The Cold War has stood as one of the most interesting ‘battles’ in world history. It was a war that spanned generations. From Truman to Eisenhower through Kennedy to Regan this war spanned nearly 40 years.
The Cold War was responsible for multiple events and for the creation of many world leaders. It introduced us to Khrushchev and Gorbachev, the Warsaw Pact, and the decline of the USSR.
We experienced the division of the West, the Berlin Wall, an arms race, a race to space, and McCarthyism.
We saw a disdain for free-market capitalism and a hatred for centralized power. We saw the rise of containment policies and the philosophy of detente.
There were many moments of confrontation during the Cold War. But, perhaps the most tense moment put on display for the world was the ‘Kitchen Debate.’
The United States, represented by Vice President Richard Nixon, and the U.S.S.R, represented by Nikita Khrushchev, put their ideologies on display on this day in 1959. In an attempt to bridge the divide between our two opposing world views – the U.S. and USSR agreed to host exhibitions in each nation. The move was meant to allow us to learn a little more about our varying cultures.
In July of 1959, the American exhibition opened in Sokolniki Park in Moscow. The Soviet exhibit had debuted the month before in New York City. The purpose of the American exhibition was designed to show Russians that free-enterprise produced superior goods that created a better life for average Americans.
So Nik, the prominent anti-capitalist leader of the Soviet Union, and Dick, the hard-line anti-communist, toured the display together. They were first steered into the RCA color television exhibit – which was a technological miracle of the time.
In this room, the moment went a little off script.
Seeing the t.v. Khrushchev denounced a proclamation made just days before by the United States. It was the ‘Captive Nations Resolution’ which was passed by Congress and dedicated one week to praying for the ‘peoples enslaved by the Soviet Union.’ He remarked, “You have churned the waters yourselves.” He then wrapped his arm around a Russian laborer and said, “Does this man look like a slave laborer?”
They then moved into the setting of a typical American house.
Nixon said, “I want to show you this kitchen. It’s like those of houses in California. See that built-in washing machine?” Khrushchev responded, “We have such things.”
Nixon added, “What we want to do is make more easy the life of our housewives.” Khrushchev fired back, “We do not have the capitalist attitude toward women.”
The Russian press had decried the American claim that the house was affordable to workers. They referred to it as the ‘Taj Mahal.’ So, Nixon noted that the house only cost $14,000 and a government-guaranteed mortgage made it possible for a laborer earning only $3 an hour to buy it for $100 per month.
Khrushchev responded, “We have peasants who also can afford to spend $14,000 for a house.”
The debate quickly turned way from the merits of household appliances and to the topic of modern weapons. Khrushchev argued that the USSR had more weapons than the United States. At this point in time it was true. The US was trailing the arms race.
But, Nixon said he wanted peace, not war. Khrushchev agreed. But, said the United States was inadvertently threatening them with supposed military might and that the USSR doesn’t like threats.
Nixon fired back, “Immaterial…I don’t think peace is helped by reiterating that you have more strength than us, because that is a threat, too.”
The exchange became very heated with both leaders promising that threats would lead to war. However, no bombs were dropped on this day. The conversation subsided after a brief shouting match and some finger-pointing.
After realizing that the conversation had gone too far, the Soviet leader noted that he simply wanted, “peace with all other nations, especially America.” Nixon responded by stating that he had not “been a very good host.”
As was the case with most of the Cold War – there was no clear winner. But, for a brief moment in time, the world had stood witness to the argument between Communism and Capitalism. It just wasn’t a very well enlightened one.
Thanks for reading!