July 24, 1959 - Kitchen Debate

By Gabriella Novello

The Kitchen Debate took place on July 25, 1959, during the opening ceremony of the American National Exhibition in Moscow.[1] This monumental debate took place between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. This debate did not take place on a glorious stage in front of a large audience, but rather in the center of a model kitchen that was set up for the American Exhibition. This pivotal debate took place as Nixon was showing Khrushchev around the American exhibit. The Exhibition was sponsored by the United States, in an attempt to show the public how Americans lived and the benefits of a capitalistic lifestyle.[2]

As Nixon was showing Khrushchev the new colored television sets, Khrushchev began to attack America for its “Captive Nations Resolution”. This resolution had been set by the American government the previous day. This resolution declared that it was unfit for the Soviets to have control over the “captive” people of Eastern Europe and asked for the American people to pray for their rescue. Khrushchev denounced this resolution and claimed that the Soviets would have the same technology and devices within the next few years. This comment infuriated Nixon and led him to snap at the Russian leader, claiming that he should “not be afraid of ideas. After all, you don’t know everything.” This led to Khrushchev claiming that Nixon “You don’t know anything about communism–except fear of it.”[3] With neither of these men wanting to back down from their beliefs, they launched into a debate that is now known as the Kitchen Debate.

Standing in a model kitchen these two world leaders launched into a pivotal debate that addressed capitalism and communism. Both leaders were aware of the environment they were surrounded by.[4] They knew that the small number of journalists surrounding them were picking up on every word and that everything they said would be broadcasted on the television sets that I had begun the debate.[5] The first point that was addressed was the status of women in both political environments. As Nixon was showing model dishwashers to the Russian leader, he commented that within America, they want to make “lives for women easier.”[6] This comment led to Khrushchev claiming that this capitalist ideal does not occur under communism. This underhanded comment led to Nixon claiming that this $14,000 model home could be bought by a steel worker, despite the steel strike that was happening in America. Khrushchev followed up by stating that the homes in Russia last three times the amount of American homes, because they are built to house generations.[7] Each leader had a specific goal in mind throughout this debate. Nixon used this platform as an opportunity to praise the value of American technology, capitalism, the standard of living in America, and the power of free expression. However, Khrushchev used this platform as an opportunity to question the value of American technology, the technological advancements that were being made, and praise the value of Communism.[8]

 

(Part of the Debate: https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/the-kitchen-debate-video)

 

The kitchen debate did not only hold value in the context behind each leader’s claims, but also the impact of media and international relations. The debate was broadcasted in both countries at the same time. However, these broadcasts received different reactions in each country. In America the reaction was divided. One side believed the debate had revealed the divide between the east and the west but failed to convey what the context was behind the debate itself and therefore viewed it as a “political stunt”.[9] The other side viewed the debate as Nixon managed in a unique way to personify a national character proud of peaceful accomplishment, sure of its way of life, confident of its power under threat.” [10] This viewpoint allowed for Nixon to gain some popularity due to the respect he gained from Khrushchev, the informality of the debate, and improved his status as a statesman. However, in the Soviet Union the response was blurred due to Nixon’s comments not being completely translated.

By being broadcasted internationally across colorized television sets and using video recording revealed the significant role that ideas, communication, and difference of political beliefs played in the Cold War. In addition, the ideologies that Nixon and Khrushchev each argued were the building blocks behind the conflict of the Cold War. In addition, when this debate was broadcasted in the Soviet Union, Khrushchev broke his word that Nixon would be translated, allowing for the public to understand both sides of the debate.[11] This event further revealed the building tension between these two world powers. One of the key elements of the Cold War was propaganda. This broadcast showed the value of capitalism due to it being projected on colorized televisions.[12] In the United States Khrushchev was translated allowing for the general public to understand the conversation and allowing for there to be limited censoring of the exchange. However, in the Soviet Union Nixon was only partially translated allowing for the media to control what the public heard. This was another form of propaganda, because the public was only exposed to elements of the debate allowing for communism to appear as the better option.[13]

Work Cited

 

CSPAN. “The Kitchen Debate Nikita Krushchev Richard Nixon | July 25, 1959.” Teaching American History. Last modified July 25, 1959. Accessed May 23, 2020. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-kitchen-debate/.

 

History.com Editors. “Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev have a ‘kitchen debate.'” HISTORY. Last modified July 27, 2019. Accessed May 23, 2020. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-and-khrushchev-have-a-kitchen-debate.

 

The Kitchen Debate. 1959.

 

Safire, William. “The Cold War’s Hot Kitchen.” The New York Times (NYC), February 2, 2009. Accessed May 23, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/24/opinion/24safire.html.

 

United States Government. “The Kitchen Debate – transcript.” CIA. Last modified July 24, 1959. Accessed May 23, 2020. https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1959-07-24.pdf.

[1] History.com Editors, “Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev have a ‘kitchen debate,'” HISTORY, last modified July 27, 2019, accessed May 23, 2020, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-and-khrushchev-have-a-kitchen-debate.

[2]  History.com Editors, “Richard Nixon,” HISTORY

[3]  History.com Editors, “Richard Nixon,” HISTORY

[4] United States Government, “The Kitchen Debate – transcript,” CIA, last modified July 24, 1959, accessed May 23, 2020, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1959-07-24.pdf.

[5]  CSPAN, “The Kitchen Debate Nikita Krushchev Richard Nixon | July 25, 1959,” Teaching American History, last modified July 25, 1959, accessed May 23, 2020, https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-kitchen-debate/.

[6] . CSPAN, “The Kitchen,” Teaching American History.

[7] United States Government, “The Kitchen,” CIA.

[8]  CSPAN, “The Kitchen,” Teaching American History.

[9] William Safire, “The Cold War’s Hot Kitchen,” The New York Times (NYC), February 2, 2009, accessed May 23, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/24/opinion/24safire.html.

[10]  Safire, “The Cold,”

[11]  CSPAN, “The Kitchen,” Teaching American History.

[12] Safire, “The Cold,”

[13] Safire, “The Cold,”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Debate: