower in 1952.