History and Khrushchev's Shoe
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You might wonder what Khrushchev's shoe could possibly have to do with The Grant County Gazette?
The answer is that The Gazette frequently takes on historical topics and the story of Khruschev's shoe is an excellent example of why history is so hard.
For those of you who don't know, on Oct 12 1960 during a session of the United Nations, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, took exception to some remarks by the Philippines' delegate and made his displeasure known by, among other things, banging on his desk with a shoe.
Now the interesting thing here is how the record of something so simple can become so obfuscated. On Google the first result is an obviously faked picture of Khrushchev waving a shoe. Next is a tendentious wikipedia article which even pretends that the date is in doubt. Next comes an mostly accurate article followed by an accurate youtube clip accompanied by the fake photo. Next is a polifact.com article with a mysterious 3rd shoe. Next is Time.com with facts mostly right but the fake photo again. Next is an editorial in the New York Times by an Amherst history professor who claimed 'It may never have happened.' Then the BBC site gets it right, history.com ditto and finally someone at Northern Virginia Community College asks 'But did the shoe waving and banging event really ever happen?'
Time for a little epistemology here. The New York Times archive for the Oct 13 1960 edition on column 7 of the front page above the fold 'Khrushchev bangs shoe on desk.' The continuation of the story inside carries a picture of Khruschev sitting at his desk with a shoe in front of him. We could go on with other newspapers but why bother?
Why does something so simple become so complicated? Some of it is embarrassment. We've all done things that we regret the next day and the most common way of dealing with embarrassing events is to pretend they never happened. In this country some people claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. In Europe some maintain that the Holocaust never happened. In Japan many claim that Japan in the 1930's was only trying to help the rest of Asia modernize.
Also, stating the obvious gets no publicity. A straight biography of Queen Victoria would join the huge number already published and get little notice. One that said that the Queen was actually a man and the royal family came from caesareans performed by Jack the Ripper is assured of notoriety at least.
And time is the great destroyer. In the blanks we can write whatever we wish. In the 1872 Grant County brand book lists the town of Izee as 3rd place for number of ranches. This is a picture of Izee in 2015. Where was the church? How big was the saloon? Say whatever you like, the town council will not object and whatever evidence there was has been scattered far and wide.
Returning to Khrushchev's shoe, I'd really like to know where the fake picture came from. That could be difficult since the net is timeless so there is no simple way to find where something first appeared. The only attribution I have found is to Time magazine and the picture does appear on Time's website but it is possible that the author just grabbed it off the web like everyone else did. Laziness, fraud or politicized disinformation? It could be any of them. But we will have to leave that as an exercise for the student.
Calculated falsehoods can make accurate history harder but usually one can detect mendacious intent and allow for it. It is the human impulse to prefer exciting stories to dull truths that forces a historian to check and re-check everything and to rely as much as possible only on contemporary written records. For the rest, people forget, they exaggerate and omit and fill in the blanks with wonderful stories. As Charles Kettering said 'It ain\'t them things you don\'t know what gets you into trouble, it\'s them things you know for sure what ain\'t so.'