The Kitchen Debate: An exploration into Cold War ideologies and propaganda
This debate took place between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev during Nixon's 1959 visit to Moscow. It is called the "Kitchen" debate because of a well-publicized exchange of angry words at the model kitchen exhibit of the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair in Sokolniki Park. However, this exchange was only one episode in a series of spontaneous and unplanned exchanges that began on the morning of Nixon's first visit with Khrushchev and lasted during his entire tour of the U.S. Fair. This debate took place during a time of increasing tension in the Cold War, starting with Sputnik in 1957 and ending with the U-2 affair in 1960.
On July 24, 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev held a public discussion at the American National Exhibit in Moscow comparing the technologies of the two powers. In the debate they discussed household items such as color televisions and in the process reviewed differences in ideology and the quality of life in both countries for the average citizen. This edited transcript appeared the following day in The New York Times.
Khrushchev-Nixon Debate July 24, 1959
Khrushchev: "We want to live in peace and friendship with Americans because we are the two most powerful countries and if we live in friendship then other countries will also live in friendship. But if there is a country that is too war-minded we could pull its ears a little and say: Don't you dare; fighting is not allowed now; this is a period of atomic armament; some foolish one could start a war and then even a wise one couldn't finish the war. Therefore, we are governed by this idea in our policy -- internal and foreign. How long has America existed? Three hundred years?"
Nixon: "One hundred and fifty years."
Khrushchev: "One hundred and fifty years? Well then we will say America has been in existence for 150 years and this is the level she has reached. We have existed not quite 42 years and in another seven years we will be on the same level as America. When we catch you up, in passing you by, we will wave to you. Then if you wish we can stop and say: Please follow up. Plainly speaking, if you want capitalism you can live that way. That is your own affair and doesn't concern us. We can still feel sorry for you but since you don't understand us -- live as you do understand.
"We are all glad to be here at the exhibition with Vice President Nixon. I personally, and on behalf of my colleagues, express my thanks for the president's message. I have not as yet read it but I know beforehand that it contains good wishes. I think you will be satisfied with your visit and if I cannot go on without saying it -- if you would not take such a decision [proclamation by the United States Government of Captive Nations Week, a week of prayer for peoples enslaved by the Soviet Union] which has not been thought out thoroughly, as was approved by Congress, your trip would be excellent. But you have churned the water yourselves -- why this was necessary God only knows.
"What happened? What black cat crossed your path and confused you? But that is your affair, we do not interfere with your problems. [Wrapping his arms about a Soviet workman] Does this man look like a slave laborer? [Waving at others] With men with such spirit how can we lose?"
Nixon: [pointing to American workmen] "With men like that we are strong. But these men, Soviet and American, work together well for peace, even as they have worked together in building this exhibition. This is the way it should be. Your remarks are in the tradition of what we have come to expect -- sweeping and extemporaneous. Later on we will both have an opportunity to speak and consequently I will not comment on the various points that you raised, except to say this -- this color television is one of the most advanced developments in communication that we have.
"I can only say that if this competition in which you plan to outstrip us is to do the best for both of our peoples and for peoples everywhere, there must be a free exchange of ideas. After all, you don't know everything'"
Khrushchev: "If I don't know everything you don't know anything about communism except fear of it."
Nixon: "There are some instances where you may be ahead of us, for example in the development of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space; there may be some instances in which we are ahead of you -- in color television, for instance."
Khrushchev: "No, we are up with you on this, too. We have bested you in one technique and also in the other."
Nixon: "You see, you never concede anything."
Khrushchev: "I do not give up."
Nixon: "Wait till you see the picture. Let's have far more communication and exchange in this very area that we speak of. We should hear you more on our televisions. You should hear us more on yours."
Khrushchev: "That's a good idea. Let's do it like this. You appear before our people. We will appear before your people. People will see and appreciate this."
Nixon: "There is not a day in the United States when we cannot read what you say. When Kozlov was speaking in California about peace, you were talking here in somewhat different terms. This was reported extensively in the American press. Never make a statement here if you don't want it to be read in the United States. I can promise you every word you say will be translated into English."
Khrushchev: "I doubt it. I want you to give your word that this speech of mine will be heard by the American people."
Nixon [shaking hands on it]: "By the same token, everything I say will be translated and heard all over the Soviet Union?"
Khrushchev: "That's agreed."
Nixon: "You must not be afraid of ideas."
Khrushchev: "We are telling you not to be afraid of ideas. We have no reason to be afraid. We have already broken free from such a situation."
Nixon: "Well, then, let's have more exchange of them. We are all agreed on that. All right? All right?"
Khrushchev: "Fine. [Aside] Agree to what? All right, I am in agreement. But I want to stress what I am in agreement with. I know that I am dealing with a very good lawyer. ... You are a lawyer for capitalism and I am a lawyer for communism. Let's compare."
Nixon: "The way you dominate the conversation you would make a good lawyer yourself. If you were in the United States Senate you would be accused of filibustering." [Halting Khrushchev at model kitchen in model house]: "You had a very nice house in your exhibition in New York. My wife and I saw and enjoyed it very much. I want to show you this kitchen. It is like those of our houses in California."
Khrushchev: [after Nixon called attention to a built-in panel-controlled washing machine]: "We have such things."
Nixon: "This is the newest model. This is the kind which is built in thousands of units for direct installation in the houses." He added that Americans were interested in making life easier for their women.
Mr. Khrushchev remarked that in the Soviet Union, they did not have "the capitalist attitude toward women."
Nixon: "I think that this attitude toward women is universal. What we want to do is make easier the life of our housewives."
He explained that the house could be built for $14,000 and that most veterans had bought houses for between $10,000 and $15,000.
Nixon: "Let me give you an example you can appreciate. Our steelworkers, as you know, are on strike. But any steelworker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years."
Khrushchev: "We have steel workers and we have peasants who also can afford to spend $14,000 for a house."
He said American houses were built to last only 20 years, so builders could sell new houses at the end of that period.
"We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren."
Mr. Nixon said he thought American houses would last more than 20 years, but even so, after 20 years many Americans want a new home or a new kitchen, which would be obsolete then. The American system is designed to take advantage of new inventions and new techniques, he said.
Khrushchev: "This theory does not hold water."
He said some things never got out of date -- furniture and furnishings, perhaps, but not houses. He said he did not think houses. He said he did not think that what Americans had written about their houses was all strictly accurate.
Nixon [pointing to television screen]: "We can see here what is happening in other parts of the home."
Khrushchev: "This is probably always out of order."
Nixon: "Da [yes]"
Khrushchev: "Don't you have a machine that puts food into the mouth and pushes it down? Many things you've shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets. We have a saying, if you have bedbugs you have to catch one and pour boiling water into the ear."
Nixon: "We have another saying. This is that the way to kill a fly is to make it drink whisky. But we have a better use for whisky. [Aside] I like to have this battle of wits with the Chairman. He knows his business."
Khrushchev: [manifesting a lack of interest in a data processing machine that answers questions about the United States]: "have heard of your engineers. I am well aware of what they can do. You know for launching our missiles we need lots of calculating machines."
Nixon [hearing jazz music]: "I don't like jazz music."
Khrushchev: "I don't like it either."
Nixon: "But my girls like it."
Mr. Nixon apologized for being a "poor host at the exposition and allowing a ceremonial visit to turn into a hot foreign policy discussion."
Khrushchev [apologizing] "I always speak frankly."
He said he hoped he had not offended Mr. Nixon.
Nixon: "I've been insulted by experts. Everything we say is in good humor."
Khrushchev: "The Americans have created their own image of the Soviet man and think he is as you want him to be. But he is not as you think. You think the Russian people will be dumbfounded to see these things, but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now. Moreover, all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing. I was born in the Soviet Union. So I have a right to a house. In America, if you don't have a dollar -- you have the right to choose between sleeping in a house or on the pavement. Yet you say that we are slaves of communism."
Nixon: "I appreciate that you are very articulate and energetic."
Khrushchev: "Energetic is not the same as wise."
Nixon: "If you were in our Senate, we would call you a filibusterer. You do all the talking and don't let anyone else talk. To us, diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have 1,000 builders building 1,000 different houses, is the most important thing. We don't have one decision made at the top by one government official. This is the difference."
Khrushchev: "On political problems we will never agree with you. For instance Mikoyan likes very peppery soup. I do not. But this does not mean that we do not get along."
Nixon: "You can learn from us and we can learn from you. There must be a free exchange. Let the people choose the kind of house, the kind of soup, the kind of ideas they want."
Mr. Khrushchev shifted the talk back to washing machines.
Nixon: "We have many different manufacturers and many different kinds of washing machines so that the housewives have a choice."
Khrushchev: [noting Nixon gazing admiringly at young women modeling bathing suits and sports clothes] "You are for the girls too."
Nixon: [indicating a floor sweeper that works by itself and other appliances]: "You don't need a wife."
Nixon: "We do not claim to astonish the Russian people. We hope to show our diversity and our right to choose. We do not wish to have decisions made at the top by government officials who say that all homes should be built in the same way. Would it not be better to compete in the relative merits of washing machines than in the strength of rockets. Is this the kind of competition you want?"
Khrushchev: "Yes that's the kind of competition we want. But your generals say: Let's compete in rockets. We are strong and we can beat you.' But in this respect we can also show you something."
Nixon: "To me you are strong and we are strong. In some ways, you are stronger. In others, we are stronger. We are both strong not only from the standpoint of weapons but from the standpoint of will and spirit. Neither should use that strength to put the other in a position where he in effect has an ultimatum. In this day and age that misses the point. With modern weapons it does not make any difference if war comes. We both have had it."
Khrushchev: "For the fourth time I have to say I cannot recognize my friend Mr. Nixon. If all Americans agree with you then who don't we agree [with]? This is what we want."
Nixon: "Anyone who believes the American Government does not reflect the people is not an accurate observer of the American scene. I hope the Prime Minister understands all the implications of what I have just said. Whether you place either one of the powerful nations or any other in a position so that they have no choice but to accept (sic) or fight, then you are playing with the most destructive force in the world. This is very important in the present world context. It is very dangerous. When we sit down at a conference table it cannot put an ultimatum to another. It is impossible. But I shall talk to you about this later."
Khrushchev: "If you have raised the questions, why not go on with it now while the people are listening? We know something about politics, too. Let your correspondents compare watches and see who is filibustering. You put great emphasis on diktat' [dictation]. Our country has never been guided by diktat'. Diktat' is a foolish policy."
Nixon: "I am talking about it in the international sense."
Khrushchev: "It sounds to me like a threat. We, too, are giants. You want to threaten we will answer threats with threats."
Nixon: "Who wants to threaten?"
Khrushchev: "You are talking about implications. I have not been. We have the means at our disposal. Ours are better than yours. It is you who want to compete. Da, da, da."
Nixon: "We are well aware of that. To me who is best is not material."
Khrushchev: "You raised the point. We want peace and friendship with all nations, especially with America."
Nixon: "We want peace too and I believe that you do also."
Khrushchev: "Yes, I believe that."
Nixon: "I see that you want to build a good life. But I don't think that the cause of peace is helped by reminders that you have greater strength than us because that is a threat too."
Khrushchev: "I was answering your words. You challenged me. Let's argue fairly."
Nixon: "My point was that in today's world it is immaterial which of the two great countries at any particular moment has the advantage. In war, these advantages are illusory. Can we agree on that."
Khrushchev: "Not quite. Let's not beat around the bush."
Nixon: "I like the way he talks."
Khrushchev: "We want to liquidate all bases from foreign lands. Until that happens, we will speak different languages. One who is for putting an end to bases on foreign lands is for peace. One who is against it is for war. We have liquidated our forces and offered to make a peace treaty and eliminate the point of friction in Berlin. Until we settle that question, we will talk different languages."
Nixon: "Do you think it can be settled at Geneva?"
Khrushchev: "If we considered it otherwise, we would not have incurred the expense of sending our foreign minister to Geneva. [Foreign minister Andrei A.] Gromyko is not an idler. He is a very good man."
Nixon: "We have great respect for Mr. Gromyko. Some people say he looks like me. I think he is better looking. I hope it [the Geneva conference] will be successful."
Khrushchev: "It does not depend on us."
Nixon: "It takes two to make an agreement. You cannot have it all you own way."
Khrushchev: "These are questions that have the same aim. To put an end to the vestiges of war, to make a peace treaty with Germany -- that is what we want. It is very bad that we quarrel over the question of war and peace."
Nixon: "There is no question but that your people and you want the government of the United States being for peace; anyone who thinks that it is not for peace is not an accurate observer of America. In order to have peace, Mr. Prime Minister, even in an argument between friends, there must be sitting down around a table. There must be discussion. Each side must find areas where it looks at the other's point of view. The world looks to you today with regard to Geneva. I believe it would be a grave mistake and a blow to peace if it were allowed to fail."
Khrushchev: "The two sides must seek ways of agreement."