What is telling about the fake-news scandal and pearl-clutching about Sebastian Gorka and his Vitézi Rend medal is the timing. He has been teaching, lecturing, and commenting on Jihadism and other threats for a long time, but he was attacked only after joining the Trump Team in January of this year. Obviously, the left, the establishment, and inside-the-Beltway DC swamp creatures cannot tolerate any outsiders who think outside the box.
By Paweł Piotr Styrna | May 6, 2017
The left’s unrelenting, non-stop, 24/7 campaign against President Trump – as well as his team, family, and supporters – is a total war. It is an attempt to conduct a Stalinist-like purge using Stalinist-style methods and propaganda – sans the mass executions, of course.
Among the left’s targets have been: Stephen K. Bannon, Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions, and Ivanka Trump. Having knocked out President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, the sharks tasted blood and lusted for more. More recently, the left tried to oust President Trump’s advisor, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a military and intelligence analyst and a member of the President’s National Security Advisory Staff, by falsely depicting him as a supposed Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. These absurd accusations echo Stalinist propaganda methods and tactics and are based on a perversion of history.
Before correcting the distortions of history and reality, a disclaimer is in order. Having studied at the Institute of World Politics, I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Gorka for more than half a decade. As Professor of Strategy and Irregular Warfare at IWP, Dr. Gorka has taught hundreds of students – many of them mid-level professionals in the military and federal government – about the ideology and modus operandi of Jihadist outfits such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Throughout this time I have known Dr. Gorka as nothing less than an expert in his field, a great professor, an author, an honorable man, and a staunch, solid supporter of Israel. This is why left-wing media attempts to link him to Nazism sounded like a (very bad) April Fool’s joke.
The attack against Dr. Gorka commenced earlier this year following an appearance on television in Hungarian ceremonial dress to which was pinned the “Order of the Valiant” (Vitézi Rend). Ignorant of history and its nuances, left-wing commentators attempted to link the order to Nazism simply because Hungary was compelled – by the force of geopolitical circumstances – to join the Axis during the Second World War. To understand that the accusations against Dr. Gorka are nothing more than guilt-by-association, it is important to have a general grasp of Hungary’s history during the turbulent and violent twentieth century, an understanding which Dr. Gorka’s accusers are obviously lacking. This is particularly important also because the Gorka family history is so intertwined with Hungarian history.
A Bit of History
The Hungarian polity was originally founded by the Magyars, a people who migrated from the Ural Mountains region of Eurasia and settled in the Danube valley in the late ninth century. Hence, Magyars is the native term for Hungarian, and the two are often used interchangeably. Hungary was converted to Catholicism by St. Stephen, who was crowned king in 1000. During the medieval era, Hungary was a mighty kingdom stretching from the Carpathians to the Adriatic. In 1526, the Ottoman Turks invaded and gobbled up most of Hungary, while the Habsburgs seized the western edges. In the late seventeenth century, the Austrians ejected the Ottomans and incorporated the rather reluctant Magyars into their empire.
In 1848, the Hungarians rose against the Habsburgs and attempted to regain their independence. Quite a few Polish freedom fighters (who had been unable to secure their independence from Prussia, Russia, and Austria) crossed the Carpathians and joined the Hungarian rebels. Among them were Dr. Gorka’s ancestors, who had been nobles of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before its partitioning. The Russians helped the Austrians crush the Magyar insurrection, but the Gorkas remained in Hungary and became Hungarian patriots.
In 1867, Hungary received significant autonomy within the Habsburg empire, which became the Dual Monarchy, but it was nevertheless not independent. Thus, as part of Austria-Hungary, it took part in the First World War on the side of Germany. Once the Central Powers were defeated and the Habsburg monarchy collapsed, Hungary suffered a communist revolution and was invaded by its neighbors. Adding insult to injury, it was subjected to the extremely punitive Treaty of Trianon (1920), which deprived it of over two-thirds of its territory, including large areas inhabited by Magyar majorities. Not surprisingly, many Hungarians during the interwar period feared communism and Soviet Russia, and most felt embittered and angry about Trianon, which they hoped to overturn.
Meanwhile, Admiral Horthy (an Austro-Hungarian admiral during the First World War) intervened and dislodged the communist regime of Bela Kun; he would govern Hungary as Regent until 1944. In 1920, Horthy introduced the Order of the Valiant (Vitézi Rend) (two decades before the Second World War). The objective was to ease postwar poverty in Hungary by providing veterans with grants of land. In addition to receiving parcels of land, the recipients of the Vitézi Rend were also treated as de facto nobles, making it a very prestigious award.
Germany’s drive to overturn the punitive peace Treaty of Versailles ending the First World War certainly found a receptive audience in Hungary. Following the Anglo-French betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, Budapest took advantage of the partitioning of that country by annexing a strip of territory on the Slovak border. However, it is important to keep in mind that this sliver of land was inhabited primarily by Magyars. As the Second World War broke out, Hungary joined the German-led Axis camp and furnished troops for the Eastern Front. It also reclaimed Hungarian-majority areas from its neighbors.
Geopolitical Strategic Alliances
It is now easy to condemn the Hungarians for fighting alongside Hitler’s Third Reich, but it is difficult to see what other realistic choices they faced at the time. After the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Central and Eastern Europe was at the mercy of the Germans and the Soviets. Poland chose to defy both and was conquered and destroyed as a result. The British and the French (let alone the Americans) were far away and unwilling to fight for the nations sandwiched between Berlin and Moscow. The Soviet Union – a much larger, more powerful, and populous state than little Hungary – collaborated with the Nazis for almost two years and seized numerous territories as a result. The Yugoslavs, who were initially driven into Germany’s arms much like Hungary had been, staged a coup in April 1941 and attempted to abandon the Axis for an alliance with Britain and the Soviet Union. The Germans quickly intervened to quash Belgrade and carved up Yugoslavia. Such was the geopolitical situation Hungary faced at the time. While this certainly does not excuse the unsavory things Hungary did during the war, it certainly demonstrates that the country’s options were quite limited. After all, the democratic liberal U.S. and Britain were, willy nilly, allied with the mass murderer Stalin – all for geopolitical and military reasons.
As the fate of the war turned increasingly against the Axis, Admiral Horthy’s government sent out feelers to the Western Allies. However, the Allies were primarily concerned with defeating Germany and FDR simply did not care if Central and Eastern Europe became Sovietized in the process. Of course, the Germans were unwilling to allow captive satellites to extricate themselves either. As the Red Army approached Hungary, Horthy, now desperate, attempted to negotiate surrender terms with the Soviets. To prevent this, in March 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary, and, in mid-October 1944, overthrew the Regent and established a puppet regime under the national socialist Arrow Cross Party. (Moreover, the Germans kidnapped Horthy’s son to force his capitulation to Berlin.) The followers of the Arrow Cross were indeed full-throated Nazi collaborators and helped the Germans round up Hungary’s Jews. However, they did not represent the majority of the Hungarian population.
Admittedly, some members of the Vitézi Rend supported the Arrow Cross and collaborated with the Germans, but many others resisted the Nazis and their native collaborators attempting to foil their plans to round up and deport the Jews. For instance, one member of the Vitézi Rend, Col. Ferenc Koszorus (acting on Horthy’s orders) blocked the deportation of Budapest’s 250,000 Jews. Thus, associating the Order with Nazi collaboration is deeply problematic at best.
In the spring of 1945, following a long, bloody battle for Budapest, the Soviets eventually pushed the Germans out of Hungary. The new occupiers established a communist puppet regime and forcibly integrated the nation into their post-war empire. As in all other Central European countries – including Poland, which had fought against both the communists and the Nazis – the Soviets branded anyone who opposed them “fascist collaborators” and persecuted or murdered them as such. Not surprisingly, they abolished the Order of the Valiant as well, for anything that invoked patriotism, independence, and tradition was now anathema and “fascistic.” The ban, of course, turned the Vitézi Rend into a symbol of anti-communist resistance, especially during the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising. Dr. Gorka’s father, Paul (Pál) Gorka, participated in the insurrection, and – after it was crushed by Khrushchev’s tanks – was forced to flee to the United Kingdom. The Vitézi Rend medal Dr. Gorka was wearing during his television interview – which sparked so much faux outrage – was his father’s. The post-1956 anti-communist and pro-freedom context of Dr. Gorka’s medal is obvious, as is the parallel between left-wing attacks against him and the postwar communist propaganda offensive against patriotic Hungarians.
Back to the Present
What is telling about the fake-news scandal and pearl-clutching about Dr. Gorka and his Vitézi Rend medal is the timing. Dr. Gorka has been teaching, lecturing, and commenting on Jihadism and other threats for a long time, but he was attacked only after joining the Trump Team in January of this year. Obviously, the left, the establishment, and inside-the-Beltway DC swamp creatures cannot tolerate any outsiders who think outside the box. Since the accusations against Dr. Gorka are baseless, it is not surprising that they haven’t “stuck,” although it would be naïve to expect the left to cease slinging mud (after all, maybe something will eventually stick if the lie is repeated a thousand times).
The absurdity of the charges prompted conservative Jews – from the Zionist Organization of America to Joel Pollak of Breitbart News – to come forward in defense of Dr. Gorka. As ZOA’s Morton Klein told Breitbart: “This is all political. I assure you if Obama had appointed Gorka as an advisor nobody would have said one word. This is a partisan political attempt to smear President Trump’s administration because Sebastian Gorka is a great friend of Israel. (…) these attacks against Gorka remind me of the same absurd and phony attacks against Steve Bannon, who is also a great friend of Israel. This is utter rubbish, just like it was about Bannon.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Gorka’s detractors have failed to demonstrate any pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic statements or actions on his part. In fact, in December 2014, in an article arguing against the use of torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Dr. Gorka condemned Nazism unequivocally: “The argument that we did ‘bad’ things as a nation for the greater good in the past is not sound either. Yes, we interned Japanese Americans, and our allies, the British, tortured SS officers. So, what? Do we really think that American citizens should have been treated differently because of their skin color or where their grandparents came from? And yes, the Nazis were incarnate evil, and the SS the worst of all, but does that really mean ALL options are open?”
Indeed, this is not only a condemnation (as clear as can be) of German National Socialism and fascism, but also the very antithesis of the amoral consequentialist ethics (the ends justify the means) that characterized the Nazis, the communists, the Islamists-Jihadists, and other radical revolutionary movements. The similarity between the leftists attempting to assassinate Dr. Gorka’s character – given their willingness to utter even the most transparently baseless lies, as long as it advances their political agenda – and the above referenced totalitarians is striking.
Paweł Styrna is a Ph.D student in Russian history at a DC area university. He holds two MA degrees, one in modern European and Russian history (University of Illinois at Chicago) and another in statecraft international affairs (Institute of World Politics in Washington DC). Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.