Abraham Rothberg  - Author


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New by Abraham Rothberg:
The Former People

$13.95 Printed: 271 pages, 6.0 x 9.0 in.,
$3.99 Download: PDF (800 kb)
ISBN: 1-4116-6331-4

I. Washington, D.C., Vienna, Summer, Autumn, 1956
By the time the meeting had gone on for well over two hours, Cleve was fed up. The air was blue with cigarette smoke, the ashtrays filled to overflowing, and between the fading afternoon light and the newly lit overhead lights, the conference room and its occupants seemed painted in smeared butter. Two dozen people were there from the Department, desk chiefs and their deputies from the Russian and East-European sections, with the Assistant Secretary presiding. Faces flushed, eyes bleary, a few men had loosened their ties and collars, and some had even taken off their jackets. Everyone’s nerves were frayed except the Assistant Secretary’s. A short grey man in a grey suit, his grey hair brushed back over his ears so that not a single hair was awry, he had the reputation for being unflappable. All afternoon he had chaired the session, and now in his careful Cambridge accent, he told them that “rollback” was and remained national policy. There weren’t be any leaks to the newspapers, or to anyone else, about dissension in the Department; no one was even to mention any “discussions.” The Secretary had enunciated the policy for “liberation.” The President had confirmed it; their job was to carry out policy, not to question it.

Cleve saw Jim Hursh’s almost imperceptible warning, the merest shake of his dark head, the silent drumming of his fingernails on the mahogany conference table, but Cleve ignored the warning. He knew he was being “too intense,” wasn’t using the understated, grey-flannel style. Unlike the others, who had spoken sitting down, he had, almost involuntarily, risen to his feet. Defending an opposing policy in the Department was acceptable, provided you did it with your head alone. If your heart was in it, best to disguise it as thoroughly as you could. Always the illusion of indifference. But Cleve wasn’t indifferent to the liberation policy because it was a fraud that America would not and should not back with military force. Whatever the Secretary said for public consumption, the leaders of the government accepted de facto Soviet hegemony in East and Central Europe. They denied the Soviets de jure recognition, but that was a formality. Now that the Russians had the Bomb, there wasn’t a glimmer of America’s risking a war for Central Europe. Liberation remained a policy enunciated for domestic partisan political purposes. It made good election speeches. It made Americans feel righteous and freedom-loving, even a little daring. It made their leaders say that they were winning the hearts and minds of men. But only the mad or the self-deluded believed for a moment that the United States would go to war to “liberate the captive nations.”
Choosing his words carefully, but saying we instead of you, Cleve listed the facts that everyone there knew by heart. When he summed up, he deliberately lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper, not only because he was tired and tense, but because he wanted them to strain to hear what he was saying, to pay attention.

“If we don’t change our policies and our propaganda, they will lead to futile rebellions and bloodshed. Men, women and children will die uselessly in the streets of Warsaw, Budapest and Prague, shot down by the Russians, just as in 1953, they died uselessly in the streets of East Berlin. And we Americans will be sitting by doing nothing. But we will be responsible for having urged those people into the streets as much as they themselves will be responsible for having misjudged us and the Russians. We all know our country will not go to war to liberate Eastern Europe. The President knows that; the Secretary of State knows that. What’s more, the country knows that. The policy is hypocritical and incendiary; therefore, we should publicly renounce it.
“It is also a destructive policy because those who do rebel, who believe our verbal posturing, and are killed in the uprisings, will be the most idealistic, courageous individuals, the future potential leadership of the region. We shall have served Soviet purposes, not our own, by acting as agents-provocateurs, exposing the future opposition leadership so that the Soviets can cut their heads off with a single stroke.
“Now, especially, with Stalin dead, with the Soviet leadership divided and uncertain, with their bureaucracy wavering, with more lenient policies emerging in the Satellites — and even in the U.S.S.R. itself — now is the time for us to be prudent, patient and subtle in encouraging long-term change in the Soviet bloc.”

When he sat down, his knees were shaking, his hands trembling. No one spoke until the Assistant Secretary suavely thanked him for his interesting remarks, and then there was an audible sigh of relief. People got up, stretched, straightened their coats and ties. It was over. No one spoke to him. No one contested what he’d said. On his way out of the conference room, the Assistant Secretary went by him and inclined his head. It was as if he’d never uttered a word. It was as if he’d suddenly become what the Russians called a “non-person,” visible to no one but Jim Hursh. Cleve knew he had lost, and not for the first time he was terribly afraid for those men and women in Eastern Europe he knew were soon going to die. Read the rest of Chapter 1 pdf format

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