Cold War Competition
July 24, 1959: Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon take part in a “Kitchen Debate”. The two super powers agreed to hold exhibitions in each other’s country. The Soviet exhibition opened in New York in June and the US exhibit opened in Moscow the following month. The American exhibit was a modern house that “everyone” in America could afford. It was filled with all the new gadgets available to Americans in a post-World War II boom economy. Both labor saving and recreational devices were included in the model. US Vice President Nixon was in Moscow and gave Khrushchev a tour through the model house while they spoke to each other via interpreters. Also along was William Safire as the exhibitor’s press agent.
Not only was the house remarkable, but the debate was recorded on color videotape. When Nixon pointed it out, it was decided both countries would broadcast the interviews with interpretations. Prior to July 1959, US Congress had condemned the USSR for its control over the captive people in Eastern Europe. They asked the American people to pray for the people behind the Iron Curtain. During the course of the home tour, Khrushchev suddenly launched into a protest over this prior congressional event while Nixon listened quietly. Khrushchev then promised that the Soviets would surpass all the gadgetry in a few years time and wave “Bye bye” as they zoomed past Americans. Nixon responded by saying that at least the competition seemed to be technological rather than military – a good thing.
As their tour/interview ended, Khrushchev asked that the tapes be thoroughly translated and shown to the American people. Nixon agreed if the tapes would also be translated into Russian and shown across the USSR. They shook hands on the deal. It was the first time high level people from the Soviet and the US had been together since the Geneva Summit four years earlier. Leonid Brezhnev had been present and kept photo bombing or obstructing filming of the Kitchen Debate.
All three major networks broadcast the entirely translated tape the next day throughout the US. This angered the Soviets since it was agreed that it would be shown at the same time in both countries. The US felt delay would cause the tapes to have lost immediacy. Two days later, July 27, the tapes were broadcast in the USSR, although much of Nixon’s contribution was not translated into Russian. It was also shown late at night when viewership was lower. Reception in the US was mixed. It was said to have been more of a political stunt than substantive statesmanship. Khrushchev must have been impressed with young Nixon since he claimed to have done all he could to make sure that Nixon lost his presidential run in 1960. The debates can be seen (non-translated) on You Tube – part 1 and part 2. An English translation of the text is also available.
The shrewd Khrushchev came away from his personal duel of words with Nixon persuaded that the advocate of capitalism was not just tough-minded but strong-willed. – William Safire
An exchange that emphasized the gulf between east and west but had little bearing on the substantive issue. – The New York Times describing the event
Nixon managed in a unique way to personify a national character proud of peaceful accomplishment, sure of its way of life, confident of its power under threat. – Time magazine
I’ve been insulted by experts. Everything we say is in good humor. – Richard Nixon after Khrushchev apologized if he had been offensive
Also on this day: Also on this day: The Manly Peak – In 1911, Machu Picchu was found – again.
Tennessee – In 1866, the first seceded state was admitted back to the Union.
Oh, Henry – In 1901, William Porter was released from prison.
Eastland – In 1915, the SS Eastland capsized.
Promised Land – In 1847, Brigham Young and his followers arrived in Salt Lake Valley.