PolitiFact - The curious case of the Khrushchev shoe

PolitiFact - The curious case of the Khrushchev shoe

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The curious case of the Khrushchev shoe

Adults of a certain age -- those who lived through the Cold War, specifically the era in which the Soviet Union was ruled by Nikita Khrushchev -- will remember hearing how the volatile leader demanded attention during a session of the United Nations by taking off a shoe and banging it on his desk.

The History Channel website refers to it as "one of the most surreal moments in the history of the Cold War."

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In a Dec. 26 commentary in The Providence Journal, Arthur Cyr, a professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., offered an intriguing detail about the incident. While discussing Cuba and President Obama's effort to reestablish ties with the country, Cyr mentioned the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Cuban leader "Fidel Castro highlighted alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a raucous 1960 visit to the United Nations. The New York session was punctuated by the Soviet leader publicly pounding a shoe on a desk (while wearing two shoes)," Cyr wrote.

The shoe Khrushchev famously pounded on the table at the U.N. was a spare?

That struck us as a surprising historical footnote -- so surprising we wondered why we hadn't heard about this third shoe before. Why bring a special shoe to a debate when you're wearing two that would easily serve as makeshift gavels?

Intrigued, we sought details.

We thought we might find some information at Wikipedia. Sure enough, there's a whole page devoted to the "shoe-banging incident."

But it makes no mention of a third shoe. More surprisingly, it turns out that there's good reason to question whether Khrushchev ever banged his shoe at all.

First, we emailed Cyr, asking for the source for his twist on the story.

He said it came from "The Soviet Union 1917-1991" by Martin McCauley, a senior lecturer at the University of London. Cyr quoted page 273 of the book: "It was all premeditated. Careful examination of the shoe-bashing incident reveals he was wearing two shoes at the time."

We wrote back to Cyr, asking if McCauley cited any source that might indicate what type of "careful examination" was done, especially when there are questions about whether the shoe bashing occurred at all.

Cyr never responded. So we bought the book.

McCauley, who has 41 footnotes for that chapter alone, lists no source for the factoid. Nor does he offer any specifics about the "careful examination."

So we emailed him. "My source for the Khrushchev shoe banging episode was a Russian," he responded. "Unfortunately it is too long ago to remember who gave me the information."

Thus, there's no hard evidence a third shoe was used in an attempt to clog the debate, as it were.

And we noticed something else. In his book, McCauley reports that Khrushchev "shouted, laughed and interrupted speakers and even banged his shoe on his desk during Harold Macmillan's speech." Macmillan was the British prime minister at the time.

That's interesting because, according to U.N. records, Macmillan didn't address the General Assembly on the day of the alleged footwear incident, and the New York Times, which reported the story on the front page of its Oct. 13 edition, gave a very different account.

On Oct. 12, the Times says, "Mr. Khrushchev was apparently infuriated by a statement by Lorenzo Sumulong, a member of the Philippine delegation. . . . Mr. Khrushchev thereupon pulled off his right shoe, stood up and brandished the shoe at the Philippine delegate on the other side of the hall. He then banged the shoe on his desk."

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