AT 3 O'CLOCK SUNDAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 4, 1956, I RETURNED to the hotel in Vienna where I had been staying for three days. I paused to leave a call and exchange a few idle words with the hall porter. Nostalgic early morning music from the radio behind the telephone switchboard echoed through the empty lobby. I went to my room, and within a few minutes after getting into bed was asleep. At five minutes past four the telephone rang. Switching on the light, I reached sleepily for the receiver, my brain stumbling through possible reasons for a call at such an hour. it deliberately sidestepped the possibility that was all too real.
Knowing but discreet, the hall porter's voice came through to me. "Sir," he said, "there is an emergency broadcast coming from Hungary. Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister, is speaking. I thought you would be interested. Just a moment, I'll put the telephone next to the radio." And so I lay in the Vienna night and listened to the voices of Nagy and interpreters announcing, in terse and stricken, hut courageous, tones, that the Russians had attacked Budapest at two o'clock that morning. They were recordings, made less than an hour before, and were repeated continuously in Hungarian, Russian, French, English and German. I turned cold: I continued to listen, stunned, hoping for a word that it was not true. Over and over, the Magyar accents repeated the brief and terrible announcement in the five languages. I lay there, picturing the columns of Russian tanks advancing through the darkened streets, firing mercilessly into the crowded apartments, into the proud and poignant city only four hours drive to the east - a city I had known well.
The porter's voice brought me to my senses. I thanked him, put down the receiver, and considered what I had to do. The answer was nothing. As the Russians well knew, if anyone had fomented the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, that astounding moment of truth shared by a whole people, it was the Russians themselves and their handful of Hungarian servants. We, the Americans, had had nothing to do with it. In the two weeks since its eruption, the United States had substituted baffled wonderment for a policy, and was headless besides: the President was campaigning for re-election: the Secretary of State, who carried foreign policy in his hat, had had to temporarily hang it up while undergoing surgery: the Department of State was being run by a first-rate petroleum engineer. The Russians, it must he said, were equally baffled: they hesitated and vacillated. The night's news meant that they had finally estimated the American reaction - correctly, as it turned out - and had therefore found a policy, now being put into effect with the guns of the Red Army.
My own purposes at Vienna were simple enough. The political operations in which I was engaged concerned Hungarians outside of Hungary, and my principal tasks had to do with the tens of thousands of Hungarian refugees pouring over the border into Austria. So far as events in Hungary were concerned, my mission was purely that of an observer: if a contact should develop with the new Hungarian revolutionary regime, I would maintain it while seeking new instructions. Indeed, only eight days before, an exiled Hungarian, a former very high post-war politician and Cabinet Minister, had told me that he had telephoned Budapest and spoken to members of the new Imre Nagy Cabinet, who had said simply, "Speak for us in the West. Make them understand our neutrality." I had assisted this man to travel to Vienna, not with the intention of his re-entering Hungary, but only so that he could he in closer contact with his colleagues and compatriots now in the Government. He had, on arrival in Vienna, been immediately deported to Switzerland on, of all things, the representations of the American Ambassador to Austria. I had, therefore, on my own arrival in Vienna, sent word to one of his henchmen, who was now somewhere in Hungary carrying a letter from the former Minister to the leading non-Marxist political personality in the new Government.
There was nothing I could, or need, do about this courier. I telephoned to a post near the Austro-Hungarian border where I learned only that the border was still open, refugees were still crossing, and that the sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard on the other side, from the direction of Györ, the nearest large town. That done, I think I briefly lost my reason. A boiling rage overcame me; it was as though a fever swept through my brain. I did not curse the Russians. I seemed to feel almost that I knew them too well for that. I did not rant at our own impotence - the American Government seemed to me somehow pitiful and irrelevant at that moment, hardly to blame for its troubles. My anger instead was vented upon the British and French, whose adventure at Suez I wildly blamed for giving the Russians the pretext for their action in Hungary. I swore, in a kind of momentary delirium, that I would never again set foot in France or England, I would devote myself to exposing their monstrous cynicism in sacrificing Hungary for Suez, and so on. (Secret agents are not necessarily coldly unemotional, and the secret agent's objectives are to him, necessarily, of paramount, and highly personal, importance.) None of this had anything to do with the facts, of course: The British and French operation at Suez was conceived and prepared well before the Hungarian Revolution of October, which took the British and French, as I well knew, as much by surprise as it did the Russians and Americans. I realized all this in the morning, after a few hours' sleep - and I also remembered the past, which did much to explain the seizure which had overcome me in the night. But the preface to that story of the past is - a short course in the secret war.