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Foreword by Andrew L. Simon || 1: Out Into the World

Introduction to the Original Edition

by Nicholas Roosevelt

NICHOLAS HORTHY will figure in European history of the 20th century as the powerful head of a small state who was powerless to prevent the absorption of his country first by the German Nazis and then by the Russian Communists. His failure was due not to incapacity, weakness or blundering on his part, but rather to the simple fact that the Hungarians were outnumbered ten to one by the Germans and twenty to one by the Russians, and that Germany and Russia each regarded occupation of Hungary as a pre-requisite to its own aggrandizement. Hungary had no more chance of effective resistance against either aggressor than a wounded stag attacked by a pack of wolves.

I saw Admiral Horthy from time to time when he was Regent of Hungary and I was United States' Minister to that country. This was in 1930-33. In appearance he was a typical sea-dog, red faced, sturdy, energetic, powerful, though relatively short in stature. Many a retired British admiral could have been mistaken for him. His integrity and courage were outstanding, as was his devotion to duty. Unlike other "strong men" he was singularly lacking in vanity, ambition and selfishness. He did not seek the high offices that were thrust upon him, but rather accepted them in the fervent hope that by so doing he could serve the country that he so dearly loved. Stern when need be, he was fundamentally kind. Proud of his office of regent, and punctilious about official etiquette, he yet was simple in his tastes and courteous and considerate of others. His official life was given over to an unending round of formalities, from which the only relief was escape to the country to hunt wild boars or stags, or shoot game birds. His energy in the field, even when in his sixties, exhausted many a younger man, and his skill with rifle and shotgun placed him among the best shots in a country where shooting as a sport was almost a profession.

Nicholas Horthy had just turned forty-one when, in 1909, the old Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef, appointed him one of his personal aides, thus bringing the future admiral into intimate contact with this survivor of an age that is utterly remote from our own. Franz Josef in his youth had known Prince Metternich, leader of the Congress of Vienna in the winter of 1814-15, and relentless enemy of liberalism in Europe, who had been forced to resign as Chancellor of the Empire just before Franz Joseph was crowned emperor in December of 1848. By the time that Nicholas Horthy came to serve Franz Josef the Emperor had become a legendary figure, Emperor-King, for more than sixty years, an autocrat who ruled his court and family with rigid regard for formality, a bureaucrat with a prodigious capacity for work, and, withal, a great gentleman. The admiral several times told me of the admiration, respect and affection which he had for the old man, not the hero-worship of a youth in his twenties, but the considered appraisal of a man in his forties for an employer still vigorous and efficient as he turned eighty. It is a tribute alike to Franz Josef's influence and to Nicholas Horthy's modesty that the Admiral, as Regent of Hungary, when faced with a grave problem of state always asked himself what the old Emperor would have done under the the circumstances.

Admiral Horthy's life, as set forth in this volume, covers the most revolutionary century in the world's history. His early training as a naval cadet was in the age of sails. Electric lighting was almost unknown in Europe when he completed his naval schooling. The Turks were still in control of parts of the Balkan peninsula. Russia's ambition to bring all Slavic-speaking peoples under its sway, while recognized, seemed unlikely ever to be realized. The recently achieved Italian unity was regarded by Austrians and Hungarians as an affront to historic realities. Prussia's domination of the newly created German Empire was resented by Austrians in particular, who looked down on the Prussians as ill-mannered, pushy people who had usurped the position of leadership of German culture which so long had belonged deservedly to the Austrians. As for the United States, it was regarded by European rulers as a small, isolated country inhabited by a bumptious, money-grubbing lot of transplanted Europeans, a nation which deservedly played no role in world affairs.

Yet within thirty years an American President, Woodrow Wilson, with millions of American soldiers backing the Allies against Germany and Austria-Hungary, proclaimed the principle of self-determination which hastened the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the abdication of Franz Josef's successor, Charles, the last of the Habsburg emperors. Nicholas Horthy, as commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian navy, had the humiliation of carrying out Charles's order to surrender the imperial fleet to the scorned Yugoslavs without any resistance. German Austria proclaimed itself a republic. The Magyar remnant of Hungary, under the leadership of a Magyar count regarded by his peers as weak, unreliable and unbalanced, declared its independence.

Dominated at first by socialists, it was shortly taken over by communists. In Russia Marxism replaced Czarism. The megalomanic Kaiser William II of Germany fled to Holland and took to sawing wood in his refuge at Doom, soon to see another megalomaniac, this time an Austrian by birth, Adolph Hitler, backed by one of Germany's greatest generals, Ludendorff, make his first (and unsuccessful) attempt to dominate and re-integrate Germany. Ludendorff was soon to be locked up as a lunatic. A decade later Hitler became Fuehrer of the "eternal" German Reich which endured a scant ten years.

Throughout most of the two decades that followed the armistice of 1918 the author of this book was a symbol of sanity, order and stability in an unstable, disordered and sick Europe. As head of the counterrevolutionary movement in Hungary, which, before he was named Regent in 1920, had rescued that country from the Communists, he had incurred the hatred of left wingers inside and out of Hungary(1). As Regent his policy was to try to restore to Hungary the boundaries it had had before the Habsburg empire broke up, a policy which, however commendable to Magyars, ran counter to the nationalist aspirations and fears of non-Magyars, and was doomed to failure. In the ensuing years most of the supporters of the Habsburgs and many of the landed nobility of Hungary believed this upholder of the ancien regime to be "dangerously" liberal and suspected him of wanting to establish a Horthy dynasty to replace the Habsburgs. Royalists never forgave him for having twice thwarted ex-King Charles's attempts to regain the throne of Hungary, attempts which, if successful, would surely have brought about the invasion and occupation of Hungary by the neighbor states. The words put into the mouth of Brutus at Caesar's funeral by Shakespeare could well be paraphrased: "Not that Horthy loved Charles less, but Hungary more." When, twenty years later, Regent Horthy appeared to go along with Hitler, it was because he was faced with force which neither resistance nor appeasement could curb. What the outside world did not realize was that Hitler's hatred of Horthy's independence and fearlessness was one of the reasons why the Fuehrer took over control of Hungary and virtually made the Regent his prisoner.

The last time I saw this staunch old admiral was when I paid my farewell visit to him before returning to the United States in 1933. He spoke with passionate earnestness about his conviction that Russia was the greatest threat not only to Hungary but to the western world. For years this subject had been an obsession of his, so much so, in fact, that the members of the diplomatic corps in Budapest in the 1930s discounted it as a phobia. Events have proved that his fears were justified. True, it was the Nazis who started Hungary down the path of destruction. But it was the Russians who crushed the spirit of the Hungarian nation and reduced the economic level of the Magyars to pre-feudal poverty. The Hungarian Regent in this case had foreseen correctly, but he was unable to convince either British or American leaders that Communist Russia was even more rapacious and greedy than Czarist Russia, and that it was folly to believe that if Russia was treated as a friendly ally that country would respond in kind.

If any of Admiral Horthy's critics continue to question his clarity of thinking and his abundant common sense, let them read this book. Written simply and modestly, it is an absorbing record of the life of a gallant man who fought hopelessly but bravely to save as much as he could for his country in the midst of the conflicting jealousies, ambitions and hatreds of Eastern Europe which had been inflamed by World War I. He was a conservator rather than a conservative, a traditionalist rather than a fascist, a practical man rather than an idealist. He would have restored the old order had he been able to do so. Instead, he saw the Iron Curtain close over his beloved Hungary, and retired to Portugal, where, at the age of eighty-eight he is still living with his memories of a world that is gone forever. Fearless, incorruptible, steadfast, his influence, like that of George Washington, stemmed from strength of character rather than brilliance of intellect. Men might disagree with him, but even his enemies respected him. They might question his judgment, but none questioned his integrity and uprightness.

Big Sur, California, April 1956. Nicholas Roosevelt

1. A fact still true in the middle of the 1990's. (Ed.)