Diplomat celebrates its 65th birthday this year. Let’s look back to 1947 and see what was going on in the diplomatic world then, and what has changed.
The diplomacy of 1947 was all about the aftermath of World War II and its cascading consequences round the globe. One top priority was dealing with those held responsible for starting and prosecuting the war. The main Nuremburg trial of the Nazi leadership had ended in 1946 with a number of executions, including that of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Ambassador to London before becoming Germany’s Foreign Minister (and co-author of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). His words before he was hanged: ‘My final wish is that Germany should recover her unity and that, for the sake of peace, there should be understanding between East and West.’
By 1947 thousands of ‘lesser’ war criminals had been rounded up by the Allied forces and put on trial. Central Europe saw hundreds of executions: the Mauthausen-Gusen trial alone ended in over 50 hangings of Nazi concentration camp officials. Separate war crime trials in Japan led to nearly 1,000 executions. Most war crimes indictees were not executed: in late 1947 there were demonstrations in Belgium against supposedly lenient sentences handed down.
At the highest level of world diplomacy the work of the new United Nations accelerated and expanded, in an attempt to build international cooperation on a far more systematic scale than had happened under the League of Nations. The International Civil Aviation took its modern form, and the International Telecommunication Union became a UN specialised agency.
As hard as it is to imagine today, back in early 1947, the UN had only 55 member states. India had been a UN founding member in 1945 even though it attained its independence only in 1947. The emergence of India and Pakistan as two separate countries created massive violence and millions of people moving in vast population transfers. The political effects are still felt today, above all in disputed Kashmir.
One of the first difficult jobs for the United Nations was to tackle the Palestine problem. In September 1947 a UN General Assembly resolution approved a plan providing for independent Arab and Jewish States and a special international regime for Jerusalem. Violence broke out. As the mandatory power, the British appealed in vain for international support to help keep order. A few months later the British withdrew and the state of Israel was proclaimed amidst fierce (and still continuing) Arab opposition.
Further east in mid-1947 a fierce conflict was blazing in Indonesia, as the Netherlands deployed a large force to try to retain colonial control. Dutch policy was doomed, opposed by both the US and Soviet Union as well as India and Australia. Indonesia won its independence in 1949.
Back in shattered post-war Europe intense ideological rivalry was developing. Stalin’s emissaries and subversives across the continent were busy promoting communist parties and useful idiots. Early in 1947 Poland fell under Moscow control – Hungary followed later in the year. Greece was in turmoil.
This brought a powerful and far-sighted response from Washington. First came the Truman Doctrine, aimed at actively supporting anti-communist forces with the first focus on Greece and Turkey. This was followed by the Marshall Plan, a huge new economic programme to help Europe get back on its feet. The Soviet Union pushed back to stop central/eastern Europe taking part and, absurdly, accused the Americans of ‘fascizing’ an imperialist plot to enslave Europe in breach of UN principles.
What was to be done with Germany? After the war ended the country was divided into four zones controlled respectively by the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union. France was nervous at German intentions and London sent a signal of reassurance: a British/French alliance treaty was signed in March 1947 at Dunkirk. London pulled back from a Soviet offer to sign a similar long-term bilateral alliance treaty that effectively ruled out close UK/US military cooperation.
In Germany itself food was in short supply – feeding hungry Germans was not a high Allied priority. German forced labour had been used to clear mines – hundreds of Germans were killed during these operations. In the Soviet zone German factories were being dismantled and taken to the Soviet Union. The Americans and British by contrast put strict arrangements in place for transferring to themselves valuable German industrial know-how and patents, as well as leading scientists. The Allies at first planned deliberately to scale down Germany’s industrial potential. In 1947 the policy was reversed at Washington’s insistence: Europe needed Germany’s steel to develop and to help deal with Moscow’s pernicious policies.
In the coming months and years the division of Europe into two large camps of market democracies and communist dictatorships became solidified. The Cold War began.
Diplomacy itself was completely different in those days. In the case of the Foreign Office, it was run exclusively by men. However, the upheavals of war had led to women being given many new tough roles overseas, and the Cabinet set up a committee to look at reforms. The committee pored over the evidence: ‘Egyptians and Syrians frequently appeared to have considerable admiration for the British woman of affairs.’
This exercise led to women being allowed to apply for foreign policy jobs on an equal basis with men, with the proviso that they should leave the service on marriage. This requirement lasted until 1972 and led to a heavy attrition rate among the few women who did join the Foreign Office in those post-war years: Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin complained that he was running a marriage bureau. It took nearly 30 years until the first British woman Head of Mission was appointed, Eleanor Emery as High Commissioner in Botswana.
The post-war style of the Foreign Office was, perhaps not surprisingly, formal if not military in important respects. This lingered on for many years. In 1965 a booklet was issued on Diplomatic Etiquette and Other Relevant Matters for ‘Diplomatic Service and other Officers and Wives (sic), posted to Diplomatic Service Missions Overseas.’
Strict forms had to be followed for entertaining, both at home and in response to invitations:
‘An invitation from your Head of Mission and/or his wife is to be regarded as in the nature of a command and should be accepted unless there is some very exceptional reason why you cannot go’.
This fine volume gave many other excellent instructions on life abroad, including detailed rules for women to use in deploying visiting cards:
‘When a married woman calls on another, she usually leaves three cards – one of her own (for the woman) and two of her husband’s (one for the wife and one for the husband). A married woman must never leave a card for a man – whether he is married or single… In England, the top left-hand corner of each card should be turned down towards the front to show that they were left personally and not sent with a chauffeur or messenger.’
It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that some of the norms laid down in this volume seem to come not so much from another age but from another parallel universe:
‘Smoking. Although smoking at table, even between courses, has now become quite customary, be wary of lighting up too soon… at public or very formal dinners make sure that there is no Ceremonial toast to be drunk, since to light up before this would be a monumental gaffe.’
‘Segregation. There is much to be said for letting the ladies leave the men after dinner for an interval of not more than 20 minutes… but it’s horrible if the interval goes on too long, and you should in any case bear in mind that women Ministers and senior women diplomats may not like being segregated.’
‘When the men reappear, the hostess generally stands up to rearrange the groupings. It is well to know that in very formal society the place of honour is on the right of the sofa (if there is one) … even if the convention is unknown in the country where you are working, some members of the core – eg Latin Americans – may feel strongly about it, so it is safer never to take the seat yourself.’
What of the United Kingdom in 1947? Times were hard, but London was gearing up for the 1948 Olympic Games. A cartoon by New Zealand’s legendary David Low (‘Cut Fags until we have Exports’) recorded a Trafalgar Square lion and Colonel Blimp smoking short cigarettes after tobacco duty rose by 50 per cent as there were not enough dollars to pay for tobacco imports.
A Royal Commission on the Press was set up amidst public concern that concentration of ownership was inhibiting free expression, leading to inaccuracies and allowing advertisers to influence editorial content. It eventually proclaimed that the presentation of news often left much to be desired and that there was inherent partisanship and political bias. 1947? Or 2012?