Their grandfathers’ argument in a mock-up of an American kitchen made Cold War history.
Now the grandson of President Richard Nixon and a granddaughter of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev sat side by side Sunday, 36 years to the day after Nixon had predicted in a speech that Khrushchev’s grandchildren would live in freedom.
“Nixon was right and Khrushchev was wrong,” Nina Khrushcheva, 32, told the crowd gathered at the Nixon Library & Birthplace.
“When I think about it now,” she said, “it doesn’t surprise me. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Khrushchev were required by history to do what they did to make history move.”
Christopher Cox, 17, agreed. “I’m sure the spirit of this moment would have meant a lot to both our grandfathers,” he said.
The moment was a far cry from the one in 1960 when then-Vice President Nixon accepted the Republican presidential nomination. Reiterating the exchange that he and Khrushchev had had the year before in Moscow, Nixon said, “When Mr. Khrushchev says our grandchildren will live under communism, let us say his grandchildren will live in freedom.”
The two men’s verbal duel in 1959 in what became known as the “kitchen debate,” had taken place in a model American kitchen. Nixon poked Khrushchev’s chest for emphasis as he lauded the merits of U.S. products and the system that produced them, and he countered Khrushchev’s prediction about the political futures of their grandchildren. “At the time,” Nixon wrote later, “I was sure he was wrong, but I was not sure I was right.”
The incident highlighted the nature of the Cold War, when the United States and the former Soviet Union competed bitterly on the world stage--militarily, politically and economically.
In 1960, Khrushchev sent shock waves across the world by angrily banging his shoe on a podium during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. And two years later, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of war after the Soviets began installing missiles on the island 90 miles from the United States.
The two grandchildren were at the library to kick off the exhibit “ ’46/'96 The Politics of Peace: The Uncertain Legacy of Victory in World War II and the Cold War.”
Cox and Khrushcheva, smiling and sharing stories, had toured the library before her lecture on Soviet history and politics.
“I thought he was taller,” Khrushcheva said, posing next to a statue of the grandfather who died when she was 8. “But then,” she said, placing her hand about waist-high on the statue, “I was only this high.”
Both Cox, who will work as a page at the Republican National Convention in San Diego, and Khrushcheva, who studies at Princeton University, described their grandfathers as kind, sensitive and attentive.
“He was a wonderful grandfather,” said Khrushcheva. “He was very warm and a true Communist right to the end.”
Later, she described her sense of Sunday’s meeting. “I believe in circles,” she said. “We have made a circle and we are done. It is beautiful that it has concluded this way and here we are, two grandchildren talking together.”