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Slogans Have Consequences

I recently came across Twelve Days, Victor Sebestyen’s history of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, and one passage seems very relevant to current debates. Sebestyen writes:

A thousand Hungarian refugees were polled by American academics immediately after the revolution. Ninety-six per cent thought the foreign radio broadcasts made them believe help would come from the West. Among them were extremely intelligent writers like Tamas Aczel, who became a literature professor at an American university: ‘Our heart was in the right place. The trouble was we imagined the West had similar feelings towards us, would reciprocate our confessions of love. This probably foolish notion was greatly strengthened by the slogans and propaganda of the U.S.” (p. 296)

There is no excuse for encouraging protesters in a dangerous course of action when there is no real intention of providing them with tangible support. In the absence of that support, making rhetorical gestures can have the effect of irresponsibly giving people false hope while simultaneously making our promises seem meaningless. This does absolutely nothing to aid the people in the other country, and it makes the U.S. partly responsible for whatever follows.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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