chapter  13
The Pivotal 1960s
Pages 36

In October 1960, during a speech at the United Nations in New York City, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev became so incensed at a suggestion by a representative from the Philippines that the Soviet Union had deprived Eastern Europe of its political freedom that he took off his shoe and banged it repeatedly on the rostrum. Even his own delegation did not quite know what to make of this move and suspected that he had gone too far. Khrushchev himself laughed off the incident, acting as if he had simply wanted to break up the dullness of the proceedings. But Khrushchev’s shoe-banging symbolized the tensions of the Cold War as the 1960s began. Despite some recent friendly overtures to the United States by Khrushchev, by the time of this incident the Cold War was heating up again. In May the Soviets had shot down an American U-2 plane that had entered Soviet airspace on a reconnaissance mission. The Soviets then announced that in the future they would fire on any airbase from which an enemy plane that flew over the Soviet Union originated. The pilot of the downed U-2, Francis Gary Powers, was convicted of espionage in a Soviet military court. When Khrushchev visited the United States that fall, he had to demonstrate to the hawks in the Soviet Union-who had wanted an even stronger response to the U-2 incident-that he could vigorously defend Soviet interests. His emotional outburst may have been designed to do just that, but in many ways it backfired. Khrushchev was seen by many people on both sides as an irrational, uncouth peasant who had been charged with guiding one of the world’s superpowers.