The Memoirs of Ambassador Henry F. Grady: From the Great War to the Cold War

The Memoirs of Ambassador Henry F. Grady: From the Great War to the Cold War, edited by John T. McNay, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009, ISBN 9-8-8262-1832-2, vii + 209pp.
One might have expected the memoirs of Ambassador Henry F. Grady to have appeared in print over half a century ago, when they were first written, for they are similar in many respects to those of other diplomats that were published then. That they did not is partly the responsibility of Alfred A. Knopf, the noted publisher, who sent such a brutally frank rejection letter to Grady in 1954 that the ambassador was discouraged from pursuing the project. Knopf wrote in part, "We cannot hope to be able to do anything with your manuscript. I must be frank: it is extremely poorly written and hopelessly dull. ... I cannot believe that any general trade publisher will want to undertake the work in its present form." Unfortunately, Grady did not have much time left; he died in September 1957, following an extended illness.14
The manuscript has lain among Grady's papers at the Harry S. Truman Library ever since. I remember my first encounter with the memoir about thirty years ago. As a researcher, I found some of his comments and observations, especially those on Iran, quite helpful. Of considerable interest, also, was the letter from Knopf. I had rarely read such a blistering piece of prose. I could not understand then what had driven Knopf to pen such a letter, and I still do not understand his motivations fully.15
In any case, John T. McNay has provided a service by publishing at last and with suitable editorial comment the Grady memoir, covering the years of the New Deal, the Second World War and the early Cold War period. 1945-51. Grady had a strong background in economics and finance before entering the world of diplomacy. Perhaps this helps to explain his insistence that the United States distance itself from the old colonial powers, Britain and France, because they placed so many imperial restrictions on trade. Later, he argued that the United States should embrace nationalist movements in the developing world, even if they challenged our European allies, to do otherwise would surrender them to the Soviet Union, and the Cold War would be lost.
Grady had a long and active career in government service. One of his earliest adventures included a trip to the Pacific Rim just prior to Pearl Harbor. The air of unreality he encountered from Manila to Singapore provides a remarkable comment on the times. After the war he became deeply involved in the Palestine issue. In 1946 President Truman sent him to London to work out a compromise with the British. The Grady-Morrison Report, which recommended a solution short of statehood for the Jews, was leaked to the Zionists, who campaigned effectively to get Truman to disown both the report and its author. Grady's career was briefly in limbo. He discusses here his opposition to Zionism and his belief that US policy failed. "A Jewish state is not the answer," he wrote.
The high point of his career came over a five-year period, 1947-51, when he served consecutively as ambassador in three trouble spots, India, Greece and Iran. His reflections on Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah add little, but the details of the inter-communal violence that followed independence is sobering. His observations on Greece, where some American officials gave him almost as much trouble as did the Greek monarchists, provide an important perspective.
President Truman and Secretary of State Acheson urged Grady to accept the assignment to Iran, which was on the point of full-blown crisis in 1950. This decision proved the ambassador's undoing. He became increasingly critical of British ham-handedness and of what he considered Acheson's overly solicitous attitude toward London. The breach with the secretary of state widened beyond repair, and Grady came to be seen increasingly as a liability in Tehran. He was summarily recalled in mid-1951. A sharp exchange of letters with the president followed this sad and sudden end to a long career.
Grady presents an uncommon view of Acheson, whom he sees as vindictive; he accuses the secretary of state of making him the scapegoat for failure in Iran. McNay has advanced his own strong criticisms of Acheson in his Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Policy (2001), and this may have drawn him naturally to the Grady memoir. In Acheson's defense he tried harder, perhaps, than Grady realized to soften British policy on Iran, but ultimately he would not break with them over this issue.
Grady possessed a strong character. Like Acheson, he did not suffer fools gladly. He had a great sense of pride in his diplomatic position, and any challenge to that was likely to elicit a sharp response. Averell Harriman turned up as "super-ambassador" in both Greece and Iran during Grady's tenure, and his reflections on these two incidents provide some of the most interesting material in the volume.
Although there can be no question that these memoirs should be part of the published record, many of Grady's observations today seem old fashioned, too full of Cold War rhetoric and even naive at times. Grady's understanding of the real intent of Britain's Balfour Declaration, for example, which was to facilitate the eventual establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, seems weak. In similar fashion, he praises the shah of Iran as a constitutional monarch and applauds his return to Tehran in August 1953, not knowing that the CIA had engineered the coup d'état that brought him back. Although elsewhere he would compare Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq favorably to Gandhi, here he seems less certain, hinting of a possible dictatorship if the shah had been permanently exiled. And in spite of his support for developing nations, Grady cannot entirely escape the paternalistic attitude so characteristic of Western diplomats of the day. He doubts that the Iranians are capable of operating their own oil industry and wonders whether they really understand the British proposals presented to them in 1951.
McNay has added useful but brief editorial comment throughout the text; one wishes he had provided more analysis. Why does Grady seem unaware of the difficult relationship between Secretary of State Cordell Hull and FDR? Why did the ambassador, himself, experience so many problematic relationships with American colleagues? (The list included Louis Johnson, Herbert Feis, John Nuveen, Averell Harriman, Paul Hoffman and Dean Acheson. Arid there were others.) McNay does a good job of explaining each of these incidents individually, but if one steps back and takes the long view, there is a consistent pattern that needs to be assessed. Occasionally, McNay's comments are misleading, for example, when he compares today's two-state solution for Palestine-Israel to the Grady-Morrison Report.
Grady bemoaned the declining importance of the ambassador in the conduct of foreign relations. He warned against too much congressional or White House interference in the domain of the State Department. He would be chagrined to see how those trends have evolved since the 1950s. And yet he also observed that foreign policy was dynamic and believed that "change is the rule." Perhaps he would not be too surprised at recent developments in the world of diplomacy.

source: Iranian Studies, Vol. 44, No. 3, May 2011, pp: 426-428 (Reviews).

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