- Historic Sites
Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
March 30—Washington . I had breakfast with the President at 8:30 A.M. He was a little late and raced through orange juice, two or three eggs, bacon, and coffeecake. When I stopped eating, he quickly finished up my share. We talked about India, and he signed a letter to Nehru. With great amusement, he also suggested a letter to our ten-year-old son, Peter, proposing that he investigate the animal life of India and consider himself a member of the junior Peace Corps. (Peter has been reluctant and unhappy about committing himself to diplomacy.) He stopped a spooky operation of which I disapproved with a phone call—it was an unnecessary risk in the middle of the Laos negotiations (but at the behest of the Cold War bureaucracy it was later reinstituted) and asked me how I had liked an article about me in the morning’s New York Times . It described my election memos as “sharp, funny and mean.” I said I objected to the Times describing me as arrogant. He said, “I don’t see why. Everybody else does.”
I worry about a serious residue of brinksmanlike adventuring in the administration. This was the Bay of Pigs invasion, as it later came to be known, and which I had come to hear about more or less illegally during the previous day or two. The same people who abetted Dulles and discredited the peaceful image of the United States are still about. Very late this afternoon, I talked with Bowles about it. He agrees but is uncertain if he can control it. I am uncertain too; he is insufficiently nasty.
April 9—New Delhi . Last night we arrived and not, I am happy to say, without fanfare. I should have preferred arriving, as did the viceroys, from the sea at the gateway of India in Bombay, and a triumphal train passage to New Delhi, but one must make do with the twentieth century. I had prepared a statement for use on arrival—mimeographed, with a version on tape for the All-India Radio—and foresaw the likelihood of using this eloquence on a welcoming party of ticket agents and mendicants [especially because the airplane was early]. But I had the happy idea of asking Air-India to radio ahead, and meantime the embassy had been advised. So we pulled up to the ramp to a very decent house. (We learned later that the members of the mission had been rounded up from golf courses, siestas, family outings, and other recreations in response to the crisis caused by our earliness.)
Flying into India: Galbraith would have preferred a triumphal ship and train, like the viceroys, “but one must make do with the twentieth century.”
As we emerged on the gangplank, we were garlanded with (literally) several pounds of flowers and met by a legion of photographers. Under the care of the Indian Chief of Protocol, Mr. S. K. Banerji, and Messrs. C. Tyler Wood and Edward Maffitt, the Economic and Political ministers of the embassy respectively, we were guided to the edge of the field and to more photographers and to be introduced to the members of the “country team.” The heads of all Washington agencies—State, U.S.I.S. (U.S. Information Service), A.I.D., Army, Navy, Air Force—represented in the country. I made little use of it—most problems concerned only of the members and to defer to the body as a whole involved an obvious surrendering of authority. They seemed surprisingly glad to see me. Because of my briefing, plus a little extra work, I was able to greet each with some amiable reference to his background and experience.
Then we had more garlands from the Indo-American Friendship Society, the Cambridge Students and Old-Boys Association, and numerous other bodies to the extent of, perhaps, another twenty pounds. Finally, after much waving and salutation, we were escorted to our automobiles, and I with Banerji and Maffitt, and Kitty [Mrs. Galbraith] with Ty Wood and Margaret Jones (the wife of the senior embassy staff member) were brought to the Residence. The latter has a large brass plate on the gate which reads “John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador of the United States.” This made a favorable impression on me.
April 11—New Delhi . Yesterday was my first as an A. E. & P. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and, needless to say, I began with a speech. It was on a lawn back of the staff quarters near the chancery and next to a slight rocky hump known locally as Bunker Hill. After Ellsworth Bunker Most of my audience consisted of Indian employees, who are known as locals. This term I must reform. I took the occasion to urge a few worthy beliefs—that civility and good manners are the essence of good behavior even when dealing with Communists, that everyone knows whom we are against but ought to be more clear about what we are for, and I quoted J. F. K.’s State of the Union paragraph on the public service as a “proud and lively” career. I was able to do this with exceptional unction, for I had written it.