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 by William H. Benson

October 22, 1998


     United Nations Day is Saturday, October 24.  My awareness of a meeting place in New York City for representatives from all the world’s nations dawned on October 12, 1960 when I (stuck in the first grade) was told how the Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, had taken off his right shoe and pounded the table.  “Because he was mad,” was the answer I got to the question, “Why?”

     Later, I learned that what had enraged him was a speech by a Phillippine diplomat who accused the Soviet Union of depriving the Eastern European nations of “political and civil rights”, warning that they would be soon “swallowed up by the Soviet Union.”  Then later, Khrushchev banged his fist when the Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold spoke up, and finally he topped things off by shouting at the dignified British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

     The American public, the journalists, and even the comedians never forgot this outrageous display of public behavior by the Soviet Union’s leader;  Nikita became the focal point of a lot of jokes.  Gauche, inappropriate, rude, inpolite his behavior was, like arguing with the minister during a sermon on Sunday morning at church.  Adults just do not do such things. 

     Khrushchev was short, red-faced, balding, with a wide smile that revealed gapped teeth.  It was he who had denounced Stalin in a 50-page speech in February 1956 to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party.  Khrushchev admitted the truth finally to the Soviet citizens that Stalin was a brutal, psychologically deranged torturer, who committed atrocious acts of mass murder creating a powerful reign of terror. 

      Then, it was Khrushchev who met his match in Vice-President Richard Nixon at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959.  At the “model kitchen display” sharp exchages between the two men escalated into an argument over capitalism and communism.  Each seemed unwilling to back down in this verbal confrontation of one-upmanship.

      At one point during his public posturing Khrushchev boasted that “we will bury you.”

      Exactly two years after the shoe-pounding display, in October of 1962 the United Nations found itself in the middle of an eyeball to eyeball showdown between Khrushchev and the 45-year-old U. S. President, John F. Kennedy, over certain missiles on Fidel Castro’s Communistic Cuba.  Khrushchev blinked.  He agreed to a United Nations proposal that the Soviet Union would stop sending missiles to Cuba and ship all the weapons back to the Soviet Union if the U.S. would end its blockade of Cuba.  Once again, the Soviet Union’s citizens felt the stings of this public humiliation.

      (Thirteen months later police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with murdering President Kennedy.  The 24-year-old Oswald once had defected to the Soviet Union and had been active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.  Sympathetic to the Soviet Union’s cause and to Communism, he was angered and troubled by Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban missiles.)


      Exactly two years after the missile crisis, on October 17, 1964, the Kremlin’s bosses kicked Nikita Khrushchev out.  Pravda called his leadership one of “harebrained scheming, immature conclusions and hasty decisions and actions divorced from reality.”  Seven years later on September 11, 1971, Khrushchev died a nonperson in Moscow and was not permitted a state funeral, far removed from the powerful at the Kremlin as well as at the United Nations, where he had embarrassed himself and his country