Funny old thing, that Iron Curtain which fell across Europe before I was born, brutally severing half of Europe, even half of a country from the other half; when it fell, it didn’t seem like it fell with the crash of the walls of Jericho at the sound of Joshua’s trumpets, that deadly barricade which had seemed so strong and so impervious for so long. The manner of its falling was more like the old horror movie convention where the vampire is caught in the first beams of the morning sun, and dissolves in a puff of dust, which a gust of wind then dissipates. Fifteen years afterwards, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain and the means of escaping over or through it, spies meeting at Checkpoint Charlie, fallout shelters and duck-and-cover drills; all of it must seem about as ancient-history as World War One, especially to people the age of my daughter.

But it all was real; the Soviet occupation was a horror, and the brutal suppression of the Hungarians was a double horror. The Hungarians had twelve days to taste the wine of political freedom, twelve days of feeling that they could control their own destiny, twelve days to rejoice in having thrown the hated Russians and their lackeys out. And then, the Russians returned. The Hungarians fought with desperate heroism, before those who were able to do so fled for their lives. It would be another forty years before the Russian bear would be so challenged again, but the mask of happy socialist cooperation was ripped to shreds, after that.

James Michener, in his account of the uprising, and the refugee rescue effort “The Bridge at Andau” estimated that about 2% of the population of Hungary fled, and in describing them as among Hungary’s brightest and best, drew the analogy: “Suppose things got so bad in America that the following types of people felt they had to abandon a rotten system: The University of Southern California en masse, the Notre Dame football team and the Yankees, Benny Goodman’s orchestra, the authors of the ten current best sellers, the actors in six Broadway plays, Henry Ford III and Walter Reuther, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, all the recent graduates of MIT, the five hundred top practical mechanics on the General Motors assembly line, the secretaries of the eighteen toughest unions and a million young married couples with their children…that’s what happened in Hungary”.

Fifty years ago, this week; and it would still take another forty years to take down the Wall.

“Sgt Mom” is a freelance writer and retired Air Force NCO, who blogs at www.sgtstryker.com, and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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