Archibald Clark Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel

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Archibald Clark Kerr (middle) at Potsdam Conference

Archibald Clark Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel, GCMG PC (17 March 1882, Australia – 5 July 1951), known as Sir Archibald Clark Kerr between 1935 and 1946, was a British diplomat. He served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1946 and to the United States between 1946 and 1948.

Background[edit]

An Australian-born Scot, Clark Kerr was born Archibald Kerr Clark, the son of John Kerr Clark and Kate Louisa, daughter of Sir John Struan Robertson. In 1911 he assumed the surname of Kerr in addition to that of Clark.[1] He attended Bath College from 1892 to 1900.[2]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Clark Kerr entered the Foreign Service in 1906. Early on, he made the mistake of challenging the Foreign Office over its Egyptian policy. Consequently, he found himself posted to a series of capitals in Latin America. He was Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to various Central American republics between 1925 and 1928, to Chile between 1928 and 1930, to Sweden between 1931 and 1934 and to Iraq between 1935 and 1938.

He distinguished himself enough in these posts to secure a prestigious appointment as Ambassador to China between 1938 and 1942 during the Japanese occupation. In the ensuing years, he developed a close relationship with Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and spent most of his posting explaining why Britain could not offer him any substantive aid in his struggle against the Japanese invaders.

He argued for British aid to China based upon humanitarian concerns, the preservation of British economic influence, and the principle of national self-determination. Despite the lack of aid from Britain, he impressed the Chinese with his interest in Confucian philosophy. He also impressed the Chinese with his determination. After the British consulate in Chungking was almost completely destroyed by Japanese bombing in 1940, other diplomatic missions evacuated, but he kept the Union Jack flying close to Chinese government buildings. He regularly swam in the Yangtze River, and after meeting American writer Ernest Hemingway he dismissed him derisively: "Tough? Why, I’m tougher than he is!" .[3]

He was moved to Moscow in February 1942[1] where he forged a remarkable relationship with Stalin and facilitated a number of Anglo-Soviet diplomatic conferences. His work there and at the Big Three Conferences (such as Yalta and Potsdam) put him at the centre of international politics during the final, pivotal years of the Second World War. Throughout his posting in Moscow he sought clearer direction from the Foreign Office in London. Lacking it, he often fall back upon a directive received from Churchill in February 1943: "You want a directive? All right. I don’t mind kissing Stalin’s bum, but I’m damned if I’ll lick his arse!"[4]

As the war neared its end, Kerr became increasingly concerned about Soviet plans for the post-war world. He did not think that they planned to begin spreading world revolution, but he did think that they were preparing to exert their influence well beyond their pre-war sphere of influence. He voiced deep-seated concerns about Soviet expansionism for the first time in a lengthy memorandum on Soviet policy dated 31 August 1944. In the memo, he forecast three likely results of the war: the removal of any immediate threat to Soviet security, the consolidation of Stalin’s dominant position, and the Soviet use of Communist Parties in other countries to serve interests of "Russia as a state as distinct from Russia as a revolutionary notion."[5] This closely resembled the conclusions that George F. Kennan included in a telegram to Washington a few months later.

After the war Clerk Kerr was appointed Ambassador to the United States, a post he held until 1948.[1] An acquaintance of Guy Burgess and Donald Duart Maclean's superior in Washington, he took their defection to the USSR badly.[citation needed] He died in 1951.

Clark Kerr was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1935 and a Knight Grand Cross in 1942 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1944.[1] In 1946 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Inverchapel, of Loch Eck in the County of Argyll.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Lord Inverchapel's personal life has been described as colourful: a close confidant of the Kaiser's sister in the years before the Great War, he was also a disappointed suitor of the Queen Mother before his marriage, divorce, and re-marriage, to a Chilean lady 29 years his junior. Politically on the left, a noted wit and unconventional in manner, he was sometimes suspected of excessive understanding for the Soviet position. His biographer, Donald Gillies, considers rumoured pro-Soviet sympathies highly unlikely.[citation needed]

Inverchapel is best remembered in the public imagination for a much reproduced note he is said to have written in 1943 to Lord Pembroke while Ambassador to Moscow. The prominence of this letter against Lord Inverchapel's otherwise lesser known achievements has led to him being described as a 'one hit wonder', or as William Hague once dubbed him, "The 'Right Said Fred' of the British Ambassadorial Service". [7]

"My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, H.M. Ambassador"

Lord Inverchapel married Maria Teresa, daughter of Don Javier Diaz Lira, of Santiago, Chile, in 1929. He died in July 1951, aged 69. The barony died with him as he had no children.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e thepeerage.com John [sic] Kerr Clark Kerr, 1st and last Baron Inverchapel
  2. ^ Donald Gillies, Radical Diplomat: The Life of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882-1951 (London & New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999), 6-8.
  3. ^ Donald Gillies, Radical Diplomat: The Life of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882-1951 (London & New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999), 111.
  4. ^ Donald Gillies, Radical Diplomat: The Life of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882-1951 (London & New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999), chapter 7. Quotation from 141.
  5. ^ Donald Gillies, Radical Diplomat: The Life of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882-1951 (London & New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999), 159.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 37524. p. 1744. 5 April 1946.
  7. ^ Matthew Norman (10 January 2003). "Diary". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 September 2007. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Hohler
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Chile
1928–1930
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Chilton
Preceded by
Sir Tudor Vaughan
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Sweden
1931–1934
Succeeded by
Michael Palairet
Preceded by
Francis Humphrys
British Ambassador to Iraq
1935–1938
Succeeded by
Maurice Peterson
Preceded by
Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen
British Ambassador to China
1938–1942
Succeeded by
Sir Horace James Seymour
Preceded by
Hon. Sir Stafford Cripps
British Ambassador to the Soviet Union
1942–1946
Succeeded by
Sir Maurice Peterson
Preceded by
The Earl of Halifax
British Ambassador to the United States
1946–1948
Succeeded by
Oliver Franks
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Inverchapel
1946–1951
Extinct