January 2, 1959: Fidel Castro and his rebel forces, having overthrown Batista’s corrupt but US friendly regime, take control of Cuba.
July 1959: Vice President Richard Nixon flies into Moscow and spends the night at Premier Khruschev’s dacha. The next day they engage in their impromptu “kitchen debate” at the US National Exhibition in Moscow.
September 1959: A major Cold War thaw is indicated by the debut of the animated television series Rocky and His Friends, an ABC afternoon broadcast which brings the first broad lampoons of Soviet spies — Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale — to the youth of America.
September 14, 1959: The Russians successfully hit the Sea of Tranquillity on the moon with an 858 pound missile.
September 15, 1959: Khrushchev visits Eisenhower in Washington, and, in a puckish mood, tells CIA Director Allen Dulles, “I believe we get the same reports — probably from the same people.” Dulles is not amused. The premier then proceeds to Los Angeles where he visits Hollywood. His visit to Disneyland, though, is cancelled because of security concerns. San Francisco, Des Moines (where Khrushchev eats his first hotdog), and the presidential retreat at Camp David complete the premier’s tour. It all seems to signal a thaw in the Cold War.
Your timeline of events from 1959 was both informative and clear. I particularly enjoyed the clip from “Rocky and His Friends,” an excellent example of American propaganda against the Soviets. By targeting the American youth, ABC broadcasting seemed intent on setting a negative tone for the American-Soviet relationship in generations to come. Even though you refer to this period as a “Cold War thaw,” tensions still seem to run high. Ultimately, “Rocky and His Friends” represents a perfect example of “structuralism,” in this historical narrative. Structuralism is a term we have discussed often in my history class, and it refers to objects of the past that have an influence on the course of history. Documents like the Declaration of Independence or treaties between nations are also examples of structuralism. Most propaganda, by definition, tends to have some influence on society and thus, also has some influence on the course of history. This “Rocky and His Friends” American TV clip, for example, likely helped in persuading American children to be weary of Russians who could be potential spies.
In addition to the anti-Soviet TV propaganda, when Krushchev visits the United States he finds he has been banned from Disneyland because of security concerns; these are both signs that not all has been forgiven between the two nations. At the same time, however, Krushchev has at least started speaking to the U.S. leader, President Eisenhower, which shows there may be hope for future negotiations. Krushchev proves to be a much more open, communicative Soviet leader than Stalin; few, if any, discussions took place between the Western capitalist countries and the Soviet Union from the end of World War II to Stalin’s death in 1953, but with the rise of a more liberal Soviet leader, the possibility of compromise and agreement between the east and west, proves more likely. In addition to “structuralism,” “agency” is another term we have been studying in my history class and, closely related to structuralism, it refers to people that influence events in history. Krushchev is an example of an agent who began improving the Soviet-American relationship and started to influence events during the Cold War for the better.
Finally, in my history course, we also looked into developing alternate periodizations of the Cold War. Some of my classmates suggested that the Cold War existed only from the end of World War II, when the world was faced with the “German question,” (i.e. how to divide Germany and its territories?!) to the death of Stalin in 1953. Stalin was certainly one of the more controlling and authoritative rulers of the Soviet Union communist regime. In fact, Krushchev began a policy of “de-Stalinization” when he became leader, and strove to liberalize many of Stalin’s restrictive policies. Although I can understand this particular student’s point of view, now reading through your timeline, I have noticed that in the years after Stalin’s death, there was only a period of civil interaction before situations became very hostile once again. The most notable of these situations, in October of 1962, was the Cuban Missile Crisis, at which point the United States and the Soviet Union were on the verge of nuclear war. 1959, though tame in comparison to other years of the Cold War, was certainly a part of the Cold War in my opinion.
Overall, your timeline was very helpful in conjunction with my own study of the Cold War. My only question is why did you decide to create a timeline for the year 1959 in particular? Do you have timelines from other years during the Cold War?
Lisa Reynolds Wolfe says
Thanks much for your comment Hannah. Spying Year by Year is a series. starting with 1945. At some point, I’ll get my act together and set up a page with all the links so that the posts are easy to find. Meanwhile, you can Google Cold War Spying Year by Year: 19__ __.