Excerpt of K Blows Top by Peter Carlson
(Page 3 of 4)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
You delivered an anti - American speech before my arrival in Moscow,
My speech was not nearly as provocative as yours, Khrushchev replied.
It was just like old times: Nixon and Khrushchev squabbling again.
Eisenhower must have felt like a kindergarten teacher trapped with a couple
of bickering brats.
You read the speeches, Khrushchev told Ike. You be the judge.
Years later, Eisenhower was still amused at that. To add to the snowballing
comedy of the situation, he wrote, Mr. Khrushchev suggested
that I be the referee as to which speeches were more provocative.
Eisenhower led Khrushchev outside to the South Lawn, where two
Marine helicopters squatted like big green dragonflies. Ike loved helicopters
and he was eager to take Khrushchev on a ride over Washington at
rush hour. It was an ideal way to show off Americas economic power by
pointing out the long lines of workers driving their private cars to their
private homes in the suburbs. Ike had suggested the ride in his press conference
a month earlier and Murphy repeated the suggestion to Menshikov
countless times. But Smiling Mike always rejected it, claiming that
Khrushchev had no desire to waste time on helicopter rides.
But the president persisted. On the ride in from the airport, Ike told
Khrushchev that he hoped the premier would join him for a helicopter
ride over the city.
Oh, Khrushchev replied, if youre going to be in the same helicopter,
of course, I will go.
Instantly Ike realized what the problem had been. Khrushchev feared
that the helicopter ride might be a trick, that the chopper would suffer
some sort of nonaccidental accident. But of course that wouldnt happen
if Eisenhower was aboard. It reminded Ike of another incident, this
one back in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Hed offered his friend
Georgi Zhukov, the Soviet general, the use of an American plane.
Zhukov hesitated, then asked, May your son go as my aide? Ike agreed
and Zhukov smiled. With your plane and your son going with me, I
know I shall be quite safe.
Such was the paranoia inspired by working for Josef Stalin.
Once inside one of the choppers, Eisenhower offered Khrushchev a
window seat and spread a map of Washington across the premiers lap.
The choppers rotors whirled and it slowly rose into the sky. Khrushchev
grinned and waved his homburg for the photographers.
As the helicopter lifted off, Chalmers Roberts, the Washington Posts
White House correspondent, called his wife, Lois, at their home overlooking
the Potomac River. Roberts figured the chopper would fly over
the river as it headed toward the Maryland suburbs. He knew something
that he suspected the Secret Service might not realize. For days, workers
building a fish ladder in the Potomac had been blasting rock out of the
riverbed with dynamite.
Go out and have a look, he told his wife.
She hustled outside and saw the helicopter carrying the two most powerful
men on the planet pass over the river, flying north. A few moments
later, as she watched in horror, an explosion in the river blasted large
chunks of rock into the sky. Fortunately, none of them hit the chopper,
which passed overhead and rumbled safely into Maryland.
Ike pointed out the cars on the roads belowtheir red brake lights
flashing on and off in the stop - and - go traffic. Soon the helicopter flew
over a big green meadow, one of Ikes favorite placesthe golf course at
the Burning Tree Country Club.
The president asked the chairman if he played golf. Khrushchev said he
knew nothing about it. Eager to show the premier his favorite sport, Ike
told the pilot to drop a little lower. The chopper swooped down over the
sixteenth green, where the noise and wind of the rotors caused a golfer to
muff an easy four - inch putt.
Excerpted from K Blows Top, by Peter Carlson, available now from PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.