Hungary in American History Textbooks
Andrew L. Simon
Copyright © 1997, Andrew L. Simon
Highlights of Hungarian History
Analysis and Conclusions
A particularly demagogic member of Hungary’s parliament, Representative József Torgyán of the Smallholders Party expressed his bitter frustration in a recent speech. He said: “Hungary received nothing from the West but Trianon and the bells tolling at noon.” This would have puzzled an average well educated American. Most American universities require a course on “Western Cultural Traditions” for graduation. Neither Trianon, nor any bells are mentioned in those courses.
Southern California’s well known tourist attraction is the Mission of San Juan de Capistrano. But few Americans would know that Juan’s real name was Giovanni, that he was an Italian priest, Pope Calixtus III.’s emissary to John Hunyadi in the summer of 1456. Hunyadi was a legendary commander of the Hungarian army, who fought countless battles against the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans. Capistrano’s mission was difficult. Turkish Sultan Mohammed II was assembling a vast army to conquer Europe. The Hundred Years War has just ended, Europe was in disarray. Unable to assemble any force to resist the Turkish onslaught, the pope sent Father Capistrano to Hunyadi with his blessings and his prayers. To pray for this victory Pope Calixtus III commanded1 all churches of Christendom to toll the bells at noon till eternity.
The Turks encircled Belgrade, the major southern border fort of Hungary. The defenders fought heroically, but with little hope. But Hunyadi’s relieving forces reached the fort in time, they surrounded and destroyed the Islamic forces. Bells still ring at noon all over Europe, commemorating Hunyadi’s victory. The Capistrano Mission is still standing. This is the place where tourists go to see the sparrows. They never heard of Hunyadi.
On the walls of Hungarian elementary schools one of the ubiquitous historical paintings shows the bastion of Belgrade fort as a Turkish soldier plants the horsehair flag of the Ottomans. One of the defenders, Titus Dugonich, - obviously a Croat soldier, - embraces the Turk and falls to his death with him. This shows how deeply ingrained this minor instance in history is in the consciousness of Hungarians. To see how he is treated in American textbooks will be revealing.
This is a report on a survey. Five leading textbooks were studied in detail for anti-Hungarian bias in introductory European history at American universities.
There may be reason to believe that such bias exists. Not necessarily in the mind of the writers, but in the source material they have available. There several reasons for this assumption. Let us enumerate a few:
For the past 400 years Hungary and Austria shared rulers. There was a lot of internal friction. German being a much more accessible language than Hungarian, most sources are slanted toward the Habsburg interpretation of history. Best example for this is the treatment of Hungary’s religious wars during the period of the Thirty Years War, the revolutions led by Bocskay, Rákóczi, and Bethlen. Most American texts, based on German sources, dismiss these with a remark that “the nobles were restless.” Another example of Western historical distortions is the treatment of Transylvania. While Hungarian historians celebrate the seventeenth century as “The Golden Age of Transylvania”, on historical maps the place is painted over as the part of the Ottoman Empire. However, the Principality was not occupied by the Turks. There was religious liberty and national equality, - a rather unique state of affairs in that period in history.
Before and during World War 1 Czech, Serb, and Romanian nationalists exerted great propaganda efforts to dissolve the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Having succeeded in this effort at the end of WW1, the war of propaganda continued to resist Hungary’s revisionist attempts. These efforts were greatly aided by Britain’s R. W. Seton-Watson. He was an avowed antagonist of the Empire in general and Hungarians in particular. When Seton-Watson first visited Hungary in 1907, his mentor and advisor was Henry Wickham Steed, the Vienna correspondent of The Times of London. Vienna’s Victorian high society refused to admit Steed’s girlfriend, whom he introduced as his wife. The snubbed Steed despised the Monarchy.
Seton-Watson’s 1907 visit was ill-timed for Hungary. It was a time of racial strife. Whether the flare-up of disturbances were accidental or they were provocations, we don’t know. The conflicts, - demonstrations and brutal police reactions, - inflamed Seton-Watson. He published a book, Racial Problems in Hungary (London, 1908) and numerous anti-Hungarian articles afterward. Steed followed suit. During the war the British Government established a Ministry of Propaganda. Steed and Seton-Watson became its department heads. Their efforts were greatly aided by Tomas Masaryk, erstwhile professor of the University of Prague, who was a immeasurably effective proponent of an independent Czecho-Slovak republic. His brilliantly organized propaganda machine, financed by Russia, is unparalleled in history. Its methods are described in his book, The Making of a State2. He spent the war-years in London, Paris, Tokyo, and the United States, propagandizing tirelessly against the Monarchy. He recurrently repeated the mantra: The medieval forces of the anti-social monarchism, referring to God-given rights stand against democratic, constitutional countries, that respect the right to political independence of even the smallest nations. However, in the case of Hungary he refuted himself by writing: Nothing could be more repugnant and disgusting than the megalomania of such a small nation than the Mongol - descended Hungarians. 3
Masaryk enlisted the support of influential French and British politicians and journalists. Among others, his work was assisted by Edvard Benes4 who called outright for the destruction of Austria-Hungary. His describes their propaganda campaign in his My War Memoirs.5 The effect of this brainwashing shows up well in Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches. In 1910 in Hungary’s parliament he said: I know [Hungary’s] history, I would not consider myself an educated person if I wouldn’t know it... I will make sure always, everywhere, that you receive the respect that your nation deserves. By 1917 he changed his mind, saying: Democracy can not be secure as long as this state [Austria-Hungary] exists.6
The Peace treaties (Trianon for Hungary, St. Germain for Austria) fulfilled the greatest dreams of Masaryk, Bebes, Seton-Watson, and Steed. But Karl Renner, Austro-Marxist theoretician of the nationalities problem summed up the true results: The former (Habsburg) Empire never pretended to be a national state, but the new succession states were falsely proclaimed as such, and a large part of the domestic difficulties which beset them is due to this pretense. The peace treaties did not solve the problem of the multi-national states but transferred it from each of the big powers to several small states.7 Another leftist, Oscar Jászi, a member of Hungary’s first government after the war, lamented: The bright promise of Wilson’s League of Nations, the just peace and the right of self determination and the plebiscite, in which the Hungarian people had placed their trust, burst like soap bubbles. We saw ourselves not only defeated, broken and plundered, but, a much crueler wound to public feeling, bluffed and swindled. We were doomed by the very internationalism which was the basis of our whole policy.”8
For the disaster brought about by the Peace Treaties of the First World War, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan9 places the blame squarely on the shoulder of the United States of America. He writes: For all that we were siding with two distinctly imperial powers, Wilson took us into that war in the name of self-determination. There is no historical problem concerning the origins of the doctrine. It begins, as Donald Cameron Watt of the University of London records, as the right of the subject of a state to chose their own government, that celebrated assertion of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, followed by the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. ... As with any general assertion, the devil is in the details. Moynihan then quotes Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, who, in his Confidential Diaries wrote: The phrase [self determination] is simply loaded with dynamite. It will raise hopes which can never be realized. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives. In the end it is bound to be discredited, to be called the dream of an idealist who failed to realize the danger until too late to check those who attempt to put the principle into force. What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered! What a misery it will cause! Think of the feelings of the author when he counts the dead who died because he coined the phrase! A man, who is a leader of public thought, should beware of intemperate or undigested declarations. He should be responsible for the consequences. (December 30, 1918.) 10
The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in the strategic interests of Britain, France and Russia. The responsibility for it rests on the United States. The U.S. Senate did not ratify it, but American academics did. The propaganda of Masaryk, Seton-Watson, Steed has fully infiltrated into American history textbooks soon after the First World War. A standard text by Hall and Davis11 (professors at Princeton and University of Minnesota, respectively,) devoted four pages to describe the pain and suffering of the Little Peoples under Hungarian ‘oppression’. One of their rather typical statement, as well as untrue: In Budapest no inscriptions were allowable on tombstones except in this Turanian speech, unfamiliar and uncouth to the vast majority of all Europeans. Reprinting this academic gem in 1941, the year when Hungary entered the second world war, and in 1947, the year of the peace treaty ending it, may not have been entirely accidental.
After WW1 some of the scattered leaders of Hungary’s 1919 Communist regime came to America. The leading representative of this group was Oscar Jászi, already mentioned. A professor, and prolific writer, he poured his venom against his own nation that rejected Communism. This book, full of misstatements, is still an often quoted bible of Hungary-bashing. Those who tend to believe in sinister conspiracy theories may wonder why this clearly biased text had to be republished in English, French, and German after so many years in 1969.
The Slavic Successor States having been cobbled together by the victorious Allieds in 1919, have fallen apart. Their ruinous effects are still felt in the region. The names of Sudetenland and Bosnia will forever define Mr. Wilson’s legacy.
Between the two wars, little was done to neutralize the anti-Hungarian propaganda. When asked about this, Count Stephen Bethlen, former prime minister of Hungary (1921 - 31) said: “we did not have money for those kinds of things”. Since the Second World War Hungary was under Soviet domination. Her first Communist rulers were Muscovite carpetbaggers, old fighters from the 1919 Soviet regime. Their first priority was to condemn the old burgeois era, the cursed Horthy regime . Hungarian historians had to follow the party-line: international socialist brotherhood of the oppressed peoples, hatred of the bourgeois past, particularly its nationalistic and religious vestiges . In the past decades little effort was made by Hungarian history writers to offset the ingrained anti-Hungarian bias.
The selection of the books to be reviewed for this study was made by reviewing complimentary ‘desk copies’ furnished by publishers to university departments in charge of such courses. In the Fall semester of 1993 at The University of Akron’s Department of History 1512 students were registered for the course entitled “Western Cultural Traditions”. Publishers would exert great efforts for sales of such magnitude, therefore they submit their most recent textbooks for potential approval and adaption. Seven of the most recently delivered books were selected for this study. After a preliminary survey, two of these were set aside as their contents were more directed toward history of art and culture than toward the history of nations.
From the five books selected, all statements relating to Hungary and the Magyars were excerpted. Where it seemed desirable, the reviewer has inserted comments in the footnotes to highlight some points.
To eliminate any potential bias by the reviewer, it was decided at the outset that the Columbia Encyclopedia will be used as authority to which statements found in the textbooks are compared. No Hungarian source material was used whether published in Hungary or elsewhere to further avoid bias. The 1950 edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia was used - an attempt at fairness toward the authors of the texts -, as they had it available long before the book were written. (Two later editions exist.) Twenty excerpts were made, involving important highlights of Hungary’s history. These were used as guideposts against which the depth of coverage and accuracy of the textbooks was contrasted. The twenty excerpts are shown below.
The author expresses his sincere thanks to Professor Steven B. Várdy of Duquesne University for his diligence in reviewing and correcting the manuscript.