Cake and Perfidy: the 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

By Sasha Maggio

A classmate commented on my post for the week, and the post was largely on SIGINT but in one part I make a tiny little comment about how sometimes things like radio could be used to broadcast narratives to particular “target audiences” like how the Soviet Union used it to garner public support in 1968, but also other times.

My point was that just because you get the message and you interpret it accurately, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. And this classmate goes, “What are you talking about? Can you explain that?”

I was already moody to begin with so I’m like 😒 “yup…” I’ll fucking explain it

So, I said:

In 1968, Czechoslovakia was dealing with some personal problems at the time (internal unrest) and Moscow was getting nervous (as Moscow does when people start complaining about how they manage everything).

Moscow is all like, “Hey, what’s up? Want some help?”

And Czechoslovakia was like, “No thanks. We got this. We’ve seen how you ‘help’… we’re good.”

Moscow goes, “Ok, suit yourselves. But just remember how much we like aggressively saying we told you so.”

The internal unrest kept on for some time though.

After a while Moscow is like, “You know what would be great? Let’s get all of our ‘friends’ together for game night!” But instead of game night it was a Warsaw Pact “exercise” that they spread out over a couple months.

They invited Czechoslovakia, of course. Moscow was like, “Com’on! Everyone is going to be there! Poland is coming, they’re bringing kielbasa. Even Bulgaria RSVP-ed. You’re going to feel left out.”

And Czechoslovakia was like “No thanks. We’re kinda busy with our own stuff right now. But you guys go ahead, have fun. Oh… and don’t touch our stuff.”

NATO was watching, of course, and they were like, “I don’t know. They say it’s just an exercise, and it looks an awful lot like an exercise…. Hey…Did Steve bring cake? I heard there was cake in the break room.”

And Steve at NATO was like, 😆 “Fuck yeah, I brought cake! It’s my birthday, bitches!”😆🎉🎂

After a little while Moscow was like, “You know, this is going really well. NATO’s keeping quiet. Everyone is getting along. Let’s get some more people on board!” And they run a series of stories that they broadcast to their own people to gain public support because anytime a country sends its military anywhere to “help fix someone else’s problems” it’s important to have the support of the general public so the military doesn’t return home to find its own country dealing with “internal unrest”…

Anyway, so Moscow is all like, “Soviet people, Czechoslovakia needs us. They’re asking…. No, they’re begging for our help! Do you mind terribly if we help them?”

And the Soviet people are like, “Well, you have done so much for us, it would be nice to do something for our neighbors. Especially if they need us. Go forth, brave Soviet Army, and help the Czech people!”

And Moscow was like 😎“You got it!”

Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia is like, “Look, we don’t care that East Germany is bringing pretzels for everyone. We hear the West German pretzels are better anyway. Go do your exercise and leave us alone. We’re busy…. And don’t touch our stuff.”

So, the exercise continues and the stories continue and NATO starts to be all desensitized to the movement and activity throughout that region because it does look like an exercise and the narrative they’re getting is that it’s just an exercise so they weren’t too concerned. (Even if they were concerned, it’s not like they were going to go one-on-one with Moscow over Prague anyway.)

And Moscow keeps trying, “Hey…. Czechoslovakia…. You sure you don’t want in?”

And Czechoslovakia is starting to think: This does look like an exercise, and it has been going on for some time… they may be telling the truth… but we’re kind of too busy right now and we really want to break free from that group anyway… And they say, “Look, we don’t want in. But we won’t kill your commo guys if they cross our border. How’s that?”

And Moscow is like, “You guys are the best! We’re really missing you in this exercise. Hungary says hi, BTW.”

And Czechoslovakia is like, “Yeah, whatever… Don’t touch our stuff.”

Then the Soviets ‘find’ this cache of weapons near the border with Germany (that mysteriously appeared right where they put it) and they’re like, “OMG Czechoslovakia! Do you see this?! We’re totes shocked! It has CIA written all over it!”

It actually probably did have “Property of CIA” written all over it, but in a mix of Cyrillic and Roman letters like “Прoпeрty of ЦРУ” or maybe it once said “ОВД” or “собственность государства” or “военного имущества” or something that’s just ridiculously crossed out and written in by hand is “Property of ЦРУ”… but I digress…

It worked though. Czechoslovakia was like, “Ok, ok, ok…. Is it too late to join the exercise?”

And Moscow, thrilled to the core, was like, “It’s never too late for you – our good friends the Czech people! Welcome! Добро пожаловать!”

And the next thing they know, there’s a Soviet flag and tanks in Prague and everyone’s speaking Russian.

I ended the story with:

Some of this may have been dramatized for effect. Tune in next week when we discuss Transnistria…  😒 And the class was like: What? 😑

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About the Author: Sasha Maggio is a full-time linguist and research analyst with a background in, among other things, Psychology, Intelligence, and Military Studies. She also collaborates on the podcast The Live Drop.

About the Editor: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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