Sunday, September 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt twelve)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

In the Oval Office, Nixon grumpily told Kissinger, “I see now the Beatles are up raising money for it. You know, it’s a funny thing the way we are in this goddamn country, is, we get involved in all these screwball causes.”

Kissinger asked if the aid was going to Pakistan or India: “for whom are the Beatles raising money, for the refugees in India?” (Poignantly, both men were evidently unaware that the Beatles had broken up.) Nixon replied, “The goddamn Indians.” In that case, Kissinger thought that Harrison need not have bothered: “the Indian side of it is economically in good shape. We’ve given them $70 million, more is coming in.” (In fact, India would need more than ten times that amount to provide for a year of looking after the refugees.) The problem, he said, was Gandhi’s government: “no one knows how they’re using the goddamn money.” “You’re giving it to the government?” asked Nixon, appalled. “That’s a terrible mistake.” Kissinger said there was no choice: “they don’t let anyone in there. They permit no foreigners into the refugee areas. No foreigners at all. Their record is outrageous.”



Saturday, September 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt eleven)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

George Harrison knew the uses of celebrity. The guitarist for the Beatles, who had broken up in 1970, was a soulful, confused, and tender-hearted man, but also an unexpectedly politically savvy operator.

Over the last few years, he had grown close with Ravi Shankar, the famed Indian musician. Harrison spent six weeks in India, gulping in lessons in the sitar and spirituality; sitar music popped up in classic Beatles songs like “Norwegian Wood.” Now, as the number of refugees in India soared into the millions, Shankar, a Bengali, asked Harrison for help with a benefit concert.

Other musicians spoke up too, such as Joan Baez, who wrote a mournful “Song of Bangladesh.” But Harrison had a practical purpose in mind—to raise some money, as he later explained, but mostly to raise awareness that Bengalis “were getting killed and wiped out, and there was a lot of countries supporting Pakistan with armaments and stuff.” Since the concert was being held in New York, there was no doubt about which country in particular Harrison and his friends had in mind.



Friday, September 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt ten)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

This exhausted, dispirited American mood proved a boon to the White House. Nixon’s political advisers expected that Americans, soured on overseas adventures, would prove apathetic about the Bengalis, so they exaggeratedly painted Kennedy and the Democrats as calling for intervention in another civil war in Asia. At the start of the Pakistan army’s crackdown, Nixon told Kissinger, “The people that bitch about Vietnam bitched about it because we intervened in what they say was a civil war…. Now some of those same bastards…want us to intervene in Biafra. And some of those same people want us to intervene here. Both civil wars. Real civil wars.” Kissinger later said that “the very people who were accusing us of being too deeply involved in Southeast Asia are accusing us of not having had enough involvement in South Asia. The one is against the communists, the other would have been against Yahya.”

This was, in the end, a crushingly effective argument. Despite the extensive and heartrending press coverage, the advocacy of Kennedy and others in Congress, and some public activism, the American public never really mobilized for the Bengalis. Disillusioned and enervated from Vietnam, Americans were not about to risk another Asian quagmire.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt nine)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

On July 6, aboard a U.S. Air Force airplane that bristling with Secret Service and military officers, Henry Kissinger descended toward Delhi’s airport. Since the presidential aircraft were all being used, Kissinger had to content himself with a modified command plane borrowed from the Tactical Air Command. The uncomfortable, hulking airplane would only grudgingly lift off runways, as Kissinger later noted: “On takeoff one had the feeling that the plane really preferred to reach its destination overland.” Cruising down toward the landing strip, he was keenly aware that he was on a genuinely historic trip, quite probably the most important of his lifetime. It was not his two-day visit to India. He dutifully did the rounds in Delhi and then Islamabad, but the real point of his journey was his secret final destination: Beijing.

India was a stopover for Kissinger in every possible way. In order to get to China, he needed to go through Pakistan, for balance, he had to show his face in India. His perfunctory visit there made a tidy symbol of how little that country mattered in the Nixon-Kissinger cosmology.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Alison Bechdel is part of the 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows



Cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel is one of the twenty-one just-announced 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellows. We at the Eyeglasses factory offer heartfelt congratulations on the well-deserved honor.

I interviewed Ms. Bechdel three weeks prior to her 50th birthday as part of my "49ers" project, and Jezebel published that interview just about two years and two weeks ago.



the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt eight)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

On June 15, Keating got his chance to directly confront the president. Waiting in the Oval Office for the showdown, the president groused to Kissinger, “Like all of our other Indian ambassadors, he’s been brainwashed.” He added, “Anti-Pakistan.”

The brawling began immediately. As Keating entered, Nixon threw him off balance by asking, “Where are your sandals?” Decoding this mystifying gibe, the president explained, “I hope you haven’t turned the Embassy over to those hippies like your predecessor.” Keating—a World War I and World War II officer and former Republican senator with a fondness for seersucker suits, infrequently mistaken for a hippie—tried to regain his footing, as Nixon reminded him who was boss: “We don’t normally have ambassadors in.”

Despite this presidential onslaught, Keating rallied. The elderly Republican stalwart tried to show his loyalty to the White House, noting that he had repeatedly stood up to the Indians over Vietnam and other issues. But he argued that India was a strong and stable power, while Pakistan was in turmoil. “What do they want us to do?” asked Nixon, about the Indians. “Break up Pakistan?” Keating assured him they did not, but they could not stand the strain or some five million refugees. Nixon suggested, “Why don’t they shoot them?”

Keating, prudently letting that pass without comment, launched into an impassioned plea. The Pakistani government had killed the Bengalis’ intellectuals, arrested Mujib as a traitor, and outlawed the political party that had won all but two of the available seats. The former senator from New York explained that three million of the refugees were in Calcutta: “Calcutta is the size of New York. It’d be like dumping three million people into New York, except that Calcutta is in much worse shape than New York. Not too much, but it’s worse.”



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass, excerpt seven)

from The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass:

The White House was galvanized. They quickly fixed the dates of July 9 through 11, with Kissinger to fly in and out of Beijing on a Pakistani Boeing aircraft. Kissinger told Nixon that Yahya had “set up a tremendous cover operation.”

But Kissinger had some drearier business to handle before that momentous day. He had to personally face down a remaining dissenter, Kenneth Keating, the U.S. ambassador to India. Keating—unaware of the China channel, not knowing that his timing was terrible—made himself impossible to ignore with a trip to Washington. He was in town to sit in on meetings with Swaran Singh, the Indian foreign minister, and wanted to meet both Kissinger and Nixon privately.

Archer Blood had been easily dismissed, but it was trickier to oust a well-connected former Republican senator. It would look bad to fire the ambassador in the middle of a crisis. And Keating leaked plenty to the press while he was still working for the administration; he could have done far worse if sacked. “He’s got all the credentials,” remembers Samuel Hoskinson, Kissinger’s staffer. “When he says it, the people have to listen to it.”