Plain Tales From The Embassy

Cautionary notes: an ambassador-to-be should never find himself locked out of his room “utterly naked in the hall of a sizable hotel.”

I opened the door to see if the excessively slow elevator had departed. My door was recessed behind a corner of the wall, and I stepped out to peer around that. The door slammed shut behind me and locked. I was inelegantly and utterly naked in the hall of a sizable hotel. Only my friend was in sight; the elevator was still to come. I signalled and got her coat; she went down to the lobby. Then modestly clad in the coat and trying to look unconcerned, I rang for the elevator and asked for the porter to come with a passkey. He came and let me in. I quickly dressed and sauntered down to the lobby with the coat. She put it on, and we went for a stroll around the block. By then, it seemed amusing. Before, it was terrifying. To maintain one’s dignity and aplomb without clothes in an empty hall lined with doors that could open at any moment is a test which all putative ambassadors should be required to pass.

December 24—Cambridge . Yesterday I went to Palm Beach. … The Kennedy house, a long, white, vaguely Spanish and not unhandsome structure designed by Mizner, fronts directly on the ocean. One enters from the street. After being duly checked by the Secret Service, I found the President-elect with Mr. Joseph P. Kennedy and J. F. K. in the living room. We had a drink together and then Jackie disappeared. We were joined by Bob and Ethel for a family dinner. Thereafter I talked again with J. F. K.

We refought the election—J. F. K. is not persuaded that being a Catholic was an advantage. Nixon was less alert, less effective than he had expected. And he was also less willing to take risks; thus he sat out the jailing of Martin Luther King while J. F. K. called Mrs. King to express sympathy and Bob called the judge. Incidentally, the brothers acted individually; neither knew what the other was doing. J. F. K.: “The finest strategies are usually the result of accidents.” Bob shares my view that Henry Cabot Lodge’s goof—the offer of a cabinet position to a Negro in Harlem, its withdrawal the next day in Virginia—was one of the classic errors of politics. If one is wrong on some vital questions of foreign policy, the opposition must still explain why it is an error. But no citizen is so benighted that he could not see that this was stupid. And it was equally damaging in both the North and the South, which takes skill.…

On India, he asked me if I were happy. I told him entirely so. He then proposed letting it stand for a while—certainly until after the inauguration—while I pitched in on more current matters. I told him … he could count on me for as long as I was needed.

J. F. K. is functioning as President-elect from a small library off the living room of the Palm Beach house—a chintz and bookish office about fifteen feet square. He was putting in his own long-distance calls and giving a credit card number. Once he looked for a letter from Harold Macmillan to show me; he was struck by its elegance, information, and style. It could not be found, and I suggested that after he became President, he might want to have a special filing cabinet for communications from other heads of state. He said the idea was constructive and hazarded the guess that Caroline had walked off with this one.…

He should also not get into fights with the new Secretary of State: I dictated a rather nasty retort … [but] was persuaded not to send it. ”

Eisenhower was pleasant at the time of J. F. K.’s visit early this month. There were no papers on his desk, and J. F. K. asked him what he did with them after he had read them. He was sorry he asked, for Ike seemed embarrassed.

January 9, 1961—Cambridge .… A fortnight ago, I dropped a pleasant note to Dean Rusk congratulating him on his appointment and saying, anent the rumors of my going to India, that perhaps a word might go to Ellsworth Bunker. My predeccesor as ambassador He has been a good and loyal servant; I had heard that Rusk wanted to keep him in the department; he might be told what was pending but that the rumors portended no immediate change. I got back a very stiffly worded letter from Rusk saying that he had asked the people around Kennedy to talk less about the ambassadorial posts, that only a President and not a President-elect could ask for the agrément of the government to which the ambassador would be accredited, and that none of this had any reflection on my abilities. I dictated a rather nasty retort, saying I did not need instruction on these matters, especially from one who had not shared perceptibly in the effort that elected Kennedy, and that I was not seeking the place. [Later] I was persuaded not to send it. Or rather I compromised on a less tart version.