Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Khrushchev Remembers -- "A Lot of Propaganda"

Photo: Tony Pell (c)2009 AP
In contrast to Richard Nixon's account, Nikita Khrushchev recalled the Sokolniki exhibition and his debate with the U.S. Vice-President differently. In the English language edition of his memoirs, Khrushchev stressed that the American exhibition had come up short, asserting that the U.S. organizers "were obviously not serious about displaying American life and culture; they were more interested in drumming up a lot of propaganda."

"Everything was laid out attractively to impress the public," Khrushchev acknowledged. "But it was all too showy and promotional. The objects being exhibited didn't really have anything to offer to our people, particularly our technological personnel, our Party members, and our leadership," he went on. "One should realize that we were quite demanding in our attitude here: for us, the major consideration was the usefulness of a product or an item. In this regard, the American exhibition was a failure."

Khrushchev recalled the debate in the model kitchen beginning prosaically enough, with the Soviet leader commenting on how he thought an automatic lemon squeezer on display was pointless since any person could squeeze a lemon faster by hand. "To this," Khrushchev wrote, "Nixon disagreed, and he tried to bring me around to his way of thinking, arguing in that very exuberant way of his."

But the Soviet premier made it clear that he was more than ready to counter Nixon's verbal thrusts. "I responded in kind," he related, adding "I have my own way of being exuberant in a political dispute." "The debate began to flare up and went on and on," Khrushchev continued. "The newsman pressed around us with their tape recorders going and their microphones shoved into our faces. After a while I put a direct question to him: 'Mr. Nixon, you've brought all this wonderful equipment here to show us, but have you really put it into widespread, practical use? Do American housewives have it in their kitchens?' To be fair to him, Nixon answered honestly that what they were showing us hadn't yet come onto the market. At that point people burst out laughing..."

Like Nixon, however, Khrushchev recognized that the showdown between the two men was about far more than a lemon squeezer. "...What we were really debating was not a question of kitchen appliances but a question of two opposing systems: capitalism and socialism."

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