h i s t o r y diplomat sidelined by the spies). Weapons, not management voodoo, were what Nasser really wanted, but the CIA could not supply them because Kim’s parallel effort to convince Americans at home of his value had failed. Wilford, who covered the CIA’s attempt to win the Cold War through a range of cultural front organisations in The Mighty Wurlitzer, explains how, despite copious funding from the CIA, the antiZionist American Friends of the Middle East did not change public opinion enough for the Eisenhower administration to risk putting an arms-to-Nasser deal before Congress a year before the presidential election.
When Nasser turned to Moscow instead, the British – who had long voiced doubts about him – overtook the Roosevelts as the main influence on US foreign policy. They persuaded Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, to embark on an attempt ‘to reduce, and if possible eliminate, Nasser as a force’. Wilford recounts the series of failed attempts to do so in the closing chapters of the book, before noting how mundane pressures, like school fees, obliged each of his subjects to pursue more lucrative lines of work.
The US government’s faith in Nasser lasted for so long because of Kim Roosevelt’s near-apotheosis after his role in the 1953 coup in Iran against Mossadegh. This was his own ‘crowded hour’ and he repeatedly retold the story for his personal advantage. Eisenhower himself noted that Kim’s reports ‘sounded more like a dime novel than historical facts’.
As Wilford admits at the outset, the secrecy of most CIA records and the unreliability of his three main subjects’ accounts make the winnowing of truth from fiction very difficult. It would be a dull book that confined itself to established facts, but brilliantly – and through meticulous research – he justifies including the most colourful stories by supplying reassuring glosses on how far they should be believed. Thus he repeats Copeland’s claim to have played with Glenn Miller in New Orleans in September 1940, before rubbishing it with the observation that ‘the nearest the Glenn Miller orchestra got to New Orleans in the latter part of 1940 was Washington DC’. It may not tell the whole truth but, as an attempt to penetrate and explain the mindsets of the Roosevelt cousins and Miles Copeland, America’s Great Game is ingenious and unprecedented. To order this book for £15.99, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 29
j on at h a n m i r s k y
Crossing the Net Ping-Pong Diplomacy: Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story
Behind the Game That Changed the World
By Nicholas Griffin (Simon & Schuster 336pp £20)
In April 1972, just after Nixon’s breakthrough conversations with Mao Zedong, 12 academics with an interest in the Chairman – of whom I was one – were invited to China. We knew that the meeting had been made possible by the encounters between the American and Chinese ping-pong teams the year before. Although what happened in 1971 at the world ping-pong championships in Japan, where the first invitation to the Americans to visit China was extended, is known already, Nicholas Griffin’s narrative – though shaky on a few of the details on the Chinese side – is a worthy contribution to our understanding of this spectacular event in Chinese–US relations.
tells the story well. From 1949, when Mao’s forces took control of China and the US helped to sustain Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan, Washington and Beijing were enemies, and the US ensured for years that China was represented at the UN by Taipei.
There were occasional fruitless diplomatic encounters in Geneva and Warsaw, while the ‘Who lost China?’ debate in the US, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy (and Nixon soon after), resulted in the disgrace of most of the State Department’s China experts.
Working away elsewhere was Ivor Montagu (1904–84), a British aristocrat with a Jewish background. His paternal grandfather, Montagu Samuel, had amassed a fortune, enabling the family to move into the highest social circles (in the process changing their surname to Montagu); Ivor’s mother was good friends with the royal family. He went to Westminster and
Cambridge, and before long joined the Communist Party. He was welcomed in Moscow and, Griffin alleges but does not prove conclusively, became a Soviet spy during the Second World War. A superb networker, he knew Trotsky and Franklin Roosevelt, and in China he dined with Zhou Enlai and Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. Aware that he worked with the Soviets, the security services never bothered him.
A writer new to Chinese affairs, Griffin has done his homework, carrying out important interviews in China, and he
The Cambridge University table tennis team, 1926; Montagu is back right
In 1926 he founded the International Table Tennis Federation, remaining its president until 1967. Griffin states flatly
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