The Terrible Cost of Presidential Racism

tags: foreign policy, racism, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, India, Pakistan, Bigotry

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.

The full content of these tapes reveal how U.S. policy toward South Asia under Mr. Nixon was influenced by his hatred of, and sexual repulsion toward, Indians.

These new tapes are about one of the grimmest episodes of the Cold War, which brought ruin to Bangladesh in 1971. At that time, India tilted heavily toward the Soviet Union while a military dictatorship in Pakistan backed the United States. Pakistan flanked India on two sides: West Pakistan and the more populous, and mostly Bengali, East Pakistan.

In March 1971, after Bengali nationalists won a democratic election in Pakistan, the junta began a devastating crackdown on its own Bengali citizens.

Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger staunchly supported the military regime in Pakistan as it killed hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, with 10 million refugees fleeing into neighboring India. New Delhi secretly trained and armed Bengali guerrillas. The crisis culminated in December 1971 when India defeated Pakistan in a short war that resulted in the creation of an independent Bangladesh.

I documented the violent birth of Bangladesh and the disgraceful White House diplomacy around it in my book “The Blood Telegram,” published in 2013. Much of my evidence came from scores of White House tapes, which reveal Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger as they really operated behind closed doors. Yet many tapes still had long bleeps.

In December 2012, I filed a legal request for a mandatory declassification review with the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. After considerable wrangling, the Nixon archivists at last released a few unbleeped tapes in May 2018 and July 2019, then 28 more in batches from October 2019 to this past May. (There are bleeps still remaining on a couple of the reviewed tapes, some of which I am appealing.)

It was stunning to hear a conversation between Mr. Nixon, Mr. Kissinger and H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, in the Oval Office in June 1971.


Mr. Kissinger has portrayed himself as above the racism of the Nixon White House, but 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.

On June 3, 1971, Mr. Kissinger was indignant at the Indians, while the country was sheltering millions of traumatized Bengali refugees who had fled the Pakistan army. He blamed the Indians for causing the refugee flow, apparently by their covert sponsorship of the Bengali insurgency. He then condemned Indians as a whole, his voice oozing with contempt, “They are a scavenging people.”

Read entire article at New York Times