In Khrushchev’s Kitchen
As apart of the opening tour of the Richard Nixon Centennial exhibit, Patriot. President. Peacemaker Friday, youngsters from the local Boys and Girls Club learned about Vice President Nixon’s trip to Moscow in 1959, and his face-off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
The special exhibit includes a model middle class American kitchen, simulating the scene at the American Exhibition in Moscow where the two sparred on the principles and performance of capitalism versus communism.
RN later recalled in his memoirs that the kitchen was dubbed a ‘Taj Mahal’ by the Soviet press, who also said that it did not represent the lifestyle of the average American.
He told Khrushchev that prosperity in America made the kitchen affordable to the average steel worker. The Soviet Premier remained obstinate.
The late and legendary New York Times columnist and Nixon speechwriter William Safire (who witnessed the event not as an aide to RN, but as a publicist for the company who built the kitchen), recounted the climax of the confrontation shortly before he died in 2009:
Nixon eventually steered the topic of competition to weapons. “Would it not be better to compete in the relative merit of washing machines than in the strength of rockets?”
“Yes, but your generals say we must compete in rockets,” responded the Soviet leader. “We are strong and we can beat you.”
Nixon, aware that the Soviets then led the United States in rocket thrust, finessed that: “In this day and age to argue who is stronger completely misses the point. With modern weapons it just does not make sense. If war comes we both lose.”
Khrushchev started to interrupt, but Nixon pressed: “I hope the prime minister understands all the implications of what I just said … Whether you place either one of the powerful nations in a position so that they have no choice but to accept dictation or fight, then you are playing with the most destructive power in the world.”
Khrushchev fell silent, and Nixon continued: “When we sit down at a conference table it cannot be all one way. One side cannot put an ultimatum to another.”
Vice President Nixon’s strong stance against Khrushchev was widely reported around the world.
Khrushchev: “Our country has never been guided by ultimatums … It sounds like a threat.”
Nixon: “Who is threatening?”
Khrushchev: “You want to threaten us indirectly. We have powerful weapons, too, and ours are better than yours if you want to compete.”
Nixon: “Immaterial … I don’t think peace is helped by reiterating that you have more strength than us, because that is a threat, too.”
As Nixon gained strength in the debate and his opponent grew defensive, Elliott Erwitt of Magnum Photos talked his way past the guards and captured Nixon gently jabbing his finger into the surprised Khrushchev’s chest.
Col. Oliver North jabbing his finger into Khruchshev’s chest before his book appearance February 12. Library guests — too – can have their photo taken standing up to the Soviet Premier.