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.
Bass says that the declassified White House tapes reveal a "stunning" conversation between Nixon, Kissinger and the then White House chief of staff H.R. 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.
"On Nov. 4, 1971, during a private break from a contentious White House summit with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India - a rare woman leader at the time - the president harangued Mr. Kissinger about his sexual disgust at Indians," Bass writes.
Referring to Indians, Nixon says to Kissinger "To me, they turn me off. How the hell do they turn other people on, Henry? Tell me." Bass writes that while Kissinger's response is inaudible in the tapes, "it did not discourage the president from his theme."
In November 1971, in the middle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, after Rogers mentioned reprimanding Gandhi, the president 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 June 3, 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."
At one pint, Kissinger had said Indians are "superb flatterers" and "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."
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.