The Five Stirring Stanzas That Proved a Poem Can Help End a War
In 1918, a few lines by a Hungarian desk clerk spurred a revolution that helped end the Great War. Her words still ring true today.
Illustrations by James Heimer
“We need no two-headed eagle!” one protester shouted in Budapest on the evening of October 30, 1918. The eagle was the Austro-Hungarian coat of arms: a double-headed black bird clutching a sword and crown in its talons. It was the emblem of a monarchy that had controlled Hungary since 1867. Rioting men scurried up the facade of a nearby building and tore down the Empire’s ornament to a cheering crowd. Down the street, outside Gerbeaud, the city’s finest patisserie, the throngs were so thick that it was impossible to see over anyone’s head.
This was the Hungarian Revolution of 1918. Two days earlier, citizens had marched across the city demanding that the Archduke József appoint Mihaly Károlyi as their Prime Minister. The Central Powers were at the brink of defeat in World War I, and the people wanted to choose who would determine the future of their country. They despised the monarchy and pinned their hopes instead on Károlyi: a politician who championed H…