Nikita Khrushchev's Journey into America
Lawrence J. Nelson and Matthew Schoenbachler
When Nikita Khrushchev toured America in 1959—the first Russian leader ever to set foot in the Western Hemisphere, let alone the United States—the country was enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity, just as the Cold War and the possibility of thermonuclear annihilation were causing widespread, bone-deep dread throughout the land. This book for the first time fully explores Khrushchev’s journey as a reflection of a critical moment in US life. Deeply researched and deftly written, Nikita Khrushchev’s Journey into America captures that moment in all its complexity and implications, describing not only the Russian leaders occasionally surreal itinerary (a tantrum at being denied entry into Disneyland, for instance, or a near-riot upon wandering into a grocery store in San Francisco) but also the tenor of the crowds and the country along the way.
Following Khrushchev from his arrival in the nation’s capital to the eerily silent greeting of hundreds of thousands of spectators to his tickling of pigs, kissing of babies, and glad-handing of union workers and farm laborers in rural Iowa to his encounter with President Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson and Schoenbachler’s work offers glimpses of the clash between a true believer in the Soviet system and the icons of capitalism and visions of prosperity he repeatedly confronted on his trip. At the same time the book shows us the American people of the time coming to terms with who they were even as they confronted the embodiment of everything they believed they weren’t: atheistic, socialist, and ideological.
“Even though many Cold War scholars understate the import of Khrushchev’s 1959 American visit, it has long needed the incisive, full-length, and remarkably thorough treatment that it receives here: as an event of considerable historical significance on its own terms. The authors tell a fascinating tale, with a narrative that is at once lively, colorful, fast-paced, and thoughtful. They place in bold relief the clash between a true believer in the superiority of the Soviet system—probably the last such true believer to hold power in Moscow—and the icons of capitalism that he repeatedly confronted during his visit. Nikita Khrushchev’s Journey into America portrays the ideological nature of the Cold War in the 1950s, from the true believer in Marxism-Leninism who ruled the Soviet Union to the vainglorious movie studio chief who hosted the Soviet ruler in Hollywood to the self-assured Iowa agribusinessman.”
—Robert McMahon, Ralph Mershon Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University
As the narrative unfolds, Khrushchev’s visit can be understood as easily the most democratic event of the Cold War, one that laid bare the depth of ideological commitments on both sides of the geopolitical divide as well as the key role of religion in shaping Americans’ reactions to the Soviet leader and to the Cold War itself.