MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair by Michael R. Beschloss
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MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair

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A work of history destined to become the definitive book on the U-2 incident, which brought down, along with the spy plane, the hopes of the world for a summit of peace in the spring of 1960. The first week of May, 1960, might well be pegged as the time that American innocence died. The American people had been stunned to learn that in the wake of the initial downing of the spy plane over the USSR, their president was capable of lying to the world in his insistence that this was merely a strayed weather plane. Only when Khrushchev, playing a wily game of drawing Eisenhower out bit by bit, finally announced eight days later that not only was the plane shot down but that its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was in captivity, was Eisenhower forced to admit the truth. Beschloss (Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance, 1980) tells this story of high intrigue and double-dealing with the literary pacing of ale Carte' thriller; he inserts cameo biographies of many of the principal figures of both governments and their allies that show a keen eye for the flaws which aggravated the problem. There is no prejudice evident here. Beschloss at times appears enamored of Eisenhower and Khrushchev; yet at other times, he seems repulsed both by Eisenhower's sporadic indecision and Khrushchev's boorishness. The result is a mix of knowledge and dispassion--a cheery blend for a historian and, even more, for his readers. There are still some unanswered questions--and with most of the participants (even Powers, who died in 1977 in a helicopter crash) now deceased, they will probably remain. Did someone at the CIA deliberately place the U-2 in jeopardy to sabotage Eisenhower's Summit? Was Khrushchev's bluster a result of internal pressures from the Presidium? (Many feel that even though the crisis was an immediate propaganda triumph for Moscow, it was the beginning of Khrushchev's difficulties with his own hard-liners, which resulted in his ouster four years later.) A genuine page-turner with important lessons for major governments in an age of instant crises.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row