July 23, 2024


The 1960s was a decade of tension during the Cold War. What were the two leaders, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev – who were constantly knocking heads – thinking during these tumultuous years?
This was the heavy topic of discussion on Nov. 7 at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation, where approximately 250 people gathered to listen to Sergei Khrushchev, James Blight and janet Lang (who spells her name with a lower-case j) travel back in time.
The event, called Six More Years: What They Might Have Accomplished, featured Khrushchev and Blight elaborating on the emotional and practical reactions of both the American and Soviet leaders, with Lang as their moderator.
Lang, who is a research professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), and Blight, the chair of foreign policy development also at the BSIA, have been good friends with Khrushchev for quite a few decades.
Khrushchev, who is most famously known as the son of Nikita Khrushchev, the man who led the Soviet Union through the most tense events of the Cold War, relived his memories of his father, while Blight did so for Kennedy.
Khrushchev said his father was happy when Kennedy was elected president, because it would give the two countries a chance to patch things up.
“My father told President Kennedy, ‘I was on your side during the elections,’ because he didn’t like Nixon … he wanted to resolve problems over Berlin, and he wanted to improve these relations,” Khrushchev said.
“He looked at Kennedy as the President of the United States – our adversary … but I do not support that he thought President Kennedy was weak.”
Blight, on the other hand, argued that Kennedy’s first year as president, 1961, was a complete humiliation, especially at the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Blight said the president did not understand “how a bunch of guys with beards and green outfits on this pipsqueak island defeated the Americans.”
More or less, it was a reality check – or maybe a paranoia trigger.
“In 1961, nuclear weapons are presumed by many people to be like weapons. Kennedy saw them as just pieces of a Doomsday machine,” Blight said.
The debate covered many topics, including both leaders’ views on major developments, such as the building of the Berlin Wall, and most importantly for Khrushchev, Kennedy’s assassination. Audience members and those watching the live stream were allowed to ask questions during the last minutes of the lecture.
Most interestingly, a question was asked from an audience member that has been a longstanding question for years: is the Cold War considered a war?
“Millions of people died in violent conflict during the Cold War. They didn’t happen usually to be Americans or Russians, but all over the world the war was fought by proxy states, and there’s no reason to be nostalgic about it whatsoever – it was war,” Blight said.