Tuesday, July 07, 2009

TOP STORY >> If you crush freedom, it will rise again

Leader editor

The fireworks ended before the storms moved in Saturday night as Arkansans, grateful for their freedoms even in these tough times, celebrated Independence Day. Many of them take their good fortune for granted.

If you’re lucky, you hardly have to think about being free — it’s like breathing. You don’t think about it much. You’re free because you live in America.

But you probably know someone who is in a war zone, sidestepping roadside bombs or dodging bullets so you can enjoy the fireworks and all the hot dogs you can eat.

In most places around the world, you don’t take freedom for granted. It doesn’t even exist. Ask the Iranians who were gunned down during their short uprising against the mullahs. Or look at the long life of Gen. Bela Kiraly, the Hungarian general who led the failed uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956. The Little Rock paper reported he died over the weekend at the age of 97.

The communists had imprisoned him after the Second World War, but he was freed during the revolution and led the uprising in Budapest, the capital.

The revolution was crushed within weeks because the Hungarians couldn’t defeat 100,000 Soviet soldiers and 4,500 Red Army tanks.

My mother reminded me after I told her about the general’s death that the Soviets marched into Hungary like an army that was fighting a world war.

Kiraly (which means king in Hungarian) said the shelling of Budapest was as relentless as it was a decade earlier when the Red Army pushed the Nazis out of Hungary.

Toward the end of the fighting, Kiraly had 400 men and eight tanks left. The general and many of his troops fled across the border into Austria, along with 250,000 other Hungarian refugees, including our family.

I was just a boy then, but I’ve often wondered: Were we cowards because we left?

Kiraly was a professional soldier, and he knew the answer: It would have been suicidal to fight the enemy to the end.

After he arrived in the U.S., Kiraly earned a doctorate in history from Columbia University and became a history professor.

But the revolution wasn’t crushed in 1956 after all: In 1989, communism was defeated in Hungary and a couple of years later in Russia and all over eastern Europe. Kiraly returned home at the age of 77 and became a member of parliament.

He told an interviewer that when he was a young officer in the Hungarian army during the Nazi occupation, he helped save the lives of many Jewish slave laborers.

For that act of heroism, he is listed among the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

Kiraly proudly pointed to a wall in his den with the certificate from the museum.

As for the Hungarian revolution, Kiraly said, “It was the start of the series of events — the end of communism — for which we had to wait another 33 years.”

He knew the fight is not over, even when you’re outnumbered, outgunned and outmaneuvered. Because freedom is more powerful than all the armies in the world.