136. Report on the Khrushchev Visit0


[Here follows a three-page summary of arrangements, itinerary, and the general course of Khrushchev’s visit to the United States.]

Khrushchev’s Behavior and General Attitude

From the outset of his trip, Khrushchev made it clear that while he intended to praise the Soviet system, forecast the future “peaceful” victory of communism on a world-wide scale, and on occasion criticize the United States (for trade discrimination, “intervention” in Soviet Russia after the revolution, etc.), he would tolerate no questions or statements made in his presence which he considered “provocative,” i.e., directly or indirectly critical of himself, the USSR, or communism in general. Thus, at his first meeting with President Eisenhower he complained of Vice President Nixon’s September 14 speech before the American Dental Association1 in which the Vice President stated that Khrushchev’s visit would give Americans the opportunity to answer Khrushchev “courteously but as effectively and as articulately as possible” on major issues. Similarly, when at Khrushchev’s appearance at the National Press Club on September 16 (about which, on the basis of previous experience by Mikoyan and Kozlov,2 he may have had misgivings) the first [Page 486] question asked him involved his role during the Stalin period, he harshly attacked the motives of the questioner and left the query unanswered.3

Khrushchev’s insis tence on his own dignity and prestige and those of the USSR, and his constant assertion of the superiority of the communist system, were partly motivated by practical considerations. At the same time, the lengths to which he carried these efforts and the compulsive (and often counterproductive) way in which he reacted to all criticism—explicit, implicit and imagined—illustrated that he possesses to an extraordinary degree the feelings of inferiority characteristic of his countrymen and their resultant drive for self-assertion.

During the first part of his trip an accumulation of irritants (irritants recurrence of critical questions, statements made by American speakers regarding the US which he considered critical of the USSR by implication, refutation by them of critical points regarding the US that he had previously made, the cool reception he was getting from the crowds along his route, security measures which prevented him from mingling with the public and which in any event he probably considered excessive and humiliating), in combination with his own growing fatigue and certain specific incidents during his stay in Los Angeles, led to a threatening display of his anger at the Los Angeles civic dinner given him on the evening of September 19.4

The Los Angeles irritants included a one-line speech of greeting at the airport by Mayor Poulson (Khrushchev put aside a prepared text and gave an equally brief reply),5 the absence of the public from the airport ceremony, a report that the local police authorities would be unable to assure his security if he visited Disneyland, the sparsity of crowds along his routes through the city (city had not been announced), a rather undignified public polemical discussion with Spyrous Skouras at the 20th Century Fox luncheon6 (where Khrushchev publicly complained about the Disneyland matter), and the tasteless display put on for his benefit by the cast of “Can Can.”

That evening at the civic dinner Khrushchev took violent issue with a relatively inoffensive speech made by the mayor by insulting him, threatening to go home, threatening a renewal and implied intensification of the cold war, boasting of the USSR’s serial production of ICBM’s, [Page 487] etc. Even in this angriest of his performances, Khrushchev, however, continued to praise the President, contrasting his realistic and courageous attitude with those who, he claimed, failed to understand the seriousness of the alternatives facing the world (which he variously described as war and peace and as detente and a dangerous continuation of the cold war). Mme Khrushcheva later stated privately that her husband “completely lost his temper in Los Angeles” and attributed his tactions to fatigue.7

Presumably sobered by the bad press which his performance in Los Angeles received and his own probably urgent desire to keep his trip from ending in public failure, refreshed by a couple of hours’ sleep early in the train trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and heartened by the generally friendly reception accorded him by the crowds which gathered at station stops along the way, Khrushchev regained his composure. Despite occasional evidence of fatigue at the end of tiring days (shared by other members of the official party), he maintained this composure during the balance of the trip. He did this despite occasional recurrences of what he doubtless considered provocation (for example, Mayor Christopher’s closing remarks presenting Khrushchev with a gavel at the San Francisco civic dinner September 21).8 This composure, together with the generally more friendly public reception along the balance of his route (to which he appeared extremely responsive), doubtless permitted him to absorb more of what he saw than he otherwise would have done. Partly as a result of this improved atmosphere and partly as a reflection of his efforts to give as much substance as possible to the impression that his reception by the US public was warm (which the Soviet press had all along claimed), his acknowledgment of US achievements became more generous. The terms which he prescribed for a US-Soviet detente also became noticeably more moderate in form, although their substance was not altered.

Main Themes of Khrushchev’s Public Statements

The line Khrushchev tried to convey in his public appearances in the US was essentially that which he expounded in advance in his article “On Peaceful Coexistence,” written for the October issue of Foreign Affairs (and appearing in the September 3 issue of the New York Times). In this article and in his subsequent speeches, Khrushchev presented “peaceful coexistence” and all-out thermonuclear war as the only two alternatives the world faced, called for the renunciation of war as a [Page 488] means of settling disputes, asserted that peaceful coexistence should develop into peaceful competition for satisfying man’s needs in the best possible way, but stated that the ideological struggle between communism and capitalism would continue and reaffirmed his faith in the “inevitable” victory of communism. Also in his Foreign Affairs article Khrushchev asserted that the growing strength and deterrent power of the Soviet bloc opened up a real possibility that war could be excluded once and for all from the life of society and called for a number of steps to be taken—all of them by the West—to make peaceful coexistence possible. These included a recognition of the permanence of the socialist system wherever it now exists, an end to political and economic discrimination against the Soviet bloc, the development of trade with the USSR, and the acceptance of the USSR’s proposals on Berlin and Germany.

This basic message was essentially the same as that he had expounded during the Vice President’s trip to the Soviet Union (i.e., communism was on the way up; capitalism and its strongest exponent, the United States, were unpopular and on their way down and would be superseded by communism; in view of the growing strength of the Soviet Union and the bloc in general, and in view of the devastating nature of modern war, the United States would be committing suicide if it attempted to resist the advance of communism by means of war).

In his public speeches in the United States, however, Khrushchev usually avoided explicit claims regarding Soviet military strength. Having directly referred to the subject at the Los Angeles dinner, he subsequently apologized to soften the effect of his remarks. In general, he stuck to statements regarding the economic and political strength of the bloc and described the horror and folly of war in general terms applicable to the USSR as well as to the United States; nonetheless, on every conceivable occasion he reminded the US of Soviet prowess in rocketry by mentioning the successful Soviet “moon shot” which had taken place on the eve of his visit.

Along with his arguments concerning the impossibility and hopelessness of combating the growing strength of the bloc, Khrushchev made major efforts to show that the USSR was engaged in raising its own standards of living, that communism was founded on humane and even Christian principles (September 27 TV address),9 and that the USSR thus posed no threat to anybody (i.e., that it was unnecessary as well as hopeless to resist it).

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Khrushchev frequently remarked that through his visit the US public was getting a chance to see for itself that he did not “have horns.” On a number of occasions he used his very substantial talents for humor and ham-acting to show himself in a human light. An important part of his effort was his decision to bring along his generally personable family. To have himself accepted as a human and likeable being, however, was obviously balanced in his mind by the need to project his image as the strong, vital, determined, and confident leader of a great and growing power and of a historically invincible world movement.

In the course of the trip Khrushchev sought to make his message acceptable to Americans by publicly acknowledging the desire of both the President and the US people for peace with flattering references, especially after Los Angeles, to one or another aspect of American achievements, including admission of the present US lead in certain fields, notably the standard of living and the productivity of farm labor. Also probably intended for the same purpose were his statements that he drew no distinction between the people of the US and their government, although the force of these declarations and of his recognition of the desire of the President and the people for peace was lessened by his statements (particularly in his September 27 press conference and his address at the Luzhniki Stadium on his return to Moscow)10 regarding influential elements in the US who were resisting a relaxation of tensions. Both in the Luzhniki speech and in a subsequent Pravda article by Yuri Zhukov,11 Vice President Nixon was identified as a major villain in the piece, while praise of the President for his desire for peace was continued. It is, moreover, probably true that in publicly drawing no distinction between the people and the government of the United States, Khrushchev hoped to induce Americans to do the same with regard to the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev’s Probable Reactions to and Assessment of the Trip

In attempting to assess Khrushchev’s reactions to his trip, there seems every reason to suppose that our productive capacity, high stand-ard of living, popular solidarity, etc., did make an impression on him despite his previous statements that he already knew all about the US from films, extensive reading, etc. (Khrushchev’s conversation indicated that he did, in fact, already know a great deal about the country, although what he knew was interlaced with half truths and Soviet stereotypes.) Over and above the fact that his faith in communism, [Page 490] which is at once his greatest political asset and his raison d’etre, would not permit him to admit the long-term viability of our system, certain of his ingrained habits of thought and feeling probably made him react to much of what he saw as self-indulgent, wasteful, chaotic, and decadent. He quite probably believes what Soviet economists tell him about the USSR’s faster rate of economic growth, although he may well have carried away with him the conviction that, even granted these faster rates of growth, it would take the Soviet Union a long time to catch up with the US in standard of living. It seems unlikely that his ideas in the military field were changed in any way.

In his assessment of the present political and psychological mood of the US, it seems probable that any impression of vitality and courage he obtained from the people he met was at least partially offset by what he no doubt considered his success in forcing us, through the threat inherent in the Berlin situation, to extend him the invitation and arrange private talks with the President.

In coming here to insist on the USSR’s great-power status, the bloc’s invincibility, the inevitability and goodness of communism, Khrushchev displayed considerable courage. With the possible exception of his oversensitivity to imagined slights, he never permitted nervousness to show. Indeed, the whole performance, at least until it was apparent that he was staging it satisfactorily, must have been something of an ordeal. Coming here as he did and saying what he did, he could not very well have admitted failure (as was illustrated by the Soviet press’s deliberate misrepresentation of his initial reception in the United States as “warm”).

In retrospect, he probably feels he has every reason to be satisfied. He certainly impressed the United States with his forcefulness and determination; he showed his own people and others in the world that he was recognized and respected by the United States as the unquestioned leader of a great world power. Moreover, he probably feels that he has given a further impetus to Western negotiation with the bloc and that the West’s commitment to negotiate will tend to preclude increased Western defense efforts. At least temporarily, he presumably believes he has achieved a partial detente at little or no cost to the bloc. This, he may hope, will permit him to gain a summit meeting on favorable terms. Even should such a meeting fail to achieve any major security agreements the USSR would consider beneficial, he might feel that the Soviet Union could emerge a year or two from now substantially more powerful than it is today. The detente line, moreover, may be intended to improve Soviet opportunities for penetration of the underdeveloped areas [Page 491] (Khrushchev’s UN address12 certainly reflects interest in this subject) where, during the more active threat-and-crisis period of the last year and a half, developments have been far from satisfactory from the Soviet standpoint.

Khrushchev’s remarks regarding the impossibility of liquidating all aspects of the cold war overnight, in addition to protecting the Soviet position on certain aspects of its policy that it does not want to give up, indicates that he visualizes a partial detente of some duration as possibly desirable granted the proper conditions, i.e., that the detente appears to be working to what the USSR considers its advantage. Moreover, Khrushchev’s recent statements in Peiping13 advising against testing the capitalist system by the use of force, while no doubt partly intended for American ears and hedged around so as to leave the Chinese Communist position on Taiwan at least theoretically intact, presumably also reflect a real desire to keep the Chinese Communists from taking any early aggressive action on a scale that might involve them in hostilities with the US, or which would seriously jeopardize the present Soviet efforts to produce a partial detente.

Probable Impact of the Trip on Future Soviet Approach Toward the US

While the USSR has already laid the groundwork for blaming any setbacks on the road to “friendly relations with the United States” on influential elements in the US opposed to a relaxation of tension, the extent to which Khrushchev through his trip has probably made himself a hero in the USSR as a peacemaker in favor of closer relations with the West means that it would be far from easy for him to admit failure in his self-proclaimed efforts. At the least this would require considerable, apparently substantiative evidence of allegedly US hostile action or intent. his praise of President Eisenhower as a man of peace tends to commit Khrushchev at least in this specific regard for the balance of the President’s tenure, while the damning of Vice President Nixon (which could be extended to other presidential potentials if necessary) might provide a cutoff date in case of need. This is not to say that US efforts in the meantime to promote the security and stability of the free world will be allowed to pass unnoticed, or that the USSR may not use at least implied threats in an attempt to improve its position. Should the USSR consider some action of the US a threat to the security of the bloc, there is no reason to doubt that its reaction would be direct and overt. The degree to [Page 492] which Khrushchev has committed himself to his alleged role as a peacemaker, however, indicates that he will continue, for the time being at least, to pose as such and to be careful to avoid major crises for which the USSR might to its own citizens appear responsible.

Khrushchev’s line regarding US-Soviet relations, combining an unyielding exposition of the Soviet position with an expressed desire to assure peace and bring about a US-Soviet rapprochement, represented an equivocal mixture from several points of view. It was assertive enough to fit in with traditional Soviet bargaining methods in a pre-negotiation period, while at the same time sufficiently hopeful to interest the West. It was tough enough to prevent serious opposition on the part of doctrinaire elements within the bloc who would oppose any real modus vivendi with the West, but hopeful enough to win Khrushchev great popularity at home among the wide elements of the Soviet population which would like a real detente and a faster rise in the standard of living. Even the partial and probably temporary detente the line is intended to produce has an equivocal nature: to the more doctrinaire elements, it can be represented as a tactical move to improve the USSR’s power position and penetration possibilities; to those who doubt that even fairly rapidly growing Soviet power will permit the spread of communism to be safely combined with national safety, it can be represented as a logical step toward a real relaxation of tension reducing the danger of war.

Khrushchev has shown an ability simultaneously to think a variety of thoughts which to our minds appear contradictory. There is no reason to suppose that he is not equally sincere in wanting to assure both peace and the victory of communism. He is also probably equally sincere about his interest in maximizing the USSR’s power relative to prospective enemies, while at the same time raising the standard of living of his own people and the bloc in general, believing that the latter course, too, would promote the spread of communism.

In the light of these considerations, it appears likely that, as stated above, Khrushchev feels confident that he can get what he wants out of a summit conference or other negotiations with the West at an acceptable if not minimal cost. Even failing to achieve agreements acceptable to the USSR (other than a temporary formula on Berlin), he might consider it useful, other factors being equal, to continue the new less threatening stance for a year or two until the increments to the USSR’s relative power position, which he believes to be promised by its current military programs, have at least started to come into being. At that time, Khrushchev may believe, he could judge whether things were progressing satisfactorily from his point of view or whether his efforts to educate the West to what he considers the realities of the modern world called for a more concentrated and effective “heat treatment.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 81, CF 1475A. Confidential. Attached to the source text is a memorandum from Kohler to Secretary Herter, October 29, which noted that this report was “prepared by the U.S. official party and others in the Department concerned with the visit.” Kohler also noted: “Annexes to the report are being issued separately in three series—factual, analytical and documentary. Of these, the following contain analyses supporting the principal conclusions reached in the present report: 1) Khrushchev’s view of the United States; 2) the Soviet correlation of forces thesis; 3) Khrushchev’s treatment of the disarmament issue; and 4) Khrushchev’s treatment of the issues of Berlin and Germany.”

    The factual and analytical annexes are attached to the source text but not printed. The documentary annexes are ibid., CF 1475B.

  2. See footnote 2, Document 109.
  3. Mikoyan’s appearance at the National Press Club on January 19 was summarized in The New York Times, January 20, 1959. For text of Kozlov’s July 2 speech at a luncheon sponsored by the Overseas Press Club and the National Press Club, see ibid., July 3, 1959.
  4. The transcript of Khrushchev’s September 16 press conference at the National Press Club was printed ibid., September 17, 1959.
  5. See footnotes 1 and 2, Document 119.
  6. Reported in The New York Times, September 21, 1959.
  7. For text of Khrushchev’s discussion with Spyrous Skouras, President of Twentieth-Century Fox, on September 19, see ibid., September 20, 1959.
  8. Not further identified.
  9. Mayor Christopher’s closing remarks at this dinner have not been found, but for text of Khrushchev’s response after accepting the gavel, see The New York Times, September 22, 1959.
  10. For text of Khrushchev’s September 27 radio and television address, see ibid., September 28, 1959.
  11. The transcript of Khrushchev’s press conference on September 27 and text of his speech at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on September 28 are printed ibid., September 28 and 29, 1959.
  12. Not found.
  13. See footnote 2, Document 117.
  14. Khrushchev visited Peking September 30–October 4. For texts of two of Khrushchev’s speeches in Peking on September 30, in which he stressed the relaxation of international tension and “peaceful coexistence,” see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, October 28, 1959, pp. 19, 20–22.