Kitchen Debate

This Day in History

This day in history during the year of 1959 marked one of the more engaging events of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. 

An extemporaneously heated ‘kitchen debate’ between 36th Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was meant to mend wounds across the countries in the aftermath of WWII, but instead ended in a bitter stalemate. 

The United States and Soviet Union had signed a Cultural Agreement in 1958 wherein both nations consented to organize national exhibits in each other’s countries amidst already-tense relations. This was meant to provide a cordial cultural exchange as well as the intent of promoting another perspective – a better understanding of each country’s similarities and differences. 

Nixon served as a host for the U.S. exhibit located in Sokolniki Park, Moscow. Khrushchev visited prior to the grand opening of the exhibit. Nixon began a tour, showing Khrushchev around a model American kitchen home  – hence the name “kitchen debate” was coined for this particular showdown. 

Nixon and Khrushchev converse at the kitchen exhibit

Nixon began the conversation remarking how, through capitalism, the average American could afford the time-saving appliances found around the kitchen. Khrushchev grew to dominate the conversation, stating how a peasant under communist rule could easily afford such gadgets and then detailing the ways that America has distorted the image of an average Soviet man. 

When Nixon demonstrated the dishwasher to the premier, Khrushchev scoffed that automatic dishwashers were unnecessary because that is what women were for!

The impromptu verbal brawl progressed while the topics broadened as Nixon showcased brand new American colored television sets. 

The hot-headed Soviet Premier perceived this demonstration as a challenge of technological innovation between the two countries and argued that the Soviet Union’s utilization of technology would surpass America within a fleeting time frame. Nixon held his composure and fought back with pointing out America’s usage of modern techniques, while satirically remarking that their present conflict was technological rather than militaristic.

The two agreed; however, Nixon went on to talk about new tools that would provide for more communication and ways to teach, along with snidely remarking about how Khrushchev didn’t know everything.  

Voices were raised with Khrushchev snapping back “If I don’t know anything, then you know absolutely nothing about communism!” 

Frontpage of a newspaper covering the dramatic encounter

The exchange climaxed when the Vice President chewed into Khrushchev for continually interrupting him, and went on to suggest Russia’s destructive rocketry could lead to further warfare. Khrushchev took Nixon’s implication as a threat, but both men ended up mutually agreeing that the debate had gone too far. 

The media and the small crowd of reporters and photographers had a field day with the ‘kitchen debate’ hitting the front of all newspapers the next day, as well as being broadcasted on both English and Russian televisions through interpreters. 

As one can see, the hats of diplomacy can sporadically be blown away amid fiery words. Sometimes the greatest conflicts between two nations is not with gunfire, but with the articulation of debate between brethren. 

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1 Response
  1. Barbara Garrison

    John Henry: 1959 was my first year in high school!!! I wasn’t paying attention to anything, I guess, outside my “teen age” confines!! Great article !!! Thanks for great recap!!! B.

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