Word games

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 July, 1996, 12:00am

To Lie Abroad: Diplomacy Reviewed by Michael Shea, Sinclair-Stevenson $306 To lie abroad, Sir Henry Wotton said in 1604, is what diplomats do for their country. Nearly 400 years later, few would dispute him.

Depending on your point of view they also lead a life of glamour and grit or perpetual privilege, holding cocktail glasses and reposing on gilt chairs.

Michael Shea's look at British diplomats and diplomacy seems apt to rupture under the weight of anecdotal gems.

Take the anonymous story of the diplomat who told guests at a cocktail party: 'You were raised thinking I was the enemy, and I was raised thinking you were the enemy. We were both wrong. It's the French.' Diplomatic language - all those statements about full and frank exchanges of view - deserves, and gets, a chapter to itself. As Winston Churchill said about the language used to declare war on Japan: 'When you have to kill, it costs nothing to be polite.' Shea, former press secretary to the Queen, began his career in diplomacy in a department dealing with West Africa, and knows much about its image and reality.

He has brought 20 years of experience to this work which is both literary and an amusing, informative account of a world that to many is one of half-truths gleaned from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop.

International relations, and the people who conduct them, are exposed in all their sometimes dubious glory with the help of fact, fiction, poetry and literature, from W H Auden to Lawrence Durrell and Douglas Hurd.

This is also a serious book which concludes that speculation about the death of diplomacy is premature. Diplomats are the people on the ground, who safeguard a country's interests and ambitions.

That is the cerebral view. The view that persists, like it or not, is that diplomats are men who are paid highly to think twice before they say nothing.