Excerpt from K Blows Top by Peter Carlson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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K Blows Top

A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist

by Peter Carlson

K Blows Top by Peter Carlson
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2010, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

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Having spent his entire life around politicians, Lodge quickly sized up Khrushchev as a master of the breed. “His personal magnetism was immediately felt,” he later recalled. “Here was a natural politician—a man who, on entering a room full of strangers, would, after a few hours, have persuaded some, charmed and amused others, and frightened still more, so that by the end of the day, he would have over 50 percent of their votes.”

The premier informed the ambassador that they had both been generals during the war but Khrushchev had been a higher-ranking general. “Therefore you’re my subordinate,” he said, smiling, “and I’ll expect you to behave as befits a junior officer.”

Lodge laughed. “Yes, sir,” he said. He stood at attention and saluted crisply. “General Lodge, reporting for duty, sir!” They’d been bantering for only a few minutes but already the short, fat Russian dictator and the tall, skinny Boston Brahmin had created a comedy Team - a cold war version of Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello. Lodge escorted Khrushchev outside, where they climbed into the waiting limousine, accompanied by Menshikov, Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, and Khrushchev’s translator, Oleg Troyanovsky. After a journey of a few hundred yards, the limo stopped. They’d reached their destination— the White House.

Inside, Eisenhower and Nixon were waiting for them. Grinning, Khrushchev presented the president with a gift. He’d wanted to give it to Ike back at the airport in front of the TV cameras, but his aides talked him out of it. Eisenhower opened the elegant wooden box and found a model of the Lunik II space capsule that had recently hit the moon. The president was astounded. Was this man really rubbing his nose in the moon shot twice on the same afternoon? “This seemed, at first, a strange gift,” he later wrote, “but then it occurred to me that quite possibly the man was completely sincere.”

Eisenhower led his guests into a room where they could sit comfortably on armchairs and couches. There wasn’t enough time for substantive discussions, he said, but at least they could talk about what issues they would discuss at Camp David when Khrushchev returned from his road trip. Obviously, Ike said, Berlin would be one topic.

Khrushchev agreed and suggested another issue—disarmament. “We believe that you do not want war,” he said, “and we assume that you also believe this about us.”

“I see no profit in mutual suicide,” Ike replied.

“The main thing is to establish trust,” Khrushchev continued. “Probably we can’t take each other’s word at this time but we must try to bring about trust. There is no other way.”

As the meeting went on, one topic flowed into another. Khrushchev mentioned the speech that he was scheduled to deliver at the United Nations in a few days but refused to reveal any details about it.

“Here is my speech,” he said, tapping his jacket pocket, “and no one is going to see it.”

But there was one speech that the chairman did want to discuss—the speech Nixon had delivered the previous day. Khrushchev had read a translation on the plane.

Sitting across the room, Nixon said he was proud to hear that. The speech was clearly calculated to arouse anti - Soviet animosity, Khrushchev said, angrily. “After having read that speech, I am surprised to find on arriving here that people in the United States welcomed us with such tolerance and obvious friendliness,” he said. “In the Soviet Union, there would have been no welcome whatsoever if I had, in advance, publicly spoken against the visitor.”

“That,” Ike said, “is the basic difference between our two systems.” It was the perfect comeback. But Nixon, being Nixon, couldn’t resist saying more.

Excerpted from K Blows Top, by Peter Carlson, available now from PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.

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