ONTAINMENT, ROLLBACK, LIBERATION
On 4 November 1956, Marshal Ivan Konev, the commander in chief of the Warsaw Pact's joint armed forces, oversaw the large-scale deployment of Soviet tanks into Hungary to crush an armed uprising against Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. President Dwight Eisenhower promptly sent an appeal to Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin calling on Soviet forces to pull out. This mild response was in stark contrast to the expectations of many participants in the revolution, who hoped for some form of Western military assistance and were disappointed by Eisenhower's “do nothing attitude.”1 The American response to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution encapsulated Washington's Janus-faced attitude toward the liberation of Eastern Europe. Although U.S. officials worried that the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe extended Soviet power to the heart of Europe, the “rollback” of Communism ultimately was subordinated to efforts to improve Soviet–American relations and avoid a general war.
American inaction seemed all the more puzzling in view of the significance that the United States placed on the elimination of Soviet power in Eastern Europe. By themselves, the East European states were of “secondary importance” only. The primary threat caused by Soviet occupation, the State Department Policy Planning Staff argued in 1949, was their potential use as staging ground for the Soviet occupation of Western Europe. By reducing the Soviet control in those countries, the U.S. would lessen the threat to its Western European allies.2 In July 1956, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) declared that a permanent Soviet presence in Eastern Europe “would represent a serious threat to the security of Western Europe and the United States.”3 The NSC reaffirmed America's “traditional policy to recognize the right of all people to independence and to governments of their own choosing. The elimination of Soviet domination of the satellites is, therefore, in the fundamental interest of the United States.”4 These statements implied that Soviet control had to be withdrawn from Hungary as well as from the rest of Eastern Europe. The gap between these stated imperatives and actual policies in 1956 seemed to lend credence to the conviction of many Hungarians that Washington had “struck a deal” with Moscow at Yalta in February 1945 and was keeping its part of the agreement by ignor269