Friday, October 12, 2018

Khrushchev's Shoe Diplomacy, 1960

Today is the anniversary of an odd, infamous event:  Nikita Khrushchev waving—or perhaps banging— his shoe at the United Nations.  On October 12, 1960, the Soviet premier was addressing the General Assembly in New York.  He was incensed about a delegate’s attack on the emasculation of the Eastern Bloc by the U.S.S.R. 

The image of a bellicose Khrushchev would resurface over the next few years until his fall from power in 1964.  I’m sure that Emily Post would have found his conduct quite boorish.

I’ve been studying Khrushchev recently because of my research on Robert Frost’s cultural exchange tour to Russia in September 1962.  Sent by JFK, Frost met with Khrushchev and seemed to fall under the Soviet leader’s spell.  Frost considered him "a great man" who understood how to use power.  The legendary poet, then eighty-eight and politically naïve, talked about the two "democracies”--the United States and Soviet Union--competing with the outcome a sort of may-the-best country-win attitude. 

Upon returning to the United Nations, Frost told journalists that “Khrushchev said that we were too liberal to fight.”   That flippant comment, which may or may not have an accurate report from Frost, caused his estrangement from President Kennedy.

Kennedy, of course, had a significant confrontation with his Soviet counterpart the following month with the tension-filled Cuban Missile Crisis.  The president was largely seen as practicing shrewd but restrained brinksmanship, and yet Khrushchev proved to be a less belligerent, more conventional adversary than assumed.

I haven't confirmed the type and color of the shoe which became the focus of worldwide attention fifty-eight years ago, but I’m assuming it was a black slip-on. 

The photograph here is from the JFK-Khrushchev summit in Vienna in June 1961, which did not go well for President Kennedy.   It is from the U.S. Department of State in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; unknown copyright.

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