- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006


By Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali

W.W. Norton, $35, 640 pages


In the spring of 1960, Nikita Khrushchev, then ruler of all the Russias, headed the Soviet delegation to the United Nations. One morning as the Filipino delegate addressing the U.N. General Assembly was denouncing Soviet imperialism, an infuriated Khrushchev raced down the aisle, onto to the rostrum, brusquely shoved the Filipino speaker away from the microphone and shouted some words at him in Russian.

A U.N. news correspondent at the time, I was listening to the simultaneous English translation on earphones when suddenly I heard the translator, who was trying to keep up with Khrushchev’s vituperation, blurt out the English phrase, “this jerk.”

We all rushed down to the interpreter’s booth and when he was freed up, we asked him what was the Russian word for “jerk.” The interpreter replied that he didn’t dare use the English word for Khrushchev’s Russian. He told us what the word was in English and, of course, we couldn’t use it in our newspaper dispatches.

I open with this anecdote to illustrate my opinion of this awful man with the porcine visage. Khrushchev was a man with no sense of dignity whatsoever, which is what happens when you toady to a Stalin for decades and at his bidding kill without conscience.

This was the man who in 1962 brought the world as close to a nuclear war as hasn’t happened since. That crisis occurred because Khrushchev planted missiles in Cuba targeted at the American mainland hoping to bluff the United States into humiliating surrender.

President Kennedy was not to be bluffed and Khrushchev retreated ignominiously. Even Communist China criticized him for what they called his “adventurism.” Two years after this defeat, Khrushchev was cashiered by his own Politburo.

In “Khrushchev’s Cold War,” Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali write that “What is indisputable is that once Khrushchev dropped his pressure strategy in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, the superpower struggle became more predictable and less dangerous …

“Once Khrushchev was gone, no Soviet leader would again make the argument that to get peace, one had to go to the brink of war. Until Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War, no Soviet leader — arguably no leader of any country — would so hold the world in its thrall.”

The authors, who published the Cuban missile crisis classic, “One Hell of a Gamble,” have had access to Politburo and Soviet intelligence materials and so their report has a gripping authenticity. They show that Khrushchev’s “coercive diplomacy,” his pressure tactics, especially his ultimatums to President Eisenhower to get out of Berlin, didn’t work and why. Those tactics cost Russia dearly because they spurred a great United States military buildup and made the idea of peaceful coexistence a chimera, say the authors.

There are two important omissions in this otherwise exemplary Cold War report. One of them is overlooking the East German worker uprising on June 17, 1953, three months after Stalin’s death. It took Soviet tanks to quell that uprising. Then came further rebellions in Poznan, Poland and in October 1956 in Hungary.

The second omission is what Khrushchev told Tito when they met in 1955 in Belgrade. The Russian dictator foreshadowed his “secret” anti-Stalin speech at the 20th Party Congress by telling the Yugoslav anti-Soviet dictator about Stalin’s iniquities.

The authors describe Khrushchev as an “impetuous and erratic man.” They show that in this age of nuclear proliferation somebody like Khrushchev (for which substitute Kim Jong Il or Iran President Ahmadinejad) could incinerate the world in the name of ideology or in the name of radical Islam.

This volume is not only a fine history but it also points a warning for the years to come.

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a Washington Times columnist.

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