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May 24, 1999
Galbraith Celebrates Name-Dropping
In his 31st book, the 90-year-old author offers wonderful stories
Arthur J Pais
Jawaharlal Nehru was late for an appointment: He told his friend John Kenneth Galbraith that he had been delayed in negotiating Punjab-related issues with Sikh leaders.
"These Sikhs are very difficult people," Nehru said.
Galbraith, economist and American ambassador to India, pointed out to Nehru a news item about Dalip Singh Saund, a Congressman from California, who had held up the foreign aid bill to pursue a personal political purpose. A large share of money being discussed was intended to India
Nehru, recalls 90-year-old Galbraith in his 31st book, Name-Dropping: FDR On, reacted with delight.
"One Sikh," he said, "can hold up the government of the United States. I have forty million of them."
Galbraith remembers the incident from the 1960s vividly as he discusses Nehru's sense of humor.
But the recollections are also tinged with sorrow, for Galbraith writes how American policy-makers never really got to understand or like his friend Nehru Ė and in their zeal for Pakistan took delight in Nehru's missteps or weaknesses.
In recollecting Nehru's last days, Galbraith notes Nehru's increasing depression and bitter disappointment following the war with China.
"His vision of India standing above such cruel and useless conflicts was at an end," Galbraith writes.
India, and more particularly the politicians, were showing signs of being militarily aroused, he continues, which led to China offering a cease-fire.
"There was no time for instructions from Washington. I went to see Nehru to urge that he accept it," Galbraith adds. "Tired and worn out, he immediately agreed. It was the worst time of his life."
And it was made even worse by State Department hawks who began to press Nehru on Pakistanís claims against India.
"At the very moment when Nehru needed to show political recovery and strength, we would advertise and exploit his weakness," Galbraith continues.
A delegation that went to Nehru soon after the cease-fire consisted of Duncan Sandys (Churchillís formidably arrogant son-in-law, Galbraith notes) and Lord Louis Mountbatten.
The American role was eased by the participation of Averell Harriman who became the subject of a memorable Nehru comment:
"I will negotiate with Harriman because he is a gentleman. I will not negotiate with Duncan Sandys, because he is a cad."
When Nehru died on May 27, 1964, Galbraith notes the state department dispatched a delegation of mourners that included those who, urging arms to the subcontinent, had contributed most to his despair.
In Name-Dropping, published by Houghton-Mifflin, Galbraith draws on five decades of intimate access to some of the most colorful people of the second half of the century.
Galbraith is a witty man and enjoys others who are so inclined, often at his own expense.
"Ken,'' wrote Adlai Stevenson during his 1956 presidential campaign, "I want you to write the speeches against Nixon. You have no tendency to be fair.''
Lyndon B Johnson commented on a speech on economics Galbraith wrote: "Making a speech on ee-conomics is a lot like pissin' down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.''
Speaking to antiwar protesters outside the 1968 Democratic Convention Galbraith said, "I don't want you fighting with these National Guardsmen Remember, they're draft dodgers just like you.":
The slim book has received wonderful praise from friends, admirers and newspapers and magazines.
'Name Dropping is the most delightful book of the year, says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M Schelsinger, Jr. 'Shrewd, irreverent, penetrating and hilarious.'
Harold Evans, author of The American Century, notes: 'When the lapidary Kenneth Galbraith drops names they fizz like bubbles in a champagne of a book: John Kennedy and Jacqueline, FDR, Eleanor, Adlai Stevenson, Albert Speer, Bernard Baruch, Harry Truman, Nehru, and LBJ. The wit and insights are vintage Galbraith.'
A few more Galbraith portraits:
* Eisenhower's brother remembered a meeting in the Oval Office at which some difficult and potentially very unpopular decision was reached. Reflecting on the expected adverse reaction, Ike had said, "It's all right. When I've explained it to the press, no one will have any clear idea what we intend to do."
* Kennedy's preference for plain talk did not spare his friends. Before I left for New Delhi in April 1961, we had a farewell breakfast at the White House. That morning The New York Times had a piece on the new ambassador to India; Kennedy asked how I liked it. It had been generally favorable, and I said it was all right, but I didn't see why they had to call me arrogant. "I don't know why not," said Kennedy. "Everybody else does."
Nehru said one day at Gandhi's ashram in Ahmedabad a friend and supporter sought to ease a conflict with the British Viceroy by saying, "Mahatma, you must know that Lord Irwin never makes a decision without praying over it first." Gandhi reflected on this for some minutes. Then he said, "And why do you suppose God so consistently gives him the wrong advice?"
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