Capitalism, Communism and the Kitchen Debate


I took my morning coffee with a piece of Cold War history. There's an essay on NPR.org titled "Nixon, Khrushchev And a Story of Cold War Love," and it recounts how the author's parents met in the summer of 1959 at an exhibition of American goods in Moscow's Sokolniki Park. Essayist Gregory Feifer explains that the exhibition was American capitalism on parade. Everything from Pepsi-Cola to the Ford Thunderbird and the latest kitchen appliances were on display. America guides stationed at each booth were prepared to answer questions about the goods; however, Feifer reports that they fielded more inquiries about American life. And he's got a pretty good source: His own father, George, was one of the guides. George Feifer is quoted in the story, attesting, "There was this great sea of affection for the American people."

But there wasn't much affection between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev on July 24, 1959. The American vice president took the Soviet leader on a tour of the exhibition, which culminated in a heated flurry of words now known as the Kitchen Debate. Presumably, Khrushchev had been amicably taking in all the sights when he'd had enough. Stopping at a model American kitchen, Khrushchev disdainfully said that Americans were wrong to think that Soviets would be impressed by the gadgets on display -- their kitchens were already stocked with them. Nixon retaliated that the Soviets would marvel at the variety of American items and the choices available in a capitalist society. According to the BBC, the conversation turned toward rockets and ultimatums before Nixon "apologi[z]ed for being a poor host."

Lucky for us, another item on display was Ampex's video recorder, which captured the infamous debate.

For more Cold War history, read: Who won the Cold War? General Cold War History The Nixon-Ford Years