Day book, October 23, 2006

1956 Hungarian uprising

I am not one of those who wish to see the people of Hungary take up arms again in a rising certain to be crushed, under the eyes of the nations of the world, who would spare them neither applause nor pious tears, but who would go back at once to their slippers by the fireside like a football crowd on a Sunday evening after a cup final.

There are already too many dead on the field, and we cannot be generous with any but our own blood. The blood of Hungary has re-emerged too precious to Europe and to freedom for us not to be jealous of it to the last drop.

But I am not one of those who think that there can be a compromise, even one made with resignation, even provisional, with a regime of terror which has as much right to call itself socialist as the executioners of the Inquisition had to call themselves Christians.

And on this anniversary of liberty, I hope with all my heart that the silent resistance of the people of Hungary will endure, will grow stronger, and, reinforced by all the voices which we can raise on their behalf, will induce unanimous international opinion to boycott their oppressors.

Open letter on the first anniversary of the Hungarian uprising by Albert Camus

Today marks the anniversary of two incidents that I think bear some reflection. It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. It’s also the anniversary of the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing in which 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers were killed by a suicide bomber. If you’re not familiar with either or both incidents, I’m not going to bother recapping them here—go the links I’ve provided. The picture above is of a demonstration at the outset of the uprising which took place 50 years ago today.

Rather, I’d like to consider a couple of things that these two incidents, separated in time and geography, have in common.

Both constituted enormous intelligence failures. The violent Soviet intervention that put down the Hungarian insurrection came as a complete surprise to the United States. As recently as days before the Soviet tanks began to move the CIA had reported that the Soviet Union was unlikely to move against the Hungarians (for resource documents on the uprising see here).

1983 Beirut barracks bombing

The Beirut bombing incident was a similar intelligence failure. It’s clear that the U. S. had no idea of what our soldiers would face in Beirut: our troops were lightly armed, insufficiently protected, and security was lax.

There’s something else that these two incidents have in common. The phlegmatic response of the United States (and the UN) to each of these incidents convinced our enemies the United States would back down in the face of challenge and confrontation. Despite the UN finding that the Soviet intervention was a direct violation of the human rights there was no response from either the United States or the United Nations.

The Beirut bombing was Osama bin Laden’s direct inspiration for the attacks on September 11, 2001:

We now know, for example, bin Laden was meeting with Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah security chief. Mughniyah, until yesterday, had killed more Americans than bin Laden, had wounded more Americans than bin Laden. Mughniyah was involved with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, the takeover of TWA 847, and the murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem, the apprehension of several Americans who were held hostage in Beirut, Lebanon.

So this is an individual who has been aggressive in his attacks against America. And we now know through testimony that came out in the trial in New York City on the bombing of the U.S. embassy, that Mughniyah was the mentor, the ideological inspiration, for Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden saw Mughniyah as one who used violence to force the United States to retreat from Lebanon. And he believed that that same model could be used against the United States to force it out of Saudi Arabia and to punish it.

In case there’s any confusion about it let me make my position on the Beirut bombing incident very clear:  I believe that it was an error to commit U. S. troops to that conflict in the first place.  But once committed and attacked withdrawing our troops without a sufficient response compounded the error.

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