September 15, 2014

A Soviet Leader in the US? Preposterous!


A Soviet Leader in the US? Preposterous!

After years of not recognizing the Soviet Union and then painting it as the root of all evil, September 15, 1959 – 55 years ago from Monday – the US welcomed none other than Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the CPSU.

For the first time ever, a Soviet leader – the face of communism, the hated Bolshevik, the enemy, and so on and so forth – was on American soil. And not with an invading force. General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev had come to visit.

He had been invited earlier the same year by then Vice President Richard Nixon, after a lively but amiable debate at the American National Exhibition in Moscow (video). The debate, which helped build Nixon's toughness factor, featured such typical Khrushchev-isms as “in seven years we will pass you and wave ‘hi’ to you as we go by” and the infamous untranslateable colloquialism “we’ll show you Kuzma’s mother.” The debate was then televised, and the adorably frank Khrushchev made for such good TV that American statesmen were happy to bring the show home.

The interpreter-facilitated Kitchen Debate

And Khrushchev did not fail to deliver. The fun started as soon as he landed on September 15: the plane was too tall for any ramp the American hosts could provide, which Khrushchev was quick to spin into a point in the Soviet Union’s favor (“our planes are too great for those capitalist ramps!”). The networks ran an hour of Khrushchev footage every night of his visit, making him the biggest star on American television.

This was not a diplomatic mission – no major deals were reached, and the speech Khrushchev made at the UN about everyone reducing their militaries and using the money for schools and such was just a propaganda ploy. America was not negotiating with its enemy. She was entertaining him.

And boy was he entertained! In Hollywood, he watched a can-can performance on the set for an upcoming film. In Iowa, he loved how the farmer whose farm he was touring heckled and beat up the reporters that followed him around and trampled the crops. At IBM, he showed little interest in state-of-the-art computers, but was fascinated by the cafeteria, and the nearby supermarket – the unseen wonders of self-service. He was even supposed to go to Disneyland, but it was cut from the itinerary at the last minute due to security concerns.

For a few days, America was Khrushchev's petting zoo

After all the hard-line rhetoric of the Stalin years, this lighthearted visit was a welcome reprieve. The following year President Eisenhower was supposed to pay a return visit, but the era of lightheartedness did not last – in May a US spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, triggering a crisis and destroying hopes for a détente at the upcoming summit. The entertainment was over. It was back to Cold War business as usual.

 

Smithsonian Magazine video about Khrushchev’s visit.

Also see Peter Carlson's great book on the trip: K Blows Top:

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955