Newly declassified White House tapes reveal Richard Nixon’s bigoted remarks against Indians
NEW YORK: Newly declassified White House tapes disclose former US president Richard Nixon speaking disparagingly about Indians and reveal the bigotry he and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger held that influenced US policy toward India and South Asia under his presidency.
“As Americans grapple with problems of racism and power, a newly declassified trove of White House tapes provides startling evidence of the bigotry voiced by president Richard M Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser,” Gary Bass, professor at Princeton, wrote in an opinion piece ‘The Terrible Cost of Presidential Racism’ in The New York Times.
“The full content of these tapes reveal how US policy toward South Asia under Mr Nixon was influenced by his hatred of, and sexual repulsion toward, Indians,” Bass, author of ‘The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide’, writes.
Richard Nixon, a Republican, was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 until 1974.
Bass says that the declassified White House tapes reveal a “stunning” conversation between Nixon, Kissinger and the then White House chief of staff HR Haldeman in the Oval Office in June 1971 in which Nixon asserts in a “venomous tone” that Indian women are “undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world.”
Nixon also calls Indians “most sexless”, “nothing” and “pathetic”, according to the tapes.
The tapes have Nixon asking what “do the Indians have that takes even a Keating, for Christ, a 70-year-old” (here there is cross-talk, but the word the Professor heard seems to be “bachelor” or even “bastard”).
In his reply to Nixon, Kissinger explained: “They (Indians) are superb flatterers, Mr President. They are masters at flattery. They are masters at subtle flattery. That’s how they survived 600 years. They suck up – their great skill is to suck up to people in key positions.”
Kissinger continued: “The most sexless, nothing, these people. I mean, people say, what about the Black Africans? Well, you can see something, the vitality there, I mean they have a little animal-like charm, but God, those Indians, ack, pathetic. Uch.”
On November 4, 1971, during a private break from a White House summit with Indira Gandhi, Nixon revealed to Kissinger his sexual disgust at Indians. He said: “To me, they turn me off. How the hell do they turn other people on, Henry? Tell me.” Kissinger’s response was inaudible to Prof Bass, but he believes the NSA did not discourage the President from his theme.
The President, in between bitter sparring matches with Indira Gandhi about the danger of war with Pakistan, confesses to Kissinger that his own sexual neuroses were having an impact on foreign policy: “They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them.”
A few days later, on November 12, 1971, in the middle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Kissinger and Secretary of State William P. Rogers, after Rogers mentioned (claims of) reprimanding Indira Gandhi, Nixon blurted: “I don’t know how they reproduce!”
Bass writes in the NYT piece that while Kissinger has portrayed himself as being above the racism of the Nixon White House, the tapes show “him joining in the bigotry, though the tapes cannot determine whether he truly shared the president’s prejudices or was just pandering to him.”
For instance, on 3 June, 1971, Kissinger was “indignant” at the Indians as the country sheltered millions of Bengali refugees who had fled the Pakistan Army. Kissinger blamed the Indians for causing the refugee flow and then condemned Indians as a whole, as he said, “They are a scavenging people.”
Nixon had even been furious with his ambassador to India Kenneth Keating, who two days earlier had confronted Nixon and Kissinger in the Oval Office, calling Pakistan’s crackdown “almost entirely a matter of genocide.”
Bass says that Nixon and Kissinger had “staunchly supported” the military regime in Pakistan as it killed hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, with 10 million refugees fleeing into neighbouring India.
Voicing prejudices about Pakistanis, Kissinger had in August 1971 told Nixon that “the Pakistanis are fine people, but they are primitive in their mental structure.”
He added, “They just don’t have the subtlety of the Indians.”
“These emotional displays of prejudice help to explain a foreign policy debacle,” Bass says, adding that Nixon and Kissinger’s policies toward South Asia in 1971 “were not just a moral disaster but a strategic fiasco on their own Cold War terms.
While Nixon and Kissinger “had some reasons to favour Pakistan, an American ally which was secretly helping to bring about their historic opening to China, their biases and emotions contributed to their excessive support for Pakistan’s murderous dictatorship throughout its atrocities,” Bass said.
“For decades, Mr Nixon and Mr Kissinger have portrayed themselves as brilliant practitioners of realpolitik, running a foreign policy that dispassionately served the interests of the United States.
“But these declassified White House tapes confirm a starkly different picture: racism and misogyny at the highest levels, covered up for decades under ludicrous claims of national security. A fair historical assessment of Mr Nixon and Mr Kissinger must include the full truth, unbleeped,” Bass says.
In December 2012, Bass had filed a legal request for a mandatory declassification review with the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
The Nixon archivists released a few unbleeped tapes in May 2018, July 2019 and this May “after considerable wrangling”.
The tapes are a sequel to Bass’s well-received book, “The Blood Telegram” published in 2013. The book documents the violent birth of Bangladesh and what Bass called, “disgraceful White House diplomacy”. Much of the evidence came from scores of White House tapes, which reveal Nixon and Kissinger as they operated behind closed doors.
Nixon died in 1994. Kissinger was NSA from 1969 until 1973 and then rose to be US Secretary of State in 1974. His negotiating genius with Vietnam and China won him cult status and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. A request for comment from Kissinger Associates wasn’t answered at the time of publication.
–With inputs from wire agencies
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