In the midst of a Cold War that would only get hotter in the succeeding decades, one of the most unusual confrontations between the United States and the Soviet Union wasn’t at all military. In fact, it took place in a kitchen — or at least a reasonable facsimile of an American kitchen.
It was July 24, 1959, and Vice President Richard Nixon had traveled to Moscow to showcase the American National Exhibition, the U.S. contribution to an agreement to a U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev joined Nixon for a tour of the exhibition, in particular a cutaway of the kitchen of a model home that the Americans said was a representative of what a typical American worker could afford. (The whole home was supposed to cost $14,000, or the equivalent of about $145,000 in 2022.) During their tour, the two men engaged in four impromptu debates, and in the second agreed that their exchanges would be broadcast, translated, in both nations. The third of the debates took place on the set of the mock kitchen, giving the debate its name.
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The topics during the debates ranged from Soviet control of Eastern Europe to the differing philosophies of communism and the American form of capitalism and democracy. Both men made predictions: Khruschev that Nixon’s grandchildren would live under communism and Nixon that Khrushchev’s grandchildren would live under a free system.
In the aftermath of the Kitchen Debate, Nixon’s public profile rose markedly, and he became seen as a genuine contender for the presidency. Khrushchev consolidated his power over the USSR and navigated it through global crises including the Cuban Missile Crisis, ultimately succeeding somewhat in his goal to defrost relations with the West. Still, after what was perceived as his public humiliation against President John F. Kennedy over Cuba, Kremlin ousted him from power in 1964.
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