Monday, October 23, 2006

Budapest and Orleans, 50 years on

On October 23, 1956, Hungarians rose up against their Russian-imposed government. By the end of the month, Hungary had a new government that promised to disband the State Security Police, withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, and hold free elections. On November 4, however, 'a large Soviet force invaded Budapest using artillery and air strikes, killing thousands of civilians', imprisoning thousands more, and causing 200,000 to flee the country (Wiki).

I was stationed, that fall, in Coligny Caserne at Orleans. On a weekend, I would take the train to Paris and pass the journey by counting the white graffiti on the black highway-crossing bridges, about equally divided between 'FLN', 'Algérie Française', and 'Ami Go Home'. (Most Amis would gladly have gone, but I was the exception who thoroughly enjoyed himself.) So I was more than a little interested when, ten years later, De Gaulle led France out of NATO and, as a corollary, invited the US forces in France to leave the country. Which they did, of course.

To me, the difference between the Russian and American hegemons has always been the difference between the two Novembers: 1956, when Russian tankers killed civilians on the streets of Budapest; and 1966, when US Army Com Z dutifully evacuated Coligny Caserne.

The caserne, which successively housed French, German, and American troops, is now occupied by Orleans city bureaucrats. More about it at Reading Proust.


At 4:04 PM, Blogger David J. Betz said...

This observation had never occurred to me. Thanks Dan. My father was posted with the RCAF around that same time but I think he was in Belgium. In any case my parents also spent much time travelling to Paris.

I completly agree about the difference between American and Soviet hegemony. Earlier in my career I did a lot of research including many hours of interviews with former Warsaw Pact officers serving in national militaries which were seeking membership of NATO. One of the biggest frustrations they had was the misunderstanding of what they were supposed to do to get in. They expected that the US was a hegemon like the USSR, albeit a benign one they were very eager to join, who would just come in and tell them what to do. It took years for them to grasp that that wasn't going to happen--they were supposed to come up with their own system. Lots of complaints about that, of course. Much harder.


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