Vice President Nixon holds a Russian child while visiting the Soviet Union in 1959.
In a historiographical essay published in A Companion to Richard M. Nixon, historian Irwin F. Gellman noted, few historians “have published anything on the genesis of Nixon’s evolution during the vice-presidency. No historian has written any study on how deeply involved the Vice President was in the administration’s foreign policies.”
Perhaps most neglected is Vice President Nixon’s 1959 trip to the Soviet Union and, as Gellman further observed, “No scholar has evaluated the significance of that mission to Russia and Poland.” While it is not feasible to investigate all of the intricacies of the Russia trip in this entry, the Vice President’s reflections on the need for “peaceful competition” with the Soviet Union bear an uncanny resemblance to his Presidential orchestration of détente based on strategic interests.
To be sure, historians frequently address the Russia trip by focusing on the famed kitchen debate but have not fully explored the trip in its entirety.
One clue to the Vice President’s analysis is the oft ignored article he wrote for National Geographic which reflects his refined assessment of U.S.-Soviet relations. Titled “Russia as I Saw it,” the Vice President recounted a remarkable eleven day trip in which he openly visited various venues and studiously probed the economic, cultural, and social structure of the Soviet Union:
Perhaps most noteworthy is the Vice-President’s rejection of “peaceful coexistence” in favor of “peaceful competition:”
I reject the negative concept of co-existence, Soviet style, which means two worlds with two hostile camps, each struggling to impose its system on the other. I submit in its place the concept of one world where different people live under the different systems they choose, but where there is freedom of communication and exchange, and cooperation in achieving mutual goals.
The Vice-President’s reflections can be further explored in typed copies of his handwritten notes:
In other words, peaceful competition.
1. It must be fair
(1) Victory of communism?– over us?
2. Not __ tools but a better life?
3. Man needs more than to be well fed, sheltered and clothed and exercised.
(1) He needs the ____ of the existing explanations of new ideas—unpopular and popular.
4. Can’t be in our part of the world alone
5. Can’t intervene in internal affairs of others
6. Competition in ideas
Vice-President Nixon concluded the trip by addressing the Russian people on radio and television, and in addition to promoting peaceful competition, he professed his admiration for the Russian people while denouncing the Soviet form of government and their official propaganda organ, Pravda. Based on close observation, one can see a hint of the détente policies championed by President Nixon while in office.
The entire text of Vice-President Nixon’s annotated copy of the address can be viewed below: