(They were just as suspicious of us)
For all the saber rattling and threats and accusations during the Cold War period, there were times, especially in the late 1950s, where signs of thaw in relations were starting to become noticed.
One was the great cultural exchange that went on between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. We got the Bolshoi Ballet and they got Louis Armstrong. Our pianist (Van Cliburn) won the prestigious Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Soviet cinema was being seen on a regular basis in art house movie theaters around the country.
And so the barriers started to come down, a little bit - but not for long. In December of 1957, CBS Radio, in what was hailed as a milestone, not only in broadcasting, but in East-West communications, hosted a program from their Radio Beat series. The program dealt with Education and the perceptions both the Russians and the Americans had towards each other.
Dwight Cook (CBS News): “We believe in the broadcast that you’re about to hear, that one of the rare firsts of this year, is coming about. Because for the first time, as far as we know, in the history of radio you’re going to hear an actual, unrehearsed discussion between a group of educators sitting in a studio in Moscow Russia and another group of educators sitting around a table with me here in CBS New York. Our discussion is going to be on the purpose of Education.”
All very polite and non-confrontational - no dissidents commandeering the microphone shouting about Gulags. Three leading educators from the U.S. sitting around asking questions of three leading educators from the Soviet Union - and vice versa. What it did was establish the idea that neither of the two super powers really knew anything about each other.
It was short lived however. When the U2 Spyplane scandal surfaced in 1960, what little thaw there had been froze solid and stayed that way for a very long time before resuming.
But in the late 1950s there was that window of opportunity.