57. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Meeting Between ERIC JOHNSTON and N. Khrushchev on 6 October 19581

[List of participants (6 lines of source text) not declassified]

Mr. Johnston opened the conversation describing a visit to Mr. Khrushchev’s summer home which lasted between five and six hours. In the course of this visit Mr. Johnston was entertained at dinner during which time he learned the following about Khrushchev’s family. Johnston was advised that Khrushchev’s wife, who was present at the dinner, was Khrushchev’s second wife. Also present were Khrushchev’s oldest daughter, who appeared to be between 40 and 43 years of age, and her husband, Victor Petrovich, Director of the Kiev Opera. In the course of this discussion it also developed that Khrushchev has a younger daughter who is married to an editor in Moscow and that he has a son about 24 years of age who is an engineer and who works in Moscow. Khrushchev mentioned that he had another son who was killed during World War II and stated that he had several grandchildren but did not specify precisely how many. Johnston also noted that it appeared that Khrushchev’s daughter and her husband, Victor, had been [Page 203] visiting at the Khrushchev home for about two weeks at the time of this particular dinner.

Johnston was informed that the Sinkiang Railroad, which has been known to have been planned for some time, is actually under construction by the Chinese and the Soviet. He was informed that they hope to have trains in operation on this railroad by the end of 1959. The Russian terminus of the railroad is at Alma-Ata in the Kirghiz Republic and the Chinese terminus will be at Lungchow in Kwangsi Province where it will tie into the railroad presently leading into Vietnam.

Johnston stated that prior to his meeting with Khrushchev, he had been advised [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that Khrushchev had been a drunkard and that he now had very bad kidney and bladder trouble as well as prostate trouble and that he could no longer drink any alcoholic beverages and had to be very careful of his health. In addition, Johnston remarked that he had been informed [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that Khrushchev was not a good business executive, that he could not delegate authority, and that all decisions had to be made by Khrushchev personally or nothing was accomplished. Johnston took issue with both of these points, based upon his observations during his visit with Khrushchev. He pointed out that during his entire five or six hour visit with Khrushchev, Khrushchev did not drink excessively but did consume two drinks of vodka, two brandies, and two or three glasses of wine. In addition, Johnston observed that during the entire time of the visit, Khrushchev never excused himself to go to the bathroom. Further, Johnston noted that during this five or six hour period Khrushchev was not at any time interrupted by any phone calls, messenger, or message of any description. Johnston stated that Khrushchev remarked several times in the course of the discussions that he delegated certain functions to certain officials and that they completely managed the responsibilities he had assigned them until such time they ran into difficulties which they could not solve and then, and only then, they came to him for assistance. Johnston also stated that contrary to certain information and impressions he had received prior to this meeting, he did not consider Khrushchev to be a blabber-mouth or a person who spoke without thinking and knowing what he was saying. Johnston considered Khrushchev to be a master showman but nevertheless thought he was extremely careful in everything he said despite the fact that he spoke quickly and in an apparent off-hand manner. It was Johnston’s observation that when Khrushchev did not wish to discuss a subject or was not prepared to discuss a subject, even in a private conversation, he merely changed the subject in each case and refused to go further along lines of conversation he did not want to pursue. With respect to the state of Khrushchev’s health, Johnston noted that at the end [Page 204] of this lengthy session Khrushchev seemed just as bouncy as ever and without any signs of fatigue, whereas Johnston himself felt exhausted.

Johnston was impressed with Khrushchev’s statistical knowledge of the United States. He stated that Khrushchev was extremely well-informed on all matters pertaining to United States production in all fields but showed a complete lack of comprehension of how the U.S. or, for that matter, the West in general operates and functions. In the latter respect, Johnston felt that Khrushchev had no comprehension whatsoever.

According to Johnston, Khrushchev on two or three occasions expressed an interest in visiting the United States. In this connection he expressed a liking for and a desire to talk to President Eisenhower but commented that the President was sensitive and would not talk to people. Khrushchev went on to say that the President ought to talk to people and stated that he would like to sit down and have several long talks with the President. He expressed the view that some good might come of such talks. In this connection Johnston reported that in a conversation with Mikoyan, Mikoyan had also said that he thought it would be helpful if the President and Khrushchev could sit down and have private conversations similar to those which Mikoyan had with Adenauer.2 In both instances, Johnston pointed out to Khrushchev and to Mikoyan that because of our system wherein reporters, photographers and the people in general know whatever the President is doing, it would be virtually impossible for the President and Khrushchev to have conversations unbeknownst to the populace of the United States. Johnston stated that Mikoyan remarked that he and Adenauer had made some “deals under the table” which were presently in process of being worked out, but Mikoyan declined to respond to Johnston’s questions as to the details of such arrangements.

Both Khrushchev and Mikoyan described Khrushchev’s visit to China in glowing terms. Khrushchev stated that in his meeting with Mao Tse-tung, Mao told him of the magnificent harvest China had had; they had ample grain for everyone, and were making great strides in their industrial and agricultural developments. According to Khrushchev, Mao stressed that with the new fertilizers, new chemicals, new seeds, and new methods of agriculture and with the new scientific developments, they anticipated being able to support without any problems a billion people by the year 2000. Khrushchev informed Johnston [Page 205] that Mao was a very forward-looking man and that he anticipated no problems between China and Russia in the future. Khrushchev, in fact, ridiculed Johnston’s suggestion that conceivably ten years from now Khrushchev might be looking to the United States for assistance against China and stated that this was purely a capitalist idea and that only capitalists get into wars.

In summation, Johnston expressed the view that the entire motivation of Khrushchev and the Soviet hierarchy is due to a feeling of inferiority and desire to “Beat America.” He cited several illustrations in support of this and stressed that Khrushchev studies the United States, particularly statistically, as a challenger studies the champion he is to oppose. Johnston believes that this feeling of “Beat America” permeates all fields of Soviet endeavor including sports, cultural activities, agriculture, industrial production and scientific development, although Khrushchev appeared particularly to place emphasis on surpassing the United States economically and in production per capita prior to the end of his second Seven-Year Plan.3

When asked whether or not he thought a visit by Khrushchev to the United States would be helpful to Khrushchev’s understanding of the United States, Johnston replied that he was doubtful that it would change any of Khrushchev’s very decided misimpressions of America unless he could remain here for a fairly considerable period of time. He expressed the opinion that a short visit in which Khrushchev was wined, dined, and entertained would not affect him in the slightest. He believed that Khrushchev would merely translate his various misimpressions into antagonisms unless he could remain here for a long enough period of time to persuade himself that certain of his impressions were in fact erroneous.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Administration Series, ERIC JOHNSTON. Secret. The source text bears no drafting information. This memorandum of conversation was given to the President; see the source note, Document 56.
  2. See Document 56.
  3. During Mikoyan’s visit to Bonn April 25–26, he had discussions with Adenauer and other German leaders. The report to the North Atlantic Council by Herbert A. von Blankenhorn, West German Permanent Representative to NATO, on Mikoyan’s visit, including Mikoyan’s discussion with Adenauer, was summarized in Polto 3475 from Paris, April 28. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.6162/4–2858)
  4. Reference presumably is to the Soviet Union’s second Seven-Year Plan, which would begin in 1966 following completion of the first Seven-Year Plan (1959–1965). In introducing the first Seven-Year Plan at the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on November 12, Khrushchev asserted that by 1970, and possibly even earlier, the Soviet Union would surpass the United States, as well as all other nations, both in absolute output and in per capita industrial output. (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, January 14, 1959, pp. 10–11)