In October 1961, Nikita Khrushchev described Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) as “the devil in a disguise of a woman [that] has decided to beat all records of savagery.” Khrushchev’s wife also weighed in stating, “Threats are made to destroy our homes, to kill our husbands, to take the lives of our children … just one American name – Margaret Smith.”
Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) was the first woman in American history to be elected in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the first woman seriously considered as a vice president, the first woman of a major political party to run for president of the United States, and the only woman to serve a long term on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Smith did not shrink from the bluster of Khrushchev or anyone else. Many Americans loved this politician who made tough decisions, especially her position against the revolutionary socialism of Russian leaders.
One gutsy experience was her visit to Eastern Europe and Russia in the mid-1950s. She found Czechoslovakia extremely depressive with Prague described as a city “whose soul had been killed, whose heart had been torn out.” The Czechoslovakian people “walked as though they have nothing to live for – almost as mechanical as the so-called zombies we see in the horror movies.”
While in Berlin, Smith encountered trouble when she and her entourage crossed into the communist sector and window shopped at a government-operated store with a CBS camera running. After receiving terse warnings from pedestrians that filming was unlawful, they quickly left the area in a fast car while the police tried to stop them. Unknown to them, the police had arrested and held for an hour the other half of their group.
Following this episode was her visit to Moscow, the first for a United States senator in 18 years. There her interview of Foreign Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov degenerated into a heated exchange on issues such as freedom of the press and the existence of opposition parties of which the Soviets had neither. Molotov avoided a direct response when she pressed him that the United States permitted the existence of the Communist Party of the United States of America.
After a week in the Soviet Union, she flew to Helsinki where she issued a public statement stating her distrust of communist leaders who “talk one way, act another.” In her eyes, communism remained an ominous threat. Other American press reports stated that she saw the possibility of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union breaking off. Suggesting the sinister character of communist leadership, one report recorded Smith’s surprise that Prime Minister Georgy Malenkov “was not liquidated as [Deputy Prime Minister Lavrenty] Beria had been.” Victim of a communist power struggle, Beria’s execution came less than five months after Stalin’s death in 1953.
Known for his bluster, Khrushchev bluffed about the Russians’ nuclear strength which in turn spurred Cold Warriors like Smith to fight even harder for a preponderance of nuclear power. She continued to be vocal with her hard-line stand against international communism and support for American nuclear strength. She gave speeches solely on the “world-wide threat of the Red China-Russia Bloc,” the “terrorism” of communism, the desire of communist regimes to destroy the United States, and the need for people to make the necessary individual sacrifices to preserve “our American way of life.” She also gave two major speeches in the Senate on September 21, 1961 and September 21, 1962, both addressing what she believed was the contrast of President John F. Kennedy’s bold words and weak actions.
Smith focused on answering “What has happened that permits Khrushchev to act as he does?” Drawing on political and military history, she found the answer uncomplicated. There was no support for “a thesis that it is safer to be weak than strong”; the Soviets were bold because America lost nuclear credibility when the Kennedy administration flirted with “the stupidity of limited deterrence,” thus communicating to Khrushchev that it lacked the will to use nuclear weapons.
In Moscow, Khrushchev declared: “Who can remain calm and indifferent to such provocative statements made in the United States Senate by this woman, blinded by savage hatred toward the community of socialist countries?” Whether or not he could care, his verbal attack gave Smith a sense of pride; she believed Khrushchev was angry because American officials had grown firmer on nuclear weapons since her speech. She also responded with delight to columnist James Reston’s assessment: “He [Kennedy] has talked like Churchill and acted like Chamberlain. This is why even so wise and moderate a woman as Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine rose in the Senate last week and, in a remarkable speech, asked whether we had lost our national will to risk everything for our beliefs.”
Khrushchev’s calling Smith a “devil” was his attempt to silence a strong woman. Smith regularly condemned Russian despotism and championed massive retaliation so much so that throughout the sixties few politicians fought harder than she for American nuclear superiority. Her speech that opposed “restrictions on the use of tactical nuclear weapons” angered President John F. Kennedy as did her vote against the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
But Smith’s tough foreign policy did not hurt her at the polls. She was senator for 24 years. Apparently, there were many Americans who admired a politician with a spine. Yes, there was much to applaud about this bossy Republican senator.
Source: An American Stand.