- Historic Sites
Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
“J. F. K. asked Arthur Schlesinger in strict confidence how I would like [the ambassadorship] … I did not learn about it for an hour or two.”
Although the events it describes are very recent, the document that follows seems to us the very stuff of which history is made. It is composed of excerpts from the diary kept by John Kenneth Galbraith during the Kennedy administration. A professor of economics at Harvard, an able speaker and writer, and a leading liberal with long experience in government, Professor Galbraith served Kennedy as a speech writer, adviser on economics, and Ambassador to India from 1961 until a few months before the assassination in Dallas. His six-foot-eight figure and ironic sense of humor were steady features of the New Frontier scene. While he was in India, the Ambassador frequently visited Washington and at other times wrote a series of thoughtful private letters to the President at Kennedy’s request. Some of these appear in part here.
In his introduction, the author points out that he made many of his diary entries while travelling, so that the heading for each entry does not necessarily indicate where the events mentioned took place. Professor Galbraith points out that he has altered his diary and letters for publication only in minor ways. Few secret matters were put to paper, so deletions for this reason were slight. He has left out a number of reflections on personalities, mostly in the case of Indian politicians like V. K. Krishna Menon, with whom he was on many occasions at odds. He has improved his language in some places on the grounds, as he puts it, that “no historical merit attaches to bad English,” a sentiment with which we agree. Whether or not one agrees with Professor Galbraith’s political and economic ideas, it is certain that he is one of the most gifted men in public life and that these outspoken memoirs are of great importance. They are taken from his forthcoming book Ambassador’s Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years , to be published shortly by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston.
“I had picked a good time to go to India,” he writes. “The Goa crisis, the Chinese attack, the problem of Kashmir, and the most determined attack so far on India’s backwardness all favored me. But I thought it would be most instructive of all to tell in a day-to-day fashion just what an ambassador does and does not do —how he runs his embassy, reaches or postpones decisions, persuades the government to which he is accredited, wishes he might persuade Washington, sees visiting potentates, suffers boredom, and has an occasional sense of achievement which runs as wine in his bloodstream.” —The Editors
December 11, 1960—Cambridge . For the last several days there have been agreeable rumors that I am to be the Ambassador to India. And slightly more than rumors. J. F. K. asked Arthur Schlesinger in strict confidence how I would like it. These queries do not forever remain a secret, though I did not learn about it for an hour or two. This post has been my prime aspiration, although in the last weeks I have been slightly diverted by the newspaper speculation of [my] going to the Senate.
This morning J. F. K. called and in characteristic rapid-fire fashion asked me my views on about a dozen candidates for various posts. The most interesting were Bundy for State and McNamara for Treasury. Then he told me he wanted me to go to India. I expressed my pleasure and then said I wanted to put a plain question to him: “Would that be more useful than the Senate with the prospect of bringing some decency back to Massachusetts Democratic politics?” He said Yes, “by a factor of five to one.” Freshman senators are not very useful; did I really want to spend my time with Massachusetts politicians whom he described amiably as “that gang of thieves?” I told him I would not raise the matter again.
December 8—Cambridge . Walter Lippmann called to congratulate me in a highly unofficial manner. He and J. F. K. had a long talk a day or so ago during which Kennedy told him that I was going to India. Walter had expressed approval.
December 14—Cambridge . The New York Times and Boston Herald have minor headlines on my prospective appointment. They are under a Washington dateline and seem to come from J. F. K. No one can complain that Kennedy’s staffing is conducted with unnecessary secrecy. The motto is public positions publicly arrived at.
Last night at a Department (of Economics) dinner there was vast curiosity about my prospect. But very restrained. It was a little like your daughter’s illegitimate child—much interest but a marked reluctance to come out and ask about it.
December 16—Cambridge . Last night, the weather being bad, I went to New York to be on hand for a meeting in Newark today. A friend came over to the Dorset and we chatted for an hour or so. When she left, I tossed off my shirt and trousers to have a shower —I was very tired—and noticed that she had left behind some filigree earrings I had brought her from Pakistan early last year and which I had only now remembered to bring to New York. There followed an accident which should not happen to an aspiring diplomat.
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.
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.
“A diplomatic or security briefing consists in approximately equal parts of what one already knows, couldn’t remember, or doesn’t entirely believe.”
Around six, I had a chat with the President. He needed the name of a man with a large reputation for wisdom for a Bolivian mission. I passed on the fears of the people in the Harvard planning project in Iran of a breakup of the government there. We seem to have no ambassador to speak of in Tehran. The President was bone-tired. He offered me a cup of tea and absent-mindedly filled the cup with milk and sugar. He referred to Dick Goodwin Assistant Special Counsel to President Kennedy as “Professor” Goodwin and corrected himself. During our chat, a cabinet officer called and talked at vast length. He put the receiver down once and signed a letter while the talk went on. “Bobby would just tell him to cut the crap. I’m more polite.” He claimed to be not so much tired as on the edge of a cold. He mused that with so many countries opting for a neutralist policy, maybe the United States should be neutral too! I suggested this would be an interesting maneuver but that the term was meaningless. Countries were, instead, Communist or non-Communist. But the notion that there was a distinction between military allies—many not valuable —and non-Communist neutrals was one of Mr. Dulles’ many contributions to confusion.
March 23—Washington . A diplomatic or security briefing consists in approximately equal parts of what one already knows, couldn’t remember, or doesn’t entirely believe. Such was the one by the C. I. A. this morning on China and Chinese-Russian relations. When the geography was being covered and we reached the Tien Shan mountains (which separate Sinkiang from the Central Asian republics of the U.S.S.R.), I pointed out as-matter-of-factly as possible that they were burned indelibly in my memory because, on their slopes, a dog once bit me on the leg adjacent to the left testicle. This put the briefer off balance, and he never recovered.…
March 24—Washington . The hearing on my nomination this morning was crowded with almost everyone but senators. Only Fulbright, Sparkman (of Alabama), Wiley (ranking Republican of Wisconsin), and Lausche (of Ohio) were present—and Hubert Humphrey for a moment. I was tired and in poor voice. I ran interference for the other candidates, and when I left, so did much of the press and crowd.
Fulbright began the questioning by asking—in a voice that implied that he did not have the slightest idea—whether I had had any previous government experience. Then we turned to India, its problems, and the relative prospects for industry and agriculture. Sparkman asked me if I were an “egghead socialist.” I said that the appellation did not sound excessively complimentary; however, I was for having the government do what needed doing.
Then … Senator Wiley asked me where I stood on the recognition of Red China and its admission to the U.N. The only acceptable answer was, Never, never, never. I laid down the modest rule that the Chinese should be recognized and come in when they conceded the independence of Formosa and accepted the Charter. My answer was a trifle wordy. Then I had to repeat it because the Senator’s hearing aid was not turned on—or I was too far from the microphone. He roared disapproval and I explained. Then Senator Lausche came in to ask me how long I had harbored these thoughts. I found it hard to estimate. Sparkman then rescued me with a few well-chosen questions which made it clear that my position was the same as Henry Cabot Lodge’s. I embraced Lodge with unexampled enthusiasm.
“There is only one strategy [when testifying before hostile senators]. That is to speak, not to the committee, but to your friends beyond.”
At the end, Sparkman, who was presiding, excused me, and then Wiley insisted on recalling me to ask about Laos. I came out in favor of a completely non-Communist government to be achieved totally without military intervention. This was wholeheartedly approved.
Aside from my distaste for dissembling (the exigencies of Laos apart), there is only one strategy to follow at these hearings. That is to speak, not to the committee, but to your friends beyond. I might have gained a one-hour advantage by denouncing the Red Chinese and declaring we should never, never, never relent on recognition. But all my friends, remembering what I had previously said, would have known I was a crook. Better to take the medicine.
March 29—Washington . My briefing this morning was by the C.I.A. and on various spooky activities, some of which I do not like. I shall stop them.…
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.
After lunch, I learned about security. The chief security officer is an agreeable man who speaks in a professionally hushed and conspiratorial voice. He suspects much in the way of microphones, other listening devices, and assorted bugs, but nothing, I learned on pressing this point, has ever been discovered on our premises in India. Later I talked with the head of the U.S. Information Service, a diligent but not especially imaginative man who is leaving. I made it clear that henceforth I would be setting policy. Finally, I had a chat with the service attachés. All are mature and pleasant men.
I took home to read, casually, a new bulletin on protocol about to be issued to newcomers. It is an appalling document, full of invidious references to diplomatic rank, ungrammatical and, where not insulting, stupid. Nothing could be better designed to frighten or demoralize the shy newcomer. Employees are told to consort with Hungarians only to a “limited extent” as distinct from Chinese to whom they are only to be polite. On being invited by the Iron Curtain embassies, they are to consult “classified” instructions—this is in an unclassified document. Women are told they may on certain occasions forego stockings “if legs permit.”A much more civilized version eventually appeared.
April 12—New Delhi . At five I called on the Prime Minister. I presented myself as the most amateur of diplomats. He proclaimed himself an amateur prime minister. I think that truth will not be a barrier to our association—both of us were professing a modesty no one else would find creditable. We then chatted about our respective books, Cambridge University in our respective days there, and the improvement in India, which I told him I measured by the number of bicycles. He agreed on the value of this index. He said that he had heard that the new administration was dominated by Rhodes Scholars. I said that the key positions in the world were still held by Cambridge men.…
April 14—New Delhi . At precisely ten this morning I went to the Ministry of External Affairs and began calls—at the rate of ten or fifteen minutes a man—on all the principal officers: the Secretary-General, the Foreign Secretary, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Joint Secretary, and the head of the Western Division, a unit which includes Russia, Western Europe, and the Americas. The Secretary-General, R. K. Nehru, a cousin of the Prime Minister, was the ranking officer in the Ministry of External Affairs. M. J. Desai, the Foreign Secretary, carried the major burden of day-to-day responsibility. Y. D. Gundevia, the Commonwealth Secretary, dealt extensively with Pakistan affairs. From here, the West looks smaller and more homogeneous than from Washington. Mostly the discussion was social; all had read with great approval J. F. K.’s letter on my behalf. A friendly letter of introduction and good wishes sent by the President to Nehru on my behalf which was, I may now confess, a modest tribute to my own drafting skill
Kitty is gradually or not so gradually assuming control of the household. We have not yet discovered how many people work for us. New faces appear each day, some with functions, some without. A vast throng of people pass our door, sign the book, and leave their cards. Disguised unemployment in India extends to all levels of society.
New Delhi, India April 17, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
As I once told you, I think, I propose to revive the ancient and admirable custom of an occasional letter from the envoy if not to his sovereign at least to his sovereign source of authority. Since, however, this practice could easily bitch up modern procedure (to borrow from the stately language of Metternich), I will avoid matters where I am in need of advice or action. These I will put in channels or, in high-level emergency, in a special letter. The present communications will be modestly informative and conceivably entertaining, and you can read them (or not read them) in the secure knowledge that you will neither encounter (nor miss) any crisis. If I have anything in mind it will be simply to let you see something of India and Asia and of its leaders and its problems through the eyes of your ambassador.
We have been here now for a week. I have lunched or dined with all of my senior officers, had lengthy sessions on the various embassy enterprises—politics, economics, aid, U.S.I.S., labor, science, and other—spoken to the staff, seen Nehru for a lengthy talk, called on the senior Foreign Office officials, and encountered a few of my Indian friends. Some of this is legally a bit premature, for I do not present my credentials for another day or two.
We were, of course, given an amiable welcome, and the radio carried in full my remarks on arrival which, faithful to the fraud of modern communications, I recorded in Beirut and never gave at all. Some fifteen or twenty pounds of garlands were laid on in a manner that must have rejoiced the local florists. Our physical arrangements are enchanting. The Residence, a onetime bungalow of the British raj, is small—only three bedrooms—and the principal wall decorations are some large gilt mirrors left behind possibly by Lord Curzon. Some of the furniture was discarded from the White House by Mrs. Warren G. Harding. But basically it is a charming house with a large loggia and a reach of thick green lawn, floral borders in violent color, and great trees that are a constant delight. The staff is of alarming size but considerable competence, and the cook, while in no danger of being stolen by you, is anxious to please. Your new man may be better on sauces but cannot touch mine in reproducing the Taj Mahal in macaroons. The new Ed Stone Chancery is even more of a delight. Some complain that it is highly unfunctional—water fountains, water gardens, and even a few ducks, but no office space. You certainly can’t please everyone.
The new chancery is located in an uninviting stretch of terrain on the edge of town which has been set aside for embassies. It is flat, dusty, and barren. The junior Americans and their Indian staff live in adjacent quarters with slight protection from sun, dust, and heat. At this time of the year it is around 90 at midday but before long it will get warm. The Russian embassy and quarters are on one side; on the other side are the British. In both compounds the youngsters splash happily in swimming pools; one was once contemplated for ours but abandoned lest it seem un-American. I have asked for the development of plans.…
The size of the total staff—300 Americans, 726 Indians—came to me rather as a shock. My preliminary impression is of well-mannered, competent, and hard-working people of good morale. From my deputy, Edward Maffitt, I have had firm and courteous guidance and good judgment in the tradition of a true professional. Past experience of the staff with ambassadors has been favorable, so it is favorably disposed toward us. We are, to be sure, expected to combine the best qualities of the Bowleses, the Coopers, and the Bunkers, but that ought to be easy. I am not quite sure where the line falls in this business between dignity and stuffiness. I shall try to combine decorum and discipline with a reasonably relaxed attitude toward rank but, of course, without descending to the raffish informality of the White House.…
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
April 19—New Delhi . I am finally officially an ambassador. At 8:50 yesterday morning, the chief of protocol from the Ministry of External Affairs called at the Residence, where my principal colleagues had already assembled—the military men in an exceptionally high state of polish. We rode in an open procession—motorcycle and patrol car—to the President’s palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan) at the gates of which we were met by a detachment of mounted lancers on beautifully matched bay horses. They escorted us to an open courtyard where an honor guard of Sikhs was drawn up in two ranks—perhaps the best-turned-out soldiers in the world. I mounted the reviewing block while the national anthems were played. Then I inspected the guard; nothing seemed seriously wrong. I drew heavily on old newsreels for my protocol, but the commanding officer was there to nudge me if I needed it.
After congratulating the O.C., we went into the palace and rehearsed the ceremony. Then we had the ceremony. A slow approach to the President Dr. Rajendra Prasad; my speech; his reply; presentation of credentials; then down to his study for a private chat; and finally on to a state room for a public reception for all present. It was exceedingly well done; the Indians approach ceremony as though they meant it rather than, as in the United States, in a kind of abashed reluctance.
April 21—New Delhi .… My wife and I went to an exceedingly interesting lunch at the Prime Minister’s house. Excepting for us, it was a family party. The Prime Minister, B. K. Nehru A cousin of the Prime Minister, then in charge of Indian economic interests in Washington and shortly to become, for a long time, Indian ambassador in Washington and wife, R. K. Nehru and wife, Indira, Indira Gandhi, daughter of the Prime Minister, to become, of course, Prime Minister herself in 1966 and, I believe, a daughter of Mrs. Pandit. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, sister of the Prime Minister, former ambassador in Moscow and Washington, later to become governor of Maharashtra and an influential member of Parliament The house is large with furniture a trifle on the heavy side—the British left a tradition of Victorian overstuffed tropical—but the gardens are charming and wall decorations include interesting old maps and various Indian memorabilia.… Mostly the conversation was light and general—whether the arms race might be turning into a scientific contest in space, the possibilities of M.I.T. as an educational institution (B. K. Nehru has two sons there, and Indira contemplates sending her son), and similar matters. We have obviously been taken into the fold in a most agreeable way.
April 22—New Delhi . At noon yesterday, we celebrated the Queen’s birthday at the British High Commission and in the afternoon I had a pleasant chat with Krishna Menon. Most people dislike him; I found him rather attractive on first acquaintance. He is much concerned with proving he is an intellectual and a socialist. Provisionally it is my conclusion that those who do not like him have never encountered this particular kind of public figure.…
April 27—New Delhi . This afternoon a message came in asking me to inform the Prime Minister that the President had marked him down for a billion dollars for the next two years of the Five-Year Plan. I went over to his Parliament office to tell him. I could not be sure whether he was embarrassed or touched—he made almost no comment. But then, at the end, playing on some statement that I had made at the beginning, he said this was an occasion when an ambassador did not risk having his head chopped off. Nehru’s pride was closely engaged with that of India. He recognized the great role played by our help. But it also meant, I am certain, that he saw his country in some slight measure as a beneficiary of charity, and this he did not like at all.
On the aid program: “The Indians can be a bit exacting in the requirements we must meet if we are to be allowed to help them.”
New Delhi, India April 37, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
… I am engaged, these days, in making my calls on the other ambassadors. This is an incredible waste of time. As you can imagine New Delhi is not the place where (say) Peru A tactful reference, for Peru does not accredit an ambassador to India sends its best man or the best man wants to come. Paris suits the Latin and Levantine temperament better and so does New York. One Levantine, who is accredited to a half dozen Asian governments, I suspect of being in the black market and possibly in the white slave trade. As a result he does seem rather more affluent than the common run. Many of the other diplomats obviously get along on a shoestring. They live in hideous houses decorated by some expressionist of the rural Nepal school. I do note one redeeming feature: the more underdeveloped the country the more overdeveloped the women.… Nehru suggested that I call on the big countries because of their vanity, the small ones because of their sensibility, and omit those in between. However, I shall struggle nobly on—for a while. Fulbright should know, incidentally, that the Soviet ambassador next door, though he understands, does not speak English. Senator Fulbright had long insisted that American ambassadors be competent in the language of the country to which they were going. He has given me five jars of caviar, and I have given him a copy of one of my books. I hope you do as well trading with Khrushchev.…
Faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
May 6—New Delhi-Srinagar . I took [Averell] Harriman to see the Prime Minister at the latter’s Parliament office. Not much transpired. Harriman described his visit and his impressions of the King of Laos and various other Laotian notables. We discussed the forthcoming Geneva conference. This Nehru will attend only if it seems to be running into trouble. He thinks even the Laotian Communists may be a trifle suspicious of the Chinese. He told that Ho Chi Minh, on a visit to India, asked him, “How many Chinese do you have in India?” He replied, guessing, “Oh, about fifty thousand.” Said H. C. M., “You are lucky.” I commented that Laos provided the special problem of Communism superimposed on a combination of feudalism and anarchy.
May 9—New Delhi . The day’s diplomatic business included plans for the arrival next week of Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson in two planes with a party of about fifty, including a special signals unit for talking to Washington. Then we had a session on steel with the Minister for Steel, Mines, and Fuel, Swaran Singh. Sardar Swaran Singh, for a period after Nehru’s death Minister of External Affairs, was the only Sikh in a cabinet office and, in beard and high turban, a highly visible figure. He would like us to finance the fourth steel mill under public ownership with no interference by us with construction or operation, although we would have an opportunity to advise. The Indians can be a bit exacting in the requirements we must meet if we are to be allowed to help them.
In the evening we visited the Saudi Arabian embassy. The S. A. ambassador is a vast man, exceeding in diameter even the late J. Falstaff (whom he resembles), and looks just fine in Arabian robes. He was not built for the desert, and the camels should be grateful that he took up diplomacy.
The party proceeded on devilled eggs, cashew nuts, and Coca-Cola in the lobby of the Hotel Ambassador, where the Ambassador lives. From time to time some rather furtive characters slunk in and out, eyeing each other with what seemed to be well-justified suspicion. Attendance by the more commonplace members of the diplomatic corps was poor. However, the Chinese ambassador was there, and in a touching gesture by one popular democracy to another, my wife, who disdains questions of recognition and nonrecognition among the great powers, was soon chatting happily with his wife. I had a pleasant talk with the papal internuncio, an agreeable, well-spoken Australian named Father Knox. I asked him if his name was not a handicap in his line of work. He said it was far from ideal but perhaps better than either Calvin or Luther.
May 10—New Delhi . Planning for the big Johnson visit is now elaborately under way. I have opted for the biggest dam in the neighborhood, to which we will have to go by special train. Thereafter a tour of the villages where L. B. J. can be surrounded by eager peasantry. The Taj Mahal will be only for the ladies. This is the new Galbraith line enforcing utility and austerity on all official visits.
New Delhi, India May 10, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
… In spite of Laos and the ceremonial preoccupations of this task, I have begun to get a fair view of the operation of this embassy. I doubt that you would wish to acquaint yourself with all features of all your missions. But perhaps you should know about one.…
The central embassy staff, the whole show in your London youth, and including the political and economic ministers, counsellors, and secretaries, are hard-working, competent, and admirably committed to the interest of the United States without being humorlessly enslaved by any particular line or theology.…
The U.S.I.S. runs libraries, publishes three or four magazines, distributes books, arranges exhibits, books American cultural enterprises, and gets your speeches to the intellectually starving masses. It is a large operation; the current budget is $3,466,261. My impression of this is less happy. The people here are hard-working and dedicated. The various activities are conducted with reasonable efficiency. The libraries handle an enormous traffic. (At the end of the month the McGraw-Hill bakery magazine is grubby from its many avid readers.) What is missing is spirit or lift. The organization lacks excitement. Everyday tasks are not even very expertly done. The magazines and other publications are poorly written and edited with unattractive layouts and fairly dull material. Our upper-middle-brow magazine is so far inferior to what the Poles distribute as to make one cry. (The latter very rarely mentions Communism and can even outstrip us on an article on ecclesiastical architecture.) The book presentation program for libraries has not, in the past, thought it wise to distribute your books or Schlesinger’s or even very many of mine.
Much of the trouble is from the Washington support. You cannot imagine how bad this is. Each morning, over the air, comes the day’s American story. I can no longer read it for simple reasons of health; five minutes of this wireless file and one loses his breakfast and cannot eat the rest of the day. In two weeks it caused me to lose twenty pounds and I have prescribed it for the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who is badly overweight. Apart from some useful speech texts it consists in equal parts of utterly irrelevant pieces about the progress of the grass silage industry; tedious and execrably written articles on the American economy … or uninspired thoughts of the lesser members of the bureaucracy, or diatribes against Communism. The latter are perhaps the dreariest feature of all. I cannot read them without pausing to consider whether the Communists have something, and Murrow may well be turning me into a security risk. Lately I have been sending him samples of this gaseous diffusion with a note of personal congratulation. The President, as I later learned, read this to Ed Murrow over the telephone in what Ed described as the most difficult single telephone call of his life. It pleased the President to imply that Murrow had written it personally. Presently the file diminished radically in size. Previously anything that might offend a rightwing congressman was deleted. Now anything that might offend me had also to go. Not much was left between.
I am going to need a new head of the U.S.I.S. organization here. So far I have been shown only a worthy but brokenarch bureaucrat. Outsiders are opposed in the interest of upholding the merit system. I am puzzled as to why a merit system is important in the absence of merit, but you are President and will understand better.
The technical assistance program, and related economic aid activities, also produce no cheering. In the old Dulles days, the Indian government regarded the technical assistance activities—agriculture, public health, education, and so forth—with considerable suspicion. It seemed an invasion of sovereignty, a possible cover for Cold War penetration. And there was feeling that some of our experts we were sending were less than leaders in their chosen fields—a suspicion that was amply confirmed when at intervals some truly remarkable stumblebums were off-loaded at the local airport. As a consequence of all this whenever the Indian government asked for help there was a great effort to respond—”at least they were asking us.” No effort was made to fit the particular expert into a sense-making program or even to be sure that what he did made sense. And the Indians in turn subjected our talent to a scrutiny that regularly took and still takes months. So our technical assistance is a hit-and-miss affair, helping here and missing there, and maybe even doing occasional damage by diverting attention from first essentials. On the essentials, for example technical assistance to improve Indian agriculture, the effort is spread very, very thin—so thin that I cannot think it will have any appreciable impact before the Second or possibly the Third Coming. …
Faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
May 16—New Delhi . The Polish ambassador Dr. Juliusz Katz-Suchy. He had served previously at the United Nations. In 1968, having meanwhile returned to a professorship in Poland, he was reportedly retired as part of the antiliberal, anti-Zionist campaigns of that year. called yesterday to give me a lecture on diplomacy. He is a brief, thickset man, with heavy glasses and a heavy, swarthy face. He is capable, it is said, of being quite nasty, but yesterday he was wonderfully cynical. The great thing in New Delhi, he told me, is to find material that justifies a telegram home. That shows the diplomat is at work; it reminds the Foreign Office of his existence; and it establishes the value of his post. But getting material for the well-justified telegram is not so easy. And to make matters worse, everyone rushes to the same bait. When I came down from Kashmir to meet Harriman and the Prime Minister, that suggested something pretty important. A reporter wanted to know why. (I told Katz-Suchy it wasn’t especially important, and he said, “Of course. No reason why it should be.”) … For some countries, news from embassies east of the Iron Curtain—“in conversation with the Polish ambassador today, I learned”—is especially good. But it has no advantages for other countries within the socialist camp. He advised me to be generous with information. “In conversation with the American ambassador, I learned …” makes, he said, a fine beginning for a cable.
May 17—New Delhi-Bangkok . Yesterday I visited the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who gave me a booklet about his country. It says encouragingly that “Public security and stability are prevalent in Saudi Arabia”; it goes on to praise the efficient work of the Bureau for Boycotting Israel, which has as its principal term of reference the “suffocation” of the latter state; and it explains that the King does great good by going hunting, during which time he distributes food, clothing, and money to the inhabitants of the desert. Later I received the ambassador from Iran. He is busy writing his memoirs. I asked him about the minor revolution now being made in his country. He expressed himself as uninformed but favorable. He said, encouragingly, that everything happens for the best in Iran.
A Texas visitor: Nehru and L. B. J. “spoke… on education, which they favored;… freedom, which they endorsed; [and] peace, which they wanted…
May 21—New Delhi . [Galbraith went to Bangkok to meet Vice President Johnson and escorted him back to New Delhi.] It is over and was really a great deal of fun. Everything went off well; by the dubious scorekeeping used for official visits, it was rated a success. I couldn’t be sure what was accomplished, but at least everyone left much happier than he arrived.
We got to Delhi a good two hours behind time and got off to a fine start when Nehru made an unscheduled appearance to welcome L. B. J. An honor guard, including some exceedingly handsome Sikhs, made a marvelous display and put Jean Kennedy Smith, who has all the agreeable enthusiasm of youth, into a fine state of excitement. Then we went into town over barren landscape so unpopulated that not even Johnson was tempted to get out and greet any voters. Anyhow, he was riding with Nehru and hence somewhat under control.
Shortly after arrival there was an afternoon meeting with Nehru. Various officials on each side participated and it was no astounding success. The Prime Minister and Vice President spoke rather formally on education, which they favored; poverty, which they opposed; freedom, which they endorsed; peace, which they wanted; and the third Five-Year Plan, which they praised. The rest of us listened with respect and drank tea.
Then with some pomp we called on the President. India is underdeveloped in everything but photography, and each of these stops was fully recorded.… In the evening we went to the Prime Minister’s house for dinner …
Next day the entire party took off for Agra, the press having already been dispatched in advance. At the airport there, an air base, we were welcomed by a considerable gathering of the citizens and soldiers, and L. B. J. did some electioneering which he followed up a few minutes later with a ride on a bullock cart and by lifting water from a well. Then we went on to see a couple of villages, where he campaigned in earnest. At one, a brass band boomed us down the village street to a wedding march with many garlands and marigold petals and an infinity of handshaking.
Later we went to the Taj. It was as beautiful as ever, even under the late midday sun. There were many, many more photographs plus Coca-Cola on the lawns in front. Then we got aboard the big jet and went back to Delhi. By now, it was midafternoon. (Johnson got an adverse American press for giving a Texas yell in the Taj Mahal to promote the famous echo. This was unfair. It is something that guides do for tourists every hour of the day. And the Taj Mahal is a monument, not a mosque, as some critics assumed.)
May 25—New Delhi . In the evening before dinner, I visited Nehru. The U.S. News & World Report had just published my picture with a note saying that I am the key figure in a plan to align Nehru with the West. I asked if he had seen it and felt duly warned.
Then we talked about a dozen or more things. He liked Lyndon Johnson, whom he regarded as an intelligent, down-to-earth, practical, political figure; he would like to meet Kennedy but would delay the idea of a visit for he is a little weary; he told me to tell the President to have in mind that Khrushchev is a man of exceedingly fast responses. When Khrushchev first visited India, he confided to Nehru his feeling that he must improve British and U.S. attitudes toward the Soviets—in effect, clean up the image left by Stalin, although Nehru did not put it in these words. Then Khrushchev went to Burma. Reacting angrily to a question, he denounced British imperialism and all its filthy works. Back in Delhi, Nehru asked him if this were a wise way to make friends. Khrushchev replied: “We react that way. We were surrounded and subject to siege for forty years.” …
May 27—New Delhi-Rome . I left at 6:30 last night for Bombay en route for Washington. My briefcase is packed with petitions to Santa Claus—a sugar quota for the Indians, a Deputy Chief of Mission Maffitt having reached the end of his tour for me, an administrative officer for Madras “desperately needed,” a swimming pool for the staff of which Washington takes a poor view, a civilian air agreement (with more Atlantic flights for Air-India and more Indian stops for Pan Am), a solution to or anyhow some action on the power crises in Delhi (where the lights regularly go off), the steel plant. And on and on.
June 20—Rome-New Delhi . My Washington tasks were virtually endless. A new D.C.M.; a new head of U.S.I.S.; settling policy with Ex-Im Bank and the Development Loan Fund; some problems on the sale of military equipment to the Indian government; the oil negotiations; some exceedingly complex air route negotiations; Nepal; a visit of Prime Minister Nehru to Washington; rice for CARE to distribute in Madras; a regional meeting of ambassadors which Bowles wants to have in New Delhi and which I welcome like a case of amoebic dysentery; the possibility of smallscale power plants for Indian villages which L. B. J. promised to investigate when there; the question of financing the Bokaro steel plant; the swimming pool; the further architectural plans for the embassy; a social secretary; a secretary; the possibility of a new policy on Kashmir; the Peace Corps; books from the Ford Foundation; paintings for the Residence from the Museum of Modern Art; and more.
I saw the President on three occasions. Once he was in the bathtub; once in bed; once we rode to the Shoreham together for a speech. I think he is suffering a good deal from his back. Certainly it is more serious than he admits or wants to admit.
The first of our sessions was in his bathroom. While sitting on a stool, I told him about some iniquitous goings-on. Every once in a while, the conversation was interrupted as he turned on the hot water with his foot. Bob Kennedy came in with one of his youngsters —approximately six. I wondered if the boy were cleared by the F.B.I., for we were talking about some very secret matters.
July 2—New Delhi . Yesterday I helped celebrate two national days—Canada and Ghana. The Ghanaians, who were more exotic, were all in costume, and a vast crowd attended to see the sight—indeed, with band and everything, there was scarcely standing room in the small front yard of the Residence. After shaking free from the Joint Secretary of the Delhi Indo-Cultural Forum, I was immediately taken up by the Honorable Chairman of the Hindu-American Dental Society. My wife spent her time in deep conversation in Spanish with the Cuban ambassador whose existence we are forbidden by protocol to acknowledge. (I reproved her. She said that she found him charming and furthermore that he was unhappy and in need of sympathy. I told her she was being used, obviously, by a very devious Communist.)
July 5—New Delhi .… Word came yesterday that on the morning following the Ghana party, the Cuban ambassador resigned and defected. He left, economy class, on the early plane for Paris and Caracas. It will not be easy to persuade my wife that henceforth she should abide by the official rules governing discourse with representatives of, as they are called, unfriendly powers.
July 17—New Delhi-Vizagapatnam . In the afternoon, I visited Krishna Menon at the Defense Ministry. As usual, we disagreed and as usual, I did not feel I had made my case. He can take any position and argue for it ruthlessly, with a certain moral indignation and peripheral vagueness which make him invulnerable.
New Delhi, India August 15, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
… We have just had a three-day meeting with Bowies plus one with Talbot. Phillips Talbot, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs I was admirably instructed on what I already knew, didn’t believe, or couldn’t remember. I can’t say that you have done wonders for Chet’s morale. In what Lyndon … calls a belly-to-belly talk I [urged] him to … write no more memoranda and concentrate on making the African, Asian, and Latino parts of the department work. He thinks he has aroused bureaucratic enmities by firing too many people; I said it was my impression he had aroused yours by not firing enough. (Even the Attorney General would have winced at all the candor.) Chet promised to do his best but says he is boxed. In government people get boxed only when they won’t kick their way out. I like Bowles. His only trouble is an uncontrollable instinct for persuasion which he brings to bear on the persuaded, the unpersuaded, and the totally irredeemable alike. In my view the State Department needs not to be persuaded but to be told. I think it conceivable that Chet might take hold. He was very good in O.P.A. The World War II Office of Price Administration, of which he became the head in 1943 shortly after my own much applauded withdrawal as head of price control
If the State Department drives you crazy you might calm yourself by contemplating its effect on me. The other night I woke with a blissful feeling and discovered I had been dreaming that the whole Goddam place had burned down. I dozed off again hoping for a headline saying no survivors. I think I dislike most the uncontrollable instinct for piously reasoned inaction. When the department does respond to telegrams it is invariably to recommend evasion of issues that cannot be evaded. The result, in the end, is that we get the worst of all available worlds. The touchiest issue here is the shipment of military hardware to Pakistan—arming the present rival and foe and the ancient enemy and rulers of the Hindus. A few weeks ago one of our aircraft carriers brought twelve supersonic jets to Karachi, where they were unloaded in all the secrecy that would attend mass sodomy on the B.M.T. at rush hour. Rumors plus Indian intelligence raised the number to thirty, then fifty, then seventyfive. (This, I learn, is escalation.) The Pakistanis asked that the number not be released in order to keep the Indians in doubt, and the department agreed over my protests. When the thing promised to get out of hand here the department cabled me sympathy. Eventually, I wrung authority to release the number out of Talbot more or less by physical violence. That then double-crossed the [Pakistanis] who had been promised we wouldn’t tell. …
On the State Department: ”… I woke with a blissful feeling and discovered I had been dreaming that the whole Goddam place had burned down.”
Faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
August 25—New Delhi . Day before yesterday, Nehru said in Parliament that our access to Berlin was a “concession” by the Russians, not something we enjoyed by right. This has put the skunk in the air conditioner. Washington is raving; the reaction will bring all who don’t like Nehru together with all who don’t like Galbraith into quite a coalition.
I have taken exception to the elaborate stratagem currently being devised for keeping China out of the United Nations. It is ingenious and patently bogus—we try to get agreement by majority vote that admission is an important question and then get them rejected on a proposition that requires a two-thirds vote. I sent off a mean cable ridiculing this whole proposition.
August 27—New Delhi . My China cable brought one of the rudest and certainly the promptest response in the history of the department. “To the extent that your position has any merit it has been fully considered and rejected” It was, I learned later, drafted—some said almost lovingly—by the Secretary himself.
Nehru’s comment on the absence of legal right to Berlin has stirred up a hornet’s nest. I had determined to try to get him to reverse it before he (a) alienated one and all in the U.S. and (b) gave the Soviets unlimited encouragement.
I went to his house at 7:30 P.M. and, in accordance with previous arrangement, took along my boys for a picture with him. There was one especially amusing shot of Peter, Jamie, and the Prime Minister on a couch with Jamie in ordinarily voluble conversation.
When the children left, I moved in on the Berlin question—beginning by saying that my remarks would be unpleasant. This was not merely a gesture; in practice, the unpleasantness never does live up to the promise and your victim thus gets the benefit of a pleasant surprise. I had brought along a corrective statement with me that I had hoped he would release and that my staff was amply assured he would not.
Oddly enough, he seemed not to think he had questioned our right of access to Berlin. When I showed his words to him, he was rather nonplused. This gave me an unquestioned advantage. I pressed it very hard and first he offered a new affirmation of our right of access. Then to my great delight he approved my statement. Thereafter, I presented the essentials of our Berlin posture anew: we were quiet; it was the Soviets who had kicked up a fuss. If there is a payoff under these circumstances, there will be a premium on troublemaking. Then I went on to urge our case on the nuclear test ban. We want it. The Russians evidently do not. The world must have it. Would he so impress the Soviets? And would India support us in the U.N. on affirmative proposals which included controls rather than merely resolving for a continuation of the ban without controls? On the whole, I think I made some headway.
New Delhi, India September 19, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
Here are some thoughts on the perils of our time, some of which follow the line of our conversation the other morning. [Galbraith had just visited Washington again.] You must have discovered that I am considerably less incoherent on paper than in oral exercise, the mark I imagine of a deep but turgid mind.
There is a tendency in Washington to conclude that any serious problem must be infinitely complex. This has never been more in evidence than in the case of Berlin. I can’t but think that the Berlin issue is rather simple: the Russians may (i) be concerned with building up the prestige of the East German regime, holding people there, giving it a regular existence, and cutting down the general impact of our presence in West Berlin. Or (2) they may be concerned with denying our access and throwing our soldiers out. If the first is their aim, things will be worked out. If they intend the second, we will have a nasty time—I don’t suggest it will be war except by accident but there will be a lengthy trial of nerves and strength since we both are after the same thing.
In a world where everyone else is sure what the Russians want, I have learned, painfully, to keep an open mind. My guess is, given the weakness of the East German regime and the willingness of the Russians to talk about access and token troops, that the Russians want the first alternative. (Writing to Nehru a few weeks ago Khrushchev said he could not stand the collapse of the East German government, and in Moscow the other day when Nehru said he did not think much of the Ulbricht government Khrushchev said in substance, “Neither do we.”)
… When I wake up at night I worry that in our first year in office we will be credited with losing Laos which we did not have, losing East Berlin which we did not have, losing East Germany which we did not have, and (touchy point) with failing to persuade the world that Formosa is China. As an extreme idealist I am in favor of lost causes. But I wonder if we should lose our lost causes more than once.
In coming back to Washington I was struck with how sensible and flexible are the views on the top side of the State Department, not to mention the White House, as compared with those which come to me in the telegrams. And in Washington itself reassurance disappears as one gets to what by some witticism is called the working level. It is very important, indeed absolutely indispensable, that we begin to understand what is wrong with the department.
It is not that people are dull, although quite a few are. Nor are they exceptionally conservative, although there is a widespread feeling that God ordained some individuals to make foreign policy without undue interference from presidents or politicians. The far more serious problem is that the department is simply too large. And with size has come an inflexibility that is as inevitable as it is incredible. The reason is simple: there are more people on C Street than there are problems. Nothing is so serious for a crypto-Talleyrand as unemployment. …
The problem here is a serious one. Nothing in my view is so important as to get the department back to manageable size. The Pentagon is not nearly so bad. While it is larger and much too large, most everyone is concerned with operational problems. In State the multitude must all make policy. When I was back this time one of my assistant-secretary friends attended the Secretary’s staff meeting from nine-fifteen till ten. Then he had a meeting with the Under Secretary on operations until ten-thirty. Then he took until eleven-thirty to inform his staff of what went on at the earlier meetings. Whereupon they adjourned to pass on the news to their staffs. This is, I am told, communication.
Faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
New Delhi, India October 9, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
I keep seeing stories that we are to have a serious review of foreign policy. Men of wisdom will applaud this. When things are not good, it is usually imagined that a review, or possibly a reorganization, will make them better. No one ever asks whether the best is being made of a lousy situation. …
I am sure most people exaggerate the scope for change in foreign policy. The greatest difficulty with Dulles was his yearning for new and exciting variants in policy—massive retaliation, the thumbed nose at neutrals, military alliances with the indigent, were change for the sake of change. They were partly change for the sake of putting on a black tie and proclaiming a new policy to a gathering of the affluent in Manhattan.
Foreign policy, like domestic policy, is a reflection of the fundamental instincts of those who make it. All of us have been reared with the same instincts, more or less—that we should combine courtesy with compassion, suspect pompous or heroic stances, respect our capacity to negotiate, refuse to be pushed and seek solutions in social stability rather than military prowess. Since these instincts cannot be changed not much can be done about the policy that derives from’ them.…
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
October 15—Cochin-Coimbatore . We got to Cochin midmorning yesterday and were housed in the onetime house of the British Resident on an island in the harbor. This was a deep-verandahed affair with endlessly spacious rooms and a golf course round about. Two launches were available for our movements. Cochin is rather like a flat San Francisco. It occupies a peninsula protecting a bay and, indeed, the orientation is the same. …
At 5:00 P.M. , we were dislodged and embarked for the old city of Ernakulam. This occupies the area equivalent to Oakland, and the hospitality committee had prepared a birthday celebration for me. This was a slight mistake; today, not yesterday, is my birthday but it seemed more tactful to avoid correction. A group of girls from Saint Teresa’s High School sang “Happy Birthday” for me under the guidance of two sisters. While being photographed with them afterward, I asked a member of the choir to tell me who Saint Teresa was. A sister hastily interposed: “She wouldn’t know; she is a Parsi child.” I asked the one on the other side who Saint Teresa was. “A saint,” she replied.
In his speech of felicitation, the chairman of the hospitality committee compared me in succession to Christ, Moses, Krishna, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
October 16—Wellington . This lovely place is about six thousand feet high and wonderfully cool. The road goes around a succession of perilous curves, each marked Hairpin Turn 1, Hairpin Turn 2, etc. Wellington itself is a town of clean white- and yellow-tiled cottages, numerous churches of the Western faiths, and the staff college of the Indian defense forces. It is covered with flowers—huge roses five or six inches across and thousands of poinsettias.
This morning, I lectured an audience of a couple of hundred middle military brass on American foreign policy. … The Indian Army officers are among the more cosmopolitan or at least European people in India, as also their wives. They favor all British Army manners from dress, salute, drill, and whisky to mustache. Sport is a serious business. The Queen’s picture hangs prominently in the Officers’ Mess.
Ike, said Truman, “was unable to think and… had it not been for… George Marshall…he would ham finished his career as a lieutenant colonel.”
October 17—Mysore . If one favors medieval splendor, this may be the last place in the world to sample it. We are ensconced, as guests of the Maharajah (and governor) Officially, His Highness Sri Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar Bahadur. A man whose intellectual distinction was matched by his physical bulk, he was (and continues to be) a strong supporter of Indian parliamentary institutions. He subsequently became governor of Madras state. of Mysore, in the LaIitha Mahal, a large marble-domed palace about two miles from the main palace. The Lalitha Mahal is the guest house of the palace.…
This, however, is a modest cottage compared with the main palace, to which we repaired at a little before seven this evening for a durbar of the Dasara. We were guided … to a balcony overlooking the throne room. This is an enormous rectangular area, closed at the back and on the two shorter sides and open to the palace grounds on the fourth. One should think of a large, rather flat grandstand. In the center back of the grandstand was an enormous golden throne; on each side to the number of nearly a thousand were members of the court. These were in turbans and court costume and, when we arrived, attendants were going up and down policing up the dress of the more informal or indigent members. Few wore shoes. The general color effect was red and gold; the arches to the palace grounds are Indo-Saracen with light tracery, and the whole was brilliantly lighted.…
The Maharajah took his seat on the throne at seven, to the vast excitement of courtiers and crowd, and various retainers filed by to make him a symbolic offering of money tribute which he returned. (In the old, happy days, he kept it.) Then elephants in fantastic attire came forward to throw flowers over themselves and wave their trunks to the ruler. Horses then danced to music as did a number of little girls. Soldiers paraded, trumpets blew, and the courtiers were garlanded. So, as a special gesture, was I. After about an hour, the Maharajah left his throne—he conducted himself throughout with an admirably languid hauteur—and the proceedings were over.
October 21—Bangalore-New Delhi . We spent three nights as guests of the Maharajah in the marble and gingerbread palace … I presented him with a book on (American) Indian art. He told me that on his recent visit to the United States he had been inducted as an honorary member into an Indian tribe, which, for an Indian maharajah, would seem to be the culminating consequence of Columbus’ mistake.
October 24—New Delhi . We are to have a visit, private and informal, beginning about November 20, from Mrs. Kennedy and her sister, Lee Radziwill. A Top Secret, Eyes Only, Destroy Before Reading message came in yesterday through army channels. It referred to her as “your girl friend” and asked if a “date” on November 20 would be satisfactory, and if I had received her letter. It was from Tish Baldrige. Mrs. Kennedy’s social secretary Colonel Myers, Lieutenant Colonel Clifford L. Myers, Assistant Army Attaché who brought it in, was blushing. He was relieved when I told him “girl friend” was only a cover name. [The date was later postponed.]
November 1—Washington . I joined Mrs. Kennedy at the Marine Terminal at LaGuardia about 11:30 P.M. Our prospective visitor is full of enthusiasm and it pops out of her eyes.
This morning, having slept badly, I breakfasted with Arthur Schlesinger and then went over the trip plans with Tish and staff. This was on the second floor of the East Wing of the White House, whence social matters are managed and which looks a bit like the reception room at a Radcliffe dormitory.
I saw the President at 5:30 P.M. , we being joined by President Truman. It was the latter’s first visit to the White House since he left it in 1953. We were to talk of the Nehru visit, but H. S. T. carried the conversation back to Korea and forward to some recent political speeches of Ike. He said, amiably, that Ike was unable to think and that, had it not been for the guidance of George Marshall, his patron general, he would have finished his career as a lieutenant colonel. He admitted, however, to having liked him once. He thinks he is bored at Gettysburg—where he has “built a house with extra rooms for all of his gifts”—and will be a considerable source of trouble to J. F. K. He was only slightly less favorable to the Communists who he said, simply, were all crazy.
November 5—Newport, Rhode Island . This past week has been terribly busy as always in Washington but also most interesting. In theory, I have been making preparations for Nehru’s visit. In practice, I have been interfering with all manner of things but mostly Vietnam. Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow are advocating exceedingly half-baked intervention. Not troops but soldiers to do flood-control work. Once there, they would use a shovel with one hand and deal with the guerrillas with the other. At a meeting yesterday, I rather frightened Walt at the responsibility he was assuming. And this morning we had a new session at the White House with Bundy. Mac thinks there is no occasion when I would urge the use of force. I have to admit that my enthusiasm for it is always very low.…
November 6—Washington . 1 think this has been the most interesting day in my memory.
Last night, I dined with the President and J. B. K. and we talked over a vast number of subjects from South Vietnam to civil defense to domestic economics. The food, a light steak, was agreeable as was the Moselle. After dinner, we talked further and then the President settled down to playing backgammon with Lern Billings. Lemoyne Billings, dose personal friend of the President We also watched Nehru on “Meet the Press,” a most embarrassing show. Larry Spivak tied into Nehru like a prosecuting attorney in a movie. Scotty Reston unwound an elaborate question about Nehru’s successor. Nehru squelched him by observing that in a democracy, leaders do not name their heirs. He cited as an unfortunate precedent Churchill’s naming of Eden.
This morning [in Newport] I had breakfast in bed and dictated a speech for the President to give on the arrival of the Prime Minister and did some business for him in Washington by phone.
Then about ten o’clock we boarded the Honey Fitz to go to the Newport Naval Air Station to meet Nehru. There was a heavy fog that grounded the helicopters and it was chilly and damp on the boat. The latter, a fast largish launch, is nicely turned out and we were escorted by two smaller launches. About halfway across, a speedboat overtook us and handed over the typed copy of the speech I had written.
At the air station it was dark but the weather was flyable and the MATS plane, a DC-6, bearing the Prime Minister came sweeping in exactly on time. There was a small color guard and a handful of Indian students with bouquets. Nehru was accompanied by Indira and B. K. Nehru and seemed in the best of spirits. After a little photography, we got back on the H.F. and sailed off for Hammersmith Farm once more. The weather had improved a bit more and Nehru was delighted when the President pointed to some of the Newport palaces. “I want you to see how the average American lives.” Nehru replied that he had heard about the affluent society. At the house, Caroline presented the Prime Minister and Indira each with a rose. Mrs. Kennedy said to her husband, “Jack, did you see what Reston said this morning?” The President turned to Nehru and said: “Mr. Prime Minister, my wife does not believe in a free press and she is right.” Nehru was even more delighted.
At the residence, we had a long lunch, mostly on South Vietnam. The President and I pressed Nehru hard on what we should do to put down Communist terror. Could Ho Chi Minh do anything? The U.N.? What about a U.N. observer corps? The International Control Commission? Nehru was rather negative on all of these matters and made clear that we should not send in soldiers. I agree heartily but we need an alternative with a plausible chance of success.
The weather improved so we boarded four helicopters and in a few moments were back at the air station. Then we got aboard the President’s Air Force jet for an hour’s ride to Washington.… En route, the President read papers at the rate of one a minute. Nehru read the National Geographic and the New York Daily News . Noticing the latter, the President asked if I wouldn’t get him on to a friendlier sheet. Indira read Vogue . J. B. K. read Malraux. Soon the plane was making a wide sweep around Andrews Air Force Base.
November 7—Washington . The talks began at ten in the President’s office with Nehru, B. K. Nehru, M. J. Desai, Rusk, Talbot, and Rostow present. We were disposed on the two couches with the President rocking between on his rocking chair. The sun was bright outside and the French doors were open. Caroline and playmates were running about and once J. B. K. almost came wandering in, wearing purple slacks.
As talks, they were a brilliant monologue by the President. This was not intentional—Nehru simply did not respond. Question after question he answered with monosyllables or a sentence or two at most. I thought the President found it very discouraging but he kept his good humor and kept on trying. The subjects included Berlin, South Vietnam, nuclear testing, and Indo-Pakistani relations, and only the latter elicited any real response. … After the meeting broke up around 12:30 P.M. , I strolled out on the back lawn with the President. He was very discouraged and so was I.
November 10—New York . Day before yesterday, in the morning, the Prime Minister and President met alone at my suggestion and things went much better. In private, the conversation became much more relaxed. Meanwhile Talbot, Desai, B. K. Nehru, and I sat out in the Fish Room. It was the first relaxed hour since coming to Washington. After the President and the Prime Minister broke up, the President and I strolled for a few minutes in the sunshine on the terrace. He was much happier and said he had caught some of the Nehru magic.
Nehru on Rocky: “A most extraordinary man. He talked to me about nothing but bomb shelters. Why does he think I am interested in bomb shelters?”
Yesterday evening there was an agreeable party at the Indian Embassy, with a dancing troupe. The latter had run into bad trouble in the American South. It was excluded from restaurants and once had considered cancelling the tour. But they forgive and forget. The Kennedys were there in force. Eunice Shriver asked the Prime Minister why he did not have bags under his eyes as in his pictures and would he increase the size of the Peace Corps. The President called me afterward to say he thought she had probably set back Indian-American relations about five years. He also worried me more about South Vietnam. I am having a further major try at the Indians. I wish they were more concerned.
Yesterday was an appalling but very interesting day. We had a full honor guard at the MATS terminal for take-off and came here to New York in the Columbine . Arrival at New York was routine. A representative of Nelson Rockefeller was present and he told me afterward how sorry he was that the Governor could not welcome Nehru. I said I thought the public relations would be bad. He said the public wouldn’t notice. I said I was sure it would, that in fact I was having a press conference that afternoon and would mention the Governor’s absence. In the evening, Rockefeller was waiting at the Carlyle for Nehru. I asked Nehru later how they got along.
“A most extraordinary man. He talked to me about nothing but bomb shelters. Why does he think I am interested in bomb shelters? He gave me a pamphlet on how to build my own shelter.”
November 14—Honolulu . Last Saturday afternoon, I took leave of Nehru—“I suspect you of seeking to avoid Disneyland, Ambassador”—and rode the air shuttle to Washington with Adlai Stevenson. Adlai is only moderately happy about his job. Too many detailed instructions from Washington—the State Department advises him, more or less, at what hour to see Gromyko, when to interrupt to go to the men’s room, and how long to stay there. He thinks the New Frontier is too much like the .old one. At State, I stopped off for an hour or two to read the TaylorRostow report on South Vietnam. It is a curious document. The recommendations are for vigorous action. The appendices say it cannot possibly succeed given the present government in Saigon.
New Delhi, India November 28, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
You will already have had sundry more official communications from me on South Vietnam. This is by way of giving you something of the informal flavor and color of the local scene. [Galbraith stopped in Saigon en route to New Delhi.]
It is certainly a can of snakes. I am reasonably accustomed to oriental government and politics, but I was not quite prepared for Diem. As you will doubtless be warned, whenever anyone reaches an inconvenient conclusion on this country, he has been duped. My view is derived neither from the Indians nor the Saigon intellectuals but my personal capacity for error. One of the proposals which I am told was made to Max Taylor provides an interesting clue to our man [Diem]. It was that a helicopter be provided to pluck him out of his palace and take him directly to the airport. This is because his surface travel through Saigon requires the taking in of all laundry along the route, the closing of all windows, an order to the populace to keep their heads in, the clearing of all streets, and a vast bevy of motorcycle out-riders to protect him on his dash. Every trip to the airport requires such arrangements and it is felt that a chopper would make him seem more democratic. Incidentally, if Diem leaves town for a day, all members of his cabinet are required to see him off and welcome him back, although this involves less damage to efficiency than might be supposed.…
Saigon has a curious aspect. It is a rather shabby version of a French provincial city—say, Toulouse, as I remember it. Life proceeds normally, and it has the most stylish women in all Asia. They are tall with long legs, high breasts, and wear white silk pajamas and a white silk robe, split at the sides to the armpits to give the effect of a flat panel fore and aft. On a bicycle or scooter they look very compelling and one is reminded once again that an ambassadorship is the greatest inducement to celibacy since the chastity belt. Restaurants, night clubs, and hotels flourish as they seem always to do in cities in extremis. Yet one moves around with an armed guard and a group of gunmen following in a car behind.…
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
November 30, 1961—New Delhi . J. B. K.’s trip is now firm and we shall soon have a schedule. It promises to be fun. The Indians are worried about a trip to Kanarak lest she be photographed in the middle of a set of highly pornographic statues. (The famous Black Pagoda on the sand near the coast north of Puri, between Madras and Calcutta, is the greatest artistic monument of Hindu India. It rides on great carved wheels, as a heavenly chariot, and is covered with hundreds of intricately carved figures, many of them exuberantly erotic. Indeed no known or imaginable design for love-making is thought to have escaped the attention of the artists.)
December 6—New Delhi . Yesterday I sent a long telegram on the Portuguese colonies. It drew attention to the contrasting stance of Kennedy on Angola and Roosevelt on India and recommended the Roosevelt example. It will infuriate Rusk, which was part of the purpose, I fear. He is so firmly fixed in my mind as a cautious, self-constricted man that I delight in actions that will disturb him. Doubtless I do him an injustice.
December 8—New Delhi . The Indians are fabricating great excitement over Goa. Coincidentally, early this week I got off a long, elegantly constructed telegram urging our final detachment from Portugal, or at least from its possessions.…
The Indians’ cause, which has my sympathy, also includes a high component of contrivance. The casual reader could conclude from the papers that Portugal is about to take over the entire Indian Union. Aggression is charged although it amounts to little more than the firing of a rifle in the air—and it is not clear by whom.
December 11—New Delhi . This was a rather unquiet weekend. I went to Jaipur on Friday for the second time in a fortnight, this time to give a convocation speech.… While there, I tried to extract J. B. K. from the Maharajah’s plans. He was naturally anxious to have her as an exclusive visitor—not only for the normal reasons but possibly also because the Maharani is running for office on the Swatantra (Coldwater) ticket. The present maharajah, Sir Sawai Man Singh Bahadur, became ruler in 1922 at the age of eleven. A notable sportsman, in particular a polo player, he is (at this writing) Indian ambassador to Spain. His third wife, Aisha Raje, of the princely house of Cooch Behar, is regarded by the discriminating as one of the most beautiful women in the world, a judgment I endorse. In the ensuing election, she won a seat in the Indian Parliament. Mrs. Kennedy [when told about it] co-operated admirably; political comprehension is automatic in this family.
December 12—New Delhi-Karachi . I saw Nehru yesterday afternoon and, after detaching myself from support for the Portuguese, pleaded they not use force [in Goa]. The threshold against marching armies must be kept high. India has a large stake in settlement without violence. I doubt that I made much impression.
December 17—New Delhi . Friday morning, December 15,1 had another talk with Nehru. (There is some disadvantage in doing business at receptions. It has been generally noticed that last night he gave equal time to Krishna Menon and to me.) He was much more relaxed, listened appreciatively to my arguments, and we parted in friendly fashion. I strongly stressed the point that India, having rid herself by peaceful means of the British and the French, would be showing real weakness if ever she had to use force to be rid of the Portuguese pimple. I came away with the feeling that the operation might be put off and also that my arguments had something to do with it.
December 18—New Delhi . Late Friday the Portuguese went to Stevenson in grave alarm to say an attack was imminent. The latter got U Thant, who drafted a letter to Indians and Portuguese calling for talks within the framework of the U.N. Charter and Resolutions. Since the latter are anticolonial, the Portuguese protested violently. So the letter was dispatched by Thant with the proviso that the Portuguese did not accept the anticolonial provisions of the Resolutions. When it got here, the Indians exploded at the reservation. I went over to see M. J. Desai but they had already answered. The answer was long, argumentative but negative.… [An approach by State Department representatives to the Indian ambassador in Washington, and Mr. Galbraith’s subsequent presentation directly to the Prime Minister of the State Department’s plea for Indian-Portuguese negotiations, were fruitless. On December 18 Indian forces invaded Goa and took control.] With the loss of Goa, the Portuguese empire will dissolve increasingly in violence, and the Indians have badly tarnished their reputation.
December 20—New Delhi . One of the interesting features of this whole episode was the large number of pressing messages from Washington asking me to authorize or order the evacuation of Americans from Goa. This is the first thing we think of when there is trouble. Actually, there seems to have been only one American there in addition to the correspondents. I took a chance on the theory that he would be safer in Goa than on the New Jersey Turnpike on an average day. (An evacuation order would have shown that we did not expect our arguments to prevail. And given the shortage of news, the order would have been much publicized.) I suppose if someone had got killed, I would have had to answer for it. But none did.
December 21—New Delhi . All sorts of rumors are going around that Mrs. Kennedy’s visit may be cancelled. Maybe it is good that there should be some worry.
Today of all days, the Indians approached us to buy some military equipment. This was still informal but it seems to have some sanction from Krishna Menon. A representative of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation is here looking for the business. I sent word to the company that they couldn’t have picked a worse time to come, and centralized the whole problem in my hands. Menon until recently was in considerable trouble over the Chinese border incursions. The Goa business had boosted his stock at the expense of alienating American public opinion and considerably damaging the capacity to get aid. If he could now pull off a purchase of arms from the United States, it would prove he can do business with everyone.
On Secretary Rusk: “He is so firmly fixed in my mind as a cautious, self-constricted man that I delight in actions that will disturb him. ”
New Delhi, India March 2, 1962
Dear Mr. President:
When I am not worrying about your wife, I worry about Indo-China. (Ross once told Thurber in 1940 when he was losing his eyesight: “Thurber, I worry about you and Englandl”) I had a long talk with Felt Admiral Harry Felt, Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet in Hawaii and have been over the papers and documents again. I continue to be sadly out of step with the Establishment. I can’t think Diem has made any significant effort to improve his government either politically or administratively or will. We are increasingly replacing the French as the colonial military force and will increasingly arouse the resentments associated therewith. Moreover, while I don’t think the Russians are clever enough to fix it that way, we are surely playing their game. They couldn’t be more pleased than to have us spend our billions in these distant jungles where it does us no good and them no harm.
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
March 13—New Delhi . As we started out for the airport yesterday morning, we discovered that every door of the Queen Elizabeth The more modern of two vast embassy cars. The other was the Queen Mary. was locked with the keys inside. Jamie had got out of the car after absentmindedly pressing the knobs that locked it. He was heartbroken. We got to the airport in a Ford.
The Air-India jet came in, handsomely on time, and I went aboard to find J. B. K. full of life and looking a million dollars in a suit of radioactive pink. With her was Lee Radziwill. Her sister and wife of Prince Stanislaus Radziwill. The compact party also included a press man, personal maid, and, of course, the Secret Service. There was a big crowd at the foot of the ramp including Nehru, Krishna Menon, various other ministers, and a thousand children. The road in from Palam through the desert was lined with people most of the way. A better house than for Lyndon Johnson, I am obliged to say. …
March 14—New Delhi . Our guest slept late yesterday. Then at noon we went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for a huge and glittering lunch tendered by the President. The guards, table, saris, and view of the Moghul Gardens were in fine color. Nehru and the Vice President kept Jackie well entertained and, all in all, it was an excellent show. Then in the afternoon we went to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where a huge crowd was out.
In the early evening, I went to the press briefing, where there was far too much attention to the subject of clothes, designer, dress, handbag, and so forth. I asked Jackie afterward if she wanted all this and she said no. So I have issued instructions that questions of clothes be answered only when asked—no details volunteered. Also, I have asked her press officer to develop a bad memory for designers and materials.
In the evening, we had a nice party at the Prime Minister’s.
March 15—New Delhi . Yesterday I faded into the wallpaper which, given the alternative feature, was exceedingly easy. Mrs. Kennedy visited the Prime Minister’s home for waifs and strays in the morning.
I wrote Jackie a six-line speech which she memorized expertly and used in presenting a children’s art exhibit to Indira Gandhi, a ceremony which also included garlanding by a baby elephant and a reception by local artists. In the afternoon, she visited the Cottage Industries Emporium where Kitty surprised her and everyone else by emerging as one of the models. It was a sari dress of sari material selected by me; alas, my taste was unsung. Then in the evening we all went riding at the exercise grounds of the President’s bodyguard. J. B. K. circled and jumped beautifully. Though it was all private, I had smuggled in a cameraman and I hope he was good. I was very nervous over the jumping. Had his wife broken a leg, the President would, I imagine, have broken me—with some justification.
In the evening, the Prime Minister rounded up the gayer members of the community, all in best clothes, for a large dinner followed by singing and dancing on a floodlit stage in the garden. J. B. K. was wearing a long dress of pale turquoise which responded brilliantly to the lights. I am having a signal lack of success in soft-pedalling emphasis on clothes. Indeed, in cabling a general account of the journey to the President, I said this effort promised to be the biggest failure since Stasseii tried to ditch Nixon. Last night’s dress was adequate explanation.
At ten this morning, we met Jackie and Lee at the Prime Minister’s and, the P.M. and Mrs. Gandhi accompanying, we went to the V.I.P. railway station in New Delhi—the one where, in imperial times, the viceroys entrained and detrained. Here, after numerous farewells, we got aboard a special train for Fatehpur Sikri. This is the great, brooding capital of red sandstone near Agra. It was built by Akbar the Great in 1569 and occupied for fifteen years. Then its magnificent palaces, walls, mosque, courtyards, mint, treasury, and tanks (ponds) were abandoned forever. In the dry, hot climate, they have deteriorated but little.
The train—the President’s and once the viceroys’—is a brilliant red outside and pleasant fawn within. It includes drawing room, bedrooms, and dining room, and is unquestionably the proper way to travel. We went at a leisurely pace across the Ganges plain with a late lunch and, by some special dispensation, drinks and wines, and much agreeable conversation. B. K. Nehru was in the party and was a most entertaining addition. At three, we reached Fatehpur Sikri station, were loaded into cars, and toured the city and palace for just short of an hour. It wasn’t the best way to see it. Photographers dashed in front, reporters crowded around, and quite a few others struggled with more determination than skill to get into any available pictures. Still, it was fun and we saw the palaces of the various queens, where Akbar played pachisi in the moonlight using live maidens as pawns, and the great Gate of Victory with the tank below. An exceptionally large number of loincloth-clad exhibitionists were on hand to jump from high on top of the gate into the tank some 170 feet below.
After leaving these vast red sandstone buildings, we reboarded the train and went back to Agra. Here we had a big welcoming crowd and duly toured the Taj Mahal. As a sightseeing tour of the world’s most gracious and majestic monument, this was also a bit like making love in a cageful of monkeys. Photographers were jumping everywhere to get into position, reporters crowded in and, all in all, it was pretty much of a riot. But J. B. K. didn’t seem to mind and I think rather enjoyed it.
March 18—Jaipur . Today was the day when things went wrong on a considerable scale. It began innocently enough with Mass foi Jackie and a visit to the old palace by the rest of us.
Thereafter came a long, hot, and dusty ride to the airport and a hot and dusty ride from the airport at Jaipur. The welcome at Jaipur was pleasing enough, with thousands of children and Rajasthani maidens in bright dresses dancing and singing for Jackie’s arrival. The arrangements for the motorcade were appalling and in the end, Kitty, B. K. Nehru, and I got left under the porch while the Maharajah went off at the head of the column. I was very angry. Eventually we re-established our position at the price of some rudeness. We were in the middle of a constitutional row. The Maharani of Jaipur had just been elected to the Lok Sabha, the equivalent of the House of Commons; the Maharajah is expecting to go to the partially appointive upper house, the Rajya Sabha. He is a great friend of Lee’s and thus of Mrs. Kennedy’s and (as I said before) is suspected by the Indian government of wanting to make political capital of the visit. The Indian government has been determined to thwart this effort. I have been in the middle and most unpleasantly so. The Maharajah had planned a round of activities—cocktail parties, polo, and above all a visit to the City Palace. The latter is his personal property; the government feared it would provide an occasion for a triumphal tour through the city of Jaipur.
In fact, the civilian authority got in first. J. B. K. was met by the governor of the state and brought by him to the Raj Bhavan.
March 19–21—Jaipur-New Delhi . Monday, at least until noon, also belonged to the civilian authority and so far there has been no major explosion. The Maharajah, however, is a figure to be reckoned with. It was the government plan to have Mrs. Kennedy stop at the City Palace on the way to Amber Palace this morning. However, it was closed for cleaning and repairs. So this strategy collapsed. The trip to Amber, however, gave an ample opportunity to the government to show off their visitor. The route lay dead through the city; the. school children were let out for the occasion; there must have been two or three hundred thousand people on hand. Also triumphal arches including a magnificent one with the legend, “Long Live Mrs. Keneddy (sic)—the Wine Merchants of Jaipur.”
At the end of the tour, J. B. K. met and was photographed with the members of the Peace Corps, one of whom had a magnificent Sikh beard and turban. They all looked well and healthy and claimed without exception to be enjoying themselves. At two o’clock I delivered her into feudal custody at the palace.
Then I went over to a press briefing. While I was there, J. B. K. called up with a new crisis. Her hosts had invited her to go to the City Palace that evening. They suggested to avoid embarrassment she go alone. It had been polished, cleaned, lighted, and she naturally wanted very badly to see it. I concluded the time had come to decide in favor of her. But I urged her not to go surreptitiously. I said I would try to get approval from the Indian government for her to go with her hosts. I decided that I would also go so that any Indian press criticism would not be of her but of the U.S. government. This is a somewhat less specific and vulnerable target. [The trip was authorized.]…
‘The President had told me that the care and management of Mrs. Kennedy involved a good deal of attention, and he is quite right.”
The dinner was pleasant and lighthearted, although scarcely my particular social specialty. The conversation was on horses, mutual friends, social events, and polo. I did have a long talk with the Maharani. She is in favor of free enterprise and also more and better government services; for protection of all existing feudal privileges but also more democracy. She is vivacious and extremely good looking, and I detect a certain determination to inform herself.
About midnight, we drove into the City Palace and spent a couple of hours roaming its environs—the various courts and audience chambers, the gardens where the fountains had been turned on, the armory, and the museum with its wonderful miniature paintings. The lights gleamed on the red walls, the swords, and also on the saris of the party. And rugs and tapestries which are a bit vivid in the daytime seem fine and subdued at night. It was all most romantic, and it was plain that Mrs. Kennedy enjoyed it enormously.
Today at twelve o’clock, I called for J. B. K. and took her to the Prime Minister. She was to have recorded a farewell message that morning but begged off and I did an account of the trip instead. It was the morning of Holi, or the Festival of Spring. While recording, I was showered with red paint See opening picture of this article.—Ed. (which, with much spraying of colored water, is the main expression of festivity) and thus had to see her off in a disreputable sport shirt and splashed trousers. Everybody came on out to the airport to see her away. The Prime Minister bade her an affectionate farewell and went back to make a glowing speech about his guest to a press conference. … The President had told me that the care and management of Mrs. Kennedy involved a good deal of attention, and he is quite right.
Ambassador Galbraith had still to struggle through the Chinese border war, in which American military aid was suddenly important in India and in which Krishna Menon lost his job. There was increasing hostility between India and her neighbor Pakistan over Kashmir. In a sense, the fun was over. Eventually, he left India in July, 1963, four months before the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, and has since been teaching economics at Harvard. It seems best to leave off the Ambassador’s diary at this point, with an assessment of India and what he thought he iuas doing there from another of his letters to the President. —Ed.
New Delhi, India July 13, 1962
Dear Mr. President:
… Perhaps I should give you a succinct view of exactly what I am doing here. I sense a remote but discouraging tendency for you to imagine (a) that I have become a financial arm of the Indian Government; (b) that my task is to defend the Indians to the United States; (c) that I yearn to be loved. None, not even the last, reflects in fact my preoccupation. In fact, I find Indian politics depressing and not less so on continued contact. The thought crosses my mind more often than you might think as to why Galbraith cultivates this particular vineyard. I also spend my time trying to persuade the Indians of our problems and point of view, but, since I need no particular help in this, it is not in my recurrent advice to the State Department. Here is what concerns me:
India is a peasant and bourgeois, property-owning, and, in the aggregate, conservative community. It is held to the West by ties of language and tradition of considerable strength. Most of the effective political leaders are on our side—a distinct oddity as the world goes. Their position depends on their history in the independence movement, the inherent conservatism of the country, the fact that our food eliminates the desperation that would result from hunger, and because planning plus our aid gives a semblance of progress.
Working against these conservative influences is a combination of the Communist, the angry, the frustrated, the xenophobic, and the anti-Moslem. Increasingly in recent years, and rapidly in recent months, they have been coalescing around Menon. And Menon with great brilliance has made himself the custodian of the particular inflammatory issues—Goa, arms aid to Pakistan, Kashmir—which put us automatically on the other side.
A disaster in this part of the world, as I see it, would be considerably worse not only for the United States but for the political reputation of the New Frontier than a disaster in indo-China. Accordingly, as your man hereabouts, I assume I should seek to prevent it. Aid is a substantial part of my armory and that is my interest. I don’t exclude a certain compassion for poor people. If one lacked compassion, he would not see the full importance of our assistance.…
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH