Tube City Almanac

September 26, 2007

We Acted Better in '59

Category: History, Politics || By

In a photo from the Sun-Telegraph, a motorcade carrying Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev passes Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead.

My grandfather was made of stern stuff.

For 20 years he fired the boilers of steam engines for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but the arrival of diesel locomotives in the 1950s left him unemployed, and he took a job at PennDOT.

Though "Pap" worked on many projects around the state, one of his fondest memories was of Sept. 24, 1959. That's the day when Pap helped block roads around Pittsburgh for the arrival of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who toured Mesta Machine's plant in West Homestead and spoke at the University of Pittsburgh.

I think about Pap often, but I thought in particular about that story as I listened to talk-show hosts and callers go into apoplexy over the visit to Columbia University by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Maybe I'm naive, but Khrushchev in 1959 represented a bigger threat to the United States than Ahmadinejad does in 2007. And we behaved ourselves a lot better.

From the conversations on KDKA, WPGB-FM and McKeesport-licensed WPTT, you would have thought Satan himself had arrived in the Big Apple.

. . .

Smile When You Say That: The New York press was worse, of course. Rupert Murdoch's conservative New York Post called him a "kook," a "madman," a "thug," a "lunatic," and a "guest of dishonor." "The axis of evil wacko" is "polluting our airwaves," said one story.

Even the usually somewhat-saner New York Daily News was driven around the bend, printing covers two days in a row that showed Ahmadinejad's face crossed out with a giant slash and telling him to "GO TO HELL!"

An editorial called Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad "monstrous idiocy" and called for the resignations or firings of the university officials who invited him. I can only imagine what New York talk radio sounded like.

. . .

'K' and 'A': Let's compare Khrushchev with Ahmadinejad:

  • Ahmadinejad wants nuclear weapons. Khrushchev had them, and they were pointed at the Mon Valley.

  • Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the map. By 1959, Khrushchev had already wiped several countries off the map and had brutally crushed an independence movement in Hungary.

  • Ahmadinejad has allegedly been funding terrorists in Iraq. Khrushchev was openly funding terrorists in Laos.

  • Iran has about 70 million people, a 15 percent inflation rate and 11 percent unemployment, and is considered "semi-developed" because so many people work on subsistence farms. In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union covered one-sixth of the earth's land, had 209 million people, and controlled 20 percent of the world's industrial production, and that's not counting the "Eastern Bloc" nations.

Was the Soviet Union in 1959 less dangerous than Iran is today? I sure don't think so.

. . .

48 Years Ago: Earlier this week, I went to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and pulled microfilm of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph to read the coverage of Khrushchev's two-day visit.

The Tele, which closed less than a year later, was an afternoon paper that competed directly with the Pittsburgh Press. It was the closest thing to a lurid New York-style tabloid newspaper that Pittsburgh ever had, and it was owned by the arch-conservative Hearst chain, which was arguably the Fox News of the 1940s and '50s.

Populist and colorful, the Sun-Telegraph carried two pages of comics and lots of sports and crime news. It was extremely popular with Mon Valley steelworkers; many households got the Daily News or Homestead Daily Messenger during the week and the Tele on Sundays.

You might expect the Tele received a lot of angry letters to the editor about Khrushchev's visit, and you'd be right:

"Khrushchev's presence in our country is the biggest hoax of this century," wrote Muriel Martin of Aspinwall. "We are simply breaking bread with Judas ... The peace which Khrushchev wants is the peace to use his tanks on countries that reject his 'friendship.'"

"Why should a Christian nation be asked to welcome an ungodly despot like Khrushchev?" asked John E. Sutlare of Pittsburgh. "We resent him and all he stands for."

. . .

Protests, Patriotism: And the Tele didn't hesitate to promote the American way as superior to life under Communism.

On the day of Khrushchev's speech, a full-page story profiled the "typical working class household" of Bill and Ruth Anne Connor in Wexford, comparing their living conditions with those of Russians. "Does this family look downtrodden to you?" it asked.

In another piece, the news director of Channel 11 (then WIIC) discussed his recent visit behind the Iron Curtain: "When the wheels of our plane touched down in Frankfurt, Germany, I said, 'Thank God I'm back in a free country. It's a sensation you can't explain.'"

Average Pittsburghers voiced their opinions, too. Protesters picketed the Carlton House in downtown Pittsburgh, where Khrushchev was staying. Some carried signs calling him a "butcher" and reading "Communism Means Death."

One story notes that steelworkers "grilled" a Russian magazine editor who tried to interview them. "The trouble with you is you're brainwashed," one of them told her. "See, we're really the capitalists in this country."

. . .

Respect, Dignity: But Pittsburghers also comported themselves with dignity. Mayor Thomas Gallagher presented Khrushchev with a "key to the city" and 100,000 people lined his motorcade route through the Golden Triangle.

In one of the most famous incidents in Steel Valley history, a worker at Mesta Machine, William Jackey, handed Khrushchev a cigar as he passed by his workstation. Khrushchev, delighted, took off his wristwatch and gave it to Jackey in thanks.

That day at the University of Pittsburgh, Khrushchev shared the dais with Governor David Lawrence, the chairman of Pitt's board of trustees, and University Chancellor Edward Litchfield. His speech was carried live in McKeesport by WEDO radio, which pre-empted the CBS soap opera "Ma Perkins."

Across the street from Pitt, Mrs. Khrushchev toured Children's Hospital, where employees spontaneously rushed up to kiss her and thrust presents in her hands to take back for her grandchildren.

. . .

Hearst's Editorial: Though conservative and fiercely patriotic, the Sun-Telegraph itself treated Khrushchev with respect, too. A signed editorial by publisher William Randolph Hearst Jr. called on Pittsburghers to neither "cheer nor jeer":

There are sound historical reasons why feelings of hatred and hostility should exist, as Khrushchev has never hesitated to use ruthless methods if it suited Russian policy ...

The memory of Hungary, Poland and Korea is still strong. It is well that we do not forget these examples of Communist aggression.

Nevertheless, the twin causes of peace and freedom will be improperly served by any violent demonstrations of these understandable feelings ...

Let's have no fawning over him, nor any hostile gesture toward him.

. . .

Generation Gap: When a powerful dictator like Nikita Khrushchev visited, we responded with confidence and demonstrated that the American principle of freedom of speech --- even of speech we disliked --- was alive and well. Even Pravda was impressed, reporting that Pittsburghers had "opened their hearts" to him.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the American psyche if we're now too weak to withstand a visit by a tinpot terrorist like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Like I said, my grandfather was made of stern stuff. So were your grandparents, I'll bet.

They knew that the United States of America was the world's greatest nation. They proved it by acting graciously to a sworn enemy.

We'd be a lot better off in the future by copying their example instead of continuing the jingoistic, immature behavior that many of us demonstrated this week.

It was downright ... if you'll pardon the phrase ... un-American.

Your Comments are Welcome!


Excellent entry. Puts things in proper prosepective. Iran’s leader is a wannabe compared to Kruschev. Dangerous, but a wannabe none the less.

Paul (URL) - September 26, 2007

Did you happen to catch Brian O’Neill’s column about drinking and clothes ( He lamented that we no longer dress for work or much of anything anymore, and noted that everybody used to drink a lot more. To be sure, we live in a more casual age, yet in many ways it is also a more aware age. We don’t hit our kids anymore (I smile and nod when older people say how their parents hit them and they turned out fine: hey, no body does it any more but someone always took it to excess). Cops used to go their whole careers without drawing their guns, although they were often pulling their batons and dispensing “justice” in the alley. Never mind that a few blows to the head might leave you alive but different. Now gangs have Glocks and drug dealers have close air support (a line from a Robert Parker book). Actually, I’m surprised I hear “sir” (or ma’am) as much as I do these days, these kids must learn it from TV.

But I think the real reason the country as a whole has been so rude to Ahmadinejad is because of the example set at the top. In 1959 we had a dignified but determined leader who had nothing to prove to anyone, a smart cold warrior who could look at the whole picture. The fool we didn’t elect in 2000, and who scared us into re-election in ’04, over simplifies everything and talks like a child. No one wants to be seen as soft on terrorism or as some kind of egg-headed sap, so everyone takes their cues from the Decider and talks mindlessly tough.

Of course, its worth saying that Ahmadinejad is no Khrushchev, and maybe as important, Khrushchev was not Stalin. Khrushchev was the face of a Soviet Union we could work with, the first of a series of leaders of a more sophisticated sort. I don’t know if Stalin ever came to the US (I’m sure I could find out, but later), but if he did after WWII, he might well have gotten the kind of reaction Ahmadinejad did in the last few days.

A blog referenced on the NYTimes website (I don’t know which) suggested that someone like Ahmadinejad needs to be criticized as much as possible, the sheer magnitude of the evil he advocates does not allow for civility. There is something, I think, to that, but our lack of civility does allow others in the Middle East to accuse us of being rude and unsophisticated.

Well, in about fifteen months we will have a new leader, and maybe the cues we will take won’t be so simplistic and jingoistic.
Ed Heath (URL) - September 26, 2007

“Ahmadinejad has allegedly been funding terrorists in Iraq.”

Iran is funding terrorism in Iraq:

Officials said IRGC has brought weapons, explosively-formed penetrators, communications equipment and computers to oversee the insurgency network in Iraq. They said the U.S. military has captured documents and photographs that could identify other senior IRGC envoys in Iraq. Hundreds of Iranian operatives were said to be operating in Iraq.

“As Iran continues its proxy war against the people of Iraq, coalition forces will continue to build on recent operations to disrupt the flow of illicit, lethal materials from Iran into Iraq,” U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said. “The capture of individuals affiliated with the IRGC-Quds Force is an integral part of dismantling terror networks that seek to kill innocent Iraqis and security forces.”

So far, the U.S. military has captured more than a dozen IRGC agents. The arrests began in January 2007, when five suspected Quds Force officers were captured. The officers remain in U.S. detention despite Iranian demands for their release.
Doug - September 26, 2007

Perlstein suggests that the respectful welcome granted to Krushchev pointed to a confident, mature American character; whereas the rude reception given Ahmadinajad at Columbia was the mark of immaturity. To be specific, he thinks the immaturity comes from the fact that American character has been damaged by years of “conservative rule,” which he says is “rewiring our hearts and minds” in bad ways.

Given that hypothesis, I would have liked to have seen some evidence that conservatives exercise some sort of rule at Columbia. It’s beside the point, however, since the analogy is even more deeply flawed than that: the reception of Kruschev was an act of the United States government, whereas the business at Columbia was an act of a private entity. The actual US government reception was to ignore the visit as much as possible, so much so that Bush played down the Iranian issue in his own speech at the United Nations.

How to explain the difference in Krushchev’s reception and the current one? It isn’t a question of character, but statecraft. In 1959, the United States was aware that the Soviet Union was increasingly powerful, and not going anywhere. There was no choice but engagement. Krushchev got the full reception because the whole point of his visit was to engage him. We wanted to talk to him, and we wanted to do so with all the diplomatic formalities that smooth the process.

In the current case, the strategy is to avoid doing anything that might legitimize the Iranian president, or increase his base of support within his own country. His government is not popular with its citizens, and it is in our national interest not to do anything to make them seem more powerful or legitimate. It’s noteworthy that Bush’s speech at the UN went on about Zimbabwe and Myanmar, but had fairly little to say about Iran — at least, directly.

The visit to Columbia, far from being part of the plan, was not welcome because it gave him more attention on the world stage. I’d say it went about as well as it might have, and in any event, America is a free country whose citizens are not bound by the desires of their government. That said, the Columbia visit wasn’t part of the State Department’s vision.

It ought to be fairly obvious that diplomacy is driven by the statecraft aims of a given administration, rather than by our “national character” at large; for that matter, it ought to be relatively clear that whatever “rule” conservatives may exercise in America, they exercise little at Columbia. Perlstein accuses his country of “bed wetting” at the spectre of having a bad man visit; but really, America was content to ignore him. It was Columbia that wanted to give him a platform, and it was their administration that chose to be rude to him. Neither the American character in general, nor conservatives in particular, had much to do with it.
Doug - September 26, 2007

I don’t read Perlstein. I can’t comment on anything he’s ever written.

But I know who Pat Buchanan is —- he’s not exactly a leftist —- and he’s accused Americans of bed-wetting, too:

Yes, Khrushchev’s visit was an official state visit. But the point remains that Khrushchev in 1959 was a much bigger tyrant than Ahmadinejad, and Eisenhower was smart enough to meet with him.

And given Iran’s strategic importance in the Middle East, why hasn’t our president met with Ahmadinejad, when (as Buchanan points out) Nixon met with Mao Zedong?

The media is trying to demonize Ahmadinejad and build him up into some sort of super-monster. Simultaneously, Bush is showing that he treats Ahmadinejad with contempt … that he’s “not important enough” for him to meet with.

This is the same pattern that got us into the current mess in Iraq, isn’t it?

We’re being stampeded into war in Iran. If it comes, all bloody hell is going to break loose.
Webmaster - September 26, 2007

Anyone remember the Bob Newhart bit about Khrushchev landing in the US for the first time? That whole album, the Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, is so funny …
Ed Heath (URL) - September 26, 2007

Oh, and don’t cite the “World Tribune,” Doug. It’s a propaganda arm of Rev. Moon, for crying out loud:

If you’re going to cite the “World Tribune,” then I’m going to cite The People’s Daily Worker and Mad Magazine. They’re just as reliable, and I like Sergio Aragones’ cartoons. (In Mad, not the Daily Worker.)
Webmaster - September 26, 2007

I have almost everything Newhart recorded, Ed, and maybe I should listen to it tonight, ‘cause frankly I’m not getting many chuckles from the news.
Webmaster - September 26, 2007

Thank you for researching the visit of the Soviet leader and how it differs from the recent visit of the President of Iran. I appreciate the insight and found the blog to be very interesting. I remember how my parents, who understood Russian language, would talk about Nikita and what an evil person he was during the Cold War. Iran is not the “Big Bear” that the USSR was however will be considered an enemy because this Administration wants them to be the boogey man.
Donn Nemchick - September 27, 2007

The historical comparison is nice but it doesn’t really illustrate anything other than how our entire society has changed, not for the better.

Generally speaking back then, no matter how vehemently one disagreed with another’s viewpoint the discussion generally focused on the subject of the disagreement, not the perceived personal attributes of the adversaries.

Just take a quick gander at major media outlet and read all the horrible, despicable things that people ascribe to our current president. For that matter, the same thing was done to the last president.

For the most part, people use the freedom that they have to criticize our government to go to whatever extreme length with get them the most media coverage. There is NO restraint displayed anymore but either the politicians or the general public.

Name calling, flat-out lying assertions and just about and other despicable act you can think of are all fair game in today’s free society. I’m not advocating any form of censorship or deminishing of any freedoms either, but it would be nice to see us return to the days when schools also taught everyone that along with freedom comes RESPONSIBILITY.

As for whether the man in Iran is as bad as Khruschev, I don’t think there can be any legitimate doubt that he is every bit as bad. The only difference is that while Khruschev accomplished the things he did, Ahmadinejad is feverishly pursuing those same actions as goals. I suppose we should wait to see how successful he is before we compare the two?

This is a man who denies the holacaust ever happened and has sponsored “international forums” to further that rediculous claim. He is readily acknowledged by most responsible authorities around the world to be pursuing nuclear weapons. Do you suppose that once he gets them he’ll want to sit down and negotiate with the leaders of the free world? He isn’t doing that now with people that WILL talk to him.

Do a bit of research on the history and objectives of these extremists and then try to make a convincing argument that he won’t use whatever nuclear capability he gets his hands on to eliminate his enemies around the world.

Take his comment about Iran not having homosexuals in their country. Where do suppose they’re at? In a prison somewhere being punished for their crimes against Islam?
Bulldog - September 27, 2007

Bulldog, all of your points are well taken. Ahmadinejad —- more specifically, the mullahs and ayatollahs whose laws he enforces —- is a tyrant and a terrorist. I am not trying to argue otherwise. I didn’t argue otherwise.

I did not intend to make this a political discussion per se. My point was the same as your original point: Society has changed, and not for the better.

Finally, I have done “a bit of research.” I take offense at that.
Webmaster - September 27, 2007

Folks, if this is going to turn into a Republican vs. Democrat p-ssing match, or if people are going to rehash talking points from Sean Hannity or Michael Moore, I will close the comments on this entry.

This is my store. I pay the rent. I don’t intend to sit behind the counter and be harangued by the customers about what I do and don’t know.

Thanks for understanding.
Webmaster - September 27, 2007

Bulldog…hey I don’t really care if Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, thinks that homosexuals don’t exist in Iran,likes hot pants, or the world is flat. Good for him…who cares. Now getting nukes…Ok I do care. Nukes in the hands of Iran would be a concern…of course I do think the response from the US if it was nuked by Iran (direct or indirect) would be severe. The real question is do you honestly think that Iran would be suicidal enough to start a nuclear war (direct or indirect) with the US? I don’t.
PPL - September 27, 2007

“Folks, if this is going to turn into a Republican vs. Democrat p-ssing match…”

Doesn’t everything? :)

I think you started that match with the Communist Manifesto comment a few days back. Then your reference Kruschev and have photo evidence and anectdotal evidence to back your story…..

Careful. Maybe the Republican adminstration is watching…. oops, and you asked us not to go there.

My bad.

Paul Shelly (URL) - September 27, 2007

As a Daily News editorial pointed out, the UN has been a platform for all sorts of characters who make their way to the stage of history then crawl back into the woodwork. Even Khrushchev’s visit to Mesta Machine was noted. Occasionally, there will come a speaker who is controversial but not on the evil side of the coin, such as Pope Paul VI was when he urged those who want peace to work for justice. However, to expand upon what some have written, one does wonder why President Bush, who has done so many things that could be called triangulation in reverse (another point brought out in an editorial), doesn’t see any reason to test the mettle of the Iranian president … as Khrushchev tested Kennedy’s mettle in Vienna prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It certainly would not hurt Mr. Bush’s ratings and probably would not affect the 2008 White House chase. But what do I know?
Does it matter? - September 27, 2007

“Folks, if this is going to turn into a Republican vs. Democrat p-ssing match, “

This is a discussion of whether you think Islamists are a threat. The US gov’t played their cards correctly and ignored the “dinnerjacket”. It was the “intellectuals” at Columbia who thought they knew how to deal with this thug. Well that turned into a nice propaganda film for the mullahs. And funny that the whole episode turned into the dinnerjacket saying “we don’t have homosexuals in Iran” instead of his support of the terrorist maiming and killing our soldiers in Iraq.
Doug - September 27, 2007

Jason, first off I apologize. My intent was not harangue you about what you do or do not know, but simply to address some of the comments that you posted in your commentary and your follow-up responses. The “do a little research” statement also wasn’t intended as a derogatory judgement that you haven’t done any research. It was intended as a sort of open “challenge” to anyone who visits you site, along the lines of “I dare anyone to check into the facts and make the case…” though that apparently wasn’t obvious to every reader. So I do sincerely apologize.

Neither did I take the view or side of one particular party over the other, because I believe that BOTH of them as national, state and local organizations (around the country) are equally to blame (though not exclusively). Of course the exception to that would be the case of SW PA where one-party rule for the better part of the last century has produced such tremendous results.

As for PPL’s question about whether I think that he would be suicidal enough to start a nuclear war with us directly or indirectly? Yes I honestly do believe with all my heart that he would. Why wouldn’t he? Because it’s suicide? That’s only a problem for someone who doesn’t want to commit suicide, and we ARE talking about extremists who’s main weapon IS suicide, and as history and the extremist’s own writings tell us over more than 40 years, they definitely believe in the bigger the bang, the better the reward.

Which one of them wouldn’t want to be the “sacred martyr” who brought down the great Satan be detonating a nuclear weapon on the streets of an American city? Surely they’d have a favored seat right between Allah and Mohammad.
Bulldog - September 27, 2007

A fine entry, buddy. One fine, fine entry. Job well done. Keep up the good work.
Prof. Windbag - September 27, 2007

And the stampede to war with Iran continues. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and oppresses his people, and he wants nukes, therefore he equals Hitler, oh noes!


So let’s invade Iran! They will welcome us as liberators! Democracy will flourish in the Middle East!

Hey, where have I heard all of this before?

It amazes me, by the way, that some of the national commentators who are suddenly so concerned over Iran’s persecution of gays are the same ones who would deny civil-rights protections to gays, and who have rallied Christian conservatives to the polls with gay-bashing.

But there will be no more regurgitation of Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin’s talking points.

We’re done. This entry is now closed.

If don’t like that, you can complain to Almanac Ombudsman Helen Waite.
Webmaster - September 28, 2007

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