Здравствуйте!: RN and PN arrive in Moscow for what would be a tense and historic trip. Photograph by Howard Sochurek for Life magazine.
Fifty years ago today, Bill Safire knocked down a barrier and shouted to RN’s military aide Don Hughes: "This way to the typical American house." And the rest is history. (History recently recounted here (etc.) by Jonathan Movroydis; the Safire story is amusingly detailed in his memoir Before the Fall and recalled in today’s New York Times). In addition to the various staff and State Department officials, the Nixon party included atomic submariner Admiral Hyman Rickover, Milton Eisenhower, and Harvard historian and sage William Yandell Elliott. The official party were covered by some seventy reporters with their own 707. Time magazine gave RN a send-off cover, showing him against a backdrop of St. Basil’s and the Kremlin on Red Square and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome that was the centerpiece and symbol of the American Exhibition the Vice President was traveling to open.
The Kitchen Debate, in addition to being significant, was pithy, colloquial, provocative, and is still worth reading both as a piece of history and as a battle of wits. RN was unfazed by Khrushchev’s calculated use of homely (and frequently vulgar) phrases and proverbs; in fact, saw and raised the Soviet Premier on his own ground.
Khrushchev: "Don’t you have a machine that puts food into the mouth and pushes it down? Many things you’ve shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets. We have a saying, if you have bedbugs you have to catch one and pour boiling water into the ear." Nixon: "We have another saying. This is that the way to kill a fly is to make it drink whisky. But we have a better use for whisky."
A complete transcript is here. (And for RN’s gutsy oneupmanship regarding the comparative nature of barnyard scents at the meeting preceding the Kitchen Debate —which had to be expurgated for 1960’s Six Crises— check out page 207 of 1978’s RN.)
The Kitchen That Made History: The US Veep and the Soviet Premier with First Deputy Premier and old Bolshevik Anastas Mikoyan in the middle and a young Leonid Brezhnev over RN’s shoulder. The photograph was taken by Bill Safire, whose ingenuity engineered the historic confrontation. Following on RN’s demonstration of grace under pressure during the life-threatening ride from the airport in Caracas, the facedown with Khrushchev elevated the Vice President’s already well-burnished foreign policy credentials in the lead-up to the 1960 presidential election. Time magazine, summarizing the trip, said that RN “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.” And Newsweek waxed all but ecstatic:
It was first a contest of men. Here was Dick Nixon, young (46), slender, eager — the son of a California grocer, an American man of success. Opposing him was Khrushchev, aging (65), short, bull-strong — the son of a peasant, ex-coalminer, successor to Stalin. It was, too a contest of nations….their secret deadly talks could change the course of history.
RN takes a walk in Moscow. The Soviet government barely publicized his trip and exercised ruthless crowd control. But whenever RN could break free the crowds were curious and enthusiastic. Photograph by Howard Sochurek for Life magazine.