The Wit and Humor of Gen. Carlos P. Romulo

Wit and Humor is one of the most important weapons a diplomat should have. It can’t be learned in Schools of Diplomacy. You cannot teach it to other people. It is self-taught and it can only be developed over time through reading, interaction with other people and dabbling in different forms and / or art of communications. In the words of Ambassador Philip Habib, “Humor is the great tool of the diplomat.” One should have a great capacity to interject humor at a critical moment. It always breaks the ice and it is part of that human relationship. It often paves the way to good relationships and makes things move smoothly.

During an interview to Ambassador Habib regarding humor, he answered, “There’s no question. I don’t know of any culture that doesn’t have humor. Now some of them are difficult to tap. Some people argue that it’s very difficult to tell an American joke, say, to an Asian, to a Japanese or a Korean. That isn’t always true. I’ve seen Japanese convulse with laughter over a good American joke — one that’s understandable. I’ve seen the same thing in China. Chinese are very, very witty. They have a sardonic sense of humor which is very good. It used to go very well with the Kissingerian approach, I might say. When I used to go to China with Secretary Kissinger, we would negotiate. There were moments of substantial laughter on both sides, which as I’ve said, is one of the tools. It doesn’t replace anything in diplomacy. It’s a tool.”

In the world stage, one man has distinguished himself of using humor against his opponents and this is General Carlos P. Romulo. He is the best and longest serving Foreign Secretary the Philippines ever had. He had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service serving 8 Philippine Presidents from Manuel L. Quezon to Ferdinand E. Marcos. His wit and humor earned him many critics as well as friends and admirers in the whole duration of his distinguished career. At the receiving end of these famous lines are the Russians. They are the most wounded people when Gen. Romulo started talking or answering back their accusations. This resulted in the veto of the Russians for the candidacy of Gen. Romulo as Secretary General of the United Nations in 1953.

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Here are some of famous, witty lines made by Gen. Carlos P. Romulo.

(as narrated by Gen. Romulo)

During the proposal of Foreign Minister Molotov of the Soviet Union to have Five Rotating Chairmen in the San Francisco Conference:

Romulo opposing the proposal of Molotov and supporting the motion of Foreign Secretay Ezequiel Padilla of Mexico:

 “How can a ship or an airplane fly with five pilots?” Molotov looked at me, rather stared at me and said, “What right has this gentleman from the Philippines to be in this conference? The Philippines is not yet independent. It’s only a Commonwealth. So, I don’t believe the gentleman from the Philippines has the proper credentials to be at this conference.” So, I addressed the Acting Chairman, Stettinius, and I said, “Mr. Chairman, may I answer the question of the Prime Minister of Soviet Russia?” And said, “Certainly.” So I said, “Well, may I ask the Prime Minister of Soviet Russia why Ukraine and Byelorussia are here when they are not independent and they are part and parcel of Russia?”

That was greeted by applause by the crowd. I suppose the applause silenced Molotov, who didn’t pursue the question further. (regarding the membership of the Philippines to the organization)

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During the proposal of the Soviet Russia to abolish the Balkan Commission in Greece:

The night before of the Proposal, George Sand, called a meeting of the delegates of the free world in his suite at the Creon. And we decided that we are going to oppose the resolution and we decide on the order of the speakers to oppose the resolution. And, fortunately or unfortunate for me, I was chosen to be the first speaker against the Russian Resolution.

So, the following day, when the House was to discuss the resolution, I was the first speaker and I gave it all I had. And I noticed that Vyshinsky was on the third row. And as I spoke, he was turning red. Without asking for the floor, he immediately moved to the podium. I thought he was going to have a stroke. And he said, “Mr. President, that small man from a small nation dared attack the motives of Soviet Russia. He reminds me of that Russian saying, ‘his ambition is worth a ruble but his ammunition is only worth a cent.’” So I heard that. Spaak (Belgian Diplomat), who was the President, winked at me. He said, “I’ll recognize you.” So as Vyshinsky sat down, I stood up and I said, “Mr. President, we just heard the personal ventriolics of the distinguished Foreign Minister of Soviet Russia. I want to remind him, “ I said, “that we, the small nations here, are the Davids who are not afraid to fling our pebbles of truth between the eyes of the blustering Goliaths and make them behave. And if I may add, Mr. President, as to my ambition being worth a ruble and my ammunition only worth a cent, may I remind Mr. Vyshinsky that with the present rate of exchange, the cent is worth more than a ruble.”

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Molotov insulting Romulo

One day, in the San Francisco Conference, Molotov of Soviet Russia said, “the matter with that delegate from the Philippines is that he looks at all these international questions with eye glasses from an American optometrist.” So  when I answered, I said, “For a slight correction, these glasses were bought from a Russian optometrist called Purdisky. That’s why I seldom wear them because they distort my vision.

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During the India-Pakistan Question in the Security Council:

Krishna Menon spoke for 8 hours on the Kashmir Question. And he was quite an arrogant fellow, a good friend of mine but quite arrogant. And the first time I presided over the Security Council to take up the Kashmir question, this fellow Krishna Menon said, “Since our President hast just come to this podium as the President of this Council, I suggest that we adjourn for one week so that he can study this question of Kashmir.” And I said, “May I inform the distinguished delegate from India that the President is ready now to discuss this question because I have studied it carefully for several months.”

Well, we discussed it. Then he took the floor for 8 hours after which he fainted. Well, we took him to the room next to the Security Council, gave him smelling salts. He revived but of course, that was a ploy. He was a candidate for Parliament in Bombay, and he wanted this. So, they took pictures of him and all that so when he came to, I said, “Krishna, you know, you won the Oscar Award?”

“For the best acting,” I said.

“Oh, go to hell,” he said.

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A Conversation between President Marcos and Secretary Romulo through phone.

The Palace where Gen. Romulo was billeted was very dilapidated and the water on the tap is yellow. The bed sheets are yellow and very dirty. Riyadh was not yet fully developed during the 70’s.

Gen. Romulo was sent by President Marcos to Riyadh to speak to King Faisal for Oil Incentives due to the 1973 Oil Crisis. The mission was successful and Gen. Romulo reported to President Marcos about the success of the mission.

Gen. Romulo: Everything is ok Mr. President. The mission was successful. But please be very careful, Mr. President.

Pres. Marcos: Why?

Gen. Romulo: Oh, this telephone is bugged.

Pres. Marcos: What do you mean? Securities…?

Gen. Romulo: No, Sir. Two cockroaches just jumped out of this telephone.

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During the visit of Vice-President Mondale to the Philippines.

(This is an answer of Gen. Romulo against the tirades of the American Press that there is no Freedom of Expression in the Philippines and American culture is far better than the Filipino culture.)

So when Mondale went to the Philippines, Vice-President Mondale, and he was lecturing me on human rights, I said, “You’re okay, I agree with you Mr. Vice-President. But this morning, I want to take you around Manila.”

VP Mondale:  Why?

Gen. Romulo:  I want you to see whether there is one home for old men, ladies’ home, nursing home and all that.

VP Mondale: Well, what do you mean?

Gen. Romulo: Well, to us here, freedom to survive is more important than freedom that you are talking about. Because you have a custom and I don’t criticize you. Your old men, you send to the old men’s home, to old ladies’ homes. Here, we keep them until they die. There’s a difference in perspective. That’s quite different. It’s alright for your Congressmen to speak of freedom of expression. That’s fine in the States. I agree with you in the States. But here, you don’t see one nursing home, not one old ladies’ home, not one old man’s home, which by the way, are creating a lot of scandals in the United States – how they’re being administered. Our parents, we keep them in our homes. We don’t send them to old men’s homes, old ladies’ homes. Well, I’m not criticizing your custom. That’s your tradition. But at the same time, we have a different tradition here. So when you look at human rights, you must look at it from different perspectives.

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During his meeting with Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito welcomed Gen. Romulo with drinks and cigars, to which the general kindly refused. Their conversation went as follows:

Tito: “Do you drink?”

Romulo: “No, I don’t.”

Tito: “Do you smoke?”

Romulo: “No, thank you.”

Tito: “What do you do then?”

Romulo: “I etcetera.”

At this, Marshal Tito was tickled by his reply and loudly exclaimed around the room, “I etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!”

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When the UN official seal, which depicts the world, was being selected, Romy looked it over and demanded, “Where is the Philippines?” “It’s too small to include,” explained US Senator Warren Austin, who headed the committee. “If we put in the Philippines it would be no more than a dot.” “I want that dot!” Romy insisted. Today, if you look at the UN seal, you will find a tiny dot between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

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Rómulo was a dapper little man (barely five feet four inches in shoes). When they waded in at Leyte beach in October 1944, and the word went out that General MacArthur was waist deep, one of Romy’s journalist friends cabled, “If MacArthur was in water waist deep, Rómulo must have drowned!”

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In later years, Rómulo told another story himself about a meeting with MacArthur and other tall American generals who disparaged his physical stature. “Gentlemen,” he declared, “When you say something like that, you make me feel like a dime among nickels.”

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From the book of Ambassador Jose A. Zaide “Bababa, ba?

  • CPR was both easy and hard to work for – easy because he was always news worthy; tough because if he did not see his name on the front page, he might look for it in the obituary.
  • CPR had a mercurial temper. Yet he never publicly upbraided anyone. If an employee came late for office, he asked him for the time. And if that poor soul said nine o’clock, he would just have revealed to himself the state of his tardiness.
  • CPR judged his officers by their spouses. In exasperation with his aide Minister-Counsellor Jess Maravilla, he declared one day, “Jess, the only virtue in you is Ingrid!” (Jess’ German wife)
  • At one UN debate at the height of the Cold War, the USA was uncustomarily being bested by the Soviet Union at the Security Council when a leading member of the “Free World” ran into the General at the men’s room. “Romy,” the diplomat said, “you shouldn’t be here. You should be at the plenary rebutting (Soviet Foreign Minister) Gromyko!” To which CPR answered, “Well, at least, here we can hold our own.”
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So, why is that wit and humor is very important for Diplomats? Why is that students of International Relations and Diplomacy should develop it as early as now? Let me share with you quotes by distinguished statesmen and diplomats about Diplomacy that need no explanation anymore. Here it is:

  • Diplomacy is letting someone have your way – Daniele Vare
  • “A real diplomat is one who can cut his neighbor’s throat without having his neighbor notice it.” – Trygve Lie
  • “Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way.” – Isaac Goldberg
  • “Diplomacy – The art of letting other people achieve your ends”
  • “Diplomacy means the art of nearly deceiving all your friends, but not quite deceiving all your enemies.” – Kofi Busia
  • A diplomat who says “yes” means “maybe”, a diplomat who says “maybe” means “no”, and a diplomat who says “no” is no diplomat.” – Charles M. de Talleyrand
  • “A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.” – Caskie Stinnett
  • An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.’ – Sir Henry Wotton, 1604

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General Carlos P. Romulo has become the role model of all Philippine Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officers. He has become the standard of a true, blue Filipino Diplomat. Many people aspired to be like him but no Filipino Diplomat has ever achieved the things he had achieved. Maybe, one of you of this generation may become the Carlos P. Romulo of this century.

Wisdom, Knowledge, impeccable skills in the Art of Negotiations and a good dose of Humor are some of the essential ingredients in becoming one of the best Diplomats in the world. Diplomacy is one of the most fascinating professions in the world. It is an Art and a Science at the same time. Many aspire to become a Diplomat but very few live up to the name. Develop your diplomatic skills and join the Philippine Foreign Service; and you might be one of the best Diplomats the Philippines will ever have.

References:

  • United Nations Oral History Project, Dag Hammarskjold Library, Romulo Transcript October 30, 1982
  • United Nations Oral History Project, Dag Hammarskjold Library, Romulo Transcript November 17, 1982
  • Bababa, ba? Anecdotes of a Foreign Service Officer by Amb. Jose A. Zaide
  • The Work of Diplomacy: Conversations with Amb. Philip Habib
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4 thoughts on “The Wit and Humor of Gen. Carlos P. Romulo

  1. 최다해 gongjumonica says:

    Thank you for sharing IR related articles. I missed studying International Relations. It is nice to read stuff like this again. We will be forever grateful that CPR insisted on having the Philippines in the UN seal.

    Like

  2. Yeah! IR will always be my passion and this blog is dedicated for all-IR related entries. CPR is truly an inspiration for all the people in the Foreign Service as well as students taking International Relations as their course.

    Cheers! 😀

    Like

  3. The subsequent time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, however I truly thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you would repair if you happen to werent too busy searching for attention.

    Like

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