In the “Deciphering Diplomatic Writing” class I’m teaching at George Washington University this semester, my students and I spend a fair amount of time reading U.S. State Department cables available through WikiLeaks’ “Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy“. Most are from the 1970s, but there’s also many from the 2000s. Here are some of the funnier entries I’ve spotted in recent days:
- The U.S. State Department would like you to know that Disney’s Cinderella is “an outstanding film.”*
- Which is worse here: the egregious “–as a Harvard man–” or the casual throw-away of “internal violence is rising to unprecedented levels just now” to describe Indira Gandhi’s India not long before the Emergency?**
- When someone sends a whole diplomatic cable to correct your French grammar mistake 🤦!
- Turns out other countries like poking around in your dirty laundry – “very complicated” indeed!
- When you have to ask your boss if you can invite your tennis buddy to a party!
- Solid punny cable title here.
- And, finally, perhaps the best and most inexplicable U.S. diplomatic cable of all time!
* The actual history here seems pretty interesting. Five years after Nixon’s “opening to China,” before the U.S. had fully opened an embassy in Beijing and was instead only working out of a “Liaison Office” without sufficient office space, the United States Information Agency was already organizing relatively large-scale public diplomacy campaigns in urban parts of China. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger seems to have personally followed up on the Cinderella film screening (see here and here).
** I haven’t yet been able to figure out who Gandhi would have had working for her who had spent time at Harvard.