Monthly Archives: February 2013

What Does the Hungarian Revolution Have to Do with Cold War Science?

Last week I stopped by my old stomping grounds, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, for a conversation with Mat Savilli, an historian of Eastern Europe. We talked about science and ideology, science and freedom, NASA and private industry, and—last but hardly least—the Hungarian Revolution.

So what, exactly, does science have to do with the Hungarian Revolution? The short answer is: cultural diplomacy. Most historians now agree that propaganda funded by (but not carefully supervised by) the Central Intelligence Agency encouraged Hungarian students to believe that American forces would come to their aid if they resisted the Soviet occupation. Tragically, those students were wrong. But while Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts are notorious, they’re only the tip of the iceberg for efforts to sway the hearts and minds of 1950s-era Europeans through cultural propaganda. While some of this propaganda was “gray,” or “black,” meaning that its funding sources were either obscured or denied, “white” propaganda was openly acknowledged by its creators: think Voice of America. Science, particularly genetics, became a front in this cultural battle, as the U.S. foreign policy establishment increasingly embraced scientific exchanges, conferences, and international grants as a way to demonstrate Western support for European scientists.

You can listen in to our conversation at Distillations, CHF’s biweekly podcast.