October 12, 1960: Nikita Khrushchev Pounds His Shoe at the UN


Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!  (Alternative translation of the Russian:  We will dig you in.)

Nikita Khrushchev, to Western diplomats, November 18, 1956 at a diplomatic reception.  He later denied that he meant it literally but that, as Marx said, Communism was the grave digger of capitalism and that it was the Western proletariat who would topple capitalism in the West and not the Soviet Union.


By the time I reached the papers of 10 October 1960, I was convinced that the shoe had never left Khrushchev’s foot. Like every New Yorker 40 years earlier, I, too, wanted him to go home. As in a perfect detective novel, I was now afraid that my hero would get caught by some stupid mistake, just before the case closed in his favour.

That day, Khrushchev announced he would be leaving the United States on Thursday 13 October. The UN and New York took a deep breath. I also sighed with relief. On Tuesday 11 October, the Soviet leader addressed the UN one last time. The argument was heated as usual, but no shoe was indicated. I prayed: “You’ve done what you could. Please, go home. We are all tired.” On Wednesday 12 October 1960, there it was, on the front pages of all national papers: Nikita Sergeyevich and his famous shoe. My heart fell. I was in a state of shock, probably no less than those in the UN hall 40 years earlier. Swallowing tears of disappointment, I stared at the page for minutes, then the words started to turn into sentences.

The head of the Philippine delegation, Senator Lorenzo Sumulong, expressed his surprise at the Soviet Union’s concerns over western imperialism, while it, in turn, swallowed the whole of eastern Europe. Khrushchev’s rage was beyond anything he had ever shown before. He called the poor Filipino “a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism”, then he put his shoe on the desk and banged it.

Nina Khrushchev, Granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev





Sometimes I hear people who view with alarm the complexities and the dangers of the contemporary world claim to be nostalgic for the Cold War.  As someone who lived through most of the Cold War, with the free world locked in a seemingly never ending conflict with  totalitarian enemies, and the threat of instant nuclear annihilation always hovering on the horizon, I do not miss it at all.


Nikita  Khrushchev

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  1. I read Khrushchev’s memoirs ages ago, truly fascinating, for instance referring to the building of the Berlin wall as “the establishment of border control” apparently oblivious to the fact that in most of the world border control refers to keeping people out.
    Otoh, he does at least admit (to some extent) the role Lend-Lease played in the Soviet war effort.
    Btw, the translator noted that “we will bury you” is not as aggressive as it sounds, according to him it means more like “we will dance at your funeral”.

    Of course, half of Khrushchev’s statements/behavior were a result of him being half in the bag.

  2. I have the years to admit that I saw Khrushchev’s banging of his shoe on tv in person. Later, when my brothers were all drafted to fight in the war, my father went to Washington, since letters did nothing. Father banged his shoe on the desk. And as in Saving Private Ryan, one of my brothers was sent to Korea while the other brother was sent to Viet Nam. One other brother failed the physical but had to report every six months for recheck.
    Khrushchev’s son teaches at Brown University, last I remember.

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