The Weekly Quill — Superpower Showdown

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“Workers of Twentieth Century Fox, Unite!” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would have burst with pride. In truth, the quote was, “We the workers of Twentieth Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and country.” Though dashed that his first wish of a visit to Disneyland had been quashed due to security concerns, Nikita Khrushchev clearly got over his disappointment when Marilyn Monroe, his second request for his Road Show of America, delivered that memorable line…in Russian. Hollywood’s most iconic star had studied under the tutelage of Natalie Wood, who was fluent in the Soviet Premier’s native language. As were still the studios’ rules of the day, Monroe had been instructed to wear her tightest, sexiest dress, which she did. Notoriously late, she had even arrived early, joined by 400 of Hollywood’s biggest names at the who’s who lunch.

Whatever it was that fateful September 19, 1959, Khrushchev’s dream girl, whose hand he’d nearly crushed upon being introduced, must have left a lasting impression. His words to Monroe: “You’re a very lovely young lady,” differed greatly from those he’d unleashed just months earlier to all Americans: “We will bury you.” To allay fears set off by this unveiled threat, President Eisenhower begrudgingly invited Khrushchev to a summit. Though he started there, it wasn’t Camp David that interested the United States’ greatest enemy, or even New York City (“If you’ve seen one skyscraper, you’ve seen them all.”); it was Hollywood. That said, Russia’s leader relished in belittling American art: “You do not even have a permanent opera and ballet theater. Your theaters thrive on what is given to them by rich people. In our country, it is the state that gives the money. And the best ballet is in the Soviet Union. It is our pride.”

Halfway around the world, Khrushchev’s blatant bedazzlement is said to have incensed the man who was quickly becoming the Soviets’ biggest adversary. The Chinese were already deep in planning for a Russian state trip beginning September 30th, ostensibly to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war. It was likely unwise to travel after having only been back in Moscow for 31 hours following his 10-day star-studded tour of the United States. This compromised circumstance only partly explained the fact that there was no red carpet, no honor guard, not even a microphone for the speech in which Khrushchev extolled Eisenhower, an act that only further intensified tensions that had long been building, and critically, about the West knew precious little.

Khrushchev’s approach to communist foreign relations riled Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s approach to leadership; the former was scarred by Stalin’s brutality and favored peaceful settlements of conflicts while the latter advocated for brute force. The public estrangement started with the Russian leader’s condemnation of the Great Leap Forward, an effort to hastily industrialize China by effectively annihilating its agrarian sector. The end result was The Great Famine, which between 1959-1961 is estimated to have killed between 36-45 million. So strained were relations that by the mid-1960s, Khrushchev abruptly withdrew Soviet technicians from China, blueprints and all; he was not convinced nuclear weaponry knowhow would be safe in Mao’s hands.

 

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