Is this actually a Geezer reference? [OT]

I was listening to a podcast (Freakonomics, if anybody’s curious) about the Cold War; and when somebody mentioned Khrushchev the host cut in, for the audience’s benefit, with “That’s Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.”

Does anybody, particularly somebody listening to a podcast about the Cold War, need to have Khrushchev identified? Is it all that far out of the collective consciousness?


  1. It probably wasn’t necessary for most listeners, but it wasn’t unreasonable. Just because someone is listening to a podcast on the Cold War doesn’t mean they know a lot about it – they may just be learning about it from the podcast.

  2. Khrushchev lost power in 1964, died in 1971. Someone born the day he left office will be 55 next month,
    and their 15-year-old grand-kids probably don’t know who he is, but I wish they would get off my lawn.

  3. If he’s listed in a high-school history textbook, he’s probably a geezer reference.

    Krushchev was in my high-school history textbook.

  4. The one that I twitched at was when a New York Times article felt the need to explain what World War Two was, in case the reader had never heard of it.

  5. WWII was a long time ago; my grandfather fought in it, and I’m almost old enough to be a grandparent myself. Yeah, there’s people who might be unclear on it.

  6. I think it is prudent to include it. There is benefit to people who are learning the history and it has no significant negative effect except maybe making us feel old.

  7. The Times needed to give it a name modern audiences can relate to, like WORLD WAR 2: THE RETURN OF THE GERMANS

  8. Well, it depends on the assumed knowledge level of the intended audience.

    If it’s a podcast of *any* depth (and what I gather from Bill is he’d find a podcast with no depth too banal to bother with) then, yes, it should be assumed. But if it’s an introductory podcast with an assumed audience with no guarantee of more than a basic college freshman level of anything then, no, it shouldn’t be presumed.

    >Khrushchev lost power in 1964, died in 1971. Someone born the day he left office will be 55 next month,


    > it has no significant negative effect except maybe making us feel old.

    I’m no spring chicken and I have absolutely *zero* memory or first hand knowledge of him. I completely learned about him at one time very academically and as a historical figure of the recent past. But learning so was very early on and I wouldn’t expect I’d need to explain to anyone who he was any more than I’d have to explain what the Copernican Theory or the Periodic Table is. (Then again it always surprises me when I have to explain to people what a prime number is.)

    ….. Actually, yeah, I don’t we should assume anyone knows anything about the cold war. The average novice may know the Cold War existed but not know *anything* more about it.

  9. Actually, woozy, I don’t consider Freakonomics to have much depth: their game is to throw around statistics and tell their audience what they “prove,” so I consider them the equivalent of a three-card monte huckster. I was only listening to this particular segment because I was curious what they’d be saying about a particular topic.

    That said… you might not remember much about Khrushchev but you do know he’s due at Idlewild, right?

  10. Khrushchev lost power in 1964

    I half remember that this took place while there were cosmonauts in orbit, and the news outlets here made much of that for some reason. Also they noted that Brezhnev took over just one of the main roles/offices that K had filled, and somebody else the other (something like Party chair and Premier) , as though this was going to be a two-person leadership and a reform of sorts. I can’t even remember the other guy now.

  11. Bill, you’re in agreement with something I saw recently: ‘Freakonomics: otherwise known as “How to ‘prove’ anything you want by manipulating statistics.” I think of them as the NPR version of clickbait.’

  12. If the podcast said “Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War” with an emphasis on “THE” leader, then they were being a bit economical with the truth. Khrushchev was leader for 11 out of the 40-45 years of the Cold War and they were forgetting about Stalin before and Brezhnev after him. More understandably they are ignoring the aged Andropov and Chernenko after Brezhnev, and Gorbachev too, though in his time it all grew less chilly.

    Despite seeing the movie The Death of Stalin in 2017 where he was played by Jeffrey Tambor (it’s not a documentary) I had forgotten about Malenkov, who technically lasted about 6 months between Stalin and Khrushchev (give or take a governing troika). I had also forgotten the name of Yanayev, who apparently had two days formally in charge after Gorbachev before the USSR dissolved, though I remembered his/the attempted coup at the time that deposed Gorbachev, which led to Boris Yeltsin memorably standing on tanks and causing the coup attempt to fail.

    Of the nine leaders of the USSR from 1922 to 1991, most died in office, with Khrushchev (7 years of retirement) and Malenkov (34 years) surviving their terms and Gorbachev (still alive) and Yanayev (by 20 years) surviving the USSR itself.

    Odd, come to think of it, that Malenkov, who succeeded Stalin in 1953, also nearly survived the USSR (falling four years short) and was still alive when Gorbachev came to power.

  13. I had the same thought about narmitaj regarding referring to Khrushchev as “the ” leader during the Cold War. Of course, he was the leader during two of the incidents that came closest to tipping over into a hot war (building the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile crisis). Still, I think of Brezhnev as more significant, but maybe that’s because I’m only old enough to remember the post-Khrushchev years.

  14. I for one don’t mind the quick “verbal footnotes” on a wide range of characters, even the ones I know. It can make the programs more inclusive, i.e. it’s not a run down memory lane for insiders. If NPR did it right, every episode of a kind-of-history-type-thing would then announce “for more in-depth background, see the links on our website”. I may not want more information on every personality discussed, but it would be kind of them to offer it!

  15. Yeah, this seems common on radio programs when a guest introduces a new “character” without preamble, even if the character is or should be well known. It doesn’t hurt to make sure listeners are all on the same page, and it gives the listener a chance to pause and incorporate the newly introduced personage into their mental map of the discussion.

  16. My most distinct memory of The Cold War is ‘duck and cover’. And K pounding his shoe on the desk – United Nations, if I remember correctly – shouting, ‘We will bury you!’ (Well, it’s taken quite a few years and several more heads of state of both countries, but it looks as if . . . oh, never mind. That’s political.)

  17. I think it is generally thought these days that “we will bury you” was not a specific nuclear-type threat to kill everyone in the West if the Cold War turned hot, but more for Khrushchev that our system will outlive yours and and we will be present at your funeral – as in the natural order of things, children bury their parents.

    Or that the West’s working classes will bury its exploiters: “August 24, 1963, Khrushchev remarked in his speech in Yugoslavia, “I once said, ‘We will bury you,’ and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you,” a reference to the Marxist saying, “The proletariat is the undertaker of capitalism”, based on the concluding statement in Chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable”. In his memoirs, Khrushchev stated that “enemy propaganda picked up the slogan and blew it all out of proportion”.

  18. @ Andréa – The “bury you” quote had nothing to do with the shoe banging, and the descriptions of the latter incident depend strongly upon whose report it is based. Despite all of that, Khrushchev still deserves credit for removing Stalin’s post mortem influence.

  19. P.S. The article that narmitaj cited remarks that “…translator Mark Polizzotti suggested that the phrase [Мы вас похороним!] was mistranslated at the time and should properly have been translated as “We will outlast you,” which gives an entirely different sense…“.
    P.P.S. Google and Bing both provide the “traditional” translation, but they are partly crowd-sourced, and therefore not authoritative.

  20. A friend of mine had a related set of matryoshka dolls of the USSR leaders — but in the opposite order, with a tiny Lenin in the middle and I think it was Gorbachev outermost.

    BTW, when we had a tangent thread about plot devices resembling “Groundhog Day”, did I remember to recommend “Russian Doll” (a Netflix “original” this year, and currently in the running for some Emmys)? It’s very good!

  21. Kilby: The ‘bury/outlast you’ comment was made in 1956, when I was eight years old and had only bee in USA for two years, so my ‘memory’ of it is a perceived one. The shoe-banging incident was in 1960, so I obviously conflated the two in my mind.

  22. Kilby: Clearly Google and Bing Translate are far from authoritative (although I wouldn’t lay the blame at the fact that they’re partly crowd-sourced), but several online dictionaries also translate похороним as “bury.”

    So I don’t think it’s a question of literally what похороним means, so much as what the the connotations of that burying might be. In English you could use “bury” in a neutral, factual sense (“We went to bury Uncle Ted at the cemetery”), but since what you’re doing involves a dead body, it can also have aggressive connotations (“We will bury the competition with our marketing campaign,” or “We will bury our enemies alive.”) Krushchev may not have meant “we will kill you and bury you,” but I have trouble believing that in the context (Krushchev talking about the inevitable victory of the proletariat over the capitalists), похороним/burying doesn’t possess aggressive connotations. I’d suggest that Krushchev’s attempts to minimize its aggressive nature can’t be taken at face value.

  23. FWIW, I’m 41, I don’t really remember Cold War era being taught much, but I wasn’t that great a student. USA history typically ended after WWII, sometimes got through Korea briefly, some snippets of Vietnam. There’s typically a gap between “history” and “current events”

  24. I’m always puzzled when school reformers talk about history textbooks being too old and not including an event in the recent past that the reformer thinks is important. Heck, the books include 99% of history, the recent stuff can be handled with supplements, or even skipped if you run out of time. In fact, if it’s too recent there’s probably no historical consensus and should be left to some other class.

  25. @ WW – While he was clearly being aggressive, I think it was more of a “competitive” sense, rather than the “murderous” aspect with which it has usually been associated. The problem is that all of the linguistic nuance is stripped away when the words are delivered by a translator.
    This reminds of a cold war anecdote, in which a western delegation visits a factory in an “Iron Curtain” country, and is told that when managers don’t make their quotas, they will be shot (in German: “erschossen“). Later that evening, the translator shows up at their hotel to deliver a correction: the managers will not be “shot”, they will be “fired” (German: “gefeuert“). Ooops.

  26. “I also conflated the two. I wonder if this is a common conflation.”

    I lived through the period (though young enough not to have paid a lot of attention to international affairs), and remember/remembered them as two different occasions.

    What I remember more vividly about Krushchev (and his wife) was how shocked they were when they viewed an American movie depictng a can-can dance.

  27. Do others recall the weird moment, sometimes called “the kitchen debate” when K visited the US and took in some sort of exhibition (could it have been a World’s Fair?) in company with Nixon, who was then VP. It was something like the kitchen of a “typical modern American home” and Nixon credited the convenient appliances, and domestic wealth, to the system of capitalism.

  28. Kilby: Hard to know what the right nuance is. (And I suspect hard even if you know Russian, since even for the English “bury,” a lot would depend on context and delivery.) But corrections like “outlast you,” and “in the natural order of things, children bury their parents” seem overly generous. It may have been more “competitive” than “murderous,” but in the context of the Cold War, the proletariat-capitalist competition was often violent, not academic, and it’s hard to see how referring to that competition in conjunction with being at someone’s grave wouldn’t have at least some violent connotations, even if not exactly a physical threat.

  29. Re: Freakonomics. I’ve never listened to the podcast, but I wasn’t impressed by the book, despite the rave reviews. I was particuarly un-blown away with the chapter on “Why do drug dealers still live with their parents,” which basically concluded “Selling drugs on the street isn’t lucrative, like you might think from watching action movies.” Well, yeah.

  30. “Heck, the books include 99% of history, the recent stuff can be handled with supplements”

    I think you’d be extremely lucky if the books included even 1% of history — and that goes to the heart of the problem: we’re naturally more interested in stuff that happened recently, or at least somehow more directly relates to us, which is why (aside from the sheer unmanageable volume) history books only cover 1% if we’re very lucky — it’s the very small part that somehow relates to us that interests us. So at school I was always extremely frustrated that just when the history lesson was getting good (ie: just as it was approaching stuff that was within living (not mine) memory), the school year would end.

  31. Shadz said ” the recent stuff can be handled with supplements, or even skipped if you run out of time.”

    I agree in principle, and certainly there’s no reason to buy new books every year. However, when I was in high school (in the late 80’s), we really didn’t learn anything after WWII. Honestly, I still know very little about the Korean and Vietnam Wars, or much else that happened between about 1945 and 1985. I know bits and pieces about several important things that happened then, but not any real detail. I think that’s what those people Shadz was talking about are upset about. They don’t want kids to have that kind of 40+ year gap in their history education.

    So returning to the topic at hand, I know the name Khrushchev, and know he was a Soviet Leader, but that’s about all I really know about him. I’ve seen video of the shoe pounding, but I don’t think I knew it was him. I couldn’t have named any other leaders of Russia since Stalin besides him, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin. (And I had to look up Yeltsin because I’m terrible with names anyway.)

  32. Re: Freakonomics
    Like WW, I was not at all impressed by the books, which seemed more like an exercise in marketing than anything else. I have however been very impressed by the podcast, and the general credo of “show me the evidence”, which to my mind has always been lacking in the economics discipline. Yes, that involves a lot of numbers, and yes, you have to think critically when someone slings numbers at you, but it is still much, much better than a dearth of numbers. “Because Marx/Smith/Friedman said so” is almost totally worthless; “because these numbers seem to indicate” is at least a start in the right direction.

  33. Not sure I’m really adding anything new here, but just because “everyone” knows who he was today doesn’t mean they will 10, 20, 100 years from now, assuming the podcast lasts that long. I am often irritated by web pages that don’ t have dates and mention “yesterday”, or (the surprisingly common) newspaper, TV, or radio station website that makes it hard to figure out what city they’re in. (Not the same thing, but the same sort of “Everybody knows this” — no, they don’t.)

  34. @Phil Smith III: “I am often irritated by web pages that don’ t have dates and mention “yesterday”,”

    Or the low-tech versions of signs stapled to telephone poles etc. saying things like “Yard Sale today 10-4 at [address]” but do not define “today” — and which are still up on the pole when I drive by again a few weeks later.

  35. @Shrug: Yes! I’m often tempted to tear one off and go ring the doorbell, ask aggressively, “So where’s the yard sale?!” (But that would be wrong.)

  36. PSIII, but would it be wrong? If everyone did that, people might start taking down the signs from places they didn’t have permission to put them up on.

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