- Historic Sites
Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
January 25—Washington . At noon, I went to a meeting on the State of the Union message in the White House. There is to be a State of the Union message and several subsequent ones covering the economy, the balance of payments, the budget, health, education, and the rest. I am drafting parts of the Union message and one or two of the subsequent ones, including that on the payments balance. Once such responsibility would have worried me. Now I realize that I can do it better than anyone else who is available. Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.
After the meeting, Mac Bundy told me “The Boss” (a new term) had been asking for me. I went into Ken O’Donnell’s office, and presently the President came through, grabbed me by the arm, and we had an hour-and-a-half chat which included a tour of the upstairs of the White House. We saw where Ike’s golf shoes had poked innumerable holes in his office floor. When we left the office in the West Wing for the house proper, we went headlong into a closet. The President turned over furniture to see where it was made, dismissed some as Sears Roebuck, and expressed shock that so little—the Lincoln bed apart—consisted of good pieces. Only expensive reproductions. The effect is indeed undistinguished, although today the house was flooded with sunlight and quite filled with flowers.
We chatted about the best and fastest remedy for recession—stronger unemployment compensation is by far the fastest; what you should read to stay abreast on agriculture?—I do not know; the inaugural address—he liked my lines and thought I should be pleased; the State Department—Dean Rusk is going to be too busy and Chet Bowles too preoccupied with the revolution of rising expectations and four or five other revolutions; my ambassadorship—it is set …
“In-jea, ” said the Duke of Windsor. “A most interesting country. ” Its inhabitants, he added, have been most uncommonly decent to my niece.”
February 10—Washington . … I used part of the day for preparation for India. I had a pleasant and moderately informative meeting with the department hierarchy—Assistant Secretary for Middle Eastern Affairs (which included India) and desk and economic officers. The burden of advice: discretion. Silence is advised for the first six months, to be followed by a policy of silence. However, it is considered important that I undertake a strenuous program of speeches to acquaint the Indians with American policies and aspirations. I should avoid advice on Indian economic policy or any commitment on economic aid. Also, a waiting policy on Kashmir. This does not sound too strenuous.
March 1—New York . Last night Life magazine was celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Harry Luce asked me to attend the festivities; in the interest of my press relations—we have been feuding in public for years, and it won’t be so easy to respond from New Delhi—I did so. First, there was an incredibly awful television show for which the guests were the live audience. A sequence of banal observations on the last twenty-five years was played out on the stage behind a thick covering screen of cameras and of technicians and workmen, all of whom were taking an exceptionally languid approach to a career in featherbedding. For totally inexplicable reasons, one embarrassing sequence on how a family lived twenty-five years ago was done twice—once live and once on television tape. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife left abruptly at this point. I was too craven to do likewise.
The television treat being over, cars took us to the T-L Building, and this was more fun. I shared Harry Luce’s table with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Perle Mesta, Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., and the John D. Rockefellers m. The Duke is small, pleasant, rather red-faced but not necessarily unhealthy in appearance. The Duchess is showing some signs of wear. “I hear you are going to In-jea,” said the Duke. I affirmed the possibility. “A most interesting country,” he said. “I had a very good time there in my early youth. You must do the pig-sticking in Rajasthan.”
I tried to look like a man who could take pig-sticking or leave it alone and murmured that I had heard very good things about the pastime in those parts.
“Oh, it’s excellent,” he said. “And you will find the people most agreeable in their own way. They have been most uncommonly decent to my niece.”
March 6—Washington . This morning we had a long cabinet-level meeting on foreign aid. The present aid organization is diffuse, bureaucratic, too heavily preoccupied with individual projects—dams and docks —and too little concerned with what in some countries are the fundamental things—education and better public administration. It was a good meeting on the whole; Bowles and Walt Rostow greatly emphasized the need for more money. [Douglas] Dillon seemed worried about lending it at unnaturally low rates of interest—”fiscally unsound.” He is a liberal-minded man with a lingering commitment to the minor clichés of banking. Banking may well be a career from which no man really recovers.