Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Moscow-based commentator Mark Teeter on the Nixon-Khrushchev "kitchen debate" (from Facebook)

Mark H. Teeter shared Moscow TV Tonite's post.
6 hrsEdited
TONITE’S BEST BET: If You Can’t Stand the Heat…
Рассекреченная история: Кухонные дебаты на высшем уровне/Declassified History: A Kitchen Debate at the Highest Level (Documentary.Russia, 2015)(Kultura: 23:00. Premiere)
--> The 1959 Kitchen Debate between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon remains one of the 20th century's iconic moments of face-to-face East-West confrontation. But it is a moment on which considerable ink has been spilled (including mine) as well as celluloid shot (see the D. A. Pennebaker documentary “Opening in Moscow”) – so just what, one wonders, is the Declassified History series going to “reveal” to us here?
The thumbnail is at once breathless and vague: “The debate was shown on Soviet television – although many of Nixon’s responses, it’s true, had no audible translation. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Only declassified documents can tell what was really going on in Moscow at the time. How had the Soviet leadership decided on such an unexpected event? What was it for?”
While you’re pondering that, here’s some key background. The U.S. Information Agency -- since disbanded and much missed -- had assembled and then hosted the 1959 "American National Exhibition" here in Sokolniki Park. On hand to explain the United States (or at least its home appliances) to the visiting Soviet leadership was then-Vice President Richard Nixon. Nixon led Khrushchev & Co. around several venues, eventually stopping at a demo American kitchen. (Pointing out a dishwashing machine, RN helpfully noted "This is our newest model" -- in case NK was in a buying mood, p'haps).
Khrushchev, for his part, refused to take anything Nixon said at face value -- bonus points for perspicacity there -- and indulged in a classic Soviet debating tactic: when stumped by your opponent, lie like a rug. Viewing everyday U.S. appliances a Soviet family couldn't dream of owning, Khrushchev counterpunched: "[Our new] Russian houses have all this equipment right now."
The spontaneous exchange featured both humor (Khrushchev: "I hope I haven't insulted you." Nixon: "Back home I have been insulted by experts.") and a unilateral peace proposal that was blessedly declined (Khrushchev: "Let's kiss."). But the meeting's basic tenor was confrontational. This was a war of sorts, after all, playing out on a field of dishwashers and frost-free refrigerators. Happily, both sides ultimately deemed ideas the most appropriate weaponry:
Nixon: "You must not be afraid of ideas."
Khrushchev: "We say it's you who must not be afraid of ideas ..."
Nixon: "Well, then, let's have more exchange of them ..."
Khrushchev: "Good. [Turning to interpreter] Now what did I just agree to?"
In effect, what Khrushchev agreed to was further cultural exchanges. Over the next two decades the United States and the Soviet Union sent each other more than a dozen exhibits apiece, with "Plastics U.S.A.," "Agriculture U.S.A.," and "Photography U.S.A." matching the likes of "Soviet Sport" and "The Soviet Woman." The Cold War stayed marginally colder, it is fair to say, because millions of citizens of both countries could and did visit these exhibits and talk with the real-live Russian and American 20- and 30-somethings who worked as Guide-Interpreters on them.
Including Yers Truly, who almost singlehandedly ended the first Cold War in 1978-79 through straight talk about American agriculture (“And here we see the business end of the cow”) plus witty repartee (“I have spoken with Elvis: the moon landing was real”).
So yes, I will be *very* interested to see whose pants get dropped by Declassified History tonite. You should be too. Ending Cold War II may well require another exchange of exhibitions, and who knows -- if you play your cards right (or lose a bet), you might find yourself explaining America (or Russia) as a Guide.

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