Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in
The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Czechoslovakia emerged as one of the Soviet Union's most loyal allies following World War II. In 1968, however, Alexander Dubcek became head of the Czech Communist Party and introduced a program of liberal reforms that came to be known as the Prague Spring. Fearing that the new ideas and freedoms would undermine communist control in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union sent in troops to quash the movement. Dubcek was replaced and strict communist rule returned for two more decades. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 21, 1968:
From News Dispatches
Prague Radio announced early this morning that troops of the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany had started to cross the Czechoslovak border.
The announcement, which came at 2 a.m. (9 p.m. Wednesday EDT), said the crossings were made without forewarning to the Czechoslovak president, the chairman of the National Assembly, or the first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.
The party Presidium appealed to the people of Czechoslovakia not to resist the advancing troops.
It said the National Assembly and the Communist Party Central Committee had been called together to discuss the situation.
President Johnson, on hearing the news, immediately called a National Security Council meeting to discuss the situation. White House press secretary George Christian said the Council would meet "as soon as possible."
Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford and the top military leaders rushed to the White House for the meeting.
But there was no sign that the United States would do anything but sit out the invasion, just as it did in the case of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.
There was unusual activity at Prague Airport, with jet fighters apparently landing.
The developments followed a resurgence of attacks in the Soviet and Polish press against Czechoslovakia's eight-month-old reform drive.
Earlier yesterday, United Press International, quoting informed sources, reported that the three top leaders of the Soviet Union interrupted their vacations and returned to Moscow for an emergency meeting on Czechoslovakia of the entire Communist Party Central Committee.
According to the sources, Party Secretary General Brezhnev and President Podgorny left retreats on the Black Sea for the rare plenary session of the Central Committee. Premier Kosygin and other members of the 11-man politburo returned to the Kremlin from a Moscow-area vacation spot.
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