Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diplomatic Horseplay

After a hard day of high-level talks and shuttle diplomacy, how do diplomats unwind? More than fifty years ago, one did so by spoofing his colleagues on all sides of the table. His account of the 445th meeting of the European Advisory Council, on April 1, 1945, is written in the dry, reportorial style typical of meeting minutes, and is in the John Marshall Raymond papers at the Hoover Archives.

The minutes begin with a review of the minutes of the previous meeting. After a series of amendments to change "will" to "shall" and "labour" to "labor" (with the British representative dissenting), the group moved on the future organization of the Tripartite Council in Berlin. As the chair, the USSR representative opened by announcing that his government had decided to be represented on the council by one member from each state in the Soviet Republic. Because there were sixteen states, he proposed that the council be called in future the Unumdevigintipartite Council.

The meeting quickly recessed so that the U.S. representative could get a Latin dictionary. On reassembling, a counterproposal, that "Novededemipartite" be substituted for "Unumdevigintipartite," generated "a lively but indeterminate discussion" that lasted until noon, when they adjourned for lunch.

At 2:30 "the U.S. representative, being the first back from lunch, took the chair." During the recess, he had consulted both his government and the adviser to the U.S. embassy on ancient languages. The United States was prepared to accept the USSR proposal, he announced, "on condition that his country be represented by one member from each of the United States. There were forty-eight of these (at this point the Br. Representative expressed his surprise and stated that according to his records held in the Foreign Office there were only thirteen). Continuing, after some reference to a schoolroom atlas, the U.S. representative proposed that the Tripartite Council should be called in future the Septemet Sexagintapartite Council. He was also understood to say 'Check,' but since none of the Central European countries was represented at the meeting this remark was considered irrelevant."

At this point the British representative left to make an urgent call, so the meeting adjourned for tea, coffee, and vodka. When the U.S. and USSR representatives returned at 4:30, they found the British representative in the chair making calculations. Resuming the meeting, he announced that his government would accept both proposals on condition that each of the dominions, colonies, crown colonies, and dependencies in the British Commonwealth also be represented, which he figured totaled forty-nine. He therefore proposed that the council be called the Centumestsedecempartite Council. "He expressed his warm feelings of friendship for the other members of the Council and their Governments by saying to the USSR representative 'Mate,' and the U.S. representatives 'Mate to you, too."

Before discussion could continue, a "considerable commotion outside… made further work impossible. On inquiry it was discovered that a foreigner calling himself 'de Gaulle' had attempted to get in but had been overpowered and removed to safe custody." Because it was 5:00, the meeting was adjourned.

Icing the cake, the author classified these meeting minutes Top Secret.

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