Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and United States Vice President Richard Nixon's impromptu debate in a model American kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, July 1959.
Thomas J. O'Halloran / Library of Congress

When, in the year 1917, Russian society was overtaken by the most tremendous and far-reaching upheaval it had ever known, American opinion-makers were poorly prepared to understand either the meaning or the implications of this event.

This was partly because there was little understanding in the United States of that day for Russian history or for the nature of the political society in which these events were taking place. Russian studies had been developed in North America only on the tiniest and most rudimentary of scales. Knowledge of Russia rested on the tales of the occasional traveler or on the reports of press correspondents, very few of whom were qualified to see deeply into the great political and social stirrings that tormented the life of Russia in those final decades of Tsardom. The traditional antipathy of Americans for the Tsarist autocracy was understandable enough; but it was seldom balanced by any

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  • George F. Kennan is Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He was U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1952, and to Yugoslavia, 1961-63, and is the author of Soviet-American Relations, 1917-20 (2 Vols.); Memoirs (2 Vols.) and other works.
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