Book Review: Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and the Crisis that Shook the World

Book Review: Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and the Crisis that Shook the World

The separate yet intertwined conflicts of 1956, in Hungary and Egypt, changed the presentation and path of the Cold War.  Most stunning among the changes and yet one of the least mentioned outside scholarly works is that Great Britain began the month of October 1956 as one of the great powers at the center of the Cold War and ended November of 1956 as a junior Western partner.  The news discourse of these events began by mentioning three, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, and ended the crises with only two, the United States and the Soviet Union.  

Great Britain, although still of vital importance, was no longe the leader.

Alex von Tunzelmann’s book illustrates not only the parradigm shift of the great powers, but also the sheer confusion of a world in flux.  In Hungary, Soviet decisions underwent 180 degree flips in a matter of hours, under reaction to over-reaction, tanks retreating and then charging back, switching places a the drop of a hat and creating heroes and then martyrs amongst the Hungarian insurgents.  Meanwhile, the West did little more than bleat indignantly.

In Egypt the scenario flipped.  It was the West invading while the Soviets shouted rhetoric in return, but offered little in the way of military support.

Von Tunzelmann digs deep, giving us not only the events, but placing them in historical context as well.  As an added bonus, the characters are fleshed out psychologically as well.  One particularly entertaining fact had to do with Khrushchev’s feelings on the British political system.  Contrary to anyone’s expectations, he found he disliked the British establishment socialists, but quite enjoyed the conservative Anthony Eden.

“Bulganin can vote Labour if he likes, but I’m going to vote Conservative,” Khrushchev later told the British ambassador to Moscow.

Von Tunzelmann also brings out the side stories that, until this book, remained nearly the exclusive domain of those who spent careers studying and picking apart the Twin Crises, namely the role of Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito  and the Yugoslav ambassador to the Soviet Union, Veljko Mičunić. The Hungarian Uprising, in particular, proved to be more than a mere speed bump in the road of the healing post-Stalin rift between Yugoslavia and the Soviets.  Secret meetings, public threats in Moscow, an late night confessionals with Premier Khrushchev sound like the stuff of fiction, but they actually happened.

Full pictures of the Twin Crises, especially those that emphasize the interconnectedness of the two, are hard to come by.  More generally, works tend to focus on one point, leaving those interested in a full picture to search out and create their own plate of sources rather than offering one prix fixe.  Tunzelmann overcomes this, putting everything in one place and offering a complete picture from the beginning.

For our series on the Hungarian Uprising, please click here.


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