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Czech Mate for Condi

by JOSEPH KALVODA

Review in American Historical Review (1985):[please note that the reviewer evidently believes Dr. Rice is a man]

CONDOLEEZZA RICE.
The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983: Uncertain Allegiance.
Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1984.
Pp. xiv, 303. $37.50

To write a scholarly study on the relationship of the Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak army without access to relevant Czechoslovak and Soviet documents is difficult. Therefore, much of this book by Condoleezza Rice is based on secondary works. His thesis is that the Soviets directly influence military elites in the satellite countries, in addition to the Soviet Communist party interacting with the domestic party. Rice selects Czechoslovakia as a case study and attempts to show the role of the military as instrument of both national defense and the Soviet-controlled military alliance.

Rice’s selection of sources raises questions, since he [sic] frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation. He passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of facts. It does not add to his credibility when he uses a source written by Josef Hodic; Rice fails to notice that this “former military scientist” (p. 99) was a communist agent who returned to Czechoslovakia several years ago. Rice based his discussion of the “Sejna affair” (pp. 111, 116, 144) largely on communist propaganda sources and did not consult writings and statements by former General Jan Sejna who had access to Warsaw Pact documents and is the highest military officer from the Soviet bloc to defect to the West since World War II.

Rice’s generalizations reflect his lack of knowledge about history and the nationality problem in Czechoslovakia. For example, in 1955 Czechoslovakia was not yet “the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic” (pp 83, 84). In May 1938 Ludvik Svoboda was serving in the Czech army, not organizing a Czech military unit in Poland. In the fall of 1939 he was captured by the Soviet invading forces in eastern Poland; he did not “[escape] to the USSR” (p. 43). Rice’s discussion of the “Czechoslovak Legion” that was “born during the chaotic period preceding the fall of the Russian empire” (pp. 44-46) is ridiculous. (It was “born” on September 28, 1914.) He is clearly ignorant of the history of the military unit as well as of the geography of the area on which it fought.

Rice claims that “Czechoslovaks are supposedly passive and consider resistance to invading forces unnecessary and dangerous, preferring instead political solution” (p. 4). First, there are Czechs and Slovaks but not Czechoslovaks. Second, history shows that Czechs resisted the invading Prussians in 1866, Russia, France and Italy. In 1919 Czechs and Slovaks fought the invading armies of Bela Kun in Slovakia. In 1939 and 1948, “the Czechoslovak president, Edward Benes, ordered his troops to the barracks,” writes Rice. “[Alexander] Dubcek and Svoboda were, then just following precedent. Czechoslovak passivity meant that the decision of 1968 was preordained” (pp. 4-6). Nothing, indeed, is preordained in history. Moreover, Benes in 1939 was no longer president but was teaching at the University of Chicago.

In comparing Poland in 1981 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Rice does not mention the obvious: whereas Soviet troops have been garrisoned in Poland since the end of World War II and, therefore, an invasion of Poland was unnecessary, the main objective of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia was to force Dubcek’s regime to accept the stationing of Soviet troops in the country.

The writing abounds with meaningless phrases, such as is its “last word”: “Thirty-five years after its creation, the Czechoslovak People’s Army stands suspended between the Czechoslovak nation and the socialist world order” (p. 245).

JOSEPH KALVODA teaches at Saint Joseph College West Hartford, Connecticut.

 

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