Courtesy Reuters

The Decline of Diplomacy

THE very first of my letters this morning was a blurb for the Bible in Basic! I put it under my saucer, and then reflected that (a) tea is an insipid drink, (b) everything changes, including taste. Palmerston only discovered at 80 his ideal petit déjeuner, chops and a bottle of port. His taste may have been reflected in his diplomacy. The profession has passed from the flamboyant to basic, and beyond -- into billingsgate.

The general decline, in this century, of artificial manners is rather worse than interesting; and in no sphere has the downward curve been so steep as in diplomacy. I began my job 47 years ago, and it was a fairly gentlemanly one on the surface. "The rapine underneath" was there, but it was relatively war in lace. Some conventions and ostensible courtesies were preserved.

Occasionally someone exploded in uniform and in dubious French. (The Americans in their frigid dress-clothes were mostly immune from even these ebullitions.) Sometimes one ran into quite a bit of dirt. But life slid along between the clashes and flounderings.

Remnants of the jargon long remained embedded in our language. Thus, when war came, an Ambassador "asked for his passports" (in the plural). In fact he had but one, from which he was never parted. I recently saw the old touch taken literally. In the film life of President Wilson the German Ambassador visited the White House at midnight, I think, to "ask for his passports." Author and audience perhaps thought that the President kept them somewhere. I even think that he produced them. The episode recalled a dead world.

Nowadays our diplomatists are booted around incontinent. The tone adopted to and about western diplomatic and consular representatives of all grades by all governments of the Iron Curtain is on the same level as the vituperations of their press. It is the style of an aggressive drunk. Buffon said that "style is the man himself;" but it is, alas, more than that. This

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