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COLD WAR: 1953-60 (9 of 11)

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Thaw and Comedy, to 1959

President Eisenhower gave a speech in September 1956 in which he said,

If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments – if necessary to evade governments – to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.

A new cultural exchange began In October 1956 with an English language magazine, USSR, appearing on magazine racks in major US cities. It was about life in the Soviet Union and stayed away from politics and social theory. And more Western works were made available to Soviet Citizens. Eisenhower wanted an exchange of thousands of undergraduates from the United States and the Soviet Union, but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover talked him out of it, fearing Soviet spying, no doubt. But by 1957 the US was negotiating with the Soviet Union for cultural exchanges. That was the year, in October, that the Soviet Union shocked the West with its launching the first satellite, Sputnik, 23 inches in diameter and emiting radio signal beeps at it orbited the earth. The Soviet Union won more respect regarding its technological abilities. The orbiting satellite collected new intelligence about the upper atmosphere that would be useful for US scientists and engineers.

Also in 1957, the novel Doctor Zhivago was published – in Italy. Its Russian author, Boris Pasternak, was to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958, which enraged Soviet patriots who accused the Nobel committee of engaging in anti-Soviet propaganda. The Party newspaper Pravda described the novel as a "low-grade reactionary hackwork." Pasternak was expelled from the Writer's Union and was not allowed to travel to Norway to accept the award. In years to come Khrushchev would express regret that he had not read the book and had said: "there's nothing anti-Soviet in it." note76

In 1958 there was the Lacy-Zaroubin Agreement for that year and 1959 – cautiously temporary. It was a move for exchanges in agriculture, science, medicine, youth athletics, scholarly research and other endeavors. Declassified CIA documents would indicate that both the CIA and the KGB took advantage of the program, infiltrating exchange groups in order to gather intelligence. But some intelligence gathering was not as toxic as some feared.

Vice President Nixon and a US Exhibition in Moscow, 1959

As part of the exchange agreement, the US opened an exhibition in Moscow while the Soviet Union opened one in New York City. The US exhibition was intended to give visitors a glimpse of the United States, its citizens, and how they lived. Vice President of the United States, Richard Nixon, attended, and had his famous televised debate with Khrushchev in front of a model US kitchen.

Nixon was the most active Vice President in recent times, and with his extensive travels on behalf of the United States government and his pragmatic turn of mind, his approach to the Soviet Union and communism was close to Eisenhower's. In the Soviet Union he found Khrushchev friendly but filled with bluster. Khrushchev had little understanding of US politics and began discussions with Nixon by denouncing a resolution by the US Senate that had established "Captive Nations Week." Khrushchev called the resolution an insult and a serious "provocation."  Nixon remained calm while defending the Eisenhower Administration positions and he was persistent in expressing support for democracy and the rights of people to express themselves freely.

In touring Moscow on the weekend, Khrushchev and Nixon, with an army of aids and reporters, came upon some Russians relaxing, sunbathing and swimming, and for Nixon's benefit Khrushchev joyfully asked them if they felt they were slaves or captive people. The people happily answered no, and Nixon laughed.

kitchen debate

Khrushchev and Nixon in Moscow. Click for details

Khrushchev and Nixon discussed the US proposal for inspecting missile sites for the sake of disarmament, and Khrushchev said that this might be done after the United States "liquidated its overseas bases." Nixon said that the money that each of their nations was spending on missiles was unfortunate, and Khrushchev agreed. Nixon said the United States and the Soviet Union would be better off if they stopped talking about a balance of power and emphasized instead that "both are powerful and want a future of peace rather than war."

Later in their discussions, Nixon answered Khrushchev's accusations of US aggression by bringing up Khrushchev's statement in Poland that the Soviet Union would support revolution everywhere in the world. Khrushchev complained that the US did not understand Marxists, that Marxists did not believe in terror. Revolution, he said, had to come from the masses.

The discussion turned to Germany. Khrushchev accused the West of trying to "engulf East Germany and make all of Germany an ally of the West." He expressed displeasure with West Berlin in the middle of East Germany. East Germany was losing people who could earn more in the West, some of them with university educations in East Germany at state expense. Khrushchev wanted a secure border between East and West Germany. He said that the Soviet Union was open to proposals, including the withdrawal of Allied forces from Berlin and Soviet forces from East Germany and Poland.

At his press conference on August 3, President Eisenhower announced that he had invited "Mr. Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, to pay an official visit to the United States in September." He added that Mr. Khrushchev had "accepted with pleasure" and said that he had accepted with pleasure Mr. Khrushchev's invitation to pay an official visit to the Soviet Union "later this fall."

Khrushchev in the United States

Khrushchev's trip was preceded on September 13 with the Soviet Union's spectacular Luna 2 landing of the first human-made object on the moon. Khrushchev and company flew into Washington DC on a Soviet airliner on September 15. He announced that he had arrived in America "with open heart and good intentions" and that " The Soviet people want to live in friendship with the American people." A motorcade with Eisenhower, Khrushchev and his wife in the backseat of an open convertible drove past military bands and polite spectators. There was a gathering of demonstrators with placards who jeered and called Eisenhower's guest the "Butcher of Budapest."

Eisenhower met with Khrushchev at his summer retreat at Camp David, and there the two leaders laid plans for attending a summit meeting in Paris. Khrushchev stayed in the US twelve days. He provided Americans great television. There were good natured arguments and laughter. Khrushchev expressed anger over not being able to visit Disneyland. In Hollywood he was welcomed by a studio luncheon at 20th Century Fox, attended by anti-communist but friendly movie moguls and stars who liked a good show.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.